So it was terrific news this morning that the English Parliament has passed a Bill on marriage equality, and certainly something that our Australian Parliament should get their arses into gear and do too. And David Cameron did well to support it as the leader of the Conservative Party…or wait. My thoughts about this changed when AM reported that one of the reasons that Cameron felt strongly about supporting marriage equality is because he felt that marriage is the best institution in which to bring up a child. OK, then. Hmm. Which led me back to my fundamental question, what would Brian Kinney do?
One thing that Queer as Folk (the US version) was quite good at doing over its run (except perhaps in the end of the last season), was exploring the vexed idea of what does “equality” and “acceptance” mean to queer people. Is acceptance and equality just the right to “be as boring” as everyone else? Does acceptance mean having to be like everyone else? Is equality really assimilation? While the show had an underlying theme of the struggle for equality and acceptance as a them, Brian’s character was carefully used to problematise this struggle, particularly where queers were expected to ‘mainstream’ themselves to achieve this acceptance.
While I think it is fundamentally wrong that any group of people are denied the rights another group of people have, and if boring, middle class straight people can get married, why should queer people also be entitled to this right? But does it then make them boring and middle class. Is what David Cameron doing saying, we can’t pretend they don’t exist, so let us make them as much like us as possible? If we make queers like us, can we then deny or hide to ourselves that which makes us uncomfortable about them?
It is interesting how this can be seen played out in popular culture. In Modern Family, Mitchell and Cam are a white middle class couple, parents to an adoptive daughter whose lives revolve round family, worrying about appropriate school and the balance between being a stay-at-home parent vs a working parent. Sure, Cam likes to take photos of their young daughter dressed as famous pop divas, but overall, their eccentricities are mild compared to those of their straight relatives. While it is good that mainstream American television now regularly includes queer characters, there is something about this mainstreaming which lends itself to a reasssurance that queer folk are Just Like Us.
Actually, lke the Nice Ideal Us. Not the poor, deviant, challenged, messy us. For a long time I have wondered whether the emphatic emphasis on marriage equality may actually do harm to the diversity of queerness, and potentially to diversity more generally, as the married-with-children-mortgage-and-dog model becomes further entrenched as an ideal. At this point I should declare that I am not queer-identifying (well, mostly), and that I am (upper) middle class and white and probably boring. But I am not married though I do have a long term partner and three children. And , despite it being the 21st Century, I am often amazed at how rare the non-married thing is.
The thing I wonder, and have wondered for some time (and thanks to Mathew for being the first person I explored these ideas with over one of our very many long lunches) is whether this kind of approach to marriage equality might create a two-tiered system of queerness – those who can “pass”, who are like straight middle class folks with their nice families, and those who do not, who choose to live their life in a different way. While the term “homosexual lifestyle” is offensive, their are aspects of non straight middle class culture which are excluded from the idea of nice, married life. And queer people are not the only ones who live outside this ideal. Do these things which unsettle the centre of society get more hidden? Brian Kinney loathed queer people who tried to be straighter than straight folks to gain equality.Because is it really acceptance is you have to be someone else to be accepted. Many queer people genuinely want to get married and live quiet suburban lives and more power to them, they absolutely should be able to do so. and it is not a surprise that they would desire that too, as overwhelmingly from our childhoods we are exposed to this as an ideal. But let us not think that is the only model of being and let us not exclude the single parents (queer or straight), the polyamorous, the celibate, those who want to live their own lives in their own ways. Let’s make sure acceptance is not only on straight-people terms. Let’s make Brian proud.