"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Friday, September 01, 2017

on empathy.

Here's something I've been thinking about during this same-sex plebiscite hullabaloo: empathy is not the same as agreement.

I am trying, really hard, to empathise with people who differ with me on this issue. It does not mean I consider their arguments to be legitimate - because most of them are neither logical nor based in any kind of fact or reason that could be recognised in an educated and secular society. It does not mean I understand or condone hate speech or violence. It definitely does not mean agreeing or sympathising or backing off from my need to educate and encourage kindness and compassion. But it just means understanding where people are coming from.

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to imagine people who are different from you as a monolithic, one-dimensional, uncomplicated thing; but as an Asian who is also an English student who is also a sex nerd who is also a raging queer I'm uncomfortable with this unwillingness to understand where other people are coming from. I mean, I started empathising when I also started cherry picking from the Bible: know thy enemy.

I need to say on no uncertain terms that if you are opposed to same sex marriage, then you are opposed to my right to exist as a full human being. I know perfectly well I may never get married; I am nowhere near attractive enough to be as disagreeable as I am. I know that if I do get married, I will probably marry a cisgender man, because that's just how the stars of my sexuality and the demographics of the human species tend to align. But the question is not if or to whom I or any other queer person may get married to. It's about the simple fact that marriage is a personal choice, and it is deeply offensive that politics and now, apparently, every fucking person in the country, gets a say in the personal lives of a small and marginalized minority.

But here's what I want to say: I empathise with people who are afraid of disagreeing with or leaving (or being forced to leave) a community that they belong to. All the people I know who do not support marriage equality belong to large but also very insular and monocultural groups, like a church, or a specific retirement village with various social and economic barriers for anyone who isn't white and middle class. For the longest time I didn't see the appeal of these communities, because I have never been welcome. But I understand that if you are born into them, it is hard to leave; and not leaving involves sticking to the status quo.

I never grew up with any sense of community; my extended family don't live in Australia and being mixed heritage is not always an easy thing in Asian Australian communities. I never felt like I could act the part of a good Asian girl so I never bothered trying. I've been lonely, for most of my life, and that loneliness can be crushing. But it's also been liberating; I never make decisions worrying that I will be cast off, because I've always been a cast off. But I understand that the prospect of that loneliness can be terrifying. I don't know how to mitigate that terror, or tell you that it'll all be okay; because sometimes it's not. Sometimes I'm not okay, living without a community, and sometimes I feel like I'll do anything to find my tribe, as it were. And as much as I am queer and proud to be queer and proud to campaign for queer rights, I have not really found a place in the queer community, as a very straight-passing bi femme.

The only silver lining I can think of is that if you do leave, if you belong to a homophobic community and you publicly state that their homophobia is not okay and not something you are willing to be a part of, you are serving that community in the best way you can. Because I guarantee, within your community, there is somebody living in fear. There is somebody living in a safety net of lies and conceits, but watching you leave will give them hope. I don't know if that thought is enough to help you make some difficult choices about this issue, but I hope it is.

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