Tag Archives: QUILTBAG

Three-dollar bill, y’all

This article by Australian QUILTBAG activist Rodney Croome bears reading and taking to heart by everyone – by both cis and trans, by hetero and homo and bi and pan and ace alike. It brought me an intense sense of comfort in this time of complicated politics among queer people. I haven’t been out of the queer closet long, and indeed, I came out publicly into the middle of a minefield of sorts in the form of the Australian marriage equality debate. But what I’ve been so incredibly heartened by is the way in which a highly diverse and sometimes even quite internally-divided QUILTBAG community has largely come together on this issue, uniting in our stand on not only our rights under the law, but the manner in which those rights are given. So often the middle-ground fallacy has been invoked by opponents of civil rights, and the weakened and incomplete provisions put forward have been accepted by the oppressed because they’re perceived as being, in whatever manner, better than the alternative. Of course, I’m not seeking to in any way blame those queer people who would be happy with any small victory, those who would approach the struggle for rights from the perspective that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I just think that this Daoist approach is better rendered by other translations from the Chinese, and should be taken more literally, as my friend Agnieszka does in her translation.

千里之行,始於足下。
“A journey of a thousand miles begins right under your feet.”
– Agnieszka Solska (transl.), Daodejing 64.11-12

For my part I’m not as big a fan of the single-step approach, disturbingly close as the analogy seems to another ancient Chinese cultural preserve: 凌遲 língchí, the death by a thousand cuts, and particularly in this instance, where every step promises more pain to the community: the preliminary societal argument; the funded campaign; the plebiscite itself; the introduction (which may not happen depending on far-right voices within the Coalition) of the legislation (which may itself codify into law the right to homophobia and transphobia, and this is indeed what’s imminent if this lawyer’s interpretation of the proposed bill is right) to amend the Marriage Act (which was modified in the first place with neither plebiscite nor queer consultation). And it’s enraging, painful, and humiliating in roughly equal parts to be lectured, primarily by non-queer people – and especially by the likes of that vile purulent bigot Miranda Devine, whose recent vitriolic bile I won’t give the benefit of webhits – about why we should take the bone when we’re thrown it. How we should take the bone even if it’s thrown only with the deepest of grudging, only with effort directed towards keeping conservative fuckwits happy, and only with more strings attached to it than to the cast of Thunderbirds. We’re being given a bone alright – or to phrase it more appropriately, we’re being boned. The plebiscite, which I’ve obviously discussed more than once both here and elsewhere, seeks to allow the populace to take an unprecedented vote on whether their fellow citizens deserve equal rights, accompanied by a political-style campaign in which falsehood will be neither prohibited nor punished. But what’s more than that, the legislative bill that’s been put forward by the Federal Government takes the implicit homophobia and transphobia of the plebiscite one step further and makes it explicit, fossilising into clear, unambiguous law the Brandisian right to anti-queer bigotry in a way that’s as unprecedented in Australia as the plebiscite itself. And yet amongst all this, the queer community’s reached the sweeping realisation that our journey of a thousand miles also begins right underfoot: that we’re already on the path and need only continue moving forward, albeit with fighting against the Government and its power structures all the way. We’ve noticed that we’re in a position to make our voices heard, loudly and effectively, and that we actually have a surprisingly and gratifyingly large number of allies in doing so. As Croome says in his article:

LGBTI Australians are overwhelmingly against a plebiscite, and they are making their voices heard in record numbers through letters to politicians, in letters to newspapers or simply around the workplace water cooler. I can’t emphasise enough what a profound shift this has caused in Australian politics and culture. There have always been straight Australians, including politicians of all stripes, who cared about the trials and tribulations of their LGBTI friends, family members and fellow citizens. But never has this consideration been so widespread it has changed the course of national political debate.

Challenging though it is, this is a time in which I truly am fiercely proud to be queer. I’ve been lucky (so far, at least) to have avoided the kinds of oppression levelled at many in this community. My life as a trans lesbian woman holds promise (particularly after something wonderful that occurred today… but that’s a digression for another time, kids). And in advocating for myself, for the queer people I know and love, and the entire queer community, I’ve recently been feeling a strength of will coursing through me as well, even while I’m sensing in myself very few other strengths at the moment. And I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying it.

