Comforting Words: Our Freedom, Your Freedom

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Our Freedom, Your Freedom

Comforting Thoughts from Australia

By Sonya

Before moving to Sydney, Australia, I lived for five years in supposedly gay-free South Korea. Ask any Korean national and they will tell you that this is a country where, “we don't have any gay people,” though some might add, “except for that one bald comedian.”

The fact that he is gay became public knowledge during a live television programme when he was ‘outed’. Many Koreans blamed his "gayness" on the fact that he had travelled extensively, and had 'even' visited Sydney several times. It was this ‘foreign influence', they say that made him gay, you see. Nobody in South Korea appeared to question this perspective.

So I left South Korea for the "the gay Mecca" of Sydney, Australia. To experience what made Sydney as ‘notorious’, I threw myself into the "gayness" of it all and took pride in the fact that for almost a full year I did not enter a straight bar.

To complete the experience, one must see the Mardi Gras. The first time I went it was in 2003. The friendliness of the crowd, the festive mood of the entire city and the sheer beauty and pride embodied in the whole experience blew me away.

The following year I wanted to be a part of the whole experience, so I volunteered to work with the parade – selling the fundraising parade programmes. That year however, it rained all day and so the parade was not much fun. This year, 2005, the weather gods had been appeased and it was a nice day.

For anyone who has never been to the Sydney parade, let me sum it up this way: it brings tears to the eyes. This year, for reasons of compassion and solidarity as well with its theme was "Our freedom, your freedom."

The first float of the parade was a series of flags. They were the flags of countries across the world where homosexuality (or at least "homosexual acts") is still illegal. Each flag-bearer wore a T-shirt with the name of the country and the punishment for committing the crime of homosexuality.

I was reading words like "death penalty," "14 years imprisonment" or "life imprisonment" frequently. The flags of Poland, Turkey, South Africa, eastern European nations, Caribbean nations and island nations just off the coast of Australia were flying.

I am not naive to believe that all the flags which SHOULD have been there were. Someone behind me, however, remarked that the flags seemed to going on for a long time: "My, there are a LOT of these flags!"

This innocent remark tells a tale. For a long time, I have been trying to explain to some friends the freedom they enjoy as gay people. Many could not wrap their heads around this completely until, I am sure, they saw this physical representation through the flying flags. Many understand that day the value of their freedom to express themselves, be who they are and a part of the ‘scene’ in Australia. It also came home to many, how much in prison they are as long as others in the world cannot be fully human due to “committing the crime of homosexuality.”

The debates on the pros and cons of ‘the scene’ or the clubs and social spots on Oxford Street are many. Having travelled to other parts of the world (Asia and the Caribbean for example) I have often interjected that they are lucky to HAVE an Oxford street and a Mardi Gras, and the freedom to go there or to engage in debates about it.

I have attended annual conferences as a university student where non-heterosexually identifying university students gather from all over the country to debate/curse/protest and party for a week. The mere existence of this conference is a testament to the freedom and openness that exists here in Australia.

There still, however, remains the question whether this kind of visibility (Mardi Gras) is productive? Many question whether it furthers the cause to have the average heteronormative-gender-stereotype-following family member (herein referred to as "Joe Average") hear the word "gay" and "Mardi Gras" in the same sentence.

The experience has been that Joe Average instantly associates these terms with visuals of drag queens, "dykes on bikes” and other such images from the hotly debated ‘scene’. Starting the parade with a float with lesbians on motorcycles, clothed or not, might create an impression harmful to the ‘scene’ rather than promote an argument for equality.

As I ponder this, I am reminded of a Buddhist parable of a father whose children are in the burning house. The father lies to them, telling them to come out to taste the yummy candy he has bought for them. He will not bring the candy into the house; they must exit to get the candy.

In most religious traditions, lying is regarded as a "bad" action, to 'sin' or whatever terms your faith uses. However, in this parable, the 'sin' of lying is justified by the fact that the father gets the children out of the house and away from the danger of the fire.

The symbols in this parable may be analyzed, in most contexts, as such: the "Father" is Buddha. The "Children" are all the unenlightened beings. The "house" is samsara (repetitive pattern of life and death) and the "fire" is our ignorance, hatred and greed. The "candy" is the joy of nirvana.

I am offering this parable with different a symbolic analysis. The "Father" is all non-heterosexually identified people. The "children" are "Joe Average". The "fire" is still ignorance and hatred.

By using any means necessary, including drag queens and dykes on bikes, the gay community alerts Joe Average to its existence and even partial acceptance of other modes of being and partnering (not just his). The aim is to educate all Joe Averages and their families. These families may even contain people who do not identify with him, but rather are homosexuals afraid to be ‘outed’.

I am an optimist and admit that my hope is that the "candy" in this interpretation of the parable is freedom and unconditional love. As a member of the human family, this is my fervent hope.

Personally, I try to be the "father" to all the "children" who live in the "burning houses" in the nations whose flags started off this year's parade. We must all continue to educate, love and have compassion for the "children" who need us.

While there may be negative happenings in those clubs on Oxford Street, I must accept the freedom of the people who choose to be part of that ‘scene’. They are a symbol of the freedom we enjoy in Australia. I prefer to understand and be compassionate towards those symbols rather than impose the "death penalty" or "life imprisonment" – neither of which results from a spirit of love.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

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