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David Marr: “We always come good in the end”. Seriously?

If I believed it would stop you from getting all thingy, I would tell you that mine was one of the 7,817,247 Australian ballots returned by mail and marked as “Yes”. But I do not believe it likely this knowledge will soothe you. It is not, for many supporters of the thing called “marriage equality”, sufficient to simply have voted. One must publicly assert that this is a great liberation, clear evidence of “enlightenment” and even a cause for patriotism.

Writing in The Guardian last week, the journalist David Marr declared, along with writers for The Australian and the Australian Financial Review, that our Yes moment could be read as evidence of the good Australian character. In fact, Marr was even more nationalistic than his peers. The man known, however erroneously, to readers as a leftist, wrote, “I’ve fallen in love with my country all over again.”

It was to be Marr’s final sentence reproduced most uncritically and often on social media. “Here’s a last truth about this place we demonstrated today: we always come good in the end.” Many Yes voters were elevated by this curious statement. Whereas, it put Muggins here in a very low mood.

‘The new story goes that marriage has always been the goal. It is a Happily Ever After future. I tell you, it is as false and as mawkish as the Hallmark Movie of the Week’. – Yasmin Nair

This should put everyone but Ned Flanders in a crap mood. It is obscenely cheery, it is made with no regard for history and it is as selfish about one man’s present as it is deluded about the national past. We always come good in the end.

Yasmin Nair, a writer of my approximate age and queerness, writes and speaks regularly in the US of “progress”, particularly as it is misunderstood by advocates for same-sex marriage. In both academic and popular works, and through Against Equality, the queer archive project of which she is co-founder, Nair continues to make a learned case against the liberal interpretation of history.

Speaking to Daily Review by phone from Chicago, Nair adds exasperated cheek to her erudition. (Which I do not discourage.) “Oh, please. The ghastly, ahistorical character of the elite ‘gay marriage’ crowd. We find, here in the US, a cynical retelling of a queer past. The new story goes that marriage has always been the goal. It is a Happily Ever After future. It is sentiment for a past that never was. I tell you, it is as false and as mawkish as the Hallmark Movie of the Week.”

It is simply untrue, both in Australia and the US, that marriage has been the longstanding aim of activists. It was not that the gay liberation movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s or the queer movement of the ‘80s and ‘90s did not even dare to dream of marriage. It may be Marr’s memory that, “For old men like me this is another step on a once-unimaginable journey.” Others remember an oversupply of imagination.

A world in which codified relationships would simply cease to exist was the hope—it was even written down in books. I cannot recall the name of the activist who told a ‘70s crowd, “I am not gay. I am from the future.” But this playful, pre-figurative phrase always stayed with some.

Western conquerors exported harsh legal penalties for homosexual acts into Muslim territory. Today, the West demands to know why majority Muslim nations are not waving rainbow flags.

It did not stay with others, though, so eager to claim that marriage has been the finale for which LGBT people have always longed. A majority of commentators make believe that a radical past did not exist, or was naïve, or that those who still hold that recognition by the state is a poor substitute for radical liberty are idiots. “Radicalism is ineffective and childish,” The Australian offered in a piece on childish, ineffective persons this year.

This is the broad view. Not just as applied to the lives of LGBT people, but of the entire nation. And, indeed, of all nations, which will all “come good” when they become more Western. The Western view of progress is the only view, and those who do not hold with it are backwards.

The ABC’s Antony Green made the attempt to mathematise the No vote, which, he said, had been strongest in electorates with a high proportion of voters, “from a non-English speaking background”. He then speculated that those “from a non-English speaking background” made a “conscience” vote. It did not to occur to Green the fact of a non-English speaking background may impede the ability to understand English spoken quickly on TV by a bunch of zealots who all seemed to believe that same-sex marriage was either the surest mark of Western advancement or the sign of its decay.

Many Western progressives view those “from a non-“—oh, FFS, let’s just be honest and say what everyone means which is “Muslim”—with compassion. But this by no means permits them to entertain the possibility that Muslim persons can hold an acceptable view on homosexuality if it remains non-Western. While it is certainly true that many Australian Muslims voted Yes, it is also true that this Western affirmation of homosexual practice is not the only one that exists.

