Before the events of the last couple of weeks, I assumed that I had experienced all of the combinations of human emotion it was possible for one person to have. Happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger, seeing Beyoncé showing off her newborn twins on Instagram – you know, the full range. But a few minutes past 10am on Wednesday 15 November, as the Marriage Law Postal Survey result was read out, my body was flooded with such an intense and varied number of feelings that I was almost physically knocked off balance.
I had been standing Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park, sweating under the intense sun bearing down on us as we waited for the results. There was a crowd facing a stage, where various people were making speeches and trying to keep people upbeat and excited. There were couples, there were relatives, and there were families with kids, all made up of every type of person. There were groups of friends of all ages, LGBTQI people standing and waiting with their chosen families. Everywhere I looked, I saw community.
I have been to many queer events before. This day felt strange. There were elements of pride days, with the rainbow flags and cheering. And there were elements of a protest, with booing and signs. Were we protesting or celebrating? Both? It was hard to tell.
I have been to many queer events before. This day felt strange. Were we protesting or celebrating? Both? It was hard to tell.
You could see different things on the faces of the people waiting. Some looked hopeful, some excited, and some looked really scared. I was surrounded by people I love, completely enveloped by my chosen queer family. As the ABS representative began speaking, I saw my friends take a deep breath. We instinctively moved closer together. Some put their arms around each other, some held hands, some locked arms.
‘For the national result, Yes responses: 7,817,247, representing 61.6 per cent. That’s 61.6 per cent of clear responses were Yes.’
The campaigners on stage began celebrating. The crowd began cheering and screaming, celebrating the victory. I let out the shaky breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. I thought that hearing that the Yes side had won would make me feel happy; that perhaps the months of tension and anger that had built up in my body would dissipate. But the instant I heard those words, I felt my stomach knot further. I turned to my group, more subdued than most of the people around me. I hugged my friends, holding on quietly and for a long time. One looked at me from under her glasses; her face was solemn, but I saw tears streaming down her face. Another was shaking their head angrily. Around me, people were smiling and hugging; I saw a mother holding her little daughter, absolutely sobbing with joy as the two of them danced up and down together. I saw an old couple embrace tearfully. I cried a bit, then – how could I not? But the knot didn’t budge.
The Yes result means a lot to many people in my community. When thinking of those older activists who had fought and clawed and survived to see this, I could see what it meant. And I couldn’t shake the thought that I should be happier. But with every moment that passed, with every person that said ‘congratulations’ to me, I felt more conflicted. I realised the knot that had appeared as the 61.6 per cent statistic was read out, that was joined but not diminished by relief and happiness, was made up of bitterness and anger. Of course I’m glad that Australians returned a Yes. Of course I am so proud of my friends who campaigned their guts out for it. But we were being congratulated on ‘winning’ a contest we desperately did not want to compete in. We were celebrating something that happened to us. Something that had been inflicted, without cause.
We were being congratulated on ‘winning’ a contest we desperately did not want to compete in. We were celebrating something that happened to us.
Even the number, 61.6 per cent, encapsulated just exactly how unnecessary the whole thing was. That number reflected exactly what polls have been saying on marriage equality for a decade – it confirmed nothing except that we had been put through hell for no reason. We’d been wounded for nothing. The wash of relief at hearing 61.6 per cent of Australians had voted Yes was not strong enough to wash off the impact this process had on us, or the lasting effects it will continue to have.
During the months of debate, our vulnerable agonised. The mental health of our community suffered. People like me, who have only ever been steady and calm, reached a breaking point after months of debate about our humanity. We were attacked; we were subjected to homophobia, to dehumanisation. All for what? To stand in a park and hear a number read out that confirmed what we already knew – but in doing so, also being reminded a significant number of your fellow citizens still don’t think you deserve equal rights.
Sure, I felt a bit of relief, and also gratitude that so many people and allies really walked the walk, and went out to fight for our rights. The marriage equality bill passed the Senate yesterday, destined to become law next week. This brought with it more celebrations, and more tears of happiness. But I can’t shake feeling bitter as well – maybe I never will. It’s not just bitterness at Malcolm Turnbull and his government putting us in this position, which we neither needed nor deserve. It’s bitterness because, in all honesty, my community is not just equal, but superior. We have been outcasts. We have been kicked out of home, fired, jailed, discriminated against, bashed, and murdered. And yet, we have been unstoppable. We have built lives and families, we have created art, influenced culture, and brought joy and colour to a world that I sometimes feel doesn’t deserve us.
We have been outcasts. We have been kicked out of home, fired, jailed, discriminated against, bashed, and murdered. And yet, we have been unstoppable.
Trans and non-binary people, especially those who aren’t white, still suffer more than almost anyone in society. I stood with some of them as some people on stage that day spoke about marriage equality being the ‘final hurdle’ that our community had left to achieve. It wasn’t. It isn’t. A week after the announcement was 2017’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day of reflecting on anti-transgender violence, and the people we have lost. As cisgender queer people, we have been guilty of leaving this part of our community behind – we, the ones who should know better and do better. And yet, despite enduring the worst abuse throughout the survey period, despite parts of our community throwing them under the bus in order to gain marriage equality, many continued to fight with us, and still stand with us. Even though at times it must feel as though they are fighting against everyone, they persist.
And we will all keep persisting, I hope, together. Since the announcement, the phobic rhetoric, the violence, the threats, it has not ended. It has ramped up. And it probably won’t stop. But the LGBTQI community has gone through hell, and fought against every obstacle imaginable, in order to change minds and laws. All of it just to live as we want to live. And we’ll keep going. Hearing that announcement in the park wasn’t the end of our fight; it was just another occasion that marks the miracle of us.