whose eyes are sharp stones
also has a fishhook for a tongue
Too late I see it dangling
Too late I think
Now that hook is lodged deep in my jaw
Now I’m spitting blood
whose eyes are sharp stones
also has a fishhook for a tongue
Too late I see it dangling
Too late I think
Now that hook is lodged deep in my jaw
Now I’m spitting blood
Back in June I spoke at CLITfest on a panel titled ‘body politics: food, health, fat, disability, class and moral virtue’. This is adapted from that talk.
I want to start out by talking a bit about the way our culture views the human body, and by extension issues around health, fatness, disability and food. I’m actually going to use an example from science fiction, specifically from the BBC show Torchwood. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Torchwood is a spinoff of Doctor Who, it’s about a covert British government agency who deal with matters of extra-terrestrials, time travel, and other science-fictiony type threats to humanity.
There’s one episode about a pharmaceutical company that creates a drug called Reset, which cures any and all diseases. It works by ‘resetting’ the body back to its ‘factory settings’.
I’m really interested in this idea, that the human body has factory settings. Because as we all know, people are not created on a mass production line in a factory. But I constantly hear people talk about bodies as if they were created in a factory—as if all bodies (and brains) are ‘intended’ to be a certain way, and have certain capabilities. I hear that ‘humans weren’t meant to eat this food’ ‘humans are supposed to be able to do this thing’ ‘humans weren’t intended to live in these places’. And what this does is, it constructs this idea that any body with any kind of physical or neurological impairment, or even difference, is a wrong body, a body which does not fit its intended ‘factory settings’ and therefore needs to be fixed.
I find this particular discourse rather illogical. If you’re an atheist, which I am, then presumably you subscribe to the theory of evolution, and you should understand the importance that genetic, physiological and neurological diversity play in human survival.
If you believe that humanity was created by a benevolent omnipotent higher power, then you’ve got to trust that that power knows what it’s doing and that human variation is there for a reason.
The question we need to ask is, why is this particular discourse about bodies so popular? Whose needs does it serve? What kind of social impact does it have, especially on people who have physical or neurological impairments?
There are two dominant narratives around illness and disability. One is the disabled person as an object of pity: the helpless victim of fortune who needs our charity. The other is the disabled person as object of contempt: the person whose hardship is their own fault, because if they just had the correct attitude and worked hard enough, they could overcome their disability. This attitude is also applied to fat people, and to poor people.
We constantly hear that the reason that poor people have poor health is because they’re stupid, lazy and don’t take good care of their bodies. Al Nisbett’s cartoon voiced something that a lot of middle-class Pākehā really do believe: that poverty and poor health are people’s own fault because they spend their money on the wrong things (alcohol, cigarettes, pokies).
I once heard a nutrition expert discuss child poverty on National Radio and he explained that oatmeal and liver are foods that are very high in protein and also very cheap. So poor people would be fine if they just fed their kids on liver and oatmeal. How many parents think your kids would be ok with that?
When I was a kid I was a very fussy eater, I refused to eat fruit, vegetables, and most kinds of meat. My dad used to get so frustrated that he’d tell me ‘food is medicine, you don’t have to like it, just eat it because it’s good for you’. But that’s not really how it works. People aren’t machines, and food is more than just fuel. We don’t just need it to be nutritious. It also has to taste good, and we need more variety than just two kinds of food.
Those aren’t frivolous things, there’s a good evolutionary reason for them. Food that tastes good is likely to be food that’s safe to eat, and that contains the nutrients we most need (fat, carbs, protein). There’s also a good evolutionary reason why most of us get bored if we eat the same thing all the time: the wider the range of food we eat, the more likely we are to get all our nutritional needs met. So not wanting to live on liver and oatmeal is actually pretty reasonable.
The idea that people can control their health—and therefore should be blamed for being ‘unhealthy’—is expressed in different ways. Sometimes it’s the idea that you manifest your destiny with your thoughts, sometimes it’s the idea that you can get what you want by praying, sometimes it’s the idea that you can overcome poverty, disability and illness through sheer willpower, determination and hard work. What all these have in common is the idea that if individuals are disabled, it’s their own fault.
Blaming the individual for their problem is consistent with neo-liberal ideology, which is all about dismantling collective responsibility and replacing it with individual responsibility. If, as Margaret Thatcher said ‘there is no society, there is only the individual’ then there’s no such thing as social responsibility.
