Keeping the thing going

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.

I also recommend this much more interesting analysis by NeonAnne RusselLudditeJourno and Anthea.

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.

  • Resources to address queer and trans youth suicide
  • Anti-homophobia & transphobia education in all schools
  • Income support for queer & trans youth who’ve been rejected by their families
  • No criminalisation of street workers
  • Resources to make street work safer
  • No trans people incarcerated in the wrong gender prison (this is a very reformist demand, ultimately I’d like to abolish prisons altogether).
  • Education support for people who left school early due to transphobic/homophobic bullying
  • Accept queer and trans asylum seekers
  • Gender-neutral toilets in all public places
  • Access to appropriate medical care
  • Adoption rights for same-sex and poly families
  • Legal recognition of poly relationships
  • Educational programmes on how to create trans- and queer-friendly workplaces.
  • Media education packs on how to responsibly report on trans and queer issues.

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