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Wednesday 14 April 2010


The Gay Blade

24th November 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Posted by: Michael Stevens

So we have a new government. Democracy in action, messy, imperfect, but it still beats all the alternatives (except for me being Dictator of the World!).

We now have openly gay and lesbian MPs all across the Parliament, from the Greens to National. Not quite every party, but all the biggest ones. Even our Attorney-General, a National MP, is an out gay man.

What I find both bizarre and wonderful is that no-one has commented on his sexuality. Have we perverts become so mainstream now that when a right-wing Government appoints an open homo to one of the most important positions in Parliament there is no response? And what does this signal? What does it mean for us?

In some ways, it is the culmination of what “we” fought for - the right to be accepted for who we are as full and equal human beings, regardless of our sexuality. In other ways, it the opposite. Let me explain.

There have basically been two streams to the movement for our rights over the last 100 years or so. The one with the longer pedigree is the less radical, simply calling for us to be able to live our lives without the fear of legal persecution. There were some variants to this, with some asking for us to be positively protected, but in general the goal of this movement was toleerance and assimilation, not revolution.

The other stream was distinctly revolutionary and radical in its outlook and goals. This strand is rooted in the classical radical idea that we need a complete revolution in society, and that the emancipation of same-sex attracted people is part of the struggle to free the oppressed all over the globe, which will only be truly achieved through the eradication of Capitalism. Rather than assimilation, it sought a radical re-ordering of the entire social fabric. In its latest guise it has come to us as “Queer Theory”, which made a number of grossly inflated claims as to the importance of sexual identity. It is this last stance that sees all those of us who are outside the norms of mainstream sexual practice and identity as having a common ground to stand on and a common enemy to fight against: heterosexist patriarchal Capitalist society. And this common oppression is supposed to help us form our community.

What happens to that community when the oppression lifts?

What we now have as a result of our efforts for law reform etc are gay conservative politicians who are able to be out and by doing so cause no reaction. We have become normal, no longer exceptional. OK, for NZ, for us to be truly normalised we will need an out All Black whose last minute actions cause us to win the Rugby World Cup. Then we will be unassailable.

This, however,  is not the revolutionary result Gay Liberation was fighting for. Instead of working for radical change, we now have an out gay Attorney General who, it could be argued, is working for those forces that the radical wing would say continue to oppress us. But it cannot be denied that the fact the lesbians, gay men, and transsexuals can all be elected to our Parliament now without causing much concern, and this surely is a positive thing. It is a distinct improvement on the days, not that far gone, when being sexually different in any way was illegal, when even the whisper of an MP perhaps being gay was enough to destroy a career. If you are a teenager wrestling with your sexual identity, the very fact that being gay has become so much less of an issue must be good.

What I suspect this assimilation, this normalisation of us as people will mean is this: the importance of sexual identity as a unifying bond that forms a community will weaken even more over time.  Our gay community was at its most productive, its strongest,  its most challenging, its most exciting and vibrant when we were banded together in our gay ghettos, fighting for our rights, fighting against HIV and the prejudice it engenders and living lives that placed us on the outer of the mainstream. Now many of those ghettos have lost their hearts to property developers and gentrification. Now we are legal and protected, the impetus to band together for political rights has largely gone. I know gay men who voted for every major party. I know gay men who are legally coupled and who live lives of happy obscurity in the suburbs. They did protest once - now they see no need. And many younger gay men coming into the world just don’t see the need for “community” that we all once did.

The promise that sexual identity would be a major force in radicalising the world seems to have failed. Instead we have become more and more just a part of the wallpaper. What I think we will see more and more, is that gay men and lesbians will be able to come out, and to be ourselves, and excite little interest. Without a common enemy or cause to unite us, instead of forming a vaguely coherent group, we will stay far closer to our initial social positions. If you are born into a network drawn largely from urban Maori then this will be your main point of reference. Likewise if you are born into the white middle class, it will be this, rather than your sexual identity that will be the main part of your identity. The need for us to exist as a distinct social entity will lessen and fade. And those currently on the margins will quite possibly be left there, grim as that may sound. But as I have said before, the idea that lesbians, gay men, intersexed, transgendered etc all automatically form one great big happy family was never that convincing.

Yet listening to some of our older “community” members who call for more “community” and the creation of “community centres” I can’t help but think they are, like the generals in WWI, fighting the last war, immune to the way society has changed around them since then.

Now I am  not for one minute denying the difficulties,  emotional and personal, and the prejudice that many of us still have to face, as well as the violence that seems to permeate so much of New Zealand society, but there has been a qualitative change in how we live, how we are perceived, and how we get to interact with our society that I think this appointment to the Attorney-General’s office highlights.And of course, little old New Zealand is not the world - what has happened here is perhaps only comparable to the more liberal parts of Europe - I’m not saying this is the situation everywhere.

But the question remains: Is this really what we were planning?

Tags: General

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Keguro // Nov 25, 2008 at 9:20 am

    It’s interesting thinking about gay rights from Nairobi. I just met the loveliest young gay people here who envy gay rights abroad. It made me re-think or at least re-evaluate some of my critiques of even conservative gay thinking. It’s so interesting to see freedom through someone else’s eyes.

  • 2 Mark A. Thomson // Nov 25, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Do we as members of the GLBT group want to be marginalised? Do we want to continue to be on the outside, and continue to promote ourselves as deserving of more than others? All very well talking of a ‘Rainbow caucus’ in parliament, but we are part of a larger community and our interests and aspirations should be focussed on what is good for the country and not self-interest. It’s called maturing, and the GLBT group has finally come of age.
    So the new Attorney General is gay, big deal. The PM is heterosexual, big deal. We are all part of the same community and I certainly do not wish to have to wear a pink triangle. My sexuality is personal to me.

