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'Nobody is ready to talk about gay divorce': Cansu was bullied when her marriage broke up

Cansu Col fought hard for marriage equality. She attended protests and threw energy behind “actively supporting” the campaign, right up until same-sex marriage became legal in December 2017. In 2019 she married another woman but in 2021 they divorced. She describes herself as 'the' gay Turkish migrant in Sydney people seek advice from. But she said when she desperately needed support and advice, it was hard to find and from some corners of the Turkish community she received the opposite. “I got bullied,” she told the Feed. “They were negative when I got married and then they were more negative when I got divorced. “Being Turkish, coming from a Muslim society, it's not really acceptable to get married with a woman.” After her divorce, people questioned her identity and asked her if she would marry a man. “They were saying, 'you got what you wanted, so what do you want?'” They challenged her on why she fought for marriage equality in the first place. Cansu said the whole experience had been really damaging to her mental health. “People are not really open to talking about gay divorce at all, but I am an outspoken person and I guess I don't give a shit anymore,” she said. She eventually found a Turkish-speaking lawyer who helped her finalise the paperwork. Many in the gay community were helpful, including the health organisation ACON, and support group Twenty10, Cansu said, but she believes migrants face additional barriers when queer relationships break down. “We don't know what to do or we don't know where to go when we have these kinds of problems, we can't even talk with our friends as well.” The 33-year-old said she would definitely get married again if she found the right woman. In 2021, the first year same-sex divorces were recorded in the Census, there were 473. Those divorces made up 2.5 per cent of the nearly 18,000 same-sex marriages registered from 2018 to 2021. Around 7,000 male same sex couples were married and around 11,000 female same sex couples. There were 306 same-sex female divorces and 167 same-sex male divorces. While more same-sex female than their male counterparts divorced, we know more of them married too. The ABS said 32.2 per cent of female couples reported being married in the 2021 Census and 27.7 per cent of male couples. Currently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn’t count transgender and gender diverse people in the Census so it is unclear how many are married. The first Australian same-sex divorce was finalised in 2018. It was between two women in Western Australia who had been married abroad, separated and wanted to divorce before same-sex marriage became law but couldn't. The law didn't initially recognise their marriage so it had no mechanism to enact their divorce. Eloise Layard is ACON’s manager of LGBTQ+ Health Programs. She told SBS News LGBTIQ+ people can have a lot of uncertainty when it comes to their legal rights, including marriage and divorce. “There are fears about access to services and whether they'll be judged maybe for the ways that family or that relationship has looked in the past,” she said. “Also whether they're going to be understood by the service provider or the lawyer or the court and whether appropriate language is going to be used about them and their pronouns.” She said these concerns can cause a lot of anxiety amid what is already “a really stressful and logistically difficult admin-heavy period of time.” For some people in the community discrimination from outside the relationship can affect the relationship, Layard said. “There is quite a sense sometimes of relationships being really hard fought for and being really precious, which is something that is really beautiful for people and can sometimes be a bit of an added pressure on a relationship.” For Australian man Karl Dunn, getting divorced as a gay man was a terribly lonely, completely life-changing experience. People in the gay community looked down on him and told him he was “a bad gay”. “Complete strangers started walking up to me in bars and saying ‘are you the one getting a divorce’. The gay community in a way had always been my hiding place, it was the place I would go to to feel safe to feel accepted. But suddenly I felt like a zoo exhibit.” There was no blueprint, no information available and nobody to speak to. “My divorce went as bad as those things can get. It got really ugly really fast, and it went for 18 months.” As a consequence of the financial cost, stress, and health impacts of his divorce, he “very rapidly” lost his house, job and some relationships. “The emotions that come with it, you're spectacularly ill-equipped to process the volume and the enormity of the emotions that you're going through. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, for sure.” After he managed to pull himself through the divorce in the US state of California, he decided to use his experience to hopefully help others and share what he went through, on YouTube and in an upcoming book. “I thought, well, I could use this divorce as my crisis of identity to really figure it out and not run from it, but embrace all of it and just go through it. “Coming out the other end of it, you really have to take a lot of ownership for your part in these things. Otherwise you just repeat it. You'll just go and do the same thing with the next one.“ Karl says he has since met other gay couples getting divorced and US broadcaster Anderson Cooper’s gay divorce has put a spotlight on the issue. His advice to all couples would be to talk about everything before they get married and while they’re in love. They should ask why they are getting married and what will happen if they split up. Sydney lawyer Michael Tiyce has worked on a number of gay divorce settlements. He said the “avalanche” of gay marriages that the legal community expected didn’t really eventuate. “Even among the older cohort of people, some who have been together for decades, sure people did get married, but probably not as many as we otherwise would've thought was going to happen,“ he said. He said legally speaking, divorces for same-sex couples are no different than heterosexual couples. But there can be challenges in interpreting the separation when traditional gender roles don’t exist in the relationship, he said. “That's really one of the only differences that we see, actually reminding people that the role (of both individuals whether they’re working full time or not) need to be treated the same, whether it's a gay marriage or an opposite-sex marriage. “It's actually a much more standardised, straightforward way of conducting, for example, a property settlement since the marriage laws came in. He said couples are required to prove aspects of their relationship with documents and having a marriage certificate can simplify the process. The legal profession is seeing still a high rate of de facto LGBTIQ+ relationships and a lower rate of divorce proportionally, Tiyce said. “I think we probably see fewer divorces than you would otherwise expect on a per capita basis, compared to straight relationships.”

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