Warning: This piece contains spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale TV series.
My partner is lying across the couch, taking up all the room. I wriggle into my spot, sitting upright with the warm crown of his head cradled on my chest.
My arm are wrapped around his chest as we settle in to watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Here, in our cosy, private space, we are safe. We feel safe.
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But the world I’m seeing on screen reminds me that this safety has never been guaranteed. In the wrong place at the wrong time, our homely picture would look very different.
The very act of us being “together” is political.
I first read Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel quite a few years ago, and it had a major impact on me.
As a male feminist (can we start ditching the “male” tag on feminist yet?), I was chilled to the bone by Atwood’s vision of a future society that hits “delete” on the hard-won rights of women. A system that would reduce and enslave my sister, my friends and my colleagues to their fertility status.
The TV adaptation, produced by US streaming service Hulu and available on SBS On Demand, locally, hits me even closer to home.
Not only is being a woman grounds for institutionalised oppression and abuse, but so is being gay.
The series puts LGBTI people into the plot in a way that amplifies Atwood’s horrifying vision, making it even more relevant than ever.
The fundamentalist beliefs of a world like Gilead eerily echo those of groups like the Westborough Baptist Church (their tagline “God Hates Fags” appears smeared on a snowy window during episode seven).
From the opening episode, we are warned of what happens to the people they call “gender traitors”.
As Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) and Ofglen/Emily (Alexis Bledel) walk home by the river, they see a gay man’s limp, lifeless body hanging on the wall next to a pink triangle symbol. The same symbol the Nazis used to identify homosexuals during the Holocaust.
In 2017, that symbol is one of gay pride.
As someone who flies that flag proudly in my own life, I realise while watching this show that my digital record would clearly mark me as a “gender traitor”.
If I wanted to adopt another identity, it would be hard. It’s all over my social media profiles and my tax file. It’s in articles like this.
The “Adam Bub” who spoke up for LGBTI rights when it was acceptable could be just as easily punished for it if the pendulum shifted.
This is heartbreakingly real in the case of Ofglen.
In the book, her sexuality wasn't mentioned. In the series, it's discovered that she's had an affair with a Martha (a female housekeeper) and she is then punished with genital mutilation to ensure she "won't want what she cannot have".
Before that, she is forced to watch her lover hung to her death – a tragedy no-one should ever have to experience.
The scariest part is that this is happening in our world today. It might not be happening in our own country, but it's happening in Chechnya, where more than 100 gay men were recently tortured and imprisoned, or killed.
It's happening in Uganda, where being gay is punishable by death. It's happening in Iran, where gay men have been publicly executed.
And in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where two men were publicly flogged in April for what they chose to do in the privacy of their own home.
Across the world many LGBTI people live in fear. They often can't escape, so they are forced to assimilate. The Handmaid's Tale reminds us of this struggle.
For Offred's best friend Moira (Samira Wiley), her once-free sexuality, which was only mentioned in passing in the book, is compromised. Her survival depends on being straight for pay, as a prostitute at Jezebel's.
All of these queer plot points build up a bigger picture of a world stripped of individual freedoms. A world that echoes elements of Trump's America, where abortion rights are under attack and religious liberty executive orders protect those who want to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.
Just like the rights of women, LGBTI rights can regress if the wrong person or government is in charge. It isn't necessarily sudden.
In Handmaid's, women's rights are slowly taken from them bit by bit as the new regime begins. Their bank accounts are closed, they lose their jobs, and eventually, the right to their own bodies.
In our world, every time an anti-gay group wins a war on public policy (like the relentless campaign that destroyed the Safe Schools program), it's a slip into the direction of the world Atwood foreshadows.
That is why my pride is stronger than ever. In this moment, I hold my freedoms close. And I hold my partner even closer.
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