  • 3 Craig Young // Nov 25, 2008 at 10:34 am

    An excellent blog. However, I wonder if we aren’t romanticising what was an arduous past, full of discrimination, social exclusion and repression. In such an environment, yes, utopian and unrealistic expectations proliferated.

    Every movement needs its visionaries, but in time, visionary utopianism has to give way to pragmatic, focused and incremental political reform. HIV/AIDS was mostly responsible for forcing us to become more sober and focused-
    but at a terrible, terrible cost.

    I still don’t intend to rest until all of us have full substantive and formal equality. That requires strategy, analysis and planning.


  • 4 Todd // Nov 25, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Hi, Good blog.

    Ive noticed this that as soon as something isnt talked about, a conspiracy ensures!

    I think its great that someones sexuality has absaloutly NOTHING to do with their politics. If only we could get where being gay can not hinder you from any type of job/society role then were sorted.

    End of the day gays love to be talked about lol!

  • 5 Deb Faith // Nov 25, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Michael, your writing always provokes - thanks for consistently doing that.
    It’s hard to get a sense of gay community I agree - but it’s still there in pockets… I rarely venture out of my local comfort zones of Grey Lynn and K.Rd; and middle NZ still scares me unless I’m with a Topp twin.
    One of the things I love about the Hero festival is that sense of community and ‘ownership’ one has for those couple of weeks - Auckland becomes ours again. I feel like an old veteran at a dawn parade sometimes!

  • 6 cherie // Nov 26, 2008 at 3:33 am

    Great writing Michael.
    Present political reform, has lessoned marginalisation…..i think we can thank Labour and Helen Clark, for the support that GLBT community has received. But, i think (like Mark) mentioned, ‘all well talking about Rainbow Party’, but we are part of larger community, that has come of age.

    I thought that some minor parties, would definately not Support gays….and while there can be some that don’t - such as what was reported with Act MP ‘gay slurs’. I’ve been accepted, within such minor parties (regardless of my sexuality) & i’ve received support, & personally told by Act Canadates (i know) that they will support the gay community. So, within each party, i think there is a United Front to supporting Gay Equality. I think the issues of the past, are not in marginalisation and segmentation.

  • 7 Mark A. Thomson // Nov 26, 2008 at 9:13 am

    I think Deb is being somewhat patronising and unfair to middle New Zealand. What is she frightened of? Is she really worried that middle NZ does not care a fig if she is a lesbian?
    As one who moved from Auckland to the rural east coast I can say that as an openly gay couple, my partner and I have been welcomed into the local community. We have not experienced prejudice or unpleasantness. In fact we are part of the local community here, and our sexuality is of no consequence, as it should be. Surely integrating in the wider community allows us to help erase ignorance where it occurs and allay fears that some might have.
    We don’t miss the ghetto of Auckland or the reverse prejudice of the gay community there that regards itself as somewhat precious. Neither do we miss the misguided assumption that if you are GLBT then your politics have to support the Left.
    We are just two guys living and working in a small community and sharing in the aspirations and hopes of that community.

  • 8 Neal Barber // Nov 27, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I was very interested to stumble upon this post. It seems a bit troubling to me that we should be wanting to further marginalise ourselves - or rather marginalise non-homosexual people. Perhaps we should implement a couple of straight-bashings to show those breeders what we really think? Wouldn’t it be much better to have a society in which everyone is respected for their difference. I agree that we can run the risk of just fading away but we also need to realise that waving our banner too fiercely can make us tip over the edge into heterophobia.

    I also have a problem with how Queer Theory is moblised in your post. We must remember that Queer Theory advocates that there is no fixed subject position. Rather, our subject position is fluid and temporal. As such, how is this something to base a community on? Also, what am I to do with my other community affiliations - should I just be discarding them? This position is certainly untenable. In this way, Mark hints at the idea we should be critically thinking about what community we are priveleging but just because we privelege one it does not mean we need to do it at the expense of others.

    Maybe it is time we get out of the ghetto and find a better way to conceive of identity.

  • 9 rural dyke // Nov 27, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    To mark - my partner and i have recently given up our lives in cozy alternative cliques in central wellington (and auckland) and moved to the coromandel peninsula. We received an generally warm welcome from the local community that quickly soured when we reported a local man to CYFS for abusing his daughter. Suddenly we were fcuking man-hating bitches who wanted peoples children taken off them because we couldn’t have our own, i (the butch one) was cast as violent and controlling and banned from the local school. No one spoke to us at the local store and the man concerned screamed at us in the middle of town without any one batting an eyelid. Even the local dykes who are out wouldn’t speak to us - because their position in the town was already precarious.

    Now, I don’t know whether this intense homophobia was just lurking below the surface of those involved - or whether homophobia was an easy way to shut up two women who had become socially inconvenient.

    What I do know is that when people get pissed off at queers they still use our queerness against us. And when we stand out or stand up in some other way it gets a lot harder to just be who we are. (eg. we’ve had to move to a bigger town and are still too afraid to hold hands at all in public).

    I don’t think that refusing to interact with ‘middle new zealand’ is the solution (city queers are often very patronising and rude - forgetting there are queers who come from middle new zealand too), but we also need to be real about the fact that our sexuality is still an issue (especially if we’re marginalised for some other reason). Which is why we need to integrate yes - but maintain mutually supportive links to the whole Queer community. And before we say that being queer is not an issue - take some time to chat with poor fags who are excluded from their own communities and from the ponsonby set, with the queens on K road who regularly get beaten up, or with the many dykes fighting for the right of children and women to live without violence.

    We’re still hoeing a pretty hard road down here.

  • 10 Neilo // Dec 1, 2008 at 2:13 am

    Hi Michael
    Just checking this comment form still works with a new anti-spam system put in.
    Cheers, Neilo

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