Waking up in the morning to a message from a member of my extended family is such a happy occasion for me. I’ve always looked forward to it, given that I live so far away from most of them, scattered as they are across four different continents. It was with an enthusiastic burst of energy, therefore, that I pushed the little bubble to open a message from a second cousin I hadn’t spoken to since midsummer.
“Hey, could you please help me out by filling out this research survey that I’m sending out for my studies,” began the instant message. A link was attached, with the curious title “Demographic Data”. I was intrigued, and thought to myself that I could give it a shot, since it wouldn’t take very long. With my next breath, I got to the next instant message. “This research, you might find interesting. It’s about homosexuality.”
The conundrum of trying to persuade people to treat members of the LGBTQ+ community as human is an obstacle course borne by everybody across Auckland — often as something hidden just under the surface of routine requests in conversation. My initial impulse was to ask whether she felt that I wouldn’t find it interesting – or be unwilling to help out if the survey was about some other issue. Sighing, I sat up in bed and opened the link — in part, to satisfy my own curiosity, but also as an all-round good deed. My daily obstacle course had only just started.
An hour later, I received a notification from an Auckland-based LGBTQ+ support group. It seemed that a moderator had publicly challenged the relevance of my post. It sounded like they felt that asking whether other members of the support community felt that my cousin’s survey contained flawed questions was of little relevance. I frowned at my reflection in the mirror, musing at the failure of this individual to grasp how learning about the biases in a flawed research study could inform the broader queer community. Shaking my head, I regretted the notion of sharing open questions with groups of common interest. They appeared to be moderated by individuals who themselves seemed to struggle to understand the phenomenon described by the author Matthew Todd as a ‘Straight Jacket’.
It really helped to smile, chuckle, chortle and laugh aloud at the undergraduate student who felt that ‘posts like that’ should be messaged privately and not posted in public fora like Facebook walls. More often than not, everybody must be compelled to wonder at the desperation with which individuals guard their comfort zones. Why, I ask myself, are members of the LGBTQ+ community perceived as a threat?
As I stared at the mirror, I started to wonder what people do with the time they save by forcing everything and everybody into binaries so that ‘the thinking thing’ might be made easier for them. Moments like these are when individuals begin to question their own sanity for having publicly asked a question of societal importance in the digital spaces belonging to friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues. How exactly does this constitute a breach of societal norms, and how vulnerable should we feel when we’ve been brave enough to stand up and voice such a concern?
I shudder as I try to imagine the pub conversations, the not-so-accidental touches that can be easily disclaimed as a drunken act, the many individuals let down by people around them for having pointed out the discrepancy between discussing the attractiveness of one gender as opposed to the silent treatment accorded to the other at work. I grimace as I remember every occasion that my friends tried to pretend that my orientation didn’t exist — that it was some sort of affliction that would somehow go away if no one talked about it. I hold back tears as I think of people who feel like they have no way out of a straight-jacketed world.
And yet, we persistently repeat these golden words to ourselves: ‘It. Gets. Better.’ From the moment that a despairing nineteen-year-old first discovered the author Kyell Gold’s young adult fiction ‘Waterways’, ‘It gets better’ has been my mantra. A globally-minded LGBTQ+ community embraces the openness and warm-hearted greeting that the phrase entails. Somewhere within those words is the potential to save lives, to inspire hope and to dream of a more welcoming, less hostile world. They might also serve as an aspirational goal for those who are fed up of the straight-jacketing rife across New Zealand and the wider world.
In Alan Bennett’s critically-acclaimed play ‘The History Boys’, the character named David Posner is cheered by his schoolmates when he finally garners a hug from the handsome Daykin. Daykin quips, “This is known as Posner’s reward” as he takes the young man into his arms. Posner, for his part, asks whether that was it, and muses aloud, “I was hoping for something a little more … lingering …” Posner’s sentiment is likely echoed by most members of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide, myself included, when it comes to how glaringly obvious society renders our affections as least important.
Navigating the stomach-churning experience of being queer in a multi-ethnic atmosphere can sometimes be all the more daunting. My personal experience has been underscored by an example of this, given my mother’s insistence that my queerness is a ‘Western perversion’. An outlook like this, which reveals not only an utter lack of understanding around sexuality, also raises questions about how much the knock-on effects of colonialism impact the worldviews of postcolonial generations today. It is difficult (to say the least) for many in the LGBTQ+ community to feel secure when surrounded by so much uncertainty.
It is in the face of so powerful a series of adversities that queer communities endure the daily obstacle course of expressing themselves in a hetero-normative world. We are consistently told that, in New Zealand, no one really cares — and yet so many ‘community groups’ found their way out of the woodwork during the Marriage Equality Debate in 2012 and 2013. Should we still react with shock and horror every time the pent-up resentment at anything and everything in the world is channelled into vitriol wielded by ‘community leaders’ against the LGBTQ+ community?
Let us pause a moment to ask ourselves whether we have the courage to call out discrimination when we encounter it. Do we really care enough about people other than ourselves to stand up against those who would seek to uphold a particular definition of society which has in-groups and out-groups, thereby defying the spirit of civic community? Should Auckland be regarded by its own residents as a city where everyone joins hands to commit to reducing the ability of bullies to get away with targeting those who are most vulnerable? It’s up to each of us to decide.
By Kyle Argento Luvumn
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.