So now we’re beyond Marriage Equality, what next? The indicators of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still all around us. Who gets bullied at school? Who disproportionately wrestles with mental health issues, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide? Who has hate graffiti on their walls? Who is targeted for violence on the streets, in their workplaces, from their families? Who is not able to look at any media, anytime, and see someone who looks a bit like them, wrestling with some of the things they think about?
One of the very difficult issues for queer and trans* people to navigate is connection with others. What happens when you transition? Can you keep relationships with people who have known you as one gender? Will those people treat you with respect? Will you be safe? Or do you have to build a completely different social and support network from scratch?
For same and both-sex attracted people, the disconnect from our families can be just as severe. I’ve supported young people whose families have kicked them out when they learned who their sons or daughters loved. I’ve talked one parent down from trying to have their daughter institutionalized as mentally unwell – simply because she was lesbian.
But it’s not just young people. I’ve been out for 24 years. When I first came out, the homophobia and biphobia of my parents was so vicious I refused to see them for a year. They told me they could never respect me again, that my sexuality was unnatural and a symptom of being parented poorly. They tried, at length, to work out if it was my depressed mother’s lack of interest or my father’s fondness for playing cricket with me that was the problem. They wanted me to be lesbian, because that would be easier for them.
No one in my family would even think of saying such things now. Yet several years ago, when an aunt was visiting London, my sister could tell me not to make such a big deal about whether or not to come out to her.
“I’m not going to talk about my sexuality,” she said, straightly. My sister was single. I’d been with my lover for ten years. We owned a house together, parented her children together. To not come out meant not being able to talk about my life with any honesty. To come out meant the risk of my aunt’s reaction framing the entire night. We were faced with quite different dilemmas.
Now, when I have a female partner there is no hostility, but no one in my family can bring themselves to ask me anything about her. When a relationship ends, there is literally nothing to say, because my family have no idea how much she has meant to me, what we may have shared. These things had shifted markedly with my mother before she died; in her absence, there is a gaping hole where some of the sustaining relationships in my life are ignored and minimised by my family.
I share stories of how my family treats me with other queer people. Telling them in public, or to straight friends, feels shaming in a way it’s difficult to name. I’m an out and proud bisexual woman. How can there still be such bruising homophobia and biphobia in my life?
That’s the beyond marriage equality I’m interested in talking about. Moving now into educating our communities. Gathering information – like say, by using the census – about the kinds of experiences queer and trans* people have based on our sexuality and gender identity. Gathering information about victimisation – like say, by recording sexuality and gender diversity – in crime stats about street violence. Expanding the Human Rights Act to protect trans* folk from cis-gender based discrimination.
A good starting point would be a national queer and trans* resource centre, funded to identify exactly what beyond marriage equality might mean. Able to develop queer and trans* specific materials for schools and our national curriculum. Able to work with the Human Rights Commission to ensure experiences of queer and trans* discrimination are named, understood, responded to appropriately. Able to intervene in social institutions which are responding to queer and trans* people – New Zealand Police, mental health systems, healthcare more broadly – and ensure processes are transparent and well-equipped. Able to develop completely new resources – emergency housing for young queer and trans* people who need somewhere safe to stay; social work and prevention resources around suicide and self-harm, intimate partner and sexual violence which are specific to the queer community.
The kinds of difference Marriage Equality will make to queer and trans* peoples lives are important. This was a social change moment – and make no mistake, we won it. The people arguing against equality looked like bigoted hate-mongers. But we still had to listen to their vitriol, had to protect ourselves from its impact on our sense of self in a world where those things sadly do not just sound ridiculous - which is how they should sound.
It’s time to celebrate – and to work out what else we need to dismantle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia for good.