Coming Up Next for Coronavirus and Consent

Image by Simon Gradkowski
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As artists, venues and producers scramble to find new ways to make and monetize, now that every creative medium is compromised by restrictions on how we create and consume, an eye in the back of our heads is best used to keep track of the last crisis to strike our industry: #MeToo. For while the “hands-off” approach is being taken in good humour, we’ve got to prepare for the long-term impacts of social distancing on a community defined by its intimacies.

I work in a relatively niche area. I teach sexual violence prevention to creative people. This involves opening discussions about consent processes, gender and sexual diversity, mental health promotion, and accessibility for people living with disability. I love my job, whenever I get to do it, because I’ve seen teams become more conscious of each other, more secure with their audiences, and stronger creative voices in the making of successful work. And then, at a stroke, every plan I had fell through my hands, every place I would go closed its doors, and nearly every single person I knew lost their job. Now that I’ve flown back to Australia on recommendation from my government, I’ve been asked if coronavirus has destroyed my career.

Yes and no.

In the past weeks there has been a remarkable change to the way people consider each other’s personal boundaries in the arts. Reports are flying of collaborators asking before touching and hugging, communicating clearly and checking in on interpretations of body language and facial expressions, and using the word ‘consent’ in a positive, productive context. Initiatives that were once repelled by sinister motives masquerading as “creative freedoms” and “sense of play” are now unquestionable adaptations to process. 

While it is a shame that the rate of sexual assault and harassment wasn’t enough to compel people to this kind of reinvention, there’s definitely a silver lining to what coronavirus has instigated, especially the level of care we have for our fellow creative community. 

In this forced down time, organisations and practitioners would be well-advised to reconsider their policies on sexual violence to make these more practical, to make any practices more vigilant, and to make all strategies preventative rather than reactive. 

What continues to concern me, is that at some stage this virus will become manageable, will be contained, and we will be able to re-explore the role of proximity, interactivity and even sexuality in our artistic work. At whatever point we do regain momentum, there is undeniable risk of increased risk of sexual harassment and sexual violence once a mass of confined people once accustomed to opening night parties, closing night japes, shared dressing spaces and reduced personal boundaries are unleashed into one another’s company again. 

There is potential for the sector to go backwards in the safety of its workers. Intimacy directors may become nice-to-haves as budgets tighten dramatically. Many projects will be forgotten in favour of surer sells that appeal to old hierarchies. To boot, the rapid evaporation of creative work due to virus-related lockdowns will likely mean that desire and desperation for work will drive people – as it has always done – to bow to pressure to contribute sexual favours for the (often empty) promise of work; my concerns increase.

Film, particularly television, and gaming production seems likely to skyrocket as these mediums are what will be easiest to consume in an ever-increasing season of isolation, quarantine and escapism. Video games are notoriously harmful environments when it comes to consent and inclusion, whilst television is taking steps to make safer sexual content, with commitments from Netflix and HBO to have intimacy coordinators on all productions. 

These mediums can take the lead from work being done in some immersive theatre productions to train teams on collaborative codes of conduct and consent processes, mental health first aid, sexual and gender diversity, bystander intervention practices and harassment response strategies. Invest time at the head of a project schedule to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet – further, that they contributed to the writing of the hymn sheet itself.  

People around the world have turned to artistic expression as a means to get by through balcony karaoke, live-stream listening parties, movie nights via webinar and the list goes on. The artistic and creative industries can lead the way in ensuring society does not go back to business as usual. Rather, that we rebuild eco-friendly, consent-conscious, community-focused, diverse industries to face the challenges ahead.

That’s it. That’s what I think. That’s what I hope for.

the gift of ‘no’

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The most common question I get when I tell people about my work on Consent in the Creative Industries?

“Does this mean I can’t just hug someone without having to ask?”

No sooner is the question out of their mouths that they realise what the answer is, and try to justify themselves: “I’m a really tactile person”, “I think we should all be free of boundaries”, “I don’t have bad intentions”. Sure, but tell me which of those statements respects the other person’s right to choose?

It is the one thing I am questioned the most about, and also the one thing I am thanked the most for. People who are introverts, people who are trauma survivors, people who live with synesthesia, people who live with non-visible disabilities impacted by touch, people who are just having a bad day, people who have somewhere else to be – tell me that being asked for a hug, saying no, and being met with a smile and an ‘all good’ has mattered to them and how they go about their days.

