Up Front by Emma Hart


Making It Better

For the last two weeks I've been trying to write a follow-up column to my last one, on how we go about moving towards a more sex-positive world. Turns out that once you've typed, "Be the change you want to see in the world," it all gets quite complicated. 

I was raised with my mother's activism. We marched every Hiroshima Day. I went on a bunch of Muldoon-era protests that involved cardboard coffins and street theatre. I did my first radio interview at eight. By the time the Lange government was elected, I was a hardened protest veteran. 

(As an aside, I understand that many people have problems with children being on protest marches. I'd like to suggest those people adopt one of two courses of action. 1/ Offer to babysit for an activist. 2/ STFU. One or the other.) 

These were collective actions, but they happened because of the drive of a few individuals. Phone trees* and placard-making evenings don't just happen. In the pre-internet age, things were pretty simple. If you wanted attention, you had to go and stand outside. 

There was an awful lot of protesting. No so much advocating. That's still true now. I'd rather be positive and constructive, but does that mean ignoring the crap? Or do you speak up even though you know you're giving those idiots more attention? 

Growing up that way, I learned a couple of things. Everyone wants to do the Right Thing. No-one an agree on what that is. Also, you can't vacuum up glitter. 

Take Out to Dinner. What a fabulous idea, and the distilled essence of what I think matters about activism. It's about being able to do something, no matter how small, that can make a real difference to the lives of real people. We don't have to sit on our hands and wait for Society to change. It's something any LGBT ally can do, whether they're connected to a physical-space activist network or not. 

So then I thought about it. I thought about inviting LGBT friends over, and asking them to sit at the same table as people who were "on the fence". And suddenly, when it wasn't an abstract idea, I felt really uncomfortable about putting people through that. 

I mean, I know how much being Out can help. We pay it forward, and also around. We're role models for each other, and we support each other. Everyone who's Out (as LGBT, as asexual, as kinky, as poly, etc) makes it easier for someone else to be. I know my own Typing Activism has helped other people. 

I also know how fucking exhausting it is, and how risky. That risk isn't taken communally, it's individual. And there is no way that I can demand other people expose themselves to that risk: to their jobs, their relationships, their families. To censure and abuse and silent disapproval. To the need to be perfect, because any mistake you make will be seen as a flaw in your entire group. 

There comes a point, though, where if you really believe in something, you have to stop nit-picking and stand up. This Friday is Queer the Night in Wellington. And yes, as an older LGBT person, I have some issues with the word 'queer', but that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. That slogan, too, really hits home: It doesn't get better until we make it better. It's a simple thing, why not do it? It does make a difference. 

And even if you have problems with the word 'slut', maybe that's not as important as standing up against slut-shaming. There are SlutWalks in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch this year, on the 20th of May. And yes, I'll be putting my slutty boots where my mouth is and going to the Christchurch walk. 

The 18th is Pink Shirt Day. And yeah, this used to be specifically about homophobic bullying, and now it's about bullying in general. As Judith Collins' office told Rainbow Wellington, "In terms of homophobic bullying, the Government has made it clear that all forms of bullying in schools are unacceptable." Still, there's nothing to say we can't make it about sexuality-based bullying ourselves. 

The thing is, every action runs the risk of being flawed. But the alternative is to sit around waiting for perfection. As the Out to Dinner video says, between 2010 and 2012, there was a 9% swing in favour of same-sex marriage among the American public. That's huge. Something happened. Not something huge, though. Just hundreds and hundreds of little things. Ordinary people getting married and the sky not falling. Pictures of them smiling and crying in newspapers. People coming out, and turning out to just be people. So many tiny drops of water. 

That's how we get there from here. One drip at a time.


*You may need to get someone over thirty to explain this peculiar pre-email practice.

      Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'. (Click here to find out more)

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