It is true that many people in the world, including Muslims, feel no need to take a letter from the rising rainbow alphabet.

“Oh, it still plays so very well into Western domination,” says Nair. “What the West refers to as homosexuality has long been used by empire.” In the past, Western conquerors exported their harsh legal penalties for homosexual acts into Muslim territory. Today, the West demands to know why majority Muslim nations are not waving rainbow flags. At no point do Western liberals believe that their enlightenment, of which LGBT is now such a powerful emblem, may be of little use to those in many parts of the Global South.

Nair reminds me of a 2007 statement made, in Persian, by the then President of Iran. At Columbia University, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” At which point every Truly Tolerant Westerner lost their shit.

There are many ways to interpret this declaration, and one was by an aide who said, “He simply meant we don’t have as many homosexuals.” I prefer to think that Nair’s comic reading could be the correct one. “You see, what he was actually urging for, Helen, was a Foucauldian framework.”

Of course, it is unlikely that Ahmadinejad believes, as Foucault did, that sexual identity is a straitjacket imposed most forcefully by Western institutions, and one from which we should all be immediately freed. But it is true that many people in the world, including Muslims, feel no need to take a letter from the rising rainbow alphabet, even if a tolerant Westerner, or a “tolerant” guy like the Israeli Prime Minister, feels that they have earned one.

I wonder when this nation, which Marr has learned to love anew, will address its initial act of land theft, its massacres or cease its brutal programs of paternalism.

But, such thought—beyond LGBT, beyond Western Civilisation or beyond marriage—is now considered radical. As The Australian has established, we can achieve nothing through radical thought or act. Now, like Bono, we outsource to business for progress.

The Australian Financial Review reported last week on the “wider legitimacy and endorsement” achieved by Australian Marriage Equality (AME) through its co-chair, Janine Middleton. The former investment banker, appointed in 2015, gained the endorsement of big business. Said Middleton, “Diversity inclusion is getting to be a very big thing for our corporates”. Not quite the same ring as, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” for mine.

Yes was won in no small part through endorsements to AME by banks who continue to fund coal projects, by online retail behemoths who deliver pain to workers, by tech giants who built their wealth on the labour of children who gathered toxic minerals with their bare little hands.

I wonder if we did come to good, in this case, in the end.

I wonder if this place will ever come good. I wonder when the map of Australia will not represent entirely unceded territories. I wonder when this nation, which Marr has learned to love anew, will address its initial act of land theft, its massacres or cease its brutal programs of paternalism.

I wonder when the Sydney Opera House will not the be the site for “illegal” protest by truly good young people who ask only that their brothers on Manus Island not suffer for much longer. I wonder when those sails will show me something better than a state-endorsed rainbow.

I am childish and ineffective. I am not in love with my country. I am, however, enamoured of that possible future in which those who fight one form of inequality are ready to fight all. Knowing that this battle is never going to be “a big thing for our corporates”, but one they will aggressively oppose.

37 responses to “David Marr: “We always come good in the end”. Seriously?

  1. I was hoping David Marr was going to be ironic but he missed the opportunity to be entertaining and generate a chuckle in us.

    Australians often do the right thing in the end (some say in the bitter end.) But they are a careful lot too, counter to the image they studiously cultivate, because they never do the right thing until they have made doubly sure that they have tried every other alternative first.

    I think Helen, David and I may agree that this is what makes Australians quaint and very like all other people on Earth. It certainly makes us feel nostalgic when we view the big island from overseas because we are buoyed by the knowledge that we survived the place.