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Whenever I do a workshop or a talk with a creative team, I find the most powerful point is when I talk about hugging. It’s always an awkward topic to start with, because as people we don’t want to overthink about the politics of touching each other. Especially in the creative world, where we’re encouraged not to have any physical boundaries or prudence in our approach. It’s uncomfortable. But then I make the following point, and I see people’s minds change:

When someone says “no”, try to understand that what they’re effectively saying is, “I trust you”. When someone says “no”, they’re declaring a boundary, and communicating that they have faith and hope that you won’t cross it. When someone says ‘no’ after you ask them to consent to something, they are offering you a powerful opportunity to establish mutuality and openness, to grow a stronger relationship.

For some people, setting boundaries can be incredibly scary and vulnerable. Which is why the more someone’s “no” is ignored, disregarded, violated? The more urgent, insistent and aggressive their “no” can become. Which is why when that ‘no’ is respected, without any questions asked, it can be incredibly powerful, even overwhelming.

We don’t like to be told “no”. We don’t like to feel rejected, or diminished, or prevented from having what we want. Any performer who has done improvisation will know that the number one rule is that no matter what, you say “yes” – to any idea, any suggestion, any impulse. It’s a difficult habit to break, and often one we won’t question until something traumatises or terrorises us so that we become afraid to say “no”. Until we come to feel as though ‘no’ is not available to us.

Our feelings of rejection are our own responsibility, and they are far less important than another person feeling safe, heard and respected. So before hugging someone, especially someone you haven’t hugged before, prove that you can navigate a boundary, and that however that boundary is set – with ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘sure’, ‘not yet’, ‘only on my left side please’ – that you’re willing and trustworthy.

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Sure there are exceptions to the ‘no is a gift’ concept. Someone asking someone else to do something together, and they say ‘no’ is one thing; someone asking something to stop doing something that is making them unsafe, or putting other people at risk, and they say ‘no’ is quite another. Broadly, our relationship with ‘no’ needs to change: that we stop seeing ‘no’ as negative, and start seeing it as productive.

I’m also not saying that it has to be every time that you ask (although, why not? People’s boundaries can change quick as lightning). I’m also not saying that asking needs to be verbal every time. You build the relationship where the consent in glances, and body languages, and asking, and checking in. And if you’re worried about saying ‘no’ and potentially making someone feel uncomfortable remember there are many ways of saying ‘no’. ‘Nah’, ‘not right now’, ‘I’m alright, thanks’, ‘sorry I’m not feeling it’, ‘I love you but nope’ are all things we should be comfortable saying and hearing.

I recently was part of a project where there was a great deal of ‘yes’ in decisions, where more questions should have been asked; more ‘no’ could have improved the rate of success and teammate-ship. In these working conversations it doesn’t have to be ‘no’ either: it can be ‘yes, but like this’, or ‘not for me’, or ‘there’s a different way I think that can work’, or ‘how about we try…’. One of the big reasons we avoid diversity in leadership is because we want the speed that ‘yes’ can provide, more than we want the quality that ‘no’ can promote.

‘No’ is the key to compromise. ‘No’ is the cry of self-empowerment. ‘No’ is a verbal leap of faith.

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why it’ll never be #MenToo for me

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there is a reason I have imposed the rule on myself ‘no twitter before my self-esteem kicks in‘.

because when I see this hashtag it irks me some, but that’s OK we’re all different and we have different ways of communicating things. and when I see the “what about the men?” posts it causes me a fair bit of discomfort because to me this isn’t a competition, but that’s OK there will always be a need for the more inflammatory discourses to create attention. but when I see a post saying that if people don’t retweet or donate or mobilise around the “#MenToo movement” then that’s sexist, and demonstrates abandonment of men who’ve survived sexual trauma, well I find myself compelled to defend myself as an involuntary member of that group.

but before I do that, I’d like to remind readers that there are countless women who’ve written about this in different ways from perspectives other than mine to whom I credit how mine has developed, and if you click on their names you can – nay should – read their hard work, both written and lived. Van Badham. Clementine FordEmily Reynolds. Lea Rose Emery. Elizabeth Brico. Laura Hartnell. and of course the movement’s founder Tarana Burke.

Now, back to bullshit.

To me, #MenToo will always represent a society-wide need for men to wrestle women’s liberation from their grip and assume ownership in their initiatives of self-empowerment. That impression is mostly derived from many such posts and advocate accounts always feeling the need to pitch their purpose in opposition to the experience of women, “men get abused too!”, “why don’t men get”, “where’s the men’s movement?!”, “it’s harder for men to disclose”. I believe to pitch men in this homogenised way is the same as #NotAllMen – talking about men as an idea, as a collective noun, as a supreme incorporation.

