Comedian Hannah Gadsby reminded me that as someone who purports to write fiction to support young queer people, I should have been paying more attention to the upcoming plebiscite.
For those who don’t know, my country, Australia, is currently planning a plebiscite (a nation-wide public vote) on marriage equality.
I know, right?
I make that mistake, too. Shouldn’t Australia, a young, modern nation, already have gotten past this? Don’t worry, I too am still reeling from the fact that the marriage equality isn’t done and dusted and a relic of our recent policy past. In fact, it’s embarrassing. But I so often make the mistake of confusing being a modern nation with being a progressive nation. Silly me.
Let me start by saying that I haven’t been that vocal or active in advocating for marriage equality. That’s more to do with the fact I’m a fairly ardent non-believer in marriage itself than anything. But still, as a member of an LGBTQI community which has been shafted by policy for a long time, and as a fellow human who believes in equal rights, I still sign the petitions and support the movement, even though polls show the vote will most likely turn out in our favour. But right now, I’m starting to think I’ve been lazy and selfish in my half-hearted attention to this issue. I’ll tell you why.
I shouldn’t have been thinking about the outcome of the plebiscite. I should have been thinking about why the hell this issue is being decided in this way. The vote, which is potentially slated for February 2017, is our latest Prime Minister (and we’ve gone through a few, Game of Thrones-style, lately) honouring the decision of the last. The other option, which he says he’d prefer, is a free parliamentary vote.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is not the only one to prefer it. A recent survey found that 85% of LGBTQI Australians who were asked opposed the plebiscite, too. Why? There are two common reasons, the first being the basic idea that minority rights should not have to be put to vote (apparently not as ‘duh’ as we think). And for many others, it’s the fear of the hate campaigns that will sprawl from the public debate surrounding this vote. As someone purports to write fiction in support of young, LGBTQI people, I should have been paying more attention to this second reason.
One person who is worried for the second reason is Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby. The out gay comedian grew up in Tasmania, and lived through that heady period in the nineties where the state was deciding whether to legalise homosexuality. What she remembers most vividly is the bile and vitriol that spewed forth from the public debate surrounding the change of law, and how deeply it affected her as a young LGBTQI person. She wrote an impassioned post about it this week.
Part of it said:
“In the mid-90s I was the age when I should have been learning how to be vulnerable, how to handle a broken heart, how to deal with rejection and how to deal with all the other great silly things about young love which help pave the way to the more substantial adult version,” she wrote.
“But instead I learned how to close myself off and rot quietly in self-hatred.
“I learned this because I learned that I was subhuman during a debate where only the most horrible voices and ideas were amplified by the media. These voices also gave permission for others to tell me that I was less than them, with looks, words and, on one occasion, violence.” (From her Facebook)
While not everyone may be as deeply affected as Hannah was it doesn’t mean some might not be. And Gadsby is certainly not wrong about public debates like these setting an arena for negative and the ugly opinion. Because even while I believe we will be exposed to the measured, rational voices of the debate, too, there will always be media willing to sound out the most extreme, sensational voices, too. Because that’s balanced journalism, right? Right.
And even in instances where the media are vilifying hate speech, journalists tend to have to reproduce it in order to do so. Just look at the spate of articles since the Leslie Jones website hack (and her constant harassment on social media). Most of those blankly state some of the horrifying things that have been said about and to the actress. Now, I’m not condemning the writers for doing so, but it does still put the hate out there to be seen and felt by those who are potentially vulnerable to that kind of hate speech.
Now, I like to think attitudes have changed since those Gadsby was exposed to in Tasmania (not exactly our most cosmopolitan urban centre back then) in the nineties. But do I feel safe in saying that the hate speech will no longer exist at all? Do I feel safe to say that there are not vulnerable young (or not young) LGBTQI people in Australia whose sense of self could be damaged by such speech? Especially in rural areas where help and resources are harder to access, as Gadsby points out? Can I trust our media to commit to their reportage with the level of sensitivity required to protect such vulnerable people?
The answer is no to all of these.
Face it, the Australian media is ever hungry for the conflict under the guise of ‘free speech’ and ‘healthy debate’. It is ever-ready to snap up the most sensational grabs and morsels when it comes to competing for readers’ lucrative eyeballs. These factors will always trump the vulnerable psyche of the kid who is seeing his/her/their future debated, reminding him/her/them that they are a minority before they’ve even learned how to be in this world.
And this is why I am vilifying myself right now for being a lazy, privileged gay with my shrugg-y, apathetic well I don’t believe in marriage at all, plebiscite whatever attitude. Because it was selfish.
Because maybe I’m older and have grown that thicker skin that comes with age, and maybe I’ll be able to let the more extreme voices that are sure to become visible during this debate will wash over me. Maybe I was lucky enough to come out into an a family and friendship circle and an inner-city existence that didn’t really care that I was gay. But I thank Gadsby for reminding me about the people who don’t have that luxury, and the people for whom the coming media shitfight could expose them to things that could affect their sense of self, and how they emerge into the world as a young, queer person.
So, as of now, I am completely with Hannah Gadsby when she said “This plebiscite is F*&^%D”.
Excuse our French.
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