There is a lot to rally about in Australia. I have marched for Aboriginal land rights and sovereignty, justice for black deaths, the rights of asylum seekers, and action on climate change, among other things. In the thirteen years in which some LGBTQI activists have been rallying for same-sex marriage, I went with some trepidation to an Equal Love rally for the first time, on 26 August.
Without spending hours getting ready, as I would for a dance party, the queerest garment I could throw on to get myself to the rally on time was my faux leopard-skin winter coat. It’s not as recognisably a queer sign as what we see today, but rainbows and love hearts are not my preferred political aesthetic. I am yet to find a short black dress with a pink triangle on it.
Apart from wanting to look fabulous, there are moments when I use ‘queer clothing’ to let people know I am not straight. When you present as femme as I do, signs of one’s queerness are important for attracting dates and keeping the wrong kind of people away. For this occasion, I wanted my coat to signal solidarity with my LGBTQI community and social movement.
I want to be there for my queer peers, who are feeling a little less safe and okay in the world, as we navigate our way through the nation debating us.
The Australian government has directed the energy of the marriage equality campaign to a national optional postal survey, and the bigots have turned up the volume of their hate. For better or for worse, marriage equality has become the conduit in which all kinds of people – including those who support us – express their opinions about who they think we are, and how they think we want to live.
And so rallying for ‘equal love’ has become much more than fighting for inclusion into an institution I don’t particularly like.
Catching the tram to the rally makes me think of Cat Stevens’ ‘Peace Train’, as I watch out for who else will be riding along. Like any other day, I also engage in queer-spotting. It is a reflex practised over many years, to count other bodies like mine. I play POC-spotting too.
The first people I see on the tram are a heterosexual couple with a baby. They could be rallyers. I hear of a lot of straight people are turning up to support ‘Equal Love’. Next stop, three teenage girls get on; they are wearing bright-coloured stockings, just like Pussy Riot. They have badges on their clothes and chatter as if they are going to a party.
I am happy to see a Rainbow family with their prams squeeze in. The rainbow aesthetic works well with kids. I hope our community and allies can protect our kids from the bigotry and hate. Seeing rainbow families also takes me back to when my teenage kids were toddlers; I was caught between feelings of alienation among straight parents and sensations of claustrophobia among queer ones. It was hard to find the balance.
Three high-energy, young queers sit down across from me. One reads from their phone, ‘They’re saying 90,000 new voters have enrolled!’ Looking at the boy’s pink blazer and pink tie, I wish I did spend a little more effort on dressing up.
There is standing room only, now. It feels like eighty per cent of the passengers are going to the rally. The blazer boy offers his seat to a woman who, like me, looks old enough to have gone to women’s dances in the 1980s and attended AIDS vigils in the 90s. I look for signs – sensible shoes, short hair, comfortable clothes – and then I spot her bling earrings. I think she is one of us.
Down the aisle, a thirty-something dyke with a backpack, wearing a pink baseball cap stands out among the young people wearing rainbow beanies and bright coloured clothing. I hear them ask one another, ‘You guys going to the rally?’
I was wrong to assume that I wouldn’t see any older queers getting on board. The wrinkled-faced woman wearing a purple cardigan smiles at me. I think lezzo feminists are making a come back; I heard the other night that Sarah Ahmed has written about this. If this is the case, I hope that present-day lesbian feminism is less rigid about gender, more open about sex, and are able to make better distinctions between sex work and trafficking. One purple cardigan made me think about how many LGBTQI issues have become sidelined in the focus on marriage.
I confess via text to a friend that I am going to the rally. I tell her it’s mostly for ethnographic purposes. She could not bring herself to attend. I understand. Equal love has suppressed the counter-cultural spirit of sexual liberation in its quest for inclusion. I quote Marx to her: ‘men (ha ha) make their own history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing.’ The campaign leading to the postal survey is the circumstance. We are yet to see what kind of history we can make of this.
One stop before the rally, I see people walking with banners. A teenager is taking a photo of a male and female couple holding the placard, ‘Parents for Equality’.
The woman with the bling earrings does get off at the rally. The turnout is massive. The papers will later count it as between 15,000 and 20,000 people. The crowd is colourful. Dykes on Bikes are here. I think that’s cool, though remember that I heard a few of them kicked up a fuss when some activists wanted Aboriginal queers to lead the Melbourne Pride March instead of them.
I meet up with Grand Queer D, who has come to the rally for similar reasons as me. D and I walk to the top of the bank to get a better look, exchanging the usual political banter and gossip as we go. I thought he was joking when he said there were about twenty speakers, but he saw a discussion about it on Facebook. I wish they’d drop the speeches and just let us dance.
I am delighted that I am handed an A3 white placard with the word Yes printed over a pink triangle. I hope this symbol makes a comeback, too. I hover around for over an hour and the speakers are still going. The atmosphere is great, but I don’t stay for the march.
On leaving the sea of rainbows, with my pink triangle placard in hand, I feel a little self-conscious and insecure riding home without fellow rallyers. I hope that everyone goes home in safe numbers. I register how an atmosphere of hatred can instil fear in even the ‘straightest’ queer body. I also know that the atmosphere has never been safe for certain queer bodies, and even a successful Marriage Equality campaign will not change that.
I feel for my fellow queers who cop insults and violence on a daily basis. I hope that they do not get left behind in the straightening up of our queer culture through marriage equality. Of course queers should have the right to marry if they want. It’s a no brainer to vote yes in the upcoming survey. But I also want to build a world where it becomes a no brainer that marriage is just one option among others for loving, having sex and forming families.