I recently heard Tracey Spicer speak about how #MeToo affected her career and conviction to investigate sexual harassment and abuse in the media industry that so drew her in as an aspiration, only to dash her dream by demeaning her and exhausting her until finally turfing her out when she had the nerve to become a mother. That hero of a human woman stood up to some of the most powerful people in the world, and now helps other people do the same. Men and our allies need to be energised by that, not alienated by it because Tracey is a woman and we are not. Tracey being a woman is not an excuse for us not to tread the path she and many women before her wore in for us to follow. Men deserve the joy of following, of supporting, and women deserve the power of being followed, and supported. And not just white women like Tracey we can relate to, but women we can learn from and grow by the influence of. Women like Nakkiah Lui, Carly Findlay, Sally Goldner, Nayuka Gorrie, Emele Ugavele, Ayeesha Ash, Mama Alto, Ilana Charnelle, and Phoenix.

Tracey spoke about something else that irks me: the idea that is often woven in to delineate men’s and women’s experiences that acts of sexual violence are on a spectrum, and some behaviors are worse than others. There’s even a pyramid that did the rounds recently, and though I agree with it to a certain extent, I am wary of anything that affords any ground to the argument that some behaviors aren’t as bad as others. The act is relative to the person whose body and mind that act is committed upon, and how they respond based on their experiences past and present is no less valid regardless of the act. This pyramid lends itself to stigma that would mean someone feels enough shame to believe that when their family member grabbed them “all in fun”, they should suppress their feelings because being gang-raped would feel worse. If the pyramid is suggesting that being asked to show a car full of men pleasuring themselves in a car “the lips your mother never kissed” is as damaging and as harmful and as reprehensible as if those men pulled you into that car to force you to do what they had demanded, then I personally see that as valid.

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Coming back to the topic at hand, I’d like to tip my hat to Terry Crews. A physically powerful man of color who has worked through unimaginable prejudice already to enjoy reasonable cultural capital. At an event he attended with his wife, a man who believed himself to be more powerful than Terry in terms of industry clout, decided to molest him in public. Terry Crews recently testified to the US Congress about this! His story will make massive positive change to how this conversation involves men, and it will also do good things for women. He’s a personal hero of mine. Here’s the best bit: to my knowledge he has made no mention of his manhood qualifying him differently, nor has he called for a “#MeToo for Men”, and when he tweeted out his story he didn’t even feel the need to use the hashtag!

Men don’t need a movement, because in general everyone already moves for men.

I don’t agree with the idea that because the attention is focused on women (for now), men have a hard time of it – I do believe men feel harder done by when it happens because our experiences contrast so starkly to the freedom of movement we unwittingly enjoy everywhere else. The idea that men are suffering from neglect at the hands of women who’re occupying the resources that support their own suffering infuriates me no end. It is heartbreaking to see survivors pitted against one another, and taking their pain out on each other when the community of survivors is all we have when it comes to empathy, and being believed, and moving forward. Women have worked – are still working – 24/7 to receive the bare minimum of care and recognition we now have available, and male survivors should be thanking them for it, not bitterly complaining about how they feel ineligible to get in on the action. I’m reminded of when, being an eldest child, I had to ask, and remind, and plead, and work and proves myself worthy of an allowance, and the instant I got it my younger siblings were insistent they receive it too, and in the name of equality they did. I was furious – they were half my age, hadn’t had to do any of the work I did to implement an economic system of domestic reward, and yet here they were reaping that reward and, naturally, squandering it on lollies while I invested mine in my flair for scrap-booking. Which conveniently brings me around to how being gay figures in all of this.

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The trouble with the “not all men” argument is of course that it absolves us of responsibility. In the same way that if we blame the victim, we’re condoning the rape of someone else who fits the behavioral bill, when we other the men who rape, we acquit and even endorse the men who don’t look the part. Harvey Weinstein became the fall guy because he was powerful, and rich, and also slimy, and behind-the-scenes and in-the-shadows and no-one liked him. No-one was invested in him being “a good guy”. Spacey was a tougher case, people did like him, and if he hadn’t thrown the entire gay community under the bus to save his neck he might’ve got away with child molestation and statutory abuse – but still a lot of the narrative was “I always thought he was a bit weird”. Then they came for Morgan Freeman. The guy who we trust so much he gets to play God. We’ll see how that plays out. Gay men don’t fit the mold of the man we think of who assaults or harasses or rapes women, but for all we may be exempt from the stereotype, that doesn’t mean we should remain naive or indifferent about leading by example, and continuing the message that sexual violence isn’t about desire, it’s about power.

When Eurydice Dixon was walking home from her job as a comedian, a young man attacked, raped and murdered her. Afterward, police felt it pertinent to remind women to be aware of their surroundings, have their phone on them, and a whole lot of other advice that isn’t what I hope we see more of. And yet Larissa Bielby, Katherine Haley, Alicia Little, and no such statement – their murders dismissed as “misadventures” and “incidents”. I want to see those police looking unwavering right into the lens of the camera and saying “whoever you are, we will find you and you will be punished to the full extent of the law, and if you’re a man out there who believes themselves capable of sexual violence, or has considered violence against a woman in their life, seek help immediately”. That’s certainly the message I have.

