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.

 

the bride wore bitter

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Dearly Belittled…

We have voted here today…

Yeah, I know.

One week ago. I haven’t cried about it. Not once. I confess I’ve been almost entirely indifferent because I can’t get the questions out of my head; what if this whole public vote regarding our rights was for something we actually needed? While the right hand’s distracting us by dangling this carrot, whose is the left shaking? How, when nothing has changed, we just know more precisely what we already did for both better and worse, can we be celebrating?

And of course, the million-dollar question: why don’t I feel anything?

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Don’t get me wrong- I voted, I messaged people, I jumped on a phone bank, I social media spammed, I cross-examined colleagues. I did it for every individual couple I knew who want to feel that equality, who don’t want to live with the tension of difference guiding their lives, who want to be who they are outside the crucible of prejudice. I thought I wanted that too – but this “debate”, this plebiscite, this invasion of my privacy, this sick indictment on the country I call home – of all the things it did both dreadful and disastrous, it also made me realise something.

I have power. More power in that crucible, than outside of it.

This isn’t true of everybody, I don’t think. We weren’t all built to disrupt, nor should we be. That’s what the right to live in peace means. Quinn Eades, who has swiftly stormed up my list of heroes, made mention of something in a keynote at the Australian Homosexual Histories Conference this past weekend. That there is now classified a condition beyond Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, called Total Human Devastation Syndrome. Those words struck and split every pane of glass that protects me from the horror of the world so I can still step out in it. Total Human Devastation. What a world, what a world. Where love is cause for political debate and discrimination. I realised that I’m numb to more than I’m comfortable to confess, because the momentum and enormity of the world we live in now on a constant stream-feed, has taken me beyond exhaustion and disappointment. I’m not so despicable as to say I’m totally devastated by humanity. I am so despicable as to say I have no idea what to do, and where I know I could start, I’ve not. Not yet. I’ve been preoccupied by – and as – propaganda.

My life, my love, my rights are not a brand.

I’m asking you to understand that the ends did not justify the means. For me, and many, this has been a disaster. For some people, it was the last straw. Not everyone got to celebrate YES; some died waiting, others died fearing. The prejudice has been activated – the people who voted NO? They’re pissed, and here’s where we’d better clue in quick: they’re coming for our kids. Ground has been gained on marriage, but education is not a privilege or a luxury or a decision. Education is a necessity. That 38% are going to work harder than ever to ERASE, ISOLATE, and IMPLICATE us in whatever way will diminish the freedom to be themselves that young people are already compromised in.

Christmas Day. Ten children gather around the tree, while their respective, and respectable, parents look on. Nine of the children receive ten gifts, one from each family. One child receives six, because four of those sets of parents have decided they have the right to disable equity. Is the child grateful for the presents they did get? Absolutely. And they’d better be, because for a child to declare their observation that they had been unjustly treated would be socially unacceptable. Should the child have a tantrum, and show their anger about being discriminated against, well that’s just disgraceful.

So I might be a disgrace. I might be an ingrate. I’ll tell you what else I am. Unprotected. Fashionable. Observed.

I’m also alive. Which is more than I can say for myself were I to have been born in Chechnya, or Russia, or Chernobyl, or Beirut, or in one of the many nations from which I might’ve fled for safety and found myself held in detention just off the mainland of where I was born. But I can get married. Thank goodness.

Never mind the fact that I find relationships difficult to manage as someone who has been sexually assaulted in such a way to irrevocably damage my sense of trust and safety, and physically injured me permanently, though circumstances were not clearly warranting of recourse. I’m holding out for more than one miracle here.

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So please. Continue loving your fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, queer, and questioning. Do it more, and more fervently. DO NOT throw your YES posters away, stay identified as an ally. We need you now more than ever, for the sake of what future approaches. Please also understand and respect that some of us may not be as excited as you are, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still together on this one. Still fighting. Still family. ‘Til death do us part.

B.

and for once it might be grand…

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so about six years ago I wrote this poem. and the poem became a song. if you have ever met me you have probably heard it at least once before. because up until this year, it has been my greatest achievement. to have watched a dark moment leave my shoulders where it once held all its weight and find a life its own, as a realised being its own.

