BEING a young queer person, it can sometimes be easy to assume a moral high ground. After all, we’re such a fabulous group of inherently open-minded “keyboard activists” and (in many ways) remain on the calloused back foot of national equality. With many of us managing to survive the seemingly endless torments of both puberty and high-school, I suppose it’s easy to feel well-positioned and honourably equipped to pass judgement on the perceived narrow-mindedness of others around us.
However, I was recently left incredibly humbled after speaking with a friend of mine who’s transitioning from female into a more masculine gender. This person explained to me with utmost patience their preference for the gender-neutral pronouns “they”, “them” and “their”; the inherent feelings of unease they had long struggled with in their own bodies; and the ongoing physical and emotional repercussions that came with hormone replacement therapy.
I, as a gay man, have never felt so ignorant. I must admit, I had previously found the notion of gender-fluidity to be a little polarising. Not because I didn’t agree with it or thought it unnatural, but simply because I didn’t fully understand it — because I’d not experienced it.
I left the café that morning with a strange and new-found empathy for those who had previously misunderstood me. Those who might have made hurtful off-the-cuff comments regarding my sexuality or asked questions which I had swiftly deemed ignorant. Those who had not experienced homosexuality or were raised in environments that condemned it. Such as the fire-haired classmate in year 9 who innocently recited “bottoms should be a one-way street”. Or the religious soon-to-be mother who prayed for me aloud as I entered her family home in country Florida. These incidents, though respectively steeped in youthful impressionability and religious faith, had hurt my feelings. But maybe they shouldn’t have.
Without excusing prejudicial language or behaviour — both of which are absolutely inexcusable — I think it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of those who continue to resist equality don’t do so from a malicious place, but from a place of uncertainty. As our society continues to develop and grow to include those once banished to the cultural fringes, our progress serves only to highlight the distance we’ve yet to travel.
Now, as we collectively saddle-up for what could be the final push to a full free parliamentary vote on marriage equality, I find myself reflecting on those who don’t enjoy quite as certain a future — and those whom I’ve isolated for not openly supporting my own.
At one time or another we’ve all been a little wracked with uncertainty, which is fine, so long as it’s framed by the genuine desire to learn and understand. Just as I once umm-ed and ah-ed over the moral fine print for trans* youth, questioned the political motives of conservative family members, and silently patronised those of strong religious faith — I’ve realised that a defensive standpoint is rarely the best way of moving forward. I’ve also still got a whole lot of learning to do.
And while I’m sure that equality won’t always be achieved through candid conversation over skinny lattes and the Sunday paper, maybe it’s a good place to start.
Samuel Leighton-Dore is a Sydney-based writer and director. His best-selling eBook Love or Something Like It is available now and his children’s book I Think I’m A Poof can be purchased here.
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**This was first published in the July edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.