The purpose of a butterfly

An author guest blog
by Julie Bozza

I had quite a conservative and sheltered upbringing (and am eternally grateful to my friend Cathe, and to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for helping me begin the process of opening out!) but I always took the idea of marriage equality seriously.

I also took the idea very personally, despite being an (apparently) cisgender woman happily married from the age of 20 to a (definitely) cisgender man. (I am actually way more complicated than that, as I suspect many of us are, but people tend to relate to me as such.) Despite having what everyone assumed was a ‘traditional’, legally permissible marriage, I felt the issue of marriage equality had a great deal to do with me and my own choices.

When marriage equality was first becoming a matter of wider public debate, Australia’s prime minister was John Howard, a conservative both personally and in politics. Whenever asked, he always defined marriage as being ‘between one man and one woman – for the purposes of having children’.

I could just roll my eyes at the first part of the definition, as of course that was the actual problem we were all arguing about. But the latter part of his definition really stuck in my craw. ‘For the purposes of having children.’

Mr B and I don’t have kids, and that was a deliberate mutual decision made during the first few years we were together, that we’ve never regretted. But that doesn’t mean our relationship isn’t a ‘proper’ marriage. It doesn’t mean we’re not a ‘proper’ family, despite it being only the two of us. And fie on John Howard for suggesting otherwise. (I am still rankling, all these years later!)

Not everyone wants to get married, of course, but I strongly feel that those who want to should be able to. That includes anyone of any sex, gender identity or sexuality – whether they can or can’t have (their own biological) children, and whether they intend to have children or not.

Marriage is a partnership between individuals, and each relationship will be different, and will grow and change over time. As long as everyone involved is happy and willing, the state can and should offer support, but otherwise mind its own business. In my opinion!

Why am I getting on my soapbox about this particular issue in relation to my novel BUTTERFLY HUNTER…? Because the crux of the matter was really brought home to me while researching for the story.

As can be inferred from the title, the main characters Dave and Nicholas are on a quest in the Australian Outback for a particular species of blue butterfly. As part of my research, I often browsed The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia by Michael F Braby.

Butterflies go through quite a complex life cycle, which involves four very different forms: egg, larva, pupa and adult. It’s the adult form we tend to think of when we think of butterflies – the beautiful, delicate winged creatures, who might live only for months or even days. For different (human) cultures, adult butterflies have symbolised transformation, change, joy, colour, the soul, and death.

I realise we humans are imposing symbolic meaning, and our love of beauty, on creatures who do not share our ways of thinking. However, it really brought me to a crashing halt when I read the following sentence in Braby’s Field Guide:

The adult, also known as the imago, is responsible chiefly for reproduction and dispersal.

And I’m not saying he’s wrong per se. He’s obviously right at some level. I’m just saying that this reductionist approach to life horrifies me. There is so much more to our human lives than making babies and placing them somewhere useful. Maybe a butterfly isn’t conscious enough in itself to think about more than mating, and then laying eggs in good locations. However, the facts that we can appreciate a butterfly’s beauty, and attach culturally-relevant symbolic meanings to them, proves that there’s a whole lot more to being human.

And so I say again, fie on John Howard and his reductive definitions of marriage, and fie on his successors as well. All these years later, Australia still hasn’t signed off on marriage equality. Let marriage be about choice and love, about transformation and life, about souls and joy. Let it be about a dinky-di fair go for all.

Come on, Aussie, come on! It’s more than time. We are way overdue. Get it done!

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