It’s a convenient idea because it lets us off the hook when it comes to supporting other people. Taxpayers don’t need to fund sickness and invalids benefits if we can all agree that those people are to blame for being sick or disabled. We don’t need to put energy into supporting people with mental illness if we think that they could overcome mental illness through positive thinking. We don’t need to build public spaces that don’t disable people if we believe that anyone can overcome physical impairments through hard work and willpower.
The other convenient thing about blaming people for their health problems is that we don’t have to be scared that it could happen to us. We can tell ourselves that we won’t get sick because we exercise and don’t eat meat, or because we say positive affirmations every day, or because we are pious and God-fearing. In reality we have very little control over our health, which is a scary thing. Life is much easier if we believe that we can protect ourselves from illness or injury.
It’s ironic that we have a culture where people’s health is viewed as an individual responsibility but at the same time a public matter that we all have a right to pass judgment on. As if poor health is an indication of a lack of moral virtue.
Here’s something else to think about: in a capitalist economy which bodies are valued? Bodies that can perform waged work and thus contribute to the economy. Bodies that aren’t able to do so are excluded and disabled because they are disposable to the economy.
In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay the Capitol bombs a hospital full of injured rebel soldiers. Katniss doesn’t understand why the regime would do such a thing, until Gale points out that to the Capitol, people are only useful if they can perform the kind of work the Capitol considers productive. Injured people do not make good workers therefore they are disposable.
At this point I’m going to get personal and talk a bit more about my own experience. I have ADHD with inattentiveness. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 17. This has to do with sexism—girls with ADHD are less likely to be diagnosed, because of the different ways children are socialised based on their assigned gender. It also has to do with racism. As an immigrant from a Westernised but not Western country, teachers didn’t expect much from me. If I was quiet in class and had trouble understanding some material they assumed it was because my English was bad or because I wasn’t very bright.
Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD meant constantly being told that I was lazy, unreliable, inconsiderate, stupid, and socially inept. So it’s not surprising that I ended up with anxiety disorder, clinical depression, and a tendency to distrust my own judgment—something that’s actually really dangerous and makes you vulnerable to abuse.
After I was diagnosed my family’s reaction was mostly relief. Now that they knew what was wrong with me they thought they could fix it. And that goes back to what I said earlier about thinking there is only one kind of brain that people are ‘intended’ to have. They didn’t see neurodiversity as a difference, but as a problem to be fixed, and so I saw it the same way. I’d read that you could manage ADHD through a high protein, low carb diet. I became really obsessive and controlling about my food intake, and I often went without eating if I couldn’t find food that met those requirements. You don’t need a psychology degree to work out that it was my way of ensuring that there was at least one thing in my life that I had control over.
One of the ways that I’ve managed ADHD and mental illness is by taking medication. At some points in my life it’s been really helpful, and at other points I decided it was doing more harm than good so I stopped. What I learned is that you’re stigmatised if you do take meds and you’re stigmatised if you don’t. I’ve had friends tell me that taking Ritalin to help me study for exams is like taking steroids to play competitive sports. I’ve also been told ‘you don’t need drugs to be happy, you should just be happy’. On the other hand, I once had a close friend ask me ‘have you considered taking anti-depressants?’ while I was having an anxiety attack. I had family members get angry at me for refusing to take Ritalin because I didn’t like the anxiety it caused.
There’s a lot of pressure on neurodiverse and mentally ill people to take medication so that we can just ‘be better’. Refusing medication is seen as a selfish act, as if we’re forcing people around us to have to deal with our impairments or difference when we could just choose to be normal. Psychiatric medications are not aren’t magic potions. They won’t instantly fix mental illness or make you neurotypical. They also aren’t a cop-out or a crutch that people rely on because they’re weak. Meds are a strategy that people can use to manage mental illness and/or neurodiversity. It’s a strategy that some people will find helpful at some times, and other people will not. It’s up to individuals to decide for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Neurodiverse people do not have an obligation to ‘fix’ themselves so that they can be like neurotypical people. Being neurologically atypical isn’t a disorder, it’s a difference in the way someone’s brain works. It only becomes a disability when someone is disabled by the society they live in. I know there are particular things that make it hard for me to participate in society: when university courses consist of three-hour long lectures (because I can’t maintain concentration for that long) or when social occasions are at noisy bars or cafes (because I can’t block out background noise, so I can’t concentrate on conversations).
