Title: On politically flaccid gay men Credit: Peter Saxton Features Monday 28th March 2005 - 12:00pm1111968000 Article: 674 Rights
I thought in NZ we tended to call a spade a spade. Now in last issue's column I read that our widely acknowledged gay community disengagement in things political is not apathy, it's a "transformation". Apparently threats to our well-being are overplayed. Apparently now we're smarter and sensible and more respectable with our advocacy anyway. Oh and by the way, militancy is now just kinda gay. I don't buy any of it. And I don't know why we're being so naïve. Do we really think that prejudice has less impact in 2005? Do we really think that the law reforms over the last 20 years occurred because mainstream NZ really loves us, and that there wasn't really a need to get so uptight? Do we therefore think that progress is inexorable? I can't understand why we're happy being so complicit in our own exploitation. Why we passively allow peddlers of homophobia to profit politically (several parties), institutionally (many churches, Maxim) and financially (in advertising). Why we don't confront those who target our community with quick fixes for insecurity in the form of drugs, alcohol, skin-care, hair-removal, and diets and say screw you, we've got enough problems, thanks. The thing is, even if we don't see ourselves as a vulnerable and exploitable group, others do. We're a permanent minority. To put it bluntly, most people just aren't that interested in us. You know how NZ's largest national newspaper covered the new HIV stats? By citing the heterosexual cases (there were actually only 4 infected in NZ) and not mentioning gay men once (there were 51). The corollary is that we've got to defend ourselves. This is exactly what gay communities (and liberals in general) in the U.S. haven't been doing. A common refrain pre-Bush was that Democrats needn't take the religious right seriously, because, well, who believes in all that anyway? We're smart after all, and they're not. Well Bush was re-elected and now it's almost impossible to get public funding for research or community initiatives mentioning the words gay, lesbian, sex, or sexuality. It wasn't always like that. In NZ there's a similar misreading of Destiny. It's not that I believe they'll win 30% of the vote at the next election. But the presence of extreme homophobes like that changes the political landscape. Other homophobes start to look more moderate. Our opponents become emboldened. And among the 80% of mainstream NZ the equilibrium shifts away from us – it's more permissible to denigrate us, silence us. That's why it's so important to respond to each and every slur on our community. If we don't, we start to look like easy targets, and it starts to happen more often. Community activists learn these things. And I imagine this is what Peter Wells is urging for. To not be so gutless. Politeness and reason. It's appealing to pretend that that is all it takes to effect political and social change. That would suit me. But gay-bashing isn't all that polite, and in the real world the best counter is sometimes impoliteness of our own. Or “militancy”. Whatever you like to call it. You've got to have something up your sleeve if your bluff is called. Well-reasoned arguments can of course convince policymakers of the rightness of a position. But it's politicians who pass laws, and they want to know what the electorate thinks. That's why the public must be engaged. Why we must all write letters to newspapers, turn out to public events, or at least support - financially - those who are willing to do it on our behalf. I think we're becoming myopic. We don't seem to see the connections between homophobes and general social attitudes to homosexuality in the same way we used to. And the connection between those attitudes and our reluctance to hold our partner's hand in public, our hesitation before we tell a complete stranger we're gay, our comfort at being different or our desire to be the same. Twenty years after Homosexual Law Reform, homophobia still weakens our self-assertion, and makes us question our legitimacy. And this is my fear. I don't think community fragmentation is necessarily the result of apathy. I think it's partly the fact we've lost our voice. So often it was through self-expression and visibility that we discovered and defined who we are as a minority group and as individuals. And we need it back. Note: Saxton is a senior researcher for the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, but his comments here – originally published in Express - are made in a personal capacity as a gay man and not intended to represent his employers Peter Saxton - 28th March 2005    
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