Making it to a mailbox isn’t something I’ve managed many times in my adult life. Until the marriage equality vote, I genuinely thought that the postbox out the front of our office was a historical monument. I’m proud to say though, that I had the form crossed, sealed and through the hole within days of it arriving.
I voted Yes. Done.
But as the campaign went on, and I watched reactions on both sides of the camp heat to the point of unfair dismissals and wedding ceremony cancellations, I got uneasy.
I know how many of the No camp feel about homosexuality. I know because I used to feel the same way. My childhood was unusual; waving hands above my head in worship services and speaking the sounds of Pentecostal tongues. Praying for people to be healed. Carefully underlining a verse in the big heavy bible balanced on my knee.
There’s something very satisfactory about religion, about having a purpose, being on the right side and following rituals to make sure you stay that way.
I don’t remember anyone actively saying homosexuality was wrong. There were a lot of things we called wrong; anger, lust, divorce, but homosexuality was one of those things that was so wrong, it was just never mentioned. It came out more subtly, in whispered stories. ‘He was rescued from a life of homosexuality.’ ‘Well, her son’s got a boyfriend…’
It was someone yelling ‘homo!’ on the playground and a friend explaining the act, a look of horror on her face. It was the older brother of a friend secretly flicking through a bible to the story of Sodom and giggling through to God destroying the city in a ball of fire. A teenage friend was sent to a ‘Cleansing Stream’ camp where homosexuality was on the menu of curses to be cast out of him.
No mention of love. Just disgust. Unnaturalness. Dirty things done in secret.
Which explains how, in my first face to face encounter with a self-pronounced Actual Gay, my mind had homosexual pinned somewhere between prostitute and paedophile.
I was 15 and he was a budding thespian. We were in a performance of The Emperors New Clothes and he was, of course, the emperor. We sat on the street at the back of the stage between acts. He smoked. I concentrated on behaving like I sat on street corners with gay smokers all the time. I also mentally rehearsed one liners that would convert him to Christianity.
‘So, your boyfriend. Do you kiss him?’ I asked. (Not the strongest start, admittedly)
‘Yeaaah, of course,’ he looked at me strangely.
‘Eewww.’ I said loudly. An instinctual reaction to the confession of a real gay act. I was suddenly conflicted between disgust at the unspeakable sin and remembering to show the grace of the Lord Jesus.
I think back to that now and feel a little sick to the stomach. A teenage boy, having to deal with the disgust of a virtual stranger.
It’s the crispest example of many ways that my earlier religious self contributed to hellish adolescences and office environments. I know this is the kind of treatment that’s lead to a shockingly high suicide rate among the LGBTI community. It’s the kind of memories dredged up by the vote discussion that kept a gay friend up at night with nausea.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman talks to straight, pearl-wearing Janine Middleton, the CEO of Australian Marriage Equality, about what you can do to help (post continues after audio...)
It’s the kind of thing that I have to breathe in sharply to acknowledge; I did these things and made people feel this way. I was taught that way and so passed it on. In all my excitement at voting Yes and feeling like I was on the right side of history, I’d forgotten about my own role in the making of it.
So, I’d like to take the momentous occasion of my Yes vote as an opportunity to also say, "sorry". I know it doesn’t make up for it but for what it’s worth, if I’m feeling this way, it’s possible many other teenage tormentors are as well.
To my thespian friend, my office manager and all the others, I’m sorry I made you feel like you were in some way wrong. Really, super sorry. I want you to know that I didn’t know any better and now that I do, I was the wrong one. You were gracious and strong and brave. I hope you’re living fabulous, fulfilling lives with partners you kiss, passionately and publicly, all the time.
If you’ve also intentionally, ignorantly, accidentally or otherwise, ever made anyone from the LGBTI community feel the same way, today’s your day. Tell them you voted Yes. And you’re sorry.
Clair Maurice is a former Pastor at c3 Church Sydney and is now a happy freethinker who lives with her partner on the shores of Sydney Harbour. She is currently writing a book on leaving fundamental religion and works as a Strategic Designer in The Rocks… which explains why she thought a postbox was a historical monument.