I wrote the poem after a particularly heartbroken day where I sat on a beach in Far North Queensland and imagined putting my heart in the water, watching it roll away and emulsify to deliver more to the world over than I believed it could ever do for me. Next minute there’s a teenage girl singing it shakily-with-sincerity behind me in line at Womadelaide.

In the song there’s a lyric that used to be “I didn’t know that to follow your dreams you could lose a little of each”. Following your dreams isn’t just an expression, it’s a real commitment. And it’s been the theme of my 2017. I am sharing how this has worked for me in an effort to engender similar pursuits amongst those who’d read this; who in the same year might have seen reason to abandon hopes in the face of political disheartenment, ecological collapse and breaches of equality at every turn.

your dream isn’t just something you want, or something you think would be great to have, or would make you happy. your dream is more than that, it’s a version of yourself constantly bashing away from inside you wanting to get out. it’s easy to confuse someone else’s dreams or ambitions for your dream, but the difference is that one will be a realisation of everything you know about yourself to be true, and the others’ are just things you will feel esteemed by.  your dream doesn’t have to be big to anyone but you, but reaching it will require a journey only you can feel the vastness of. your dream is entirely unique, as will be your road to it, and the obstacles you must overcome.

your dream has demands, and the longer you avoid them – I’ve found – the higher the recompense. What was once merely frippery and frugality became almost total austerity, anxiety, friends disconnected, hopelessness and gambling your sense of self-preservation – and all the while, an unshakable sense that I was on the right track. When it comes to pursuing your dreams, it’s a volatile balance you must keep between sustainability and instinct.

last year I did all the right things: I moved to the big city, and had the high-paying, doing-good job, and did some rallying and some theatre reviewing. I moved thinking I’d make a packet, conquer my debt and set myself up for life. But I spent every dollar I made trying to make myself happy. I blew every bit of energy I had grasping at old desires. I tortured myself with other people’s needs to drown out the disappointment I felt in myself for having given up so easy. I clung to friends hoping they would vindicate the drama, and the choices I had made or give me an alternative. I let every advantage be taken of me so I had every excuse in the world not to create what I knew I was long overdue to. don’t do this, you guys. it hurts. it’s a kind of starvation. it’s a kind of addiction from which I hope very much to divert you from.

so I took chances. real ones. accepted help from strangers and moved back to Melbourne with no money.
I told a boy I loved how mad I was at what my cowardice had made of our lost opportunity. and my heart stopped being angry as much.
I re-stabilised my relationships with my family. and discovered that will be a lifetime process of exchange and compassion and pride. totally worth it.
I didn’t take the first job I got. I waited until I got the one I knew was right for me. And when I found it, I fought for it. I gambled by asking for it outright.
I climbed back into debt, and sat at the midway point between comfort and purpose. Made peace with the time-frame and the consequences. And didn’t let it spoil my understanding of what I got in it for.
I asked.
That’s the important part. I asked.
For a job and I got it. For payment extensions and the answer’s always yes. For a way to make going to China and Japan happen even though my budget was tight and I went. For a chance to perform in a festival and they said yes. Three of them. For a spot to speak at a conference with a day until program got released and yet they squeezed me in.
I took a long hard look at my “boundaries” and in the midst of being grateful for what they had protected me from, I let them go to acknowledge there was nothing anymore they needed to protect from me – people, experiences, change.
I am trying to harbour less shame. If i get caught in an old lie, I own up to it. If i feel uncomfortable, I amend or change the factors. Little by little.
I worked hard. Sleep I’ll never get back. Constantly striving, and living in the parameters of improvement always being possible. I push myself, and I push the people I bring into what I’m working for.

And now my biggest achievement isn’t the song sung by someone else, although it still brings me joy unimaginable. it’s a story that I have lived a version of, made into a theatre show, that if you live in Adelaide or Melbourne you can come and share in.

And when you’ve lived your dream once, it’s remarkable what you start to flicker inside that you might be able to do after all.

