The French idiom Vive la Difference asserts an appreciation of individual diversity; an expression oft bandied about gender difference only, popular socially as a description of attractive women by men. A recent nationwide survey of 5500 LGBTI people about the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality revealed 85 per cent were opposed to it, 72 per cent strongly opposed, wanting a vote in Parliament instead. Social psychology researcher, Sharon Dane, who assisted the survey design, said some opposition to the plebiscite was based on fears that young people struggling with coming out would hear they are different and as a consequence deserve unequal treatment before the law.
Obviously for the LGBTI community, vive la difference has alarming connotations of being ‘different’, implying unworthiness not just legally, but socially, with shameful, hurtful and mentally damaging ramifications. The same sex marriage plebiscite and the same sex marriage issue per se encapsulate a far more pertinent point underlying the controversy; that of fearing being different with all its implicit negativity. The LBGTI community is not the only group affected by the fear of being labelled, and/or perceived as different. The bigotry and bullying involved in matters of race, religion, even age, too, suggests we must understand difference differently in a pervasive social context. We must focus our attention on the issue of equality more comprehensively as the Oxford dictionary defines it as sameness in number, size, value and rank to jettison this notion of people ‘sameness’ and instead encompass the French vernacular as an axiom to embrace difference of all kinds in our social milieu. The idea of difference must not be a euphemism for being abnormal, freakish, or worthless, but applauded as intrinsic to all individual human beings, not just relative to their sexual preferences, but to colour, creed, age, the disabled and all others where difference is disparaged as deviant. Indeed, difference should be de rigueur.
We must reassess what equality assumes to acknowledge we are not at all the same but unique and complex individuals with specific needs and wants that pertain to us personally, engendering us all different and distinct. In essence, most of our laws reflect this libertarian ideal, but for many in our society, their difference is highlighted as an aberration to be abhorred. Maintaining the status quo, elitist and privileged if one is white, Christian and heterosexual, seems intangibly enshrined in people’s value and belief systems.
In her 1938 novella, Anthem, Ayn Rand focused on a dystopian society where nameless people are called Equality numbers only, the concept of individuality eliminated. One member of that society, in trouble with the authorities for doing something ‘different’, escapes to find a house in The Unchartered Forest, the area outside the society, where he rediscovers the word “I” in books at the house. He realises what’s ‘missing’ in his society.
American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote in The Fear of Freedom in 1942 that the more a person “becomes an ‘individual’, (he/she) has no choice but to unite himself with the world in the spontaneity of love and productive work or else to seek a kind of security by such ties with the world as destroy his freedom and the integrity of (his/her) individual self.” Socially, we must respect the need for love as an inherent quality of being a free individual and refrain from the lip service morality that we are all equal. Individuality, and the connotation of difference, is integral to being an ‘independent and separate being’ as Fromm argued.
Unequivocally in law there must be recognition of our equal status as human beings as our democracy purportedly adheres to, but beyond the courtrooms we need to reflect on Rand’s concept of “I” as of ultimate significance in how we regard each other. This psychology must be inculcated into our attitudes to ensure not just the LGBTI community is outcast into some socially created dystopia, but any human being who does not ‘fit’ the thoughtless proscription of ‘normal’. Fromm suggests that strength and the integrity of self must be based on “a relationship that connects the individual with the world without eliminating …individuality.” The shroud of fear must be torn asunder in the debate about to be or not to be a plebiscite by declaring difference as a powerful plaudit to individuality enshrined not just in our statute books but more pervasively, across our whole society.