Our goal shouldn’t be to change people, so that all bodies and brains have the same abilities (because that ain’t gonna happen). Our goal should be to restructure our society so that we don’t disable anyone.
One last point about meds: the existence of psychiatric medications is not an evil capitalist plot. What is an evil capitalist plot is that people’s access to medications is limited, and access to information about medications is also limited. The problem with the pharmaceutical industry isn’t that it manufactures drugs, it’s that it charges money for drugs. We need to distinguish between the industry and the product. The problem isn’t medicine, it’s capitalist economic relations.
The thing about capitalist economic relations is: it requires a particular set of moral values to sustain it. It requires a culture where most of us have very little power and autonomy over our lives, but we’re expected to take full responsibility for ourselves. We need to turn that on its head. We need to build a culture of collective responsibility, where everyone contributes according to their ability and gets according to their needs, so that no one is disabled. We need to build a culture that respects both community and individual autonomy, where people are trusted to be the experts on their own bodies, and everyone’s bodily autonomy is respected.
I love stuffing my face with latkes and donuts—you can’t beat a holiday dedicated to fried food.
I love the smell of Hannukah candles burning. It evokes childhood memories of celebrating at my grandparents’ house, all the cousins playing together while the grownups drink whiskey and discuss politics.
I love playing dreidl with my non-Jewish friends and laughing at them struggling to differentiate between נ and ג.
But mostly I just love a good story, and Hannukah comes with a great story. It’s got an oppressive occupying army, and a brave guerrilla struggle, and a miraculous victory against all the odds.
Like all good stories, it develops and adapts as circumstances demand. The version I grew up with was all about nationalism and military might and God’s greatness:
The Greek military (technically they were Syrian but why let historical accuracy interfere with the story), led by King Antiochus, had occupied Judea. Antiochus forced the Jews to worship Greek gods. He placed a statue of Zeus in the temple of Jerusalem, destroyed the holy oil used to light the Menorah (the seven-branch lamp in the temple) and demanded that Jews sacrifice pigs to the Greek gods (not kosher and mean to pigs). In the town of Modi’in, one brave man named Mattityahu (yup like the rapper) the Hasmonean and his five sons stood up to Antiochus and led a rebellion. They became known as the Maccabees. They lived in caves and ate carob and had a bunch of military victories until they liberated the temple itself. They cleaned out the temple and were ready to rededicate it, but all the holy oil had been desecrated. After much searching our illustrious heroes found one tiny jar of oil, enough to burn for one day. It would take eight days to make more oil. They lit the lamp anyway (I never understood why they didn’t just wait a week til they could get more oil) and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.
You can see how this story fits into Israel’s nationalist narrative: The brave pious warriors fighting for Jewish self-determination, the cruel and powerful enemy that surrounds the Jews on all sides, but most of all the way the Jews won against their enemies, not because they had the support of the world’s largest superpower, but because they had God on their side.
Luckily I am a champion at tactical reading. If I don’t like a story I just rewrite it in my head. What resonates with me about the story of Hannukah isn’t the nationalism or religious zealotry. It’s the idea that people will always resist economic and cultural colonisation, and that eventually they will win. This is an important message, particularly in relation to the current Israeli colonisation of Palestine.
There’s another important lesson we should learn from the Hannukah story. The Maccabees defeated Antiochus and established a Hasmonean dynasty that ruled for a hundred years. Eventually the Hasmonean regime became as oppressive as Antiochus had been and began persecuting the rabbis. I read this as a warning about the dangers of nationalism. The Maccabee rebellion was motivated by Jewish nationalism, not by a desire for liberation. What started out as a movement for freedom from oppression eventually became oppressive towards others. Again, there are obvious parallels with the Zionist movement.
The lesson I take from this story, is that solidarity should be based in ethics, not identity. If my solidarity is with the Jews because I am a Jew, then I will stand with Jews against anti-Jewish oppression, and I will also stand with Jews when they oppress others in the name of Jewishness. If this is the basis of my politics, then I cannot expect solidarity from anyone who is not Jewish.
However, if my solidarity is with the oppressed against the oppressors, then I will stand with Jews against anti-Jewish oppression, and I will stand against any Jews who oppress others—even if they do so in the name of Jewishness. It means I stand with diaspora Jewish communities against anti-Semitism and I also stand with Palestinians against Zionism and I expect solidarity from both Jews and non-Jews in that stand.