The two key factors in achieving your dream?
Asking. There is no shame in asking, only vulnerability in the possibility of rejection, which we must all love about ourselves. If your approach is earnest, and grateful, and prepared to be willing to accept the answer for what it affords or redirects, you’ll find more often than not it goes a way you don’t expect – which is usually that they’ll say yes. And then you deliver, you keep the conversation going, you negotiate an exchange. It may not be easy, but it is simple.
Giving. As important to reaching for your dream, is taking the time to connect with other people dreaming. Foster collaborations, and shower their gambles, their trials with kindness and encouragement. Allow yourself to be part of a continuous network of inspiration and support. Grow with.

dreaming in sleep and living a dream aren’t altogether dissimilar for their surreality and sense of disembodiment or uncertainty. I’m not sure if what I’m talking about, whether dream is the right word, it’s like your chrysalis or your crucible. it’s the person you are beneath the person you’ve been shaped to be. it’s the inside out. it’s the second skin. the final form.

it’s not my dream. it’s my point.

Big love,
B.

the Christian, the question, and the queer

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it happened. today. in a seemingly innocuous moment of asking a colleague what their weekend had in store for them, they let me know they were attending a debate about marriage equality to be held in their church. and then we had a conversation.

let me preface this by saying that while I have been passionate about marriage equality and will be voting yes for the sake of my community, my future and generations of LGBTI people to come, I have not been emotionally attached or taken the “respectful debate” to heart. Aquarians.

But here I was, faced with the opportunity many people have talked about the importance of – to reach an influential, undecided individual. not a drop of mud was slung, nor any personal attack entered into. what was said went something like this:

he told me he was afraid that the freedoms of his community would be restricted should marriage equality be granted – that it would open a door to people of faith being further criticised and denigrated in wider society. I expressed to him my compassion, as I too was afraid that the personal, security freedoms of my community would be restricted in turn should the result be “no”. I genuinely don’t think he realised that – that we both feared the same things for those we loved – that something we believed to be so inherent to who we are – me my love of men, him his love of God – would be used as a tool to oppress us.

he told me he was scared to be judged as a Christian, that to tell people you believed in Jesus these days could attract a lot of hate and dismissal. I told him I could empathise, as telling someone I was gay has the same effect; it is a gamble. For instance, when I told a pastor attached to mission my church supported, she openly told me that for me to want to help others was selfish because God couldn’t act through me, as I was an abomination. I promptly lost my love of God, many of my friends, and a foundation of faith on which, at that time, a lot more of my life than I had thought was built. I told him not to worry, to be judged hurts, especially the first time. That you get used to it. That it gets better.

I’m sure by now you’re realising the parallels in our two perspectives as we face this issue in Australia. The irony of what I was telling him was not lost on either of us. I think if I had made the point with any derision or sarcasm, as I know is tempting to do for many people, it would have been closed to him.

So then he reveals he has suffered some incredibly isolating issues from which he knows his spiritual journey rescued him. I once again shared my empathy because I felt the same way when in amongst all my pain and confusion, the realisation I was gay allowed my mind to make sense to me, when I realised there was still love I could have, it made a peace inside me that turned my life from a sorrowful pilgrimage to a productive salvation all its own.

He said he didn’t know where he stood on the issues concerning children. I asked him if his thoughts would be the same about me having a child with a woman, which I can do, though I won’t love that woman like I would another man, though I would love my child as much. There is no law stopping me from having children, and marriage will not change my ability to procreate. On top of which, waving a marriage certificate in the school principal’s face will not play any role in whether that principal decides to deliver messages of equality, conciliation and understanding, nor what curriculum or programs that principal decides to implement or not. Being a parent is now, and has for many years been, acceptably mutually exclusive from being married.

It all came down to the same thing. They’re feeling something, potentially for the first time in the context of their social and spiritual identities: shame. Nothing awakens our defensive mechanisms like being ashamed – of our country, of our society, of our families, of our friends, of ourselves. Whatever causes us to question ourselves is often treated with contempt and rejection, because we don’t want to feel wrong; we barely want to feel unsure.

I don’t know if people opposed to marriage equality are homophobic; I feel like that’s a by-product of the real issue: fear of change. I too hope the spiritual mores of hospitality, kindness, love abundant and unconditional for one another will in this moment reign supreme over intolerance and wrath. What some call ignorance I still think of in some way as innocence. Though I am determined to move forward, to love freely as any other, to call out and disperse prejudice. Change will come, there is no stopping that. And communities under pressure of discrimination and persecution will forge what they need to for survival.

