— AU Marriage Equality (@AMEquality) September 6, 2017
After seeing that video on twitter a couple of weeks ago, I got all teary and happy and uncomfortable at the same time. It was immediately clear to me that this was something I had to do, too. Amongst this stupid, bullshit, hate-ridden cluster-dump of a postal survey, I would have to make the effort and have a conversation with my gran Nola and my great aunt Shirley about who I am and what this vote means to me. We have never really spoken frankly about my sexuality until now: they had never met a boyfriend or asked if I was seeing anyone. Now was the time. I had to be honest and clear about this and try to reach out across a generation. I had to try.
Below is the (slightly edited) letter I ended up sending them:
Dear Gran and Shirley,
Hello! I hope you’re both doing well.
I probably should have written something like this a long, long time ago, but I didn’t, and I’m sorry about that, so here we are.
I’m writing to ask you both to consider voting Yes in the current postal survey on marriage equality. No doubt you’ve heard a fair bit of banging on about it in the news of late and perhaps you’ve already received your voting slip in the mail by the time you read this. If I’m honest, I think this method of bringing about reform to the Marriage Act is completely unnecessary, expensive and a tad cruel, but hey – this is where we are. This is the fun outcome of good ol’ fashioned Australian politics.
Gran and Shirley, as I’m pretty sure you’re aware by now, I am gay. I’ve known that I’m gay since I was 15 years old. I did not like that fact about myself initially: it took me a long time to come to terms with who I am. There were a few years when I hated this part of myself. I tried to deny it and push it down inside me. Throughout my life I have seen and experienced homophobia in the schoolyard, on the internet, in our media and in our parliament. I have often been made to feel dirty, lesser, excluded or abnormal because of something about myself that I cannot change and that doesn’t hurt anyone. I don’t want to complain too much: in many ways, I’ve been extremely lucky, thanks to support from a loving family and dear friends, and there are plenty of queer-identifying people who have it much tougher than me. But still, that unmistakable sense of rejection that comes from growing up in a homophobic society lingers with me. I can’t help but see it all around me as this debate about marriage equality plays out in the media every day.
For me, the chance to reform the Marriage Act to fully include same-sex couples is an extraordinary opportunity for us, as a country, to be a kinder, more loving and more welcoming place. It is an opportunity for us to in some way acknowledge the wrongs of the past – decades of societal, legal and religious discrimination towards the queer community – and celebrate our diversity. It’s a chance for us to send a message to the same sex couples who have been together for decades and for queer young people: a message that says you are loved, you are full citizens and you deserve to be treated equally before the law. I know for a fact that to a scared 15-year-old growing up in country Australia, trying to figure out their place in the world, a message like that would mean a lot.
If I’m honest, I can’t say that marriage is a definite feature of my future plan for myself (finding a boyfriend might be a helpful first step). But I would very much like – and firmly believe that I deserve – the choice to make that decision, just as (my brother) Gavin does, and just as (my cousins) Michael and Lucy and Anna do and Chris and Andrew and Beth did. If I’m lucky enough to find someone with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, the chance to celebrate that fully with my family and my friends and yes, in the eyes of the law, would be a lovely thing indeed.
I know that this change might seem radical or hard to understand. I recognise that religion is an important part of your lives and I respect that, while not being religious myself. On this point I would just stress that if this reform is approved, no church would be forced to conduct same-sex marriages: no one on the Yes side of the campaign is calling for that. This relates to the secular institution of marriage, as defined by the Marriage Act, which John Howard changed in 2004 to specifically exclude same-sex couples. Secondly, while I’m more than happy to plead my ignorance when it comes to specific Biblical passages, it seems to me that the crucial lessons of Christian teachings are about loving one’s fellow human beings and showing them kindness and understanding, even when it’s hard to do so. I suppose that’s what I’m asking of you now.
I am a gay Australian. I am not ashamed of being gay anymore: I am proud of who I am. I am proud of what I’ve learned and I’m proud of the incredible community of people I’ve come across since coming out to the world. I try my best to be a good person. I am your grandson. I am your great nephew. I love you both with every fibre of my being. And I am now asking you to please, vote yes for marriage equality.
Thank you for taking the time in reading this. Again, I’m sorry I haven’t had the guts to write something like it a bit sooner. Please let me know if you’d like to chat about this further; I’d love to talk any time.
Lots of love,
I don’t share this with you to look super awesome or gain some emotional brownie points: I’m sharing this because my dad let my know that by the time they’d received this letter yesterday, Nola and Shirley had already returned their survey slips in the post. Jesus Christ. THEY’D ONLY RECEIVED THEM ON WEDNESDAY.
Say what you like about the Ballard family, we do not fuck about when it comes to admin.
I do not know how my gran and great aunt voted, but I have a pretty good idea. And perhaps my letter could have changed that.
Please – if you’re like me and you’ve put this off, do something about it now. Not everyone is as insanely pro-active as these two ladies; many people may not have even received their slips yet. I know it can be awkward and hard and painful, but if you can reach out to your family members and share your stories and explain to them why you think voting Yes matters – whether you’re queer yourself or someone who considers themselves an ally – then please, do it. Do it now. I know it’s bullshit, I know we shouldn’t even have to be doing this, but we do, and we can, so we should.
Yours in queer love,