If I were writing a sappy daytime TV special about a group of kids who go on a magical quest to discover the true meaning of Hannukah, this would be the conclusion: Hannukah is about resistance to oppression, it’s about decolonisation, and it’s about the dangers of nationalism and fanaticism.
A couple of weeks ago I talked at Beyond as part of a panel titled Nationalism, Imperialism and Queer Liberation. This is adapted from that talk.
Note: for the purpose of this article I’m using ‘queer’ as a broad term to describe all of us who are marginalised because our gender or sexual identity isn’t normative. That includes trans, intersex, pansexual, lesbian and gay folks, among others. I know that ‘queer’ is a culturally specific label and that not all gender/sexually diverse people identify as such.
Let me start by explaining a few concepts that are useful for understanding the relationship between struggles for queer liberation and nationalism.
Homonormative: a normative way of being gay. The ‘proper’ gay person is someone who’s cisgendered, monogamous, White, middle-class, and definitely not disabled—because disabled people aren’t supposed to have a sexuality. The normative gay just wants to be allowed to serve in the military, to get a job, get married, have babies, and fit in to heteronormative society.
Homonationalism: means homonormative nationalism. This is about the way that the cause of GLBT rights—but more often than not just G and L rights—gets used to prop up nationalism and justify imperialism and militarism. One example is when people justify military attacks on Iran by arguing that it is a homophobic country. Another example is when people blame homophobia in New Zealand on Māori and Pacific Islander communities, who are portrayed as conservative and homophobic.
It’s worth thinking about the correlation between the social acceptance of some queers (normative ones) and racism, especially anti-Arab and Muslim racism. Identity is always formed in opposition to someone else, it’s ‘us’ and ‘them’. Normative gays are allowed entry into ‘proper society’ in order to emphasise the dichotomy between the White West (modern, progressive, liberal) and the Brown East: Arabs, Muslims, Southeast Asians and other populations who are constructed as conservative, patriarchal, homophobic, violent, backwards and terrorists.
Pinkwashing: a term used to describe the way that GLBT rights are used to whitewash over unethical behavior. We see this when corporations use gay-friendly marketing to distract from the terrible way they treat their workers. We see it when NZ Defence wins an award for being an equal opportunity employer, which is another way of saying that anyone, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can join in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan.
For the purpose of this talk I’m going to focus on the state of Israel as an example of pinkwashing—partly because I’m an Israeli, or to put it more accurately, I’m a settler-colonist on Palestinian land. Israel is a state that consistently oppresses its Indigenous Palestinian population in order to maintain an ethnically-exclusive state. In other words, it’s an apartheid state. Maintaining an apartheid state requires a huge amount of PR work to convince the rest of the world that they should allow you to continue oppressing people. So the state of Israel has come up with a marketing campaign called ‘Brand Israel’.
Part of ‘Brand Israel’ is to promote Israel as a queer-friendly country. This is really a two-pronged approach: (1) situate Israel as a progressive, modern, pro-LGBT country and (2) construct Arabs and Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular as conservative, patriarchal, and violently homophobic.
What’s wrong with this picture?
First of all the image on the right is a bit misleading. The two soldiers in this photo aren’t lovers, and actually one of them is heterosexual. The photo was staged by the Israeli Defence Force Spokesperson’s Office and posted on its facebook page with the caption ‘It’s Pride Month. Did you know that the IDF treats all of its soldiers equally? Let’s see how many shares you can get for this photo.’
The image on the left is just plain incorrect. This photo isn’t from Palestine, it’s from Iran. The two boys in this photo were hanged—though their supposed crime is unclear. Originally Western media outlets were reporting they were hanged for having consensual sex with each other, but human rights NGOs haven’t found any evidence that corroborates this claim, it’s more likely that they had raped a younger boy. Either way, what happened to them is horrific and inexcusable—the death penalty is never ok, especially against children. But this is an example of how information about human rights abuses is manipulated to justify imperialist intentions, whether against Palestinians or against Iran.
