A Queer Nation
Sometimes we forget that we're still in the early days of the 'Age of the Queer' but we've also been around forever. I am grateful to enjoy the privilege of living and loving in New Zealand.
While waiting to pick my fifteen-year-old up from her nighttime hospo job, I didn’t anticipate our conversation on the way home. I asked how work had been, which is usually answered with, “fine,” but this night was different because there was an interesting conversation with a workmate that she wanted to discuss.
A female co-worker of about thirty years old had asked my daughter what her mother did for a living, to which my daughter replied, “Which Mum?” This led to a line of questioning that surprised me because I thought New Zealand was, if not pro-queer, then certainly queer-ok. The young woman proceeded to grill my daughter about the detail of her mother’s relationship and then ask her how she felt about it.
Some questions actually made us laugh because they were so bad, for example, “do you think it [queerness] is right?” My daughter lamented, “I had just finished telling her about you being a lesbian and told her that I was still figuring myself out because she asked me that too, and then she asks me if it is right! What does she think I’m going to say?!” To be asked by someone twice her age whether she thought she was morally corrupt or not for being part of a queer family floored her.
There were also bizarre ‘positive’ judgments interspersed throughout the conversation, like, “oh, that’s why you’re so smart,” which infuriated my daughter because she thinks she’s smart for reasons other than her mother’s sexuality. After asking about perceived gender-specific roles and which one of us performed them, the workmate concluded with, “Oh well, you must be very proud of your diverse family?”
My first question, “Was she born in New Zealand?” made me realise that I suspected she mustn’t be because even the most prejudiced groups in New Zealand don’t care if someone is queer these days - do they? Maybe this is where my delusion begins.
During the conversation, my daughter asked me if I had ever experienced homophobia directed at me, and I could honestly say that I haven’t. The closest I have come to it was from a bloke on a street in Glasgow saying drunkenly to my partner and me, “Hello, lesbians.”
That’s it, nothing else…oh wait, there was that ‘in-house’ homophobia that I experienced once. I was at a party about seven years ago and a year into my current relationship. We were in the honeymoon phase, so public displays of affection were still common. During the evening, I noticed that two older women were looking at us with stony expressions, which I started to find quite uncomfortable. I relayed my observations to my partner, who replied, “don’t worry about it; they’re old school.” I didn’t know what she meant and asked for clarification.
My now-wife told me that the older lesbian generation who had helped fight for queer acceptance had done so during trying times. They commonly experienced prejudice, vilification, and violence for the luxury of acceptance and the freedom to love whomever, which I was enjoying now. Apparently, my public displays of affection were frivolous and not nearly reverent enough for the battle that had been fought by others. This did not sit at all well with me as a reason for the silent aggression.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Zealand since 19th August 2013, and my wife and I celebrated that with our own marriage on 13th February 2016. Everything about our commitment on that day honoured the fight that had made it possible for us to be married. Every time I hold my wife’s hand in public, I honour the freedom to love whom I choose. I do not now subscribe to a restrictive code of conduct in order to properly earn my right to be out and proud.
Homosexual law reform in New Zealand was bought about during the 1980s by some brave and valiant champions like Fran Wilde, who urged “gays and lesbians” to “come out now…be visible…be blatant.” It was opposed by the likes of politician Norman Jones who, during a public address in 1985, said,
Go back into the sewers where you come from…as far as I’m concerned you can stay in the gutter. Turn around and look at them…gaze upon them…you’re looking into Hades…don’t look too long - you might catch AIDS.
Fast forward thirty-seven years, and our prime minister Jacinda Adern in a speech to Harvard graduates in the USA, speaks fondly of her deputy prime minister Grant Robertson, “…who is an out and proud gay man.”
A friend of mine and her partner both had babies in their early forties after the fertility battle from hell. She and I have talked often and at length about queer parenting because acceptance of it is so new. My friend talks about what it was like for her generation to come out, “you know…the parents were fine with it, but it was like…don’t have a baby though, just get a horse.”
It has meant a rather harrowing time for many queer people who have realised at the eleventh hour of their fertile life that they have as much right to be parents as cisgender, heteronormative folk. It was a slow start, but it has sped up pretty quickly, and as a result, laws haven’t caught up with us yet. For example, surrogacy laws in New Zealand still expect you to adopt your own child when someone else carries it for you.
My children were conceived within heterosexual relationships, which may be viewed as a privilege. I am of the generation who pushed their sexuality way down because too many things made us feel bad about it. Some might say I took the soft option and came out when it was safe to do so. When I asked a friend of mine about this she said, “Nah, you might not have birthed your beautiful girls if you had come out in the beginning, and you would have ended up the stony-faced lesbian at the party.”
But I guess I, in my rose-coloured glasses, need to take a moment to reflect. While Anne Lister may have begun paving the way in the early 1800s for us lesbians, my right to live and love the way that I do has only been ok with everyone else for about five minutes. And in too many places, it still isn’t ok. Watching ‘Gentleman Jack’ gives me pause, and I realise that my gratitude to the warrior lesbian is unfathomable. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would have died with existential FOMO if I hadn’t ended up with a woman.