John Key did much to advance conversation but subject remains final frontier of human understanding.


Auckland's rainbow community was marking the 20th anniversary of its Big Gay Out yesterday. The fact that it was also the 10th anniversary of one of the more remarkable actions in New Zealand politics deserves to be noted too.

It is 10 years since a newly elected National Prime Minister, John Key, went to the event. That night he was seen on television cavorting with a couple of drag queens. He was also pictured in the paper next day smiling bravely as a brawny fellow planted a kiss on his cheek. It went without much notice at the time, or since, that this was a fairly courageous step for the leader of a conservative political party anywhere in the world in 2009.

Watching the news that night, 14-year-old Max looked sideways at his father and said, "You do realise I go to a boys' school."


Anyone who doubts Key was running much risk in 2009 has a short memory. Only five years previously, Helen Clark's government had not dared put a bill before Parliament to recognise same-sex marriage. Instead it instituted "civil unions" and Key, as a first-term MP wary of upsetting National's constituency, had voted against even that.

Once he became the party's leader he began repositioning it on social issues but he did not come into power with the instant adoration Jacinda Ardern has received. The country watched him as prime minister for a couple of years before I first heard someone with only a passing interest in politics say, "I really like that man."

The liberalising of public opinion on homosexuality has been the most rapid I have seen on any subject, all over the Western world. It might not have started in this country with Key's visit to the Big Gay Out but there is no doubt he moved its political centre of gravity.

In National's second term, Labour MP Louisa Wall introduced her marriage equality bill and Key gave it early support. When it passed on a free vote the following year I think she acknowledged his support.

Liberals were right, the roof didn't fall in, that shaky pillar of family life known as marriage even gained some glamour again briefly, though it hasn't made heterosexual couples keener to register a commitment. I wish I knew why so many these days do not do so before a baby arrives. Nobody likes to ask.

Meanwhile, homosexuality is not even called that anymore. It has become just one (or two) of seemingly endless variants of sexuality known as LGBT... Not sure of the rest. More are added each time I see them.

All I know is that sexuality — which doesn't simply mean sex, by the way — feels like the last frontier of human understanding. Women don't always understand male sexuality and I'm sure its the same in reverse.

Women who campaign against domestic violence need to be aware of this. Every time I hear or read them calling it a male problem and suggesting they believe it is some sort of rogue gene in the masculine make-up, I wince. They are giving enormous comfort to the miserable specimens who hurt women, letting these cowardly brutes believe they are doing what men do.


The fact is they are not normal. Healthy masculine sexuality rebels at the very idea of hitting a woman. It's foreign to our deepest fibre and we have nothing but contempt for any man that does it. The offenders know this. Those of them with any self-respect loathe themselves for doing it. Don't ever give them the idea they are normal.

Misunderstanding of sexuality seems just as rife within the rainbow coalition. A few months ago the Ts were devastated that some women didn't want transgender women in places where women need privacy from men. I don't think women need worry. Trans women do not have male sexuality, and male sexuality does not let a man comfortably masquerade as a woman.

The confusion around sexuality today arises from gender studies in universities, I suspect. Gender scholars try to deny the differences between men and women at the same time as they recognise ever more variations of sexual attraction.
As for those denying they are either sex and demanding we not use gendered pronouns, sorry.

Sexuality is powerful force in everyone but I look forward to the day it's no longer a political cause, just a personal thing.