Image for Paige Phoenix: "This thing ain't over.  Not by a long shot"

Paige Phoenix: "This thingain't over. Not by a longshot"

Musician and activist Paige Phoenix spoke at Melbourne’s Equal Love Rally on Saturday about the day he received a letter in the mail informing him that he and his wife Sara’s marriage certificate had to be destroyed.

The former X-Factor contestant and transman told his story to the over 2,000 supporters at the rally, and was joined by his two sisters, one of whom is a Christian minister, as they came together for the first time in 33 years to support Paige.

“I think it’s the perfect example of love in action” said Paige, “and I am unspeakably proud to have them beside me, and behind us. And it also highlights beautifully that this isn’t just a gay issue. This is an issue of human rights and equality, and it affects everyone.”

In his speech, Paige highlighted the injustice experienced by intersex individuals, and the fact that the decision to have neither ‘M’ or ‘F’ on a birth certificates means that an intersex person can’t marry at all.

Below is an excerpt of his speech. Paige is one of the most power speakers I have ever heard at a rally for equal rights. His raw, honest and thought provoking story gives a personal face to the political injustice we were standing against.


Paige Phoenix’s speech

It sounds like a cliché, but when I met Sara, I knew from the minute I saw her that she was the love of my life. She is my ONE. There has not been a solitary second in my relationship with her where I have questioned that.

I am a pretty non-conventional character in a lot of ways, but I am also a bit of a traditionalist in others. Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of being a husband. And when I met Sara I knew that this was the person I wanted to be wedded to.

I wanted it for a number of reasons: partly to create a container of support for our relationship, for the family we wish to bring children into, and because to me it is the quintessential romantic gesture.

It is also one of the few rites of passage that resonates for me. Having gone through gender transition it also became, by default, a privilege that I acquired. I was criticised by some. But we didn’t feel that our not getting married was going to get marriage equality over the line, so we followed what felt right for us, and very deliberately included a declaration to that effect in our ceremony.

“I have chosen this day to stand up and say that I will not feed into this system of inequality by hiding my story as though it is something to be ashamed of.”

But here’s the kicker. As you all know in order to marry in this country you need two birth certificates with opposing sex markers on them. To get that document changed, transmen are required to endure invasive and potentially life-threatening surgery. For some people and for differing reasons, that level of surgery is not an option, and I happen to fall into that category. But, you can by law also provide a passport as identification for marriage. The change of sex markers on this federal document does not carry the same surgical requirements as birth certificate.

So we went ahead and got married on a technicality. We wanted it so badly. And we just hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t get picked up in the system. And I told myself at the time that the validation of the state wasn’t of consequence. It was about my commitment to Sara. And that was true. At the time.

I know it’s another cliché, but our wedding that day was the happiest day of my life. It surpassed my wildest dreams. It was like a lot of things: you can only have concepts about what it is until you actually experience it. And upon going through it, I understood so completely why this ritual and rite of passage was so important. It changed something in me and in us forever. I experienced a solidity, a ground, that I could never have imagined possible. And it strengthened my resolve that this should be the right of all couples who wish to take that path.

I will never forget the day that the letter came in the mail from Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria. “I write to you concerning your marriage ceremony. The Marriage Act 1961 states that marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. The registry holds birth registration entries for both you and Sara and your genders appear on the register as female. Therefore the marriage celebrated is not a valid marriage and is not registered. I have informed the marriage celebrant to cancel the entry in the celebrant’s marriage register. The marriage certificate issued to you on the day is to be returned to the celebrant for destruction. Yours sincerely…”

I told myself: Oh well. We knew there was a chance that this might happen.

I told myself state sanction was not was this was about.

I told myself it didn’t matter. She was my wife. I was her husband. And we were married.

I held onto that rationale in my head like my life depended on it. And at the same time I spiraled into a massive depression. It wasn’t until I had a therapy session around it a couple of months later that I understood just what this had done to me. When I was able to actually go to that place in myself, I realised how fundamentally I, we, had been de-valued as a couple, how I had been delegitimised as a man, as a transsexual… as a human being.

“She’s my wife. I am her husband.”

And the hardest part was that I had held the preciousness of that gift of legal union for a moment in time… only to have it taken away from me again.

That de-legitimisation was so core that I was afraid to tell people what had happened. And that internalised shame is the key reason that I’ve chosen to share our story with you today. The legal status of our marriage was revoked because of a ridiculous inconsistency between state and federal legislation that denies me a right being afforded to other transmen, but the point is that it feeds into a legal framework designed to prevent same sex marriage.

So I have chosen this day to stand up and say that I will not feed into this system of inequality by hiding my story as though it is something to be ashamed of, as though our love of each other, and your love for one another is the problem.

It’s taken me some work get back to a place of empowerment around my marriage. She’s my wife. I am her husband. The fundamental value of it got located exactly where she should be, from within the love that inspired that enormous commitment, from within my heart and my love of this woman. And there’s a piece that we won’t be able to restore until this legislation is changed so that gender is no longer a consideration, period.

Last month we lodged our report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to challenge this legal absurdity. I still have my marriage certificate. They’ll get it out of my cold dead hands. What I want to leave you with is this affirmation: marriage is such a beautiful experience. It should be the right of ANY person who chooses to embrace it, regardless of your sexuality or your gender. We will have our day. This thing aint over. Not by a long shot.


It was an emotional and inspiring moment and, as I wiped a tear from my eye, Paige then sang Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over with Peta Evans-Taylor and MaRz Cooper – inspiring us all to keep up the fight for our equal rights. Because, with the election looming, our fight is far from over.

Watch a video of Paige Phoenix at Melbourne’s Equal Love rally below.

Thank you Paige for sharing your story, for being who you are and for sharing your amazing talent with us.

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Matt Akersten

Matt Akersten said on the 13th May, 2013

What an interesting speech, and great photos Dean! Sydney's next marriage equality rally is happening at 1pm on Saturday 25 May, starting from the Town Hall.

Paige

Paige said on the 13th May, 2013

Just awesome. Thank you so much for getting it even further out in the public forum for consideration, and ESPECIALLY for highlighting the impacts of this on intersex people. It's so important that we understand that this is an issue of equal rights that affects everyone. Beautifully written. Thanks again.

trismc

trismc said on the 16th May, 2013

Amazing - Thank you Paige for sharing such a deeply personal story.

I was there on the day; it was very powerful and opened my mind as to how broad this issue is.

And, it definitely ain't over!