  2. The idea that colonists imported homophobia and harsh penalties for gay sex into Islamic countries is fanciful.
    As an exercise, it is interesting to grade countries in the Asia-Pacific according to their predominant religious or cultural traditions – to gauge how these align with attitudes to the LGBTIQ community.
    As of November 2017, on a spectrum from ‘least homophobic’ to ‘most homophobic’, an overview could be as follows:
    Category 1 – Gay friendly, with marriage equality current or being legislated – Australia (Christian), New Zealand (Christian), Taiwan (Buddhist/Taoist).
    Category 2 – Very tolerant, where gay people are largely left alone, and can express themselves politically – Japan (Shinto/Buddhist) , South Korea (Christian/Buddhist), Thailand (Buddhist/Hindu), Vietnam (Confucian/Taoist), Phillipines (Christian).
    Category 3 – generally tolerant of gay people, but not their political expression – Singapore (Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian), Mainland China (Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian), North Korea (Shamanism/Chondoism).
    Category 4 – increasingly intolerant of gay people – Malaysia (Islam), Indonesia (Islam).
    You can perhaps argue the finer points on some of these, and it’s a non-exhaustive list. However, Category 4 – the two predominantly Islamic nations – are consistently moving backwards towards greater LGBTIQ intolerance, while the others are generally moving in the direction of greater tolerance, at least over the long-term.
    For example, if the British were still running Malaysia today, the country would likely be well on its way to marriage equality. Instead, it’s evolving into a third-rate Saudi Arabia. Ask any (non-Muslim) Malaysian, and they will tell you the increasing homophobia is nothing to do with the British colonists who departed in 1957. Rather, it is the rivers of Saudi money that have been pouring into the country for decades, building mosques and ‘conservative’ Islamic schools.
    The Saudis are exporting a particularly vile version of Islam to the region, and to certain communities in Australia.
    HR’s theory about ‘colonists’ is either laughably ill-informed, or a deliberate red herring.

  3. I agree 100% with Helen, corporate Oz always has known what side its bread is buttered on, and the Lib pollies who in fact have busines experience knew that a huge bonanza was about to happen if same sex marriage were endorsed. Toyota ads fom the 70s incorporated pairs of young men admiring their Corollas, and any fool knows that for male gays the discretionary income is more than likely well above average – no kids. So while I think the changes should have happened, let us not be fooled by any idea that it was a huge step forward for an intrinsically progressive society. An unexplored factor was the reality that many Australians – obviously, if a reasonable estimate of “gayness” is 15% – have a close relative who is gay. In other words as usual the element of self-interest arguably had a good deal to do with the outcome. As well, reasonable estimates of “gayness” – eg Kinsey, 1950s, not seriously challenged since – would suggest that practically everybody has gay friends, has worked it out, and realised that being gay does not make any difference to a person in daily life. The old nonsensical stereotypes and the current Christian crap re both gayness and marriage simply does not cut the mustard with the majority of Oztralians, who maybe 1. have close gay friends/rels 2. have been “married” maybe countless times and 3. maybe wish the institution on others.

  4. I am genuinely fascinated by HR’s idea that the laws imported by ‘colonists’ – and not decreed under Islam – are responsible for the persecution of gay people.
    So as an exercise, let’s forget about the Middle East (a basket case for LBGTIQ rights, with the notable exception of Israel), and look to Australia’s own region:
    Firstly, the shining beacon in Asia is undoubtedly Taiwan (a former Japanese colony, whose main religion is Buddhism), where a court recently passed down a ruling that marriage equality must come into effect within two years. Even before this ruling, Taiwan has historically been relatively tolerant on such social matters. The way Taiwan handled its marriage law debate during 2016 has put Australia to shame. Although, as happened here, much of the vocal opposition to gay marriage in Taiwan was from its conservative Christian community.
    Next on the list would perhaps be Vietnam (former French colony; largely Buddhist) – which is also quite tolerant. Other Asian countries that are *relatively* tolerant of private acts between consulting adults include Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
    HK was a British colony. The Philippines has been a colony, or occupied. Thailand hasn’t been colonised in recent times. Japan was an aggressive coloniser, and not a colony.
    Mainland China’s history is complicated, but I don’t think anyone would describe it as a former ‘colony’. In China, according to Wikipedia, the first statute specifically prohibiting same-sex sexual intercourse between men was enacted in the Jiajing era, from 1522-1567. More recently, things have not been good for gay people under Communism.
    Singapore, a former British colony, has a history of gay persecution, but has become relatively moderate in recent times.
    In summary, I am not seeing any relationship between whether a country has been colonised, and its attitude to gay rights. I note that not a single one of these countries has had Islam as its main religion. Indeed, what I am seeing is that one particular nation where Buddhism dominates (Taiwan) is very progressive.
    Conversely, looking at Islamic countries in the Asian region, things are marching slowly, but inexorably, backwards to a medieval Saudi-influenced state of steadily increasing oppression.
    Both Malaysia and Indonesia have been consistently intolerant towards gay people, and not open in any way to recognising the LGBTIQ community. There is active persecution in Indonesia, which has increased markedly in recent times. In Malaysia, gay Muslims may be charged in special ‘Islamic courts’.
    A recent survey in the Malaysian state of Johor has shown that Muslims there believe that Islamic laws should be applied to everyone – including non-Muslims.
    People on the left need to wake up. Wherever Islamic ‘laws’ are applied, the future is very bleak indeed for gay people.
    Indeed, I might add, for all people.

