The Null Device

Gender and the Australian culture war

Australia's ongoing, rolling culture war has recently converged on the idea of gender and sexual orientation; this is perhaps inevitable, after the previous iteration of the country's conservative (“Liberal”) government used the threat of gay people being able to marry as a political football, and committed the country to a vaguely-defined plebiscite at some time in the future on how much of that sort of thing should be acceptable (possible question: “Do you hate poofters: ☐ Yes ☐ Maybe a little ☐ No, but they make me uncomfortable ☐ They're OK as long as they don't hold hands in public or anything ☐ Not at all, I live in Newtown/Brunswick"). In the Liberals' defence, the country needs a scapegoat to unite against, and with death-cult Islamist jihadists being a bit thin on the ground there and the public starting to feel awkward about sending babies to gulags, it'll have to be the gays, and the transgendered people, and boys who wear their hair long, and girls who play football, and trendy-lefty parents who let their daughters play football and their sons play with dolls, and other such deviants and transgressives.

Now the culture war has moved into the schools, with the Liberals' new “moderate” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordering a review of an anti-bullying initiative after MP Cory Bernardi (a star of the Liberals' Putinist wing, who had previously compared homosexuality to bestiality) raised concerns that the program, by teaching that non-heterosexual/non-cisgendered identities exist and are valid, “indoctrinates kids with Marxist cultural relativism”. (Bernardi was referring to the trope of “Cultural Marxism”, emerging from a McCarthy-era anti-Semitic dog whistle, once confined to badly laid-out flyers from the swivel-eyed fringe of the far right, but now gaining mainstream acceptance, not least of all in Rupert Murdoch's Australian flagship, The Australian.)

The programme Bernardi is attacking, Safe Schools, was brought in by the previous Labor government in response to the plight of LGBTI teenagers in an environment where being anything other than heterosexual and cisgendered was to be a legitimate target; the result of this is that LGBTI kids in Australia are six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. And anti-gay bullying is not an isolated phenomenon in today's Australia: domestic violence is rampant, and heterosexual gender relations are defined by an almost Victorian paradigm of male forcefulness versus female resistance, where women who let on to enjoying sex on their own terms are “sluts” who “deserve what they get”. Australia has a long way to go, and it's not clear which direction it's heading in.

Anyway, it looks like Australia will now have an inquiry into this programme, and whether the poofters have it too good in Australia. At best, it'll turn out like the inquiry into “wind turbine syndrome” (a peculiar culture-bound syndrome affecting only conservative Australians), pissing taxpayers' money up a wall to come to the conclusion that, no, the Communists aren't fluoridating the water supply trying to turn our kids gay (replete with exhaustive references to writings about the Frankfurt School of Marxist thought, carefully checked for proof of a conspiracy; in other news, it's probably a good time to be a German translator in Canberra). Though there's a real risk that it will result in changes such as bans on references to sexual orientation or gender identity, reducing the programme to a “bullying is bad, okay” motherhood statement, and once again allowing open season on gay kids (or those perceived, in the sadistic logic of the schoolyard, to be “gay”, an epithet having as much connection to sexuality as “Cultural Marxism” has to the writings of Karl Marx). Though one person's bullying is another person's “community-minded citizens' enforcement of shared cultural values” or something, and only a dirty commie would want to get rid of that.

Meanwhile in Newtown, one of the pockets of a bizarro-world progressive Australia, a school has allowed students to wear the uniforms of either sex without seeking permission to do so, much to the condemnation of religious bigots. I wonder how long it will be until the Christian Fundamentalist-dominated Baird government (which has recently strangled Sydney's nightlife with onerous regulation) tables a law mandating distinct male and female uniforms in all New South Wales schools.

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