We’re all fighting the same battle here, and it’s a battle against human nature itself, which is why it’s a battle we will fight our entire lives; and fight we must.

B.

if you have concerns for the safety of people around you, or ever considered yourself seriously capable of abusing anyone imminently, please contact 1800 Respect, White Ribbon, or Lifeline 13 11 14. or 000 if an emergency.

 

my gender is cowardice.

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remember kisschasey? that’s where it started.

it was the first year of school, so we would’ve all been five years old. The way the game works is that girls get a head-start then the boys take off to catch and kiss a girl each, after which the pursuit reverses, with the girl chasing the boy to kiss him back. No-one was sure whether I should be on the boys’ team, or the girls’ team. No-one, including me. Many of the girls were my friends, so I naturally wanted to be pack with them, and I certainly didn’t want to kiss them. There would never really be a decision about which side I was on, the game would usually just begin because the problem was too complicated for five-year-olds to resolve. Once everyone had taken off running and giggling and feigning disinterest in being kissed, I would at some point run into the boys’ bathroom and hide in a cubicle, imagining that someone was coming to kiss me. Looking back writing this, I realise the game has not changed much. Not for the negotiation of courtship and consent between men and women, and certainly not for me.

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Growing up in the 90s when being gay was still only discreetly cool in the upper echelons of celebrity-shadowing, being called “gay” or “faggot” wasn’t common but being called a “girl” as a form of denigration was frequent. The way I walked, that I wore my hair long, my mannerisms, the things I liked, and of course my choice of friends didn’t do much to deter that harassment.

When I was three, the childcare staff told my parents I’d been put in time out for losing my temper at a girl who had dared to wear a gold dress from the dress up box which was indisputably “mine”.

As young as twelve I fell into such a dislike of my body’s gender presentation I began binding myself in too-small underwear and by fourteen I had considered self-mutilation.

At home, wearing dresses continued right through to mid-adolescence, when I took a brief hiatus – that’s a lie, I continued to shop from the women’s side of the Cotton On for many years, but dresses were out for a while until I started wearing them again a couple of years ago and went public with a high-waisted skirt and a beard. I’ll to this day regularly say things like “I’m more of a Divinyls gal”, or “I don’t vote Liberal, I’m not that kind of girl”. I’ll never baulk at being referred to in the collective noun of “ladies” or thought of fondly as “one of the girls”.

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What’s it all about? Over the years I think the hard times might have given me cause to cling desperately to a vision of myself that didn’t lose their innocence so roughly, and that sincere sense of self I possess is easily encapsulated by that stereotype of sweetness, sixteen-ness, stillness of girlhood.

As recently as last year I’ve hit patches where thinking too deeply about my gender identity causes me too much confusion and sorrow to continue – and I confess that one of the biggest factors in backing out of this thinking is my conflicted feelings about how many social challenges I’ve been socialised to believe and have witnessed myself that trans and gender-diverse people face; in finding love, in succeeding in the workplace, in achieving whatever physical actualisation of their gender they desire, in receiving healthcare, in being able to travel. My gender identity is informed by my fear of losing something I didn’t think I had: male privilege. My gender identity is informed by my fear of what my loved ones would say, how they would adapt. So, I find myself thinking that my gender is terror, my gender is cowardice.

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My gender is constantly in a state of conviction, being bartered back and forth between fierce femininity and penile privilege. Sliding along the spectrum in one direction because I’m not masculine enough for manhood, then scaling along another slant because I respect womanhood and gender diversity as experiences I do not live and wouldn’t do the disservice or disregard of appropriating any further than colloquially. I am under no false illusions that this is a to-ing and fro-ing I’ll live on the trajectory of for a great deal of time, if not all my life.

Here’s where I’m at now. That in my thoughts about gender, I still feel room for choice and that is what sets several of the incredibly brave and beautiful humans I have been given the joyous gift of knowing apart in their experience from mine. For many of them there is not choice, there is simply the fact of who they are outside the double-edged sword of male and female; the inherent knowledge of difference and a resonance with alternatives and terms of identity I have yet to feel for anything other than “man”.

I grew up in a time where being transgender was a way to describe someone who was moving or had moved from one side of the binary of male and female to the other and once there that person was still known as either – being trans was not its own identity far as I knew then. Within a decade I find myself trying to comprehend what being tri-gender and enby means when I’m still stuck on what being a man means, and how I occupy that.

