Circus the First: Sexuality
I noticed, well over a decade ago, that many gay young men, once they finally accept themselves and their sexuality, over-compensate. They jump straight from self-hatred into embracing extreme gay stereotypes - not because that's who they are, but because that's the only way to be gay that they're aware of. The jump from "I'm okay! I'm gay; gays do X, therefore I must want to do X" has always saddened me.
I think a lot of people would be much happier if they were able to just say "I'm okay! I'm gay" and not think that they have to radically change every aspect of their life. That's not going to be a common thing until every gay child grows up being aware that they are surrounded by gay people, who are just as diverse as the rest of the people they know.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where teachers, actors, singers, sports people, politicians (to name just a few) all feel they need to stay in the closet in order to have a career; where children are routinely told that gay love is "different" and "inferior" and "we can't let those dirty gays have our precious marriage". Until all of that changes, gay kids are going to grow up only having one kind of role model - they're going to believe that the only way to be authentically gay is to "be here, be queer, get used to it".
I lucked out and (mostly, I think) avoided this mistake myself - although I certainly went through a period where I was certainly acting the way I thought I ought to behave, and not the way I wanted to behave. A big part of how I got lucky was that I happened to fall in with a crowd of gay men who showed me that I don't need to change who I am in order to be gay.
I would like every child to have the chance to make the discovery I made *before* they start trying to mutilate their personality until it fits into the only mould they've ever been aware of. Until we get a critical mass of public figures being visbly out of the closet, Mardi Gras is one of the best ways to achieve this. It gives a very distorted, one-sided extremist view of what it means to be gay; and that does cause some harm - but it causes much less harm than having children growing up believing they're the only gay in the village.
Fortunately, I think that this circus is drawing to a close. There are far more out public figures now than there 10 or 20 years ago, when I was struggling. Most of the ways the law treats heterosexual couples different from other couples have been removed. There are still remnants of discrimination that are politically infeasible to remove just yet - but there's a growing awareness that the political problems stem from a very vocal minority and don't actually reflect the views of the majority of the population. I'm reasonably confident that children born this decade will be able to mature without going through too much trauma if they realise that their sexuality is something other than 100% hetero.
In short, I believe that Mardi Gras is going to become far less relevant over the next decade or so - and we're going to see far fewer young gay men making drastic changes to their lifestyle and harming themselves in the process. This won't be achieved solely because of the noisy extremists who started the gay rights movement in this country 30+ years ago - but it *will* be achieved because their noisy, violent, rude pioneering made it possible for ordinary everyday gay people to make themselves known to the people around them.
Circus the second: Religion
For myself, being able to accept my sexuality meant that I first had to modify some of the religious beliefs I'd grown up with. However, I didn't happen to fall in with a crowd who showed me that it's possible to only modify parts of my religious belief. I'd grown up surrounded by one end of the religious spectrum (the end now represented by the ACL, although if it existed at the time I wasn't aware of it). The only alternative I was aware of - thanks to a lot of very noisy extremists - was right at the other end of the religious spectrum. Consequently, that's where I went - one huge leap, discarding huge portions of my prior belief system, because that was the only change I believed possible.
I did start to meet people who showed me that there was another I could have taken much later - but by then, it was too late. There's as little chance of me tweaking my beliefs from my current extreme as their was when I started. In fact, even though I've been aware of the first Circus for a long time, I really only became aware of that I'd done essentially the same thing in the second Circus tonight.
I believe that the largest part of why I was unaware of other possibilities is because moderate Christians tend not to speak out publicly against the extremists - at least, not the extremists they regard as being within the fold of Christianity. There are good biblical reasons for this - 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, for instance. Because of passages like this, many Christians seem to feel that the correct way to handle people at the extremes of Christian belief is quietly - within the church, or just maybe, by expressing a very quiet contrary opinion only when directly questioned - but never, ever speaking out loudly against the extreme viewpoints.
I can sympathise with this view. Unfortunately, it means that this circus looks very different from the first circus. The first circus started with loud extremists at both ends of the spectrum - but is going to end because the vast majority of people in the center stood up and made themselves known. The second circus has also attracted loud extremists at both ends - but so far at least, the vast majority in the center refuse to make themselves known.
I'd love to see the second circus draw to an end too. I'd love to see the ACL and their ilk to be understood as the extremist, vocal, minority that I believe they are. I'd love to be able to tell the atheists currently gathering in Melbourne that their conference has no more value than I believe Mardi Gras will have in a few years time - a fun spectacle, perhaps, but not a vitally important way of letting people understand that they aren't alone. I'd love for children who grew up with a Christian background be able comprehend the enormous diversity of opinion within the Christian churches, and were able to make minor corrections instead of having to ditch Christianity entirely.
However, none of this is going to happen while the only people willing to speak up are the people at the extreme ends of the spectrum. If you're neither an extreme atheist nor an extreme Christian, it's *vital* that you be willing to be loud and proud about your beliefs. It's vital that you step forward and say "The ACL does not entirely represent what it means for me to be Christian" or "Extremists like PZ Myers do not entirely represent what it means for me to be atheist", just as it was vital for the silent majority of gays to step forward and say "Mardi Gras does not entirely represent what it means for me to be gay". As long as the moderates refuse to loudly, publicly, visibly repudiate the extremists who claim to speak for all Christians or all Atheists, *those will be the only voices that are heard*.
As it happens, there's a fantastic opportunity open *right now* for everyone to have their say. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs is holding a a verbosely-named Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 which is calling for public submissions on the topic of marriage equality generally, and two specific bills in particular. The ACL are encouraging their constituency to make their feelings known; and of course, we gasbagging noisy atheists are doing the same. If you're a moderate, this is your chance! Don't let the extremists make it look as though there are only two opinions here! Don't let the ACL or the noisy atheists get away with pretending they talk for you!
All you need to do is answer 5 multiple choice questions (and, optionally, say a few words (very few - only 250 words will be accepted) in response to two more open-ended questions) in order to make sure that our Parliament is able to understand the full diversity of opinions in the community.
Two of the questions on the survey ask you whether you support each of the bills named in the Inquiry's title. If you believe that any amendments to remove the "Man and Woman" clause from the Marriage Act would be bad, there's no need for you to read either of the bills.
Everybody else should read both of the (very short) bills before they complete the survey. The bills do differ - for instance, both aim to preserve the right ministers of religion already have to refuse to solemnise any wedding that falls outside of their religious belief, but both bills approach this in slightly different ways.
Both bills - and some other background information, if you want to learn more - are linked from the Inquiry page. If you'd like to read the full text of the existing Marriage Act, that's available over at ComLaw
And so, to bed
This was meant to be a quick response, just a tiny bit too long to fit in a single tweet. 3.5 hours later, I'm not sure the words I'm writing make sense any more. It's time for bed.