BY AMY HATTERSLEY
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just ridiculous, I’ll let you know that I’m proud to have voted No.”
Proud. The irony of his choice of words is not lost on me. Three and a half years on from the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia, interactions like this unfortunately still happen frequently, and one of the many reasons why events like Pride Month and Mardi Gras are still important. The above comment was made to me. This week. In my workplace. By a patient I was caring for. Unprompted.
The highs and lows of this life were never made so evident to me during the months leading up to the vote on marriage equality. The rhetoric that filled the media around that time brought back all the internal shame I had buried for years, and strangers suddenly had platforms for opinions about me that felt dehumanising. Unable to hide from the onslaught, having to listen to acquaintances, colleagues, and relatives tell me why I didn’t deserve the same rights that they had. But then, the overwhelming joy that came with hearing the news that the law had passed.
It didn’t really hit me how much it truly meant to me until I found myself unexpectedly in tears at work, listening to the radio coverage of the results. Hearing stories of couples who coul
d finally get married, stories of those who had fought this fight for many years before I was even born. At last feeling like I fit in, that I wasn’t alone in my journey. Overcome by a feeling of glowing warmth and acceptance impossible to put into words. Finally things were changing in real, tangible ways. A few months later, I again found myself in happy tears from the swell of love I felt marching in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade, hand in hand with my partner, participating in a workplace float.
But the legalisation of same-sex marriage did not mean that the same behaviours I had always faced just suddenly disappeared. For a while, things cruise along nicely, you surround yourself with people who allow you to be your authentic self and the world feels safe, you feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, you can breathe. You feel at home, finally. But these micro aggressions, like the example above, interspersed into your daily life slowly chip away at your soul, and that glowing feeling wears off quickly. Most of the time it’s merely disheartening how much easier hate comes than love and acceptance, other times it’s pure frightening aggression.
I’ve had slurs yelled at me by people in passing cars. Been invalidated by medical professionals. Rejected by landlords. Spat at in public for something as simple as holding my partner's hand while furniture shopping. Turned away from restaurants or seated in areas hidden away from others. Asked to be entertainment for straight men who see me as nothing but a fetish that exists purely for their pleasure. Threatened with non-consensual sexual acts in order to convert me. Asked to justify my existence several times over. And sometimes it all gets too much.
25% of LGBTQA+ youth have attempted suicide. One quarter. Versus 5% of the general population in the same age group. A statistic that makes me equally sad and angry, that the stigma, the ridicule, the discrimination they face makes a young person believe that taking their own life is the only option. But sadly I completely understand the mindset that leads to that conclusion. I’ve lost friends to that darkness. And when society is still not fully accepting, it makes it that much harder to continue on that path of visibility, when sometimes it would be easier to just retreat back into the closet. But that brings its own emotional baggage.
Growing up in a very conservative and strict religious household, I was constantly told that being attracted to someone of the same sex was akin to murder and rape. That I would go to hell if I even thought “impure thoughts” about the same sex. It has taken me almost 20 years to unlearn the shame, to work through the significant repression that resulted in me not coming out until my late 20’s, and continues to be a contributing factor to my ongoing struggle with depression.
I have several family members who are no longer in my life because of my “lifestyle choices”. But why would I choose this? Why would anyone choose a life filled with these confrontations and self-hate? I can assure you that sexuality is not a choice, and it can absolutely change over a lifetime.
As a cis female who happens to present in a way that is considered “straight-passing” I am well aware of the privilege that comes with that. The internal struggle is still there, facing stigma from society as well as feeling like a fraud within my own community at times. Every time I have to come out to a new acquaintance or colleague, there’s a moment of fight or flight response that kicks in, not knowing how it will be received. Will they treat me differently now? Will I be told that I don’t deserve the same rights as them? Will today be the day where I am again faced with threats or assault? Will a potential partner invalidate my identity due to a complicated past?
After feeling voiceless and suffocated for a large portion of my life, I made a decision a few years ago that I would always be authentically myself. If for no other reason that my visibility in every day things might give hope to the young or closeted. My choice to be vocal about these issues is how I ally myself to the struggles of my peers who may not be safe to come out, who may be struggling with their identity and mental health, using my privilege to bring awareness. Using my voice to stand up for myself and others, being the example that I appreciated so much from those who came before me.
The incredible weight of that knowledge that only those who carry the same understand
Heavy on my shoulders, carried in secret for half a lifetime.
No wonder I’m exhausted.
They tell me this is a choice
But why would I choose to carry this burden?
Why would anyone choose to fill their bags with shame and ridicule and loneliness?
The loneliness forged in a soul that has been slowly worn down by its own inauthenticity
Locked away like a secret in a dusty closet
Bound by the shackles of stereotypes.
It’s just a phase they say
If it’s just a phase, why do you feel the need to spit at me for daring to hold my partner's hand in public?
If it’s just a phase, why do you need to convince me that I don’t deserve the same rights as you?
Quietly mourning the loss of friends
More statistics that none of us asked to be a part of
Darkness at our own hands somehow better than being abandoned by those meant to love us unconditionally.
But you don’t look gay!
Constantly hiding behind the grey expectations of society
When you just want the world to appreciate the whole rainbow within.
Why can’t you put aside your beliefs to treat me like a fellow human?
So much hate.
Based on nothing more than who I love.