When you’re the only queer in the family, trekking back to the place where you grew up can get tougher every year. No matter how much you might’ve changed, it always seems like no one else has, and you’re forced back into those same relational dynamics you tried to escape from. I’m lucky my parents don’t expect me to put a dress on or anything, but then, they never did. So I guess I’ve been lucky a long time.
The role of the family in socialisation is obviously integral, but it is always expected that parents will automatically fear the gender dysphoric child – the homosexual child – vehemently. But what if, like me, your parents were totally fine with whatever?
One of my earliest memories is running around outside in the sun when I was 4 years old and taking my shirt off (which I did often). My (older) sister said to my mother, ‘You can’t let her go out in public like that’ and my mum replied ‘She can do whatever she likes,’ to which I then exclaimed: ‘If boys can do it I can do it!’ And well, not much has changed there.
The point is, family matters. Most of the year, perhaps most of our (adult?) lives, we spend with a chosen family, our childhood family popping in here and there, or not. The queer tendency to conflate community with family harks to the shared intimacy, and often loyalty, of understanding queer sexual lives (whatever that might mean). </spanThe thing is, legal rights, responsibilities and rewards are reserved for biological or legally-bound relatives. Although in the UK, these privileges are offered to pairs of adults in monogamous sexual relationships (and their children), in Australia same sex couples do not have access to legal entitlements and are unable to adopt children.
Here, one may be inclined to question the validity of a (hetero)sexual relationship as the only parameter to acquiring such benefits. Surely consenting adults should be able to decide who they desire/require as legal and financial partners, and that be it. As Judith Butler questions: “how does one oppose the homophobia [of heterosexual marriage entitlements] without embracing the marriage norm as the exclusive or most highly valued social arrangement for queer sexual lives?”
What we need is to disassociate the rights and responsibilities currently the privilege of marriage (and, for the most part, civil partnerships), so that ceremonies can still remain a symbolic exercise for those who choose it, but allow the rights and responsibilities of kinship to take any number of other forms.
Happy queer holidaying.
Hey Hetero! is a public art series by Deborah Kelly and Tina Fiveash, Australia, 2001.