It’s good news that 397 same-sex couples got married since last November, but it’s time to come out of post-referendum retirement and take up arms again, says Rob Buchanan.
Newly released Department of Social Protection statistics show since November last year 397 same sex couples have taken the marriage equality plunge. Every week about 16 couples get hitched in the Emerald Isle, and that’s a beautiful thing. But by no means does this marriage equality mean we are actually equal to our straight brothers and sisters in other critical areas.
I heard two differing but equally pertinent reactions to the above figures from two straight colleagues in the work canteen. The First guy I`ll call him Lad A said: “Jaysus that’s loads! I didn’t even realise there were that many gay couples in Ireland”. Lad B added: “I’m not surprised, sure there seems to be gays everywhere since ‘it’ was legalised… No offence. Rob.” The ‘it’ he was referring to, he later clarified, was same sex marriage, not homosexuality itself. Lad A’s shock at how many lesbian and gay couples got married reveals something important about straight perceptions of us. They might have voted Yes, but many people in Ireland are still getting used to the concept of the gay family.
“Lad A and his ilk are still living with a mindset in which queers are solitary animals, mincing from decadent nightclub to salacious orgy, leaving a trail of Aids and sassy witticisms behind them.”
For a long time the two most visible stereotypes of LGBT people have largely been the flamboyantly effeminate man and the über butch dyke. Now, I happen to know several queers in my workplace who despite not being closeted would simply pass right under the radar of blokes like Lad A. You see it isn’t that he doesn’t think there aren’t many LGBT people in Ireland per se, it’s that the only ones he notices are the flamers and the plaid shirt mafia. And rightly or wrongly these particular two-dimensional stereotypes are seldom seen within the context of the partner, kids and picket fence existence, which they may or may not have. Because Lad A and his ilk are still living with a mindset in which queers are solitary animals, mincing from decadent nightclub to salacious orgy, leaving a trail of Aids and sassy witticisms behind them. Unpleasant as this misconception is, it’s there. No wonder he`s shocked that some homos are discarding fluffy handcuffs in favour of the ball and chain.
If Lad A`s opinion is benignly offensive, then Lad B`s perception of us is unintentionally admirable. His comment on the seemingly pervasive nature of LGBTs in the headlines and main streets of Ireland in the last few months tells us a lot. Everything, from city centre bars (which were once bastions of heteronormativity) offering camp Eurovision parties shamelessly targeted at the pink euro, to the straight lads boasting about the gay stags they’ve been at, points to a world where queer is not only ubiquitous, but valuable, on the surface anyway.
Last year, Irish culture lapped up the queers voraciously; some would say at times beyond saturation point. It was somewhere around this point that we became passive and self-satisfied. The newly found acceptance neutralised our passion.
“The sparkle of righteousness seems to have been traded for the baubles of gaudy weddings.”
Before that we had a cause to fight for. We had community spirit; we had the wider nation on our side. However, since we apparently ‘won’ the fight, a lot of the soldiers have gone AWOL. The sparkle of righteousness seems to have been traded for the baubles of gaudy weddings. In a very few short months we allowed ourselves to become apolitical again. Who could blame us? The campaigning and constant critique was exhausting for everyone. We knew we had other battles to fight, but we wanted to get over this first hurdle then regroup. But so many people, in particular those who ‘just wanted to get married’, have now dropped out of the fight for true equality. If we continue to lose momentum and con ourselves in to believing our war is over, then we risk squandering an opportunity for further progress.
We are a minority that swung from vilified pariah to celebrated chicness, but we need to get beyond that superficial acceptance and keep fighting until the other critical issues, such as the dismantlement of the Catholic Church’s chokehold on education, full trans equality and security, LGBT mental health and the blight of suicide among our young people, and the rapidly and increasing levels of HIV and other STDs in Ireland.
The Marriage Equality campaign galvanised a community that all too often had been up its own arse, infantilised by drink, drugs and promiscuity. We grew up and came together for a common good. For a brief time queers, young and old, who had been preoccupied with pop culture and shallow consumerism were talking about civil rights and were marching on the streets of this country, educating both themselves and their fellow citizens.
Lets not allow that power we gained to dissipate in back into decadence. Let’s not let the government and society think we have been pacified with wedding rings. Yes, 397 same sex couples have gotten married and I congratulate them, but as first generation to achieve marriage equality it is our responsibility to use it wisely, to not give up and roll over just because two queers can walk up an aisle just like a straight couple.
It’s up to us to come out of post-referendum retirement and take up arms again.