$122M could have saved lives. It could have improved health, education, environmental action or climate change. I reminded him it could be improving his pension. Instead, it’s being used to conduct a manual opinion poll, using methods that inherently discriminate against homeless people, regional communities, expats and holidaymakers.

I’m voting yes because I understand that swimming against the current is the surest way to drown, and that using these moments in our history to divide and deviate is a tragedy. I’m voting yes because I believe it’s the vote that will save more lives, bring more people together, and create more joy in this country. And now, he might too.

Keep an eye out for your ballot. Tick the box. Vote. If you are someone who believes this issue should be resolved and life progress beyond this prejudiced issues and focus on more important things, then please vote. Make the effort, on the behalf of those being slandered and belitted and abused and beaten up for who they are – and often just who they appear to be. Christians may be taking heat now, but it will die down after marriage equality is won in a way LGBT people can only dream of. Winning this will cost us, but it will be worth it, because the whole country knew we earned it.

Big love,
B.

artwork by Rachel DelaGardelle.

Further reading
https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/08/10/same-sex-marriage-how-vote-postal-plebiscite
http://www.smh.com.au/business/samesex-marriage-postal-plebiscite-doesnt-pass-the-pub-test-20170817-gxyhdj.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/08/15/marriage-equality-postal-plebiscite-what-you-need-to-know_a_23077619/

 

 

 

 

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.

crossing what dressing me? and whom? and how?

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like with many things, it happened little by little. not to begin with though. to begin with I could be found in my local Coles wandering around in my childhood friends’ leotards, dancing in the aisles while their mothers looked on, admiring but alert. without them, I wonder where I’d be. as it stands, it is without their admonishment that I am where I am now: happy, homosexual I concede, but as I step out for coffee in my skirt and my oversized denim jacket and that one bit of toast I can never avoid keeping out of my beard in my beard, I’m me, and fulfilled for that. And that fulfilment has rippled from me into many other people who feel happier, freer, stronger. like mirrors that align to refract light into enclosed spaces, so those of us willing to fetter conventions and flaunt ourselves as expressed by our deepest enjoyment of our personalities and liberties.

but of course, the gold dress at the childcare was put away because it made parents uncomfortable to see me in it. LBDs were kept to the costume box. and every clothes shopping trip steered me firmly into the “boys section” of the store.

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I did for a time to think I wasn’t meant to be a boy and for a brief time bound myself up, such was my confusion about how comfortable and better about myself I felt in clothing designated for girls and women. Drag queens became a bitter reminder that the only way I might live my self-expression was to “costume” or caricature. I was asked to play an intersex person in a play and would only do so if I got to dress myself as fierce as I envisioned I would were I to ever have the courage of that role.

when I first bought a midriff top from the ladies half of the Cotton On I worked at, I thought they wouldn’t sell it to me, so ingrained and indoctrinated was I to this ridiculous notion that clothes and gender were co-correspondent. slowly I bought tees that fit my small waist, jeans long enough for my legs, scarves and shoes that actually had colour. and then it happened: my Mama bought me a pair of Bordello heels. life had changed. skip ahead six years and I’m a happy sneaker-wedge, high-waisted skirt, midriff tee, and tights wearing human who feels more like a man in that outfit than you could pay me to feel in a pair of Doc Martens. I feel as self-possessed, confident, tough and bold as toxic masculinity tells me to be in that American Apparel cream bodycon and thigh-high tube socks.

and sure a few people find me comical. my wife usually beats them up with one look and they put their camera phones away. most men compliment me, the ones who can see the bravery in authenticity. some of them gamble being ribbed by their friends for doing so.

it strikes me as a bit odd that men would be so averse to wearing an item of clothing that gives their crotch some (much-needed) airflow, not to mention gives the most misogynistic of them easier access to scratch themselves. trick is dealing with NARBs, but like you care too much about that anyhow. part of me wonders if the reason men aren’t into skirts is because they’d feel subliminally or subconsciously as vulnerable as they enjoy women being in them.

never mind the fact that the INSTANT they get a shot at a themed-dress party, out come the hula skirt, the thong and the coconuts (no matter the theme).

