Sep. 9th, 2013

dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
I think I have been quite fortunate, at least in the second half of my life, to have been able to find like-minded people pretty much everywhere I've lived. What seems to have varied is the extent to which people who think similarly to me represent the character of the general population of each place.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a libertarian socialist, an atheist and a hedonist, and that I vote Green. As such, I have to acknowledge that I feel more at home in Melbourne than anywhere else I've lived so far. Much as it's fair to say of those people who broadly agree with my views that presently they make up a minority of any given population - and they may always do so - it seems to be a much larger minority here than most other places.

Let's take Bathurst, for example, where I was born and grew up and spent most of the first half of my life. For much of that time, I felt pretty much like a minority of one. That was, however, more a case of feeling like a social fringe-dweller than from any sense of having a well-formed worldview that didn't match with that of anyone else. My opinions then were far more conservative in many ways than they are now - a definite product of my fairly strict Catholic upbringing, rather than anything to which I'd given serious thought in my own right. I have observed in the past that as a place to grow up, Bathurst kind of offered the worst of both worlds - none of the intimacy of a truly small town but none of the excitement of a big city either. When I visit these days I am not overly conscious of not fitting in, but I feel no real need to interact with anyone other than my parents. Most of my school acquaintance no longer live there - Bathurst is the kind of place from which young people tend to move away if they want to expand their horizons.

Canberra was the next place I lived and where I first began to realise that I was not quite so much of a misfit as I had previously felt. The first half of my time there was spent in the melting-pot of campus life and as such, not entirely reflective of the attitudes of the 'native' population of Canberra. Over the years, though, I gradually began to meet more people who actually called Canberra home - indeed, became one of those people myself. It was there also that I first found myself amongst medieval recreationists - again a small subset of any population, with even smaller subsets within it - of which more later. I have observed that although its population is not uniformly thus of course, Canberra does tend to produce a particular sort of person who is a delightful - to me, at least - blend of rustic and sophisticate; quite appropriate, I suppose, for the Bush Capital.

Then there was Perth. What can I say of Perth, with its curious cultural mix of laid-back, sun-loving conviviality and slightly uptight parochialism? For one thing, I have seldom been as readily welcomed as I was when I first moved there; I suspect that was in large part because I had a ready-made circle of acquaintance through [personal profile] japester but having said that, I felt they were genuinely accepting of me in my own right as well. In keeping with my previous experience, the people with whom I spent time were largely of the subcultural persuasion - not just medieval recreationists this time but fans.

Fandom as such was a new concept for me. Of course I understood generally that one could be a fan of some particular form of creative expression - a type of music, a series of novels, a movie franchise or television series for example - and of the creators themselves; but I had not yet come across people who fully immersed themselves in fandom, engaging not just aesthetically with creative works and those who produce them, but also intellectually, emotionally and even socio-politically. Although Canberra and Melbourne and just about any Western city one can name have their own fan communities, the only one with which I have really associated is that of Perth; and that, I suspect, is how it will stay.

Much as I was embraced with open arms by the medieval recreationists in Perth, there were approaches to the game here that never sat well with me. In one sense, I think this is for similar reasons to those that prevented me from fully engaging with fandom - in each subcultural group, there are those for whom it isn't just part of their lifestyle; it is their life. Perhaps I hadn't been paying enough attention before but it seemed to me that I encountered more of the latter amongst medieval recreationists in Perth than I had anywhere else. Or perhaps it was simply that the particular culture of Perth's recreationist groups was not one that readily absorbed a darker and more subversive interpretation of medieval life - which can be fun to explore if you don't take the game too seriously.