    1. I am “genuinely fascinated” that you appear to see no difference between religious texts and formal legal institutions. The former are serving suggestions. (And let’s not get into “Your Holy Book is Worse than My Holy Book”. Unless you are a scholar in religion or a historian with great knowledge of how religious texts have been applied in nations or societies, shut it. Just go and play with Sam Harris.)
      This is not a “regressive leftist” defence of any religion, and you are wrong to see it that way. It is merely a statement of fact that the West was able to institutionally enforce law. Its legal systems were exported to places where systems of the type did not previously exist.
      I really have no interest in what any religion says about sexual behaviour, personally. All the big ones have nasty things to say about certain practices. I am only interested in liberty. Especially that in my own nation. You may fear Islam, as it is currently the fashion to do so. I fear financial institutions. The influence these exert compared to religion is quite something. But, enjoy going through your forums and cherry-picking bits of the Quran. Nice to have a hobby. Nice to believe that we do not continue to incarcerate many LGBT people in our own nations. Mostly for being poor.

      1. and lets tack on the end of that the fact that Australia is the only Western country in the world that has not even attempted to initiate a Treaty or treaties with its Indigenous people, even Trumps country has done that and recognises it coz he bloody has to, why because its in his constitution, Australia is the most racist nation in the world, if you think any different,your an ignoramus, and give me an answer why there is no treaty in Australia since you like navel gazing, you sound like a very poor mans David Bloody Marr

  5. Nair is factually wrong. If by west he means Crusaders, maybe, but in terms of then Roman and previously Hellenic colonies of Asia Minor and the Middle East, homosexuality was well ensconced in the Greco-Roman world, and in fact there was no Islam well until 750AD. Anti homosexual laws were largely Judaic then adopted by the Roman Christian Catholic Empire (Byzantium) and then formulated into Sharia by the Calipahtes between 800 AD to 1600AD ( include Ottomans). The Ottomans being largely latecomers to Islam had a more lax view of homosexuality as they like the Byzantines, were more accustomed to Roman ways.

  6. again is seen what could have been a thoughtful careful piece of analysis by Razer turn into a hay-maker attack on anything deemed Western. i could introduce to her that it is many “Western” notions themselves which are under attack not only in Australia but n the West broadly speaking as well. Things like a fair days work for a fair days pay. the presumption of innocence. the social contract. All we are seeing in the postal survey and the Yes case was a case of 1 step forward, 3 steps backward. I don’t think wholesale destruction of the West is something that should be hastened, accommodated or desired. HR would be in deep doggy-do if this happened.
    But lets be realistic. colonial powers presented anti-homosexual laws because that is what powers based on rules and law do. they export cultural practices by accretion, by silence, by patience. Laws are brought in by the Executive, the legislature and the Judiciary. This is how such laws are exported and it is the practice of all imperial powers however unpleasant and it would be similar and worse if imperial powers were non-Western as it is non-Western countries (including Israel) which suffer from a deficit of democracy and human rights and other associated freedoms. Anti-Westernism is childish and weakens HR’s own position.

