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Reflections on Q & A

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Reflections on Q & A

Andrew Ryan

I turned on Q&A the other night and was confronted with a couple of people talking about how allowing gay people to Marry and be Married could lead to a “stolen generation” of children who don’t know and are not raised by their biological parents, in reference to a previous Australian policy of forced adoption of children born to unmarried mothers (especially in reference to the words used when Julia Gillard Apologised for it in 2013). I was dumbfounded by the clumsiness, flimsiness, ignorance and cognitive dissonance on display within this argument, and could only imagine how offensive these statements must have been to not only homosexual couples who have or desire to raise children, but also to First Nations people who have encountered forced removals from their families and communities, whether under the forced adoption policy or the horribly named “Aboriginal Protection Act”.

There was a young woman in the audience who spoke of her experience as the daughter of two women, who knew her biological father and had a good relationship with him; a good upbringing resulting in a strong, intelligent and open minded young adult, which served as a counterpoint to the ridiculous “fears” stated previously. There multiple points of view on offer here, so the people watching were given to option to look at it from both angles.

However, the discussion/episode took a turn for the worse when the issue of teaching children and teachers how to be understanding, empathetic and compassionate towards LGBTIQ students (if they were not already capable of such things) came up. The managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, kept referencing to (only) one study on transgendered people as reason to take transgender issues as seriously as the Safer Schools program is encouraging, though he gave no background about the study, the nature of the study, the way the study was conducted etc etc, and he would mention “gender theory” whilst seemingly having no in-depth understanding of what that actually meant and how inappropriate his attitude was given that they’re talking about children and adolescents, who, to put it very simply, are in need only of care and love, not debates about whether or not one old white feminist agrees that the experiences of transgender people are indeed deserving of respect… and a woman who pulled her children out of a school that had this program in place was given lots of microphone time, while not one transgender person was given ANY microphone time.

It was weird.

Despite an excellent bunch of truth coming from the badass, well educated and socially enlightened truth-tellers on the panel, it was both disappointing and frustrating to see that there was absolutely no opportunity given to any of the transgendered people in the audience to speak, which must have been horrible for those who sat there, forced in to silence while people who do not live as they do talk for them and about them.

As with any discourse on social issues, it seems imperative to have a wide variety of voices involved, which should surely OVERWHELMINGLY INCLUDE THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED BY THE ISSUES BEING DISCUSSED. If you’re talking about the need to keep an anti-bullying program that focuses on transgender individuals in schools, howzabout getting some trans people involved in the discussion? To keep their voices out of the public discourse, especially on a national television program, creates a situation in which they are “Othered” in to oblivion and the members of the public who have no understanding of the issue do not see them as just like them; that is, as another human being capable of complex thoughts and feelings. It results in a person being viewed as having “an affliction” instead of just being a person with a different experience of existence, a situation of distrust instead of understanding and compassion.

This Othering is seen over and over in our society, a society that is only just coming out of a looooooong bunch of decades of narrow mindedness and repression of guilt amidst an environment of complete cultural confusion (British? Then, American? Does suburban multiculturalism mean eating Chinese takeaway? Aboriginal culture is a commodity to be consumed and exported yeah? What is Australia other than beaches and mining and drinking?), a society borne of genocidal practices, a society that evolved through unsustainable resource usage and unsustainable population growth, a society mostly made up of white people with colonial mindsets who did not and still often do not understand the implications of their lifestyles and their desires and their attitudes… how is the asylum seeker debate framed? Them vs Us. How do uninformed non-Aboriginal Australians view Aboriginal people? Them vs Us. The Other suffers in their separateness, while those who create the divide suffer from their lack of understanding and humanity.

This view is old and tired and is damaging to a well-rounded, intelligent way of figuring out how to shift society towards being healthier and more beneficial and inclusive for everyone, not just the majority groups. We’re all in this together, oh giant human family. All it takes is a little critical thinking to overcome social conditioning and the evolutionary programming that is left over from when the first humans still dealt with carnivorous predators every day, and then we won’t have to cause each other pain any more, and we won’t have to fight to be heard or understood anymore.

One step at a time. Listen to everyone, especially if they’re unfamiliar.