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.