      1. HR – too true. I am staggered by the number of people – often well-meaning and genuine, it seems – who are now using the Eureka Flag as if Eureka was Oz. I thought the main history was by Carbone, an Ialian [boat people of the 50s], that Americans in general were well-represented, that both Black and Native Americans were in fact represented, and that Peter Lalor became a rather disgraceful self-serving do-nothing MP after the event. It would seem that Lalor escaped hanging [for teason, a hanging offence then] only because of the American presence, and that basically authorities were unwilling to prosecute anybody [due in large part to American whaling interests], so the Americans were sent home – NOT prosecuted – and the likes of Lalor were essentially allowed to go free. I do apologise for introducing facts into Oz mythology, Peter lalor is easily Googled, so is Carbone and I have pics of Americans who were repatriated. Apart from which – cannot the Oz patriots put 2 and 2 together re Ballarat and San Fancisco? S’truth.

  7. ‘Western conquerors exported harsh legal penalties for homosexual acts into Muslim territory.’

    Where did you get that idea from? Another attempt at cultural self-flagellation there, blaming the West for all those Muslim homosexuals chucked off high buildings. Muslims are the first to quote Koranic references that pre-date Western influences, in which homosexuality is condemned. Mind you, doesn’t stop them doing it on the quiet as anyone who’s travelled in the Middle East will attest.

    1. “All those Muslims.”
      Can you quantify this, and compare it to the number of homosexual men imprisoned and executed in Western nations? Or to the number of LGBT people currently held in US prisons?

  8. Geez Helen, you take the cake for tedious laboring of the point. How many thousand words was that, to say something that could be said on a couple of hundred.

    And what did you say?
    Just the usual snark of the week against those in an understandably celebratory mood.
    Next, 3 thousand words from Helen on why puppies and kittens are not. that.cute.

    And 40% of Muslims ‘certainly ‘ voted yes? Did you actually read that link you supplied? Any association between those claims and certainty is a mirage.

  9. Helen Razer, “Harsh legal penalties for homosexual acts were imported by colonists…”
    This is patently false.
    There is a specific ‘hadith’ (the word of God, which cannot be changed, or even questioned) which decrees: ““…that sodomites should be thrown from the highest building in the town and then stoned” (wording varies by translation).
    This particular ‘hadith’ is centuries old, and pre-dates colonialism.
    If the harsh legal penalties were ‘imported, as you assert’, then surely you would think that (if Islamic leaders and ‘philosophers’ held any traces of compassion) that once the ‘colonists’ had departed, then efforts would be made to repeal those penalties. After all, such countries are in other respects, generally quite ‘anti-colonial’.
    To date, there is very little evidence of that occurring.
    If anything, penalties are being made more severe. Just take a look to Australia’s north, where gay people are being actively persecuted in Indonesia. Why are Islamic religious leaders not speaking out? Simple answer. Because they believe it is the correct path.
    Yes, there are Christian countries in the world today where gay people are persecuted or imprisoned.
    But the death penalty is applied almost exclusively when Islam is the official state religion.
    As of November 2017, such countries are as follows: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. (Source Wikipedia)
    If anyone sees any glimmer of hope that these countries would ever change, I would be very interested to hear about it.
    Although it is by no means perfect in many aspects, the safest place in the Middle East for a gay person is the – decidedly non-Islamic– nation of Israel.

      1. I am not blaming anybody for sodomy. If you could tell me who to congratulate for it, though, I would be happy to send them a note.

  10. What peeved me was the fact that only a few hours after the result was published, I received an email from Penny Wong, thanking me, “We did it” etc. Firstly, how she gained access to my email is beyond me; I’ve never had any dealings with her. Secondly, how did she know how I voted? I replied, “Don’t thank me.” I did not vote for her. I did not vote for a group of people variously known as LGBT etc or LHBT etc (“H” being for homosexual – I am still gay [as in frivolous, mirthful]) but I’ll be buggered if I am homosexual). I voted for a PRINCIPLE! and nothing more.

  11. Dear Helen, I read with no reference to the article other than I did not expect anything else from the gay David Marr, elsewhere women who used to define themselves as lesbians are now in the minority since most of these now join the queer ‘nation’. If this is so, what is the reason for this? As a radical feminist dinosaur I am uncomfortable with this switch, since it appears that what is falling by the wayside is the female body/sex which lesbians used to prioritise. Any ideas?