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22 Days of Musing: 17

17. Division of psyche.

Today I’m continuing on from what I was writing yesterday about the rather complicated question I’ve been asked a few times: has my transition had any positive effect on rectifying, or at least helping me to manage, my mental illness? I think the simple and brief answer would be yes. As I noted yesterday before deciding that I had too much more to write on this topic and calling for an intermission of sorts (so go now and refill your popcorn), I do feel more able to push through my anxiety now to express my feelings, whether that be in expressing love and caring or in engaging in verbal self-defence, and that’s an undeniable advantage: it’s an identifiable improvement in a specific aspect of my mental illness that allows me to live my life more effectively. But although my transition has certainly done some small things to ameliorate my state of mind more generally, particularly in the area of my anxiety, both the depression and anxiety do still remain to wreak their particular brand of psychic mayhem every so often. For many trans folk, the presence of a mental illness is largely caused by their dysphoria, their feeling of alienation from the body they inhabit, or the fear of how those around them will react to their coming out, or the clash between their perception of their true gender and the perception of stigma from broader society that causes them to engage in self-doubt and autoflagellation; for such people, the process of transition is one that brings substantial and effective relief from their mental illness. If you’ll recall the statistics I cited last night, a transgender person is six times more likely to be currently suffering a depressive illness than a cisgender person. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that depression in trans people is always and necessarily caused by being trans and the consequences thereof. I’m reminded of the medical maxim known as Hickam’s dictum, which states: a patient can have as many diseases as they damn well please. This idea is often proposed as an intellectual counter to Occam’s razor, the better-known axiom to many students of science (even though it comes originally, much as many scientists would be loath to admit, from theology).

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.
Plurality must never be posited without necessity.
– William of Ockham,
Quaestiones et decisiones in quattuor libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi

In the medical context, the usual logical maxim of Occam’s Razor – which would counsel a doctor to seek a single underlying cause to explain the entire range of concurrent symptoms in a single patient – may end up failing (as it usually does when the hypochondriac seeks WebMD for an explanation of a range of apparent mild symptoms that would be exhibited only in, say, the early stages of kuru or pneumonic anthrax or something), because it’s statistically far more likely that a patient has two or more common diseases, rather than a single rare one. This isn’t to say, of course, that being transgender is a disease (it isn’t) or that there’s no relationship between being transgender and having depression (there is). But I suppose the point is that in my case, although my anxiety certainly stood as a grand obstacle in the way of my coming out as transgender, my mental illness is not really a secondary effect of my being trans and the social consequences of being trans, as it so clearly can be for many other trans folk; it’s more that my illness and my transness exist as two separate parts of my psyche (albeit parts that are in communication with one another, that influence and inform one another at times). Whatever it is that causes me to feel the blackness of depression, the challenges of being and coming out as transgender have only been a small contributing factor – if indeed they have contributed at all – which just means that I’ll simply have to continue to work on discovering what else the ætiology of my illness might be, what else contributes to it, what else triggers its symptoms, and what else might help to defeat it.