So much for my experiences. It scarcely needs repeating that they have not exactly been of mainstream life in any of the places in which I have lived, with the exception of my childhood and adolescence - so it doesn't surprise me that this was the period of my life during which I felt most out of place. I don't know that I can say I've noticed great differences in the overall character of the people anywhere I've been in Australia; but it's likely this is just a reflection of the fact that I tend to gravitate towards similar kinds of people wherever I happen to be. Of course Melbourne, like anywhere else in the country, has its share of religious fanatics, social conservatives and Liberal voters; but their voices somehow seem more muted here and that suits me very well indeed.
dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
So, it looks like Australia will have to wait at least another few years before catching up to more progressive parts of the world which have recognised the right of homosexual couples to officially marry. I see little chance of it happening under a conservative government headed by a Catholic prime minister, who at his election victory speech rather disturbingly displayed his daughters clad in virginal white.

I've written about the subject of marriage and marriage equality elsewhere before but this seems like a good time to air some more thoughts about it. I have to say right up front that I am in two minds about the issue as a whole.

Those who wish to 'protect' marriage by denying homosexual couples the right to legally and socially sanctioned recognition of their commitment are holding up one of the last bastions of segregation in the more enlightened parts of Western society. Superficially rational statements like, "Children need a mother and a father" are just the oil-slick on top of the much deeper waters of prejudice and exclusion.

What, exactly, do the conservatives think they are protecting?

Some of them, of course, adhere to blatantly religious views such as the notion that marriage was "defined by God" as the union of a man and a woman. The Catholic view is particularly sinister in that the sacrament of marriage is what legitimises the sexual union between the man and the woman; and furthermore, every act of intercourse must be "open to procreation" in order not to be a sinful expression of selfish desire. As long as it's balanced by the effort and pains inherent in bearing and raising children, then it's okay to enjoy sex; but it's not okay otherwise. Hatred and fear of pleasure permeates the morality bequeathed to the West by Christianity and given his declared religious allegiance, we must suppose this to be the view held by our new prime minister.

Whilst it is a biological fact that a homosexual couple, left to their own devices, are unable to procreate, this cannot be the real reason for excluding them from marriage. Heterosexual couples who are unable or unwilling to have children are permitted to marry; and on the other side, there is no longer a social stigma attached to the fact of children being born "out of wedlock" - even the phrase now sounds archaic - so it's simply not true anymore that marriage is considered to be primarily about bearing and raising children.

Yet it seems there is still something special and meaningful about the concept of marriage that conservatives think would be undermined by the act of attaching the name and all it implies to a union between two people of the same sex - though not, apparently, by the prevalence of divorce, the legal standing of de facto relationships, not even by the gaudiness of the wedding industry.

So what's the something? This is where my views drift into murky waters.

For one thing, opponents of marriage equality will frequently say things like, "But gay couples can have civil unions - what are they complaining about?" as if a civil union carries the same legal and social weight as a marriage. It doesn't, as a matter of fact, have the same legal definition, nor the breadth of rights and recognition attached to marriage. It also seems to lack gravitas and certainly it lacks a sense of romance - "I'm entering a civil union!" really doesn't evince the same kind of excitement as, "I'm getting married!"

What I wonder is why this is the case.

I am married, as most people reading this know; and the day [personal profile] japester proposed to me was indeed one of the happiest of my life. But why this particular expression of commitment and the desire to be part of my life should seem more significant than something like moving in together, buying a house together (both of which we'd done before the wedding) or even, for that matter, entering a civil union together is something I really can't explain. Yes, marriage has the weight of history behind it; but that history is far from edifying. I do at times feel a bit strange referring to myself as a wife, precisely because of its uncomfortably antiquated connotations, the hint of staid conformity and repression of individuality that hovers about it like a bad smell. At the same time I can't help feeling that the phrase, "My husband" somehow has more clout in society than "My partner", as if I, as a woman, am more accomplished, more well-defined as a person for having married a man than for merely having a relationship. Why this should be so is in itself an issue that might well become the subject for another post.

So on the one hand, I certainly appreciate in an emotional sense why same-sex couples want to be able to get married; rationally I can see no good reason to exclude them from the legal rights and social privileges that accompany marriage. On the other hand, there is that part of me that questions the status and value of marriage as an institution; and wonders whether we shouldn't all be holding out for something better.

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dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
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