    1. I really don’t have anything of a problem with people doing as they do and identifying their bodies and selves as they will.
      Pleasure is good. Existing in a way that feels right is good. Adhering to a particular pleasure and identity (say lesbian) in order to be a good feminist strikes me as silly as saying that one must be straight and married for the nation.
      For me, the aim is for all people not to be coerced. To be as free as possible.
      I would say that corporeal feminism may be something that interests you. You know Liz Grosz? The experience of the body is very interesting. I just don’t know how much of a revolutionary application it has!

  12. Like you Helen I was conflicted by the issue – not the equal rights issue, that was cut and dried for me. But the questionable methodology used; then when the result was in, somehow changing “Survey” to “The people have voted”. Didn’t pass the pub test for me.
    The confliction was simple: Should I fill out the form in the positive, which is what my humanist inclinations insisted upon.
    or in some mis-directed way, not participate at all, in protest of the way it was conducted. I have no doubt the former was
    the right thing to do, even though I had strong doubts about being shanghaied into participating at all.

    It was the particular gutlessness of the Government, already knowing the result, acting out the pious stance of “being sure” (their words, not mine). No government enters into a referendum without already knowing the answer – no smart one, anyway.

    Then for Malcolm-in-the-middle claiming both the kudos (most ungenerous, I thought) given it was ours (the people’s victory) not his.
    Yet, in his “victory” lies the seeds of his destruction. I cannot wait, because in the end it wasn’t about equality, it was about exigency.

    As for Marr, well, he’s paid to be upbeat.

  13. Gays have been to hell and back since the 70s and probably just want a quiet life. Not a justification for selling out, just an explanation.

  14. Thank you Helen. Spot on as (nearly) always. A good result but still a corporate sponsored diversion.
    Thanks too for introducing me to Yasmin Nair.
    All love

  15. I am a gay person, Most middle eastern countries are not democracies – the citizens don’t have freedom of expression. However it seems they are happy to have limited freedom and expression themselves as the trade off for the acceptance of oppression of people perceived as “not normal” in their own country. Unfortunately most middle easterners have been “brain washed” due to propaganda etc to believe that freedom and freedom of expression is a bad thing – hence an openly gay person in a middle eastern country would be perceived to be advocating for freedom of expression, and thats seen as a bad thing. However eventually homosexuality will become better understood and accepted, its just going to be a very long drawn out painful process – but it will happen eventually. There is a large underground LGBTI community in the middle east which is getting bigger and bigger and more and more powerful. Change will come.

    1. You either failed to read this article, or you are paid by Brand Israel (a real group professionally devoted to the idea, inter alia, of making homosexuality seem as persecuted as possible in the ME, everywhere but Israel).
      One more time. Harsh legal penalties for homosexual acts were imported by colonists. This was the case in Australia, too, where sodomy was punishable by death until 1949 in some states.
      Homosexual acts , we must suppose, have always occurred. The idea of “the homosexual” is a Western invention, made ’round 1870.
      When I say “invention”, I do not mean that there were not men exclusively attracted to other men always. I just mean that “the homosexual” is a category that comes from the West, and was used to penalise the people (all men at the time) who were in that category.
      If you are interested in our queer history, I encourage you to read our history. Which would reveal to you that LGBT is now a weapon used against other nations, even if it is a category we are comfortable with.
      LGBT is Western. Homosexual acts are universal. Democracy is a teeny bit of a fib.

      1. Helen, are you claiming that homophobia in middle eastern countries was imported by colonists?

        Which colonists would they be?
        Alexander the Great??
        Darius?
        The Romans?
        The Ottomans?
        Have a look at the Koran some day, maybe you’ll see that not everything you don’t like was perpetrated y European colonizers.

  16. same, same, same, same, same. What frightening fucking symbolism this is.

    Same = Acceptance = Equality ???

    I for one can’t think this demonstrates anything good. Unless you’re into the integration and normalization of minorities.

    Equality = Diversity = Individuality !!!

    Help, has anyone seen my old closet? It was dark and dingy and dirty and led to a rainbow.

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