22 Days of Musing: 16

16. A brain of many parts.

A question I’ve been asked more than once since having transitioned earlier on this year is whether or not the process has given me any relief from my mental health issues – whether the transition has enabled me to feel freer, more open with my life in a way that’s allowed my depression and anxiety to be ameliorated even in part. This is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer, but I think in tonight’s reflection I might well try. Difficult though the question is to answer, it’s an entirely fair one: the fact that even under the law, QUILTBAG people in our society still don’t enjoy the kinds of freedom afforded to the privileged, the cishet upper-class male white Anglo-Saxon Christian (the recent and puke-inducingly-named Budgie Nine being classic examples), factors heavily into the appalling statistics for the state of their mental health. The stigma from society, both real and perceived, contributes to the oppression of QUILTBAG people and the deterioration of their psychological well-being. (Most of the stats I’m about to cite come from this link, in case you’re wondering.) In Australia, the rates of depression and anxiety in straight people are about one in seventeen and one in seven, respectively. In lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, these rates increase approximately to one in five for depression, and one in three for anxiety. Thirty-six percent of trans Australians currently suffer from depression. One in eight lesbian, gay or bi people have attempted suicide in their lives. Australian statistics on transgender suicidality aren’t available, but comparable surveys in the US indicate that two in five trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their life. Two in five. Sobering indeed; if the same rate applies to transgender Australians, it comprises a 14-fold increase in risk on a background rate of around 3%. All this is largely the result of stigmatisation that’s present everywhere and still seeps even from much of society that thinks itself progressive; for this reason, it does make sense that friends and others would ask whether being out of the closet – being able to be open and actively performative about my gender, rather than keeping it firmly under wraps and detesting myself anew every time the shame touched me – would assist my mental health. And there are certainly ways in which it has done so. I’m more likely to be frank and honest with people now than I was before; it’s something I still am learning how to do effectively, but I’d like to think I’ve gained certain aspects of confidence that I lacked previously. I’m less likely to tolerate people’s bullshit, more likely to call them out on it. (I’m just waiting for the day someone calls me a transphobic slur overtly and to my face. To hark back to that Pixar film Inside Out for a moment, the little fire-headed Lewis Black inside my mind has a seriously fucking itchy trigger finger and is just waiting to go verbally R. Lee Ermey on some arrogant bigot, with all the energy pent up from having to tolerate reading articles about institutional anti-QUILTBAG perspectives while not being able to reach into the Internet and smack Cory Bernardi and Miranda Devine and Lyle Shelton and Tony Abbott right upside their stupid fat heads.) And on a more genteel side but also related to that previous point, my ability to express my feelings to those closest to me has also improved beyond what I’d expected. I’ve always craved physical contact, and consider it one of the most direct and unmistakable signs of genuine affection of all sorts, but for decades I’ve felt immensely awkward about initiating it and paranoid about overstepping the bounds of social convention, most especially the social conventions that limit those who identify as male. Not so much any more, and that brings me a more reliable sensation of closeness to those I care about. Verbally, too, I’m less worried about being effusive with praise or compliment or affection. Telling someone how much I care, or that I love them, is easier now after opening myself up, and that’s been inexpressibly wonderful. And I think that’s a nice note on which to leave tonight’s reflection, so I’ll save the rest of that thought for tomorrow; there are a couple of tangents (hopefully interesting also to the rest of you) that I’d like to explore while I continue to talk about the relationship between my transition and my mental illness.

Dear Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson, Federal Coalition Member of Parliament for the seat of Goldstein, just recently wrote an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald on why QUILTBAG people should just accept the threatened plebiscite on the topic of marriage equality in Australia and that nothing worth fighting for was ever easy. I didn’t want for my first original-content post to be as angry as this, but Mr Wilson’s post spurred me to a new colour of incandescence, and so I wrote this in direct response to that. Please forgive me this anger, and I promise that the next post will be more interesting, or at least less politically oriented.


To the Allegedly “Honourable” Tim Wilson:
I want you to know that you are a horrifying hypocrite, a terrible representative for the queer community, and should hang your head deep in shame for this revolting piece of self-congratulatory, heavily patronising, deeply prescriptive, and subliminally anti-queer political exegesis for the marriage equality plebiscite.

Oh yes, it’s entirely possible for queer people to do anti-queer things, and this is one of the worst I’ve seen in some time. The debate over this plebiscite is not, as you represent it to be in your opinion piece yesterday, about “ensuring every Australian has full citizenship”. The opposition from the Greens, the Xenophon team, and Labor is not borne of opposition to marriage equality, and you damn well know it. It is borne of opposition to the Coalition’s dawdling and sandbagging over the provision of equal civil rights to Australian citizens. It is borne of disgust with the Coalition Government’s stark abrogation of that very responsibility to “ensure every Australian has full citizenship”. The responsibility of, and ability to change, legislation for marriage is properly the preserve of the Federal Parliament, as indeed the High Court of Australia decided when they overturned marriage-equality laws introduced into the ACT’s Parliament in 2013. You, and all other Members of Parliament along with you, are given the rights and responsibilities to create and amend legislation when you are elected, and under the pretty-shit-but-it’s-all-we’ve-got Westminster system, you are expected to exercise those capabilities, not throw the ball back into the court of the electorate when it all just gets too hard. It’s like going to the shops in the rain, this plebiscite. You’re telling us we should go out in the rain, trying to assure us we won’t get too wet and only one or two of us will probably catch a cold, but you’ve got a perfectly good car in the garage that’d get us all there safe and dry.

Now, let me recast that analogy into reality for you. The shops represent marriage equality. The rain is homophobia, transphobia, anti-queer sentiment of all stripes. The car is Parliament. You’re telling us to suck up the prejudice while it’s happening, basically because nothing good ever happened for people who didn’t put up with some shit while they fought for the good. But we’re reminding you in return that you are a Member of Parliament, that you have the power to get us to marriage equality by getting into Parliament and doing it for all of us in order to help keep us clear of the campaign of bigotry. Because the cold here stands for something, too. It stands for mental illness. For some of us it will be transient – a period of depression, anxiety, insecurity, Weltschmerz, that will pass soon enough – but just as a cold may develop into pneumonia and death for the vulnerable, so too will the mental health issues triggered and worsened by plebiscite campaigning develop into self-harm for some poor closeted trans girl who needed to feel something from her body other than shame and discomfort, into suicide for some self-doubting young gay man who was called faggot once too often and couldn’t take the pain any more.

