Gender-neutral marriage laws needed to prevent further tragedies
Any future changes to the Marriage Act must ensure it is gender-neutral so the law can reflect the fact that our biological sex doesn’t determine our personality, our relationship roles nor who we are attracted to, writes Ben Cooper.
There are many arguments that have been articulated in favour of marriage equality, such as equal rights for LGBTI people and marriage strengthens relationships to name a few; but there’s one argument that for too long has been ignored in this debate, with that argument being that we need marriage equality because our society and its citizens need a gender-neutral Marriage Act. There are many reasons why we need a gender-neutral Marriage Act. Trans and Intersex communities in particular benefit from this reform, and women benefit from a Marriage Act free of sexism. But the main reason being is because our society needs a culture shift and the law to celebrate sexual, gender and social equality.
A perfect example of why this change is necessary is the story of a guy named Shaun (not his real name). Shaun was someone who I met in a youth choir and he was one of the most talented tenors in the choir. He was fairly butch in his appearance, enjoyed playing cricket and was a fairly gentle natured person with a bright future. Shaun like every man fitted some male stereotypes but like every person there were many aspects of his personality and gender expression that simply didn't fit gender stereotypes. Shaun was someone who was bullied because of his gender and personality expression and on a daily basis he endured homophobic slurs and was consistently de-gendered by many of his peers. In essence he was denied social acknowledgement of his gender identity by the way others treated him. Shaun, who to the best of knowledge was and is heterosexual, was even once accused of being gay and bashed by a group of guys after they saw a poster advertising an upcoming musical that featured a picture of him in costume.
At age 15, after enduring such disturbing discrimination for several years, Shaun started to hang out with an extremely hyper-gendered group of guys and within weeks he quit the choir and began to drift away from many of his friends. Shaun began to go to house parties and raves with his mates and the morning after one of these parties I ran into him and I saw he had a black eye. I asked him how he got it and he told me that he and his mates were causing a ruckus and when the host of the party asked them to leave, they laid into him and a brawl erupted. I then briefly continued the conversation by asking him about a mutual friend of ours from choir and if he had caught up with her recently. This girl was for years one of his closest friends and he responded by saying, “Nah I don’t have time for skanks that don’t put out.” I was stunned and finished the conversation and kept walking. I remember being quite shocked at how much he had changed as a person. The relatively gentle country boy who loved singing and cricket, and who had plenty of healthy friendships with men and women had become a deeply insecure, drug addicted bully, who had lost all respect for not only himself but for women and any male who in his eyes wasn’t a real man. The only thing that Shaun really cared about nowadays was fitting in with the boys, having as much sex as possible and getting off his face whenever he could. The guy who endured so much oppression was now running around causing trouble and oppressing others.
Almost a decade later on a recent trip back to my home town in northern NSW, I saw Shaun again and this time he was sleeping on a park bench and he honestly looked like he only had roughly a year left to live. I kept walking and thought to myself what had happened to him that made him feel so compelled to live a lifestyle that was in many respects killing him; a lifestyle that saw Shaun abandon his musical and sporting gifts and ethics; a lifestyle that saw Shaun radically alter his personality, gender and sexual expression and social, political and sexual attitudes and a lifestyle that dramatically stunted his personal development.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the leading cause of death in Australia amongst men aged 14 to 44 and women aged 14 to 34 is suicide and according to Beyondblue one in three Australians will experience serious depression in their lifetime. It is well known that bullying and oppression are leading causes of depression and suicide especially amongst adolescences and young adults. Shaun is just one of countless men and women who as a result of homophobic bullying and other forms of de-gendering have altered their personality, sexual and gender expression as well as social, political and sexual attitudes in order to escape bullying and depression, and to adhere to gender stereotypes. Shaun is just yet another example of the consequence of retaining an understanding of gender and sexuality in the Marriage Act, in the education system and in many other areas of society that stigmatise natural expression and de-gender the majority of Australians.
Just like Shaun, it could be said that almost every person (some more than others) has at some point in their life been taught that because of their personality, gender and sexual expression or because of their social, sexual and political attitudes that they aren’t a real man or real woman and not only is this unacceptable, it is illogical, inaccurate and dangerous. We all need a gender-neutral Marriage Act because we need the law to reflect the fact that our biological sex doesn’t determine our personality, the sex/s you are attracted too, or the roles you play in a relationship. If we want to combat homophobia, sexism and other forms of de-gendering, and bring about a long overdue culture shift, then it is fundamentally important that we enshrine an understanding of gender and sexuality that is not just inclusive of the natural expression of our individual citizens but one that is accurate and most importantly healthy. A gender-neutral Marriage Act is a necessary step that our society must take so that in generations to come there are no more stories like Shaun’s.