Maybe God didn’t make your penis

The defining feature of homophobia is that the people who hate you are picturing you having sex. Michael Kirby once made this point, although not as bluntly. The hatred is a kind of jealousy. The challenge of queer sex is a challenge to the notion that intimacy shared between a man and a woman is somehow special. It isn’t.

This jealousy is the source of all the false reverence that exists for procreation. It is why critics of marriage equality talk about erosion: it’s not a fear of difference so much as a fear that others can be like you. It’s why conservatives hate being told that gender is a spectrum and it is not fixed. If being a man with a penis and a wife doesn’t make you special, maybe you are not special. Maybe all the certainties of privilege and simplicity are constructs, too. Maybe God didn’t make your penis. Maybe God didn’t even make you a man.

This debate is not about Israel Folau. This debate is about the viciousness with which a segment of society will define itself as morally superior to another. In the past week, ordinary Australians have spent a few million dollars to confirm this prejudice.

Likely, a religious freedom bill will follow. David Marr writes that the argument around it is arrogant and contradictory. “Here’s a simple principle: being decent and kind requires no legislation,” he writes. “You only need a religious freedom act to shelter behind when you plan to be nasty.” And: “If you are demanding rights for yourself which you won’t extend to others, that’s not freedom. It’s privilege.”

The freedoms being sought are not to practise but to persecute. They are about punishing people whose difference is necessary to sustain the righteousness of believers. This should be controversial but it’s not, really. Too much of the world shares or accepts the hate that underpins it.

That’s what this is: it is a reminder that enough of Australia harbours contempt for queer people that a special law to allow for their mistreatment can be recommended to the parliament and that can be thought of as normal. It is a reminder that the lives of queer people are expendable in debate. Our politics has made a recent art of it.

Before the election, Scott Morrison spoke of family as the building block of society. He quoted Robert Menzies. He was talking about shifting the country back to a time before identity became complex, before inclusion became a principle that challenged the primacy of people like him.

People who fear queerness fear being told they are not superior. They fear a world without the certainties that make them comfortable and put them in charge. This is about the power of chauvinism and the fragility of privilege. It is about the limits of imagination.

The people fundraising for Folau would pay for the right to call homosexuality a sin and say that it is taking over the world. They are paying for the right to say that the devil makes a child trans. They are paying for the right to condemn others to hell.

The ideas in all this are easy enough to abstract. But only if you don’t care about people.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 29, 2019 as "Maybe God didn’t make your penis".

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