People will be harmed because of this plebiscite, and you have the power to stop that harm, but refuse. You just don’t get – and I’m saying this as a queer person to whom marriage equality is of course a hugely important issue – that actually, this fight is now even bigger than marriage equality. The fight against this plebiscite is about making you, as members of the Government, recognise that even by offering this compromise you are implicitly stating your beliefs that we are lesser citizens, that we do not deserve equality, that you do not believe our rights sufficiently important to proactively move to address this deficiency in law of the country you swore to serve faithfully, that you will only be dragged to the issue of marriage equality kicking and screaming and crying rainbow murder all the way even despite the harm that your proposed compromise will likely cause.

For that reason, I will not take your veiled “BUT WE’RE GIVING YOU A PLEBISCITE, WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY TO FIGHT FOR IT?”. I sneer with disgust at your restatement of “the seductive lie that it is better to wait for the fundamental right of equality before the law, than fight for it“, when the ones who are causing the battle to be so difficult are largely you yourselves, the ones in Government. I wave my designated-other-than-I-identify private parts in the general direction of your false equivalence between the Irish referendum (which was binding in Irish law, and you should know that I noticed your cunning omission of any mention of the word referendum when drawing the Irish parallel) and your proposed plebiscite (which is explicitly not binding in Australian law). Indeed, one of the lead campaigners from that very referendum you claim to have been such a rousing success, Grainne Healy, has come out – so to speak – to warn your Coalition Government that the prelude to the Irish referendum was “brutal”, “hurtful”, “upsetting”, “hateful” (her words, not mine) and urge a plebiscite to be avoided if at all possible. And what’s more, this fact was reported just days ago in the very same newspaper you composed your rotten little apologia for. The call to avoid a costly and likely injurious plebiscite is based entirely on this concept that you yourself regurgitate without seeming to have digested any of:

“One of the biggest problems facing LGBTI people, particularly those who are not “out” is the fear of marginalisation. As a result they internalise their fear and doubt their legitimacy in the world. I know that doubt is redoubled when others fail to stand up in defence of those who can’t speak up for themselves.”

By forcing the decision back onto the populace, our fears of marginalisation are being realised. YOU are marginalising us. You are exactly failing to stand up in defence of those of us who can’t speak up for ourselves. You are refusing to play your elected roles as our representatives in Parliament, one of this country’s highest instruments of legislation, on a matter in which our rights to be considered and treated equally under the law you were elected to control are at stake. And to be frank, as a gay man you should know better than to throw in your lot with this refusal, because you are throwing yourself, and your fiancé for that matter, out into the path of bigotry as well when both of you could just get in the fucking car and prevent yourself getting wet too.

Finally – you want us to fight for the type of country we want? Let me tell you the type of country I want. I want a country where the Government is not afraid to change an unpopular policy after listening to an overwhelming and still escalating cry from the populace. I want a country where the wafer-thin majority by which the Coalition holds government is not the most important thing to those in the leadership hierarchy. I want a country that learns from its past, that learns from experiences with the rights of women and Indigenous people and disabled people and refugees and wants to improve the way it works for people in minorities too small to be able to command political respect. And I want a country where the governing party is not so paralysed, cloven in two along ideological lines, that they can’t see that a denial of equality to queer people in this manner belongs to a time long past, a time we should be proud to have moved on from rather than ashamed that we have stagnated in.

And yes, I’ll fight for that kind of country. I’ll be damned if I don’t fight until the very last, and against you and everyone else in your smug, self-important party if needs be, in order to make sure that that’s what we get. Because this is far bigger now than just about getting marriage equality. This is not just about what you give us, but how you give it. This is about true equality of all citizens in the eyes, and more importantly, the heart, of the Government – and right now, you and your party are making it eminently clear that your collective heart is so shrivelled and petrified that you care not a whit for such petty things as civil and human rights, and are more focused on just getting to have your go at making childish brrm-brrm noises behind the steering wheel while the rest of us get sick in the rain.

Fuck you, and fuck your selfish and short-sighted betrayal of the queer community you claim to represent.