I love the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. I love the colour. I love the music. I love the dancing. And, yeah, I do love the thirty-foot mechanical genitalia.
The Mardi Gras is a great party.
Is it a particularly good advertisement for equal marriage rights? Erm… not so much.
See, the key to winning a debate is not actually in highlighting the points where you disagree – it is in highlighting the points where you concur. ESPECIALLY when your opponent starts invoking ‘moral’ rhetoric.
At the heart of this debate, and similar controversies we’ve seen over women’s rights, racial equality, religious freedom and so on and so forth, is actually a conservative fear of difference. It’s arguable that fear of progress and change is at the heart of all social debate. General ignorance about what it actually means to be gay, or bisexual, or transgendred, a transvestite, a lesbian, pansexual, homosexual, asexual, whatever nomenclature you want to employ, as opposed to heterosexual, is what has caused such anxiety for those opposed to LGBQT causes. What slimy, ravenous monsters might lurk in the misty, swampy expanse between hetero and homo?
And then, as though to answer all these fearful questions, a giant penis comes galumphing around the corner of Taylor Square, accompanied by an army of scantily-clad, glitter-drenched, thrusting men.
Because that will put the Evangelical mind at ease.
At this point, let me stress quite emphatically: I LOVE THE MARDI GRAS. I LOVE THE GIANT PENISES. I LOVE THE GOLD HOT PANTS AND ANGEL WINGS AND DANCING AND CARICATURES OF POLITICIANS. Because I don’t think sex in any form is anything at all to be ashamed of (insert obvious exceptions, breaches of consent, etc etc). And I believe that a culture that can look at a giant penis and not squirm is a culture at ease with its own humanity, with its bits. We’ve all got ’em, folks. Even you, Christian pastor, you have ’em too. So deal with it. After all, didn’t God figure out we’d fucked up because we started covering our bits? Isn’t shame, Biblically speaking, actually the marker of sin? So I say – let’s all be naked!
OK, maybe not. But you get my drift.
BUT – however ridiculous, nonsensical, contradictory and arbitrary the conservative right-wing objection to and discomfort with homosexuality (and, indeed, sexuality in general) may be, rubbing it in their faces is not going to win them over. You won’t solve my cat-allergies by rubbing a Persian in my face, and you won’t solve homophobia by burning effigies of conservative religious leaders and marching down Oxford St in chaps and a bare bottom.
Again, LOVE the Mardi Gras, not saying we should can it, just saying… Sexualising a debate that exists because your opponents are uncomfortable with sex… probably not helpful. Shift the focus.
Want to win over your opponents? Show them how much they have in common with you.
Randy Roberts Potts, grandson of TV evangelist Oral Roberts, has the right idea. His touring performance art piece, ‘The Gay Agenda’, consists of a set lounge-room with one transparent wall. Potts and his partner spend their evenings watching television, eating macaroni cheese, and getting an early night. In full view of any passing public. It’s boring. It’s mundane. It’s normal. It’s the point.
Guess what doesn’t feature in this poignant political piece? A giant mechanical penis.
Magda Szubanski and Channel Ten have the right idea, too. No bare-breasts, no footage of same-sex couples making out and getting all handsy to put the right-wing on edge. No. Just one of Australia’s most loved comedy icons, dressed neatly, calmly letting us know with minimal drama, ‘I’m gay. I’m gay and you’ve let me into your lounge rooms for fifteen years. I don’t even have a girlfriend. I just want to know that if I fall in love, I can marry her. That’s all.’ (not actual quote). If it weren’t quite so moving, I’d say it was cunning. Clever. Well-staged. But it was so very moving. If you haven’t watched Szubanski’s appearance on The 7pm Project, I recommend it.
So many of these civil rights debates have been fought and won on the premise of SIMILARITY, not difference. Both women’s liberation and African American civil rights activists invoked those soaring lines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence in their rhetoric. Potts and Szubanksi have cottoned onto the incredible power of recognition and empathy. Whilst in principle I think we should be able to celebrate difference, the unfortunate reality is that difference scares people. I’m not saying reduce the difference, I’m not saying hide the sexuality of homosexuality (or heterosexuality or any sexuality). Not at all. To do so would be to dishonour human sexuality entirely. I’m simply saying lets work from a presumption of similarity.
So here it is: What makes human sexuality special? The psychology of it. Sure, a lot of what we do with our bits and why we do it is arbitrary, chemical, biological; whose pheromones you caught wind of on what day, what cheese your mother ate the day before you were conceived or whatever. Granted, there’s a lot of terribly un-romantic science in this stuff. But then there’s the other thing. The mix tapes. The copy of that book you’ve always loved sitting on his/her bookshelf. The mutual love of peanut butter ice-cream that no-one else understands. The finished sentences. The synergy. The other.
The OTHER is the SAME. Let’s start with that.