A COUPLE of things happened online recently, that have forced me to acknowledge something I had been avoiding in the marriage equality debate until now.
Former Star Observer editor Elias Jahshan posted that he had just finished reading Loaded, the debut novel by Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap, Barracuda).
Elias said on Facebook he could not believe the deep impact Loaded had on him and was curious to find out what other people thought of it.
I sent him a message saying: “I read Loaded when I was about 15 years old and it has stuck with me ever since then.”
“Not only was it queer, it was a contemporary second generation Greek story that my friends and I could relate to.
“It was the first time ever we saw ourselves represented in Australian culture.”
Right now, you’re probably thinking how does someone with the name SHANNON POWER be profoundly touched by a story about some Greek dude.
Don’t be fooled by my very Irish name, I am a child of a mixed marriage and am Greek on my mother’s side.
I am very much a Greek-Australian, but find because of my name I’m constantly defending my right to my identity.
Here’s the defensive script I roll out to people when I am trying to convince them that I am in fact of Greek heritage:
- I grew up bilingual, in fact I spoke more Greek as a kid than English.
- I am a dual citizen of both Greece and Australia.
- I went to a Greek Orthodox primary school where the majority of our classes were taught in Greek.
- I studied Greek culture and language at an Athens university.
- I’m from Melbourne, the largest Greek city outside of Greece, so the odds are there’ll be some of kind of a Hellene gene in me.
- And I could’ve put money down for a house deposit with all the money I’ve spent on waxing.
The point is I’m a Greek-Australian, but I’m constantly having to prove my identity to the non-believers, especially to other Greeks.
Which is where the marriage equality issue comes into play.
Early in October Australia’s (and arguably one of the world’s) most influential Greek newspapers, Neos Kosmos, published an op-ed authored by Fotis Kapetopoulos titled ‘why the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is wrong in its position on same-sex marriage’. He argued LGBTI couples deserve to have their love recognised.
The Greek Orthodox Church in Australia has long been a vocal opponent of marriage equality and even has a dedicated website to the issue. During Easter this year church goers complained of homophobic language used by priests and some churches even tried to get their followers to sign an anti-marriage equality petition during services.
I thought Kapetopoulos’ piece was very brave. The subsequent reaction to his piece confirmed that.
The Greek-Australian community has always been a tad more conservative than our paisanos over in the motherland. One reflection of that difference is the fact that same-sex civil unions were approved in Greece last year.
Even though it didn’t surprise me, my heart broke when the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese announced its opposition to marriage equality.
While I have actively advocated for marriage equality in a number of ways, I’ve been wrestling with the knowledge that I should be doing more to change the hearts and minds of Greek-Australians.
Surely, as someone who is very passionate about the issue it is my responsibility to campaign within my community?
But I haven’t. I have not engaged with the Greek community in any way to advocate for marriage equality and I feel deeply ashamed about it.
For years, I have existed on the periphery of a community for whom I am a not a ‘real Greek’ and have been discriminated against because of this perceived lack of legitimate identity.
I believed that if I tried to speak up my voice would be ignored because of my Irish name.
Last week, I ran into an old colleague from JOY 94.9 and after I greeted him with the standard, ‘Έλα ρε, τι κανείς;’ (the Australian equivalent would, be ‘G’day mate, what’s goin’ on’), he replied, ‘I forgot you were a partial Greek’.
I bristled at the comment and quickly jumped down his throat about how sick I was of not being seen as ‘Greek enough’.
If a person I knew for years didn’t consider my identity to be real, what chance do I have convincing a bunch of strangers to listen to me?
I know that’s not an excuse and as the debate around the issue intensifies I need to step up more. I promise to do better.
Maybe some of my LGBTI Greek brothers and sisters can take me under their wing and we can fight the good fight together.