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Every time I step into darkness to battle with the binary, I have continually emerged male because I cannot get past believing that’s my fight; I feel it’s important for those like me to challenge and broaden what manhood is and wish to lead manhood forward out of toxic masculinity further from the patriarchal systems we are tightly bound to because its built from our gender presentation. For men to develop a compassion, and an empathy and a freedom to explore the roots of being men beyond clothing or interests or sexual exploits, that’s an image of men I want to perpetuate. I don’t want to leave my manhood behind, I want to make more of it, I want manhood – how it’s understood and talked about to adapt to include my kind of expression. To me, it matters to be a good man, and it matters that I identify as male as a means of demonstrating the room for diversity therein.

The fear I speak of is the same that paralyses me in moments where I’m in an environment where men become rowdy, or sexist, or any multitude of behaviours I know it’s important I stand up to. Somewhere inside me I yearn for their acceptance but I fear their predilection for communicating with violence or abuse. Men need intervention, not attention. I remember how positive a change I saw in men when ‘metrosexuality’ became popular, and how bitterly disappointed and ashamed I felt when the backlash came and not since have I witnessed any such valuing of self-care or sensitivity in men in Western cultures. But I’m not giving up on men yet, I’m not giving up on being a man.

Though I continue to grapple with what part prejudice plays in precluding me from being the person people ask or assume I am, what I’m sticking to is that though it may be cowardice that keeps me a man, it could be courage that drives me to change what that means.

images by Corie Shannon. insta @corieshannon.

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consent IS about you. and the Spice Girls.

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this article comes with a trigger warning for discussing sexual violence.

The last time I was ever on Grindr, I got this message:
“I’d love to rape ur penis with my arse”
I responded “As someone who has been raped, I really hate people using that word so casually”
Then I got blocked. Then I deleted the app. Then I had a cup of tea.

Consent is a topic I find unites many people when they are willing to engage in conversation around it, but typically makes men uncomfortable. That may be in some part, speaking recently, due to #MeToo and #TimesUp giving voice to women who have experienced sexually harassing and traumatic events in what appears to be endemic proportions. Even before these movements though, discussions of sexual assault or rape perpetuated a pattern of women who can’t defend themselves against men who can’t control themselves. Mainstream media narratives, unforgivably lenient sentencing, and the current presidency of the United States of America have cemented this stereotype around the world. Where great strides have been made, backlash has brokered back ground, and outside of heteronormative discourse, silence continues to dominate and dismiss victims. Not only gay men and women, but also trans people, people born intersex, prisoners, trafficked people, recipients of foreign aid, single-sex private school children and many more examples outside those we hear most about.

Speaking into my own primary community of gay males, who are often thought of synonymously with promiscuity, I’ve found there is still much to learn and myths to be busted about how we approach sex in a respectful and safe way. So I’m going to attempt imparting wisdom with the help one of the world’s universal languages: the Spice Girls.

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Consent isn’t sexy
You know what they say about throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Don’t. What I find most people mean by this is that having to instruct or talk someone through sex, isn’t sexy. I can appreciate most people want to enjoy sex the way they’ve been brainwashed to enjoy it: post-verbal passionate pornographic moaning & groaning where each person is perfectly attuned to the others’ wants and needs, hits their G-spot on the first go and ejaculates within enough time to get sweaty, but not odorous. Now with someone you’ve slept with many times, built trust between and created an instinctive communication around? Sure that’s a reasonable expectation. But a guy you’ve only met once or twice, haven’t ever seen in full light, who you’re not even sure speaks English as a first language? It’s not fair to expect that person to know instinctively and intimately how to satisfy you without communicating.

Consent during sex isn’t as complicated as we’d like to believe; being caught up in our own enjoyment or nervousness during sex can make us less able to notice or interpret the other person’s signals, and being afraid of rejection can make us unsure of how to communicate during sex.

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You only need consent for penetrative sex
Once on another gay dating app, someone I’d been talking with for a while asked me to come over for some shared nudity with casual intimacy and I made the decision to ask “are you healthy?”
This is an insufficient question. He provided an insufficient response: “I’m on PrEP”
I said that PrEP only covered him for HIV, asked when was he last tested for any other STIs and let him know I would still prefer to use a condom.
He never replied. I felt bad for not waiting to have the conversation in person. Then I had a cup of tea.

Something I didn’t know about consent when I had my first sexual experience (aside from everything because they don’t talk about that stuff in Sex Ed), was that it only applies to the situation you believe you’re in. For example, ghosting, the practice of putting a condom on to gain consent to engage in penetrative sex then removing before actually penetrating, is rape. Plain and simple. Similarly, having sex with someone whom you have told you’re sober when in fact you’re on drugs voids their consent, as does saying you’ll use lubricant but not using it in case you lose your hard-on. There’s this attitude that you only need to put a condom on at the point of insertion. There’s also an attitude that you only need to put a condom on as an alternative to pulling out. There’s an assumption that saying yes once covers you for whatever happens in the next four hours. It doesn’t.

