So now for some good news! Big national issue, mixed with a dash of personal experience, and broadening the definition of what a lot of (non-feminist) people think feminism is. A winning combination, no?
On Tuesday the UK House of Commons voted to legalise same-sex marriage. And that is awesome.
There are about a hundred articles you can read on this on mainstream newspaper websites (about a dozen on the BBC alone), plus countless opinion pieces, not to mention the blogosphere. If you’re not British and you want to find out more about the debate and how what happened and who voted what, spent some time browsing, because it really is an amazing story. I am most certainly not a Tory, and to say I have issues with our Prime Minister, David Cameron, would be an understatement. However, no matter how cynical you are, you can’t get away from the fact that the government did something awesome this week. Same-sex civil partnerships have been around since 2007, with almost exactly equal rights, but taking the step to extend marriage to all couples means something.
The fact that our Prime Minister went against the majority of his own party to do this also matters. Yes, I know people have been saying it’s a shameless political stunt to try to appeal the liberals and distract the public from economic issues, and all that may be true. But I’m not going to vote Tory in the next election, and neither are my left-wing progressive friends. The gay marriage vote won’t change that. So Cameron has risked isolating himself from his party without the chance of winning votes from the left, and even if his motives for doing this were entirely self-centred, the fact is we still won. And we won with a Tory government and a Prime Minister who is so ridiculously backward and conservative in so many ways. And that makes me a very happy kitten, even with all the rest of the bullshit.
So now for the personal bit. I don’t really like picking a sexuality label, aside from ‘queer’, but the one that best suits me is ‘bi’. I like girls. I haven’t talked about liking girls much on this blog, because my sexuality tends to fluctuate, and right now I’m definitely in a straight-er phase, but when I was a teenager I was pretty heavily involved in the gay scene, and gay marriage was something I used to fantasise about. Part of this was the mad idea that, if it was legalised, I’d be able to come out to my parents because I’d somehow have the government’s approval and would be able to stop hiding. (I’m not sure why I was hiding from my liberal and open-minded parents, I just was.) I didn’t have a long-term girlfriend I actually wanted to marry – in fact, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to get married to anyone, of any gender. But the formal recognition that these were valid relationships and a valid identity mattered hugely to me, even if I didn’t quite understand at the time what it all meant.
When it comes to LGBT+ issues, people like to talk a lot about impressionable children, children who need to be protected and kept innocent, who don’t have the maturity to deal with complicated issues like sexuality. They’ve been saying that a lot about the gay marriage bill. And whenever I hear that, I think back to my own childhood (like that was so terrible far away, says the girl in her early twenties). I am very privileged to have a very large, very close extended family, with friends my parents have had since their teens being counted as honorary aunts and uncles. We have family events a couple of times a year, which always include these added extras. One of these honorary uncles is my godfather. My parents aren’t Christian, and they don’t really believe in the idea of godparents, but he was a close friend, and they wanted him to feel included in our family. I grew up with this man at every significant event in my life, and it was understood that, if anything bad happened, he was someone I could turn to.
My godfather would always turn up to family occasions with his boyfriend. There have been a couple that I remember, each lasting between five and ten years, and they were always invited with him. My parents never explicitly told me or my sister that he was gay, and that the men he brought were his partners, but then, they didn’t need to. We were young, and didn’t really have a concept of the different types of relationships. As far as I was concerned, my aunts and uncles all brought their spouses, and my godfather brought his. Who happened to be male. It was that much of a non-issue.
I didn’t start thinking and learning about gay rights and alternative sexualities until I was fourteen and in love with my best friend. And then it was this made haze of hormones and tears and intense feeling that seemed to consume me, as it often is for teenagers experiencing their first crush. I didn’t think about my godfather – I was too busy thinking about the other girls at school and what they’d think of me. It was only much later that I realised how completely insignificant my godfather’s homosexuality had been to his inclusion in our family. Exposure to his same-sex relationships hadn’t ‘turned me gay’ (if it had, I might have been less panicked about the whole liking girls thing), nor had it confused me as child. I don’t think I ever even asked my mother why he always brought a man as his guest, but if I had, I’m sure her response would have been ‘Because that’s his partner’, and that would have been it.
What I mean to say by all this is that I think a lot of people forget what being a child is actually like. Children don’t need ‘protecting’ from sexuality, because sexual issues generally bore them. Unlike adults, they’re not obsessed with sex, and if they ask a question out of curiosity, they’ll most likely move onto something else as soon as they have the answer. If they hear that two men or two women have got married, or if they go to a same-sex wedding, chances are they’ll just accept it. And maybe, years later, when they’re starting to have tricky complicated feelings that hurt and confuse and bewilder them, they’ll remember that people their parents admired and respected ended up with same-sex partners, so it must be alright really. And that’s worth an awful lot.
In conclusion, I am happy. We have so much left to fix, and this may only be a symbolic victory, but it is a victory all the same. And this week, in a thoroughly British and understated way, I am proud of my country.