Part of this ‘Brand Israel’ campaign has been to promote Israel as a gay tourism destination. These are Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau, the first gay French couple to get married after France legalised same-sex marriage. Hila Oren, the CEO of Tel Aviv Global & Tourism, came up with a great marketing idea. She invited this couple to come honeymoon in Tel Aviv during Tel Aviv pride week. According to Oren, ‘the meaning beneath is our mission, to broaden the conversation about Tel Aviv, for people to know that Tel Aviv is a place of tolerance, of business and tourism, a place beyond the conflict’. Vincent Autin told Israeli media that ‘for us it’s very important to be a bridge, especially here in the Middle East, so that what’s happened in France, and the way we are received and embraced here, can become an example for the rest of the Middle East.’ This is homonationalism—the idea that Westerners constitute ‘an example’ that the Middle East should follow.
This kind of pinkwashing has found its way into the queer community in New Zealand too. At Queer the Night 2011 someone showed up with a pro-Israel placard. Queer the Night was supposed to be about standing up against transphobia, homophobia and oppression. But somebody managed to derail it and use it as an opportunity to incite prejudice against Arab and Muslim people.
Sometimes pinkwashing is a lot subtler than that. I was pretty shocked when I read this article in the June issue of Express. The author was clearly impressed with the Gay Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, and on the surface this seems pretty innocuous. But celebrating Tel Aviv as a queer-friendly city without acknowledging that it is a city built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is pinkwashing racism—as the Jewish American lesbian writer Sarah Schulman puts it ‘Tel Aviv is a theater set, behind it is the reality of profound oppression and violation of human rights.’
Pinkwashing arguments are built on a false logic. Transphobia and homophobia aren’t limited to Arab and Muslim societies. Israel is also a homophobic and transphobic society. New Zealand has its own problems with anti-queer oppression. More than that, struggles against racism and colonisation and struggles against transphobia and homophobia can’t be fought separately. Homophobia, transphobia, racism and occupation are all intertwined; they are part of the matrix of violence and oppression in Palestine. This isn’t just an abstract idea, it has real consequences for people’s safety. For example, there’s a history of the Shabak, Israel’s General Security Services, blackmailing Palestinian queers into becoming informants—because they know that outing them could endanger their lives. The lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank means that queers living in transphobic or homophobic communities cannot easily leave.
This is why Palestinian queer groups like al-Qaws, Aswat and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions all work to fight both anti-queer oppression, and the racism and colonialism of the Israeli state.
Palestinian queer groups endorse the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel. Palestinian civil society groups launched the BDS campaign in 2005, and part of the campaign is ‘queer BDS’ which is specifically about challenging Israel’s pinkwashing. Joining the BDS campaign is one way that we can be solid with all Palestinians—queer and straight.
Here in Aotearoa we’ve recently established the Aotearoa BDS Network, and our first campaign is focusing on G4S, a private security company that provides prisons and checkpoints for Israel. We’re inviting queer organisations to endorse the campaign by signing the letter we’re writing to Super Fund asking them to divest their shares in G4S. If you want to learn more, you should come along to our campaign launch on November 2 at Thistle Hall.
Aswat (lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning & queer Palestinian women)
Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press: 2007)
Sarah Schulman, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International (Duke University Press: 2012)
Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli–Palestinian Impasse (Picador: 2007)
Ben White, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide (Pluto Press: 2009)
Omar Barghouti, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket Books: 2011)
So my mum went to New York City,
and all I got were these steel
cap boots, which if you ask me
is a damn good score coz these
boots were made for walking all
sorts of places I wouldn’t
really wanna go. Even
Arohata Prison, where
they set off the metal
detector and Maia—who
dressed metal free just for the
me for wasting even one
precious minute of prison
you never know who you might
run into on the mean streets
of Poneke—skinheads, cops
or maybe just regular guys,
like that guy on Willis
Street who said, ‘nice tits’. Well yes,
they are nice tits. But ain’cha seen
my steel cap boots?
Last Saturday I went to the protest against asset sales organized by Aotearoa Not For Sale. I was marching with my friend Maia, discussing the latest episode of The Good Wife in between chants of ‘hey hey ho ho/John Key has got to go’.
Halfway up Willis St we overheard a guy behind us talking: ‘This is all because John Key is a money-hungry Jew.’ Maia immediately turned around and told him that he was being anti-Semitic and that it wasn’t ok (she’s great like that). The guy explained that she didn’t understand the historical context, that ‘they took over this country with their money’, before finally giving up and telling her ‘you must be Jewish’ (incidentally, she isn’t. Not that it’s relevant’).
By that point I’d already walked away. I was in no mood to hear about how I control the world’s money and am personally responsible for the economic recession.