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Isn’t consent implied if he sticks around?
An Australian Football player made waves back in 2010 with the statement “When will you learn! [sic] At 3am when you are blind drunk & you decide to go home with a guy ITS [sic] NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO!”. There’s this idea, particularly among men, that the key to absolution from any compassion or consideration of another person’s engagement in intimacy is that they can put their hands up between you, say “Stop! I don’t like it!” as they were taught to back in kindergarten and then everyone will part ways as friends. The truth is that pretty much all of us would like to feel like we have the power and the right to do as Amber Rose saidIf I’m laying down with a man, butt naked, and is his condom is on, and I say ‘you know what, no I don’t wanna do this. I changed my mind’, that means no. It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on. When I say no, it means no”. I’d even go a step further to if I say “ouch”, or “wait”, or “gently”, or “try this”, I should be able to expect any of those things to ensure you check in on me, and care about my response, and respect my enjoyment as much as your own without judgement.

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Someone on twitter made a comment that there’s a spectrum of behaviour, and that being catcalled, being groped and being raped are very different things in terms of how consent works. My response to that was that consent is like a joke, if no-one is laughing, it’s not a joke. It’s only consent if everyone is on board. If you feel taken advantage of, or coerced or traumatised, that’s valid and real. Then I wrote this blog. Then I had a cup of tea.


(this blog was not authorised by the Spice Girls)
Another great read on this topic ‘The But of Butts’.
take a peek at Project Consent for more information.
I talk plenty about consent in BURLESQUE BY FORCE which is showing in Adelaide Fringe Festival February 24-27. Tickets available here.

 

make something with it.

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you know what it is.
because you carry it everywhere.
and every time something happens that causes you stress or angst, you look over your shoulder dead into its frank eyes and say “yeah, I know”.
you may think of it as “just who I am” or “I’m a bit like that”.
people may talk about it like “you’ll be alright” or “hang in there”.
you eat it to excess.
you lash it over your back.
you use it for sex.
you might sharpen it up to cut with.
you’ve painted a picture of it on all your mirrors.
you let it excuse you from life.
you hate it.
you need it.

some readers will be aware of the book that saved my life. I must have ordered and given away to friends about ten copies by now. If you’ve got pain, and you don’t know how to look at it differently, or do anything with it, but you don’t want it in its current form anymore then read this book. It’s called This is How by Augusten Burroughs.

I read the book, recommended by an old mentor, back in February 2016 when I went to check my hope balance in my app and discovered I was bankrupt. Hoperupt. Whatever.

That same year I went into massive hope debt, and not that I made much song and dance on the internet about how bad things got, but the experience of romance-failure-long-distance-friendships-familial-collapse-professional-overwork-creative-impotence-financial-hardship-haven’t-eaten-three-meals-in-a-day-in-possibly-three-weeks created a serious collapse that I feel very vulnerable, but not ashamed, to share. In the midst of a doctor-ordered week off I made some choices. One of which was to take all the hell and fashion it into the one thing I could still count on to pull me together: theatre.

so I wrote a thing. and then I let other people read it. some of the bleakest and most fraught thoughts I’ve ever had about life, and myself. things that could compromise the way people know me, the way they relate to me. and they gave me advice. and I listened. and I had patience. and I rewrote. again. again. and again. I invited other minds into my madness and their creative flows were like balm. unimaginable change to pain I once thought insurmountable, suddenly was pink and clean and pliable. someone I look up to shared a message to just book the venue and make it happen. so I did. so here we are.

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Burlesque by Force is on in Feast Festival in my hometown of Adelaide this coming November. It’s a one-man show, self-penned and autobiographical, crafted with the support of director Marissa Bennett and designer Stephen Moylan, under whose transformative powers I truly believe this will be something fantastic to share. I’m unashamedly nervous and excited.

The show was based on the idea that when it comes to storytelling, imbuing sexuality becomes treacherous ground for those who’ve experienced sexual trauma, whose consent has been exposed to them for its fragility. This work is a subversion of that burlesque idea, where it’s not about the tease, it’s about the time it takes to step onto a stage and reveal yourself; and not to allure, but to connect.

There is more to say. But for now all I can ask is that you save the date, buy a ticket now if you’re keen, and spread the word.

Big love.
B.

NB. If you’re a Melburnite wanting to see the show, tickets are also on sale for the Melbourne season next February at Butterfly Club.

EVE ST JOHN

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if you’re reading this, then it must be Friday, and the Melbourne Fringe program has been announced, wherein you may or may not have spotted an event that is a touch of poetry, a touch of ritual, and a touch of…well touching actually! (pg 70)

Cut to earlier this year, I was drawn into watching Catfish with my wonderful lady lifeperson. This episode caught a young man masquerading as a woman who bullied him in high school and using her image as a front to flirt with men. One such duped man, after initially being horrified and embarrassed by the discovery, returned to the remorseful keyboard con and encouraged him to find God amidst revelations drugs, prison and self-harm had accompanied his catfishing. I understood perfectly: because when nothing in life can heal an infected wound, we look beyond life. We seek a place in ourselves willing to support a fantastic idea of salvation and forgiveness that cannot connect to the cruel darkness of life as we experience, so must be constructed in an imaginary oasis. Many find religion repelling, toxic with extremism and prejudice. But there is still something in ritual, in faith, that matters.

Cut to seeing Black Birds at Testing Grounds around the same time, having fallen in love with their poetry work woven into physical performance regarding race, womanhood and connections within self. After the show I was inspired to write about my own experiences with racism, and shared these with the women to thank them. They suggested I do as they had done, and share my work, even at Testing Grounds. Hmm.

Cut to attending a spoken word poetry evening the previous year. I’ve never quite gelled with these open mic events. A poet gets up, pours their heart out and all the while you can’t really focus on them because you know another is only a few minutes away. Judging work in this way felt like going to the cinema while your phone vibrates in your pocket, the distraction of something else keeping you from immersing in the hard work of the artist.

Cut to today. Tickets are now on sale for EVE ST JOHN, an immersive, interactive, individual poetry audio experience. I’ve collected a series of works written over a ten-year period and co-aligned with some spiritual and metaphysical cues I’ve taken from life as I’ve experienced it. Those who buy a ticket are welcomed into an eleven-minute experience of some of these works and a zine of the whole catalogue. During the experience, you will hear the works while I gently wash your hands, face and feet.

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EVE ST JOHN is a collision of mythologies, informed by a tonne of metaphysical memes like the zodiac, the tarot, the Bible, the Oracle of Delphi, Bardic tradition and Hawaiian psychological affirmation practices. The purpose is to give people a chance to experience poetry in a different way: free from distraction, heightened senses, hearing a variety of works by one poet and getting to engage with that poet directly. It’ll be intimate, quite the experiment that I’m very grateful to Testing Grounds for believing in and hosting.

Only thirty-six people will have the opportunity to see the work over three nights. That’s twelve people each night I will interact with, and each of these people will hear poetry no other ticketholder that night will hear. Each of the twelve experiences feature different works, offering you a unique experience to discuss and keep memory of.

So if it’s something you’re into, snaffle one of the thirty-six tickets.
If it’s something you’re not sure if you’re into or not, check the facebook out where I’ll be posting content and teasers, see if you can be tantalised.
If it’s something you’re not into, hopefully it’s something you’re into sharing. Support independent art, support experimental art, support Australian work.

B.

#TBT: Anti-domestic abuse campaigns aren’t working. It’s probably because they’re crap.

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Sorry. But Australian campaigns to stop domestic violence are ineffective, pussyfooting, and some I’d say are even misogynistic. I’m a man, converted to the cause, haven’t touched anyone in anger ever except my brother and sister when we were kids, and sometimes when they take the last Tim Tam. I see these attempts we’re making to stem the entrenched inequality experienced by women in our society, and I think they’re all but useless. They’re not good enough.

Case in point: what family-abusing man is put off his anger issues and routine beatings by nail polish? What does this even mean? I presume the idea is to create an identifiable community of men to activate some sort of peer pressure to not hit women or children.

Here’s an idea: keep the photo of Matt Cooper or Jarryd Hayne, but instead of the manicure, perhaps offer the phrase “If you beat your child you’re a cunt of a human/imbecile/wantwit and don’t come to my games”? Feature Malcolm Turnbull in there with a “If you hit your wife you’re a cunt of a human/piece of shit/danger to society and if you’re found guilty in court we’re suspending your right to vote”? Chuck the Australian Federal Police Commissioner in there for good measure with the quote “If you murder your ex-partner in breach of a restraining order you’re a cunt of a human/asshat/waste of skin and you’re going to prison, and then you won’t come out again”. Who are we protecting here?

Another case for your submission: definitely more on track, and yet still far more focused on how terrible a boy’s going to feel if he starts his reign of terror over his relationships early. No point showing how things turn out for the victims of domestic violence: the likelihood of unstable employability, serious psychological problems, perpetuation of violent behaviour in children, and the list goes on.

How about you show clips of a kid in juvenile detention, and how seriously uncool life is in there. Show more clips of disappointed family coming to visit. Show uncomfortable situations with future girlfriends having the talk with your concerned mates? Maybe a quick grab of a high security prison, because re-offending is REALLY a thing.