This wasn’t the first time that anti-Jewish racism has cropped up at Aotearoa Not For Sale events. Last year a guy named Nathan Symington joined an anti-asset sales march in Auckland holding a skateboard with swastikas chalked on it. The same man was later charged with the racist vandalism of the Symonds St Jewish cemetery.
When an Auckland activist noticed that Symington had clicked ‘attending’ on a facebook page for an Aotearoa Not For Sale street party, she commented and asked the organisers to make a clear statement that racism and fascism weren’t welcome at this event. She was ignored and her comment was deleted. (I’m told that at the party itself one of the organisers did make a statement condemning racism. I don’t want to imply that everyone involved in ANFS ignores racism.)
There were similar instances of anti-Jewish racism at Occupy spaces in 2011, and on the facebook pages of several of the Occupy groups as well.
The campaign against asset sales is broad. It includes socialists who argue for nationalization of resources, anarchists who argue for collectivization of the means of production, and tino rangatiratanga activists who view asset sales as a continuation of colonization. It also includes nationalists, racists and conspiracy theorists.
Aotearoa Not For Sale organisers can’t be held personally responsible for the actions of every single person who attends one of their protests. But they do need to take responsibility for ensuring that racism isn’t tolerated—or worse, nurtured.
One way to do that is to stop the nationalist rhetoric. Campaigns against privatization have a nasty habit of appealing to populist nationalism, because it’s an easy way of galvanizing support. That slope is both slippery and dangerous. Its logical conclusion is in racism and xenophobia. It’s essential that arguments against the privatization of public assets are based on an ethic of economic and social justice, not nationalism.
Another way to take responsibility is to take a strong and explicit stance against racism. Not just against Jews, but against Māori, Pacific islanders, Asians, Arabs—anybody. Opposition to racism needs to be one of the central tenets of anti-privatisation activism, and it needs to be made explicit and constantly reiterated. When people hold racist signs or make racist comments at protests they should be asked to leave. When racist behavior manifests it should be publicly condemned, not swept under the rug for fear of ‘damaging the movement’.
Nothing divides social movements quite as effectively as oppression ignored. If Aotearoa Not For Sale continues to ignore anti-Jewish racism, it will split the movement between those who are willing to tolerate racism, and those who cannot.
So stop ignoring anti-Jewish racism.
I feel like I need to preface this post with a disclaimer: over the last year I have become extremely jaded and cynical. So it’s possible that my inability to get excited about parliament passing the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) bill has more to do with my current pessimism than with anything else. But I’ve been turning it over in my mind for the last week and I think I’ve finally worked out why I feel so uneasy about it.
When I was ten I wrote a letter to the president asking him to legalise same-sex marriage. Nearly two decades, and one inter-continental migration later, the government of the country I now live in did exactly that. Instead of feeling excited, I just felt sad and frustrated that even something as small and symbolic as the ability to marry requires such a long struggle.
All parliament did was change one discriminatory law, and suddenly everyone’s gushing about how proud they are to be a New Zealander. To me it feels like we’ve been given the kind of small-but-very-loud concession that makes it easy to pretend that institutional transphobia and homophobia aren’t a reality anymore [‘we gave you marriage rights, what more do you want?’]
This law change is an easy thing for parliament to give us, because it doesn’t cost anything. As much as homophobes like to complain that their marriages will be ruined if queers can get married too, the truth is that legalising same-sex marriage doesn’t take any resources away from heterosexuals. It doesn’t require any tax payers’ money. Actually it will probably be good for the economy, and it definitely makes it easier for the state to regulate people’s relationships.
On the other hand, there are so many things the government could do that would make a huge positive impact on the lives of trans and queer folk in New Zealand. But these things would all require money. Which means they will be much much harder to get. I’m not saying that legalising same-sex marriage was a waste of time—it may not be important to me personally, but I support other people’s right to marry—but it’s important that we don’t view it as the holy grail of queer liberation. It’s really more of a small stepping-stone on the way there.
Seeing how ecstatic everyone around me was when the bill passed did quite a bit to melt my cynicism. Still, I kept thinking of Sojourner Truth’s famous speech to the American Equal Rights Association in 1867, ‘I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.’
So in the interest of keeping the thing going while it is stirring, I started brainstorming a list of demands. These mostly came out of a good rant I had with Neon. I’m sure there’s plenty more others could add to this list.