Bizarrely enough, the best advertisement against domestic violence I’ve seen is, is a commercial for better conditions for battery hens. How obscenely ironic.

If you’re looking for satire in my point, you’ll have to look awful hard, because although the tone of this blog is sardonic, I am deadly serious. Get it together. We all need to fight back against the offenders, their friends, the environments in which their prejudice is bred, and any party neutralising the cause with their “PR”. When the blood of women drenches our lives and stains our newspapers, there’s no applause for participation.

For those of you thinking my ideas are a molotov cocktail that might spark more problems, or they haven’t shown enough compassion for what men go through before they become violent, or any other #notallmen-esque evasive maneuver you’ve come up with, at least I thought of some kind of solution. How about you human up?

If you do know of a group spreading positive, proactive and effective messages, PLEASE put their name, hyperlink, initiative below. We need to know where they are.

 Author’s note: this article has been edited to include alternatives to ‘the c word’ at the polite request of some women and women’s support groups, the opinions of which I respected and were affirmed by in my choice to include not replace. Thanks to Mamamia for posting it.

How to change your perspective

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You’re hunting for the “right” job. None of the guys on Tinder look like anything other than sex-charged, ill-thought deviants and it’s not Saturday. You have no idea who to vote for, but are midway through your third binge of Game of Thrones to revisit before the latest season premieres. You’re familiar, might’ve even wrote a blog about Harambe the child-dragging gorilla, but have no idea how many migrants died crossing the Mediterranean that same week (over 1000, by the way. I Googled. I’m not perfect either.).

Ever get the feeling you can’t find what you’re looking for? Overrun by images, videos, apps and Kardashian-fuelled news, ever feel a bit lost? I don’t know maybe you’re right at home in a suspended state of apathy, comfort and pursuit of simple pleasures. It is after all the Australian Dream.

If you, like me, find yourself consistently searching for time to make meaning of life, particularly your place in it. If you are looking to change, but don’t have the first idea how, here’s a few ways to start

  • How prepared for spontaneity are you? Take a look around the room you’re in – pets, hordes of furniture and knick-knacks, boxes of redundant memorabilia in the garage. It’s all excuses. Like you haven’t excuses enough in your mind to procrastinate from those excuses. If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it. If you’re not going to use it within a year, get rid of it. If you don’t like it, if it’s the topic of arguments, if it serves no other purpose than to impress the neighbours who never come over because I haven’t cleaned the guest bedroom in case things get boozy, and anyway I need to buy a new crockpot to make them that dish mum used to make before she came to Australia. You guessed it, make like Elsa and let it go.
  • If the only fun, the only time you laugh really hard, the only messy but wonderful memories made are the result of something you planned, then the time has come to randomise the elements you interact with. Suddenly go to bed later, or earlier. Change yoga classes to the other night they run. Download a song from an artist you’ve not heard of, or tune into someone’s playlist you recognise no songs on (or if you’re old-school like me, buy a CD at random from JB). Get your groceries from a suburb you’re passing through. Change your route to work. Scroll through your phone and text whoever crops up (maybe no exes or your accountant) Start getting acquainted with territory outside the 10km radius you usually travel within the confines of.
  • Stop liking things you don’t actually like on facebook, or double tapping on hot people, or clicking trashy news stories on Yahoo!7 when you log out of your email. The algorithms of your social media, Google, even your internet browser are constantly monitoring you (seriously, check out Google Ads) and will start filling up with things like what you mindlessly validate. Meanwhile you’re scrolling past the political, the powerful, the passion-filled because it’s awkward or uncomfortable and those things that are important for us to know about go unheard, unnoticed and without action.
  • Stop limiting yourself. See if you can talk about the future without saying ‘but’ at all. Don’t enter Search terms on seek. Don’t employ age parameters on Tinder. Just afford yourself the time to brainstorm as you look through your options, and whatever excites you most, or seems to suit your interests, go down that rabbit hole. Really invest the time to work out how it might be feasible. You might fail, plenty of times, but no-one learned to fly without falling. Many times.

The trick to changing your perspective and taking opportunities is an alchemic balance of being realistic and pragmatic along with trusting yourself enough to handle the consequences. Golly if I had a dollar for every time I heard “I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t know what to do if…”. And that there is exactly what happens. You learn what you would do by doing it. No matter the outcome of a decision to do things differently, you’ll LIVE. You’ll work it out and then use that knowledge to approach your next crossroads.

You don’t need to cross the planet, tear your home apart, lose all your money or ignore everything you’ve learned to give your life more value. You just need to know yourself enough to make what contribution you feel most affirmed to do so life is more than an expenditure of time or series of routines. Make yourself useful, make yourself special. bg2yx.