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pertinent is that many women have fallen for it too: shaming men who wear clothing the retail market might consider androgynous. but I for one love a set of thick thighs in a romphim. I hate that we have to call it a romphim to keep the patriarchy intact, but we’re working on it. the difference between footy shorts and booty shorts is branding, the difference between running skins and leggings is fear, the difference between tall tees and a pullover dress is capitalism, and the difference between how I wear what I do and how you wear what you do is NIL.

For Jaden Smith to be in an ad campaign in a skirt does not take balls. It’s as simple as selecting one item over another. What do I want to wear today? Online shopping should show style options for ALL gender expressions. Brands should lead the way in diversity and cracking open the binary of the market that might do a great deal for segmentation, but frankly contributes more to screaming from the windows of cars and failed intimidation of this gorgeous creature as he walks home as safely as he deserves to, has the right to than it does to you making budget in your basics collection.

like age, like time, like economy, gender is a code we’ve made up to help us organise ourselves and exploit opportunities to be productive. it’s a meaning we’ve made on a basis of a majority of genital presentations. but what it means, for those of you who have the freedom to try, is yours to decide. and when we start showing that freedom, and standing strong in ourselves, that sort of shit makes a difference to people who think “maybe I could…I’ve always wanted to…what’s stopping me? If he can do it…”

Carry yourself with the courage of your conviction and as casually as the concept of your soul being clear to see in the what you put on your pure person.

 

B.

 

my funny Valentine

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It’s like something out of a movie. Boy and girl meet in primary school, cue the meet-cute music, and become best friends. She defends him from bullies, he invites her over for dance parties. They share secrets and feel like finally they have a friend who understands them. Then suddenly, without a word, he’s gone. Vanished back to his hometown and they lose each other. With the arrival of social media they try to find one another, but both use aliases! Until facebook. There’s an email and a teary reunion, nine years since they’ve seen each other as children, and they still have so much in common and he’s happening to be visiting in ten days for the first time in four years. Cue the meeter-cuter music. They spend the day together, it’s perfect. And then the story really begins.

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I think both of us have spent far too many moments pondering the eternal question ‘no seriously how is this my life?!‘ but in the past ten years since we reconnected, and nearly twenty since we first met, it really has played out like a dream come true. And it never ceases to humour and astound us how much discursive trouble our relationship gets us into.

Valentine’s Day is traditionally an occasion for romantic couples, which we are not, but here’s the big deal: I don’t care what capitalist codswallop flogging the inadequacies of my independence have to remark, nor how many other people are vying for the delight and privilege of being your Valentine. You, Phoenix, are my Valentine. So this one’s for you…and for those of you playing along at home, still cluing in as to how a committed relationship between two platonic parties could possibly be a thing.

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It’s always such a thrill to hear people bandy about words like love and trust about people they’ve known for all of three orgasms. But deep unyielding trust builds over time, and is strengthened, not shrunk, after being fractured. I can’t say we’ve fought, but we’ve thrived through drama and disappointment by being open beyond our own pride and getting to the root of what we need from each other to move forward, and delivering that to the best of our ability. She often tells me she’s not scared of my darkness, and I know I’ve shed some light on hers.

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Compatibility often comes down to having the right things in common, and the right things in contrast. We’ve both been through very similar things in our lives, but have grown from those in different ways. It’s that typical ’rounding out’ where we can rely on each other to provide the perspective we need honestly, knowing that the time will come around we’ll need to hear it back to us. One of the best parts of our relationship is the freedom to challenge each other and ask for what we want from each other, and expect participation to make that happen.

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Then of course, it helps to have a healthy serving of laughter. Seriously lady you make me laugh like a loon on loon tablets. You have split so many of my sides, and we take almost psychotropic delight when we do pressure down. I think this really is the key, is that ability to not only drop down into the deepest discussions and despairing equations, but also find each other far funnier I fear than we may actually be. Oh well.

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Then there’s of course the thing that takes a relationship from stable, from fruitful, to pure sparkle: encouragement. As much as we challenge each other, we know how to encourage and celebrate each other. Goodness knows that has transcended to the odd bit of financial support as well. I once told you that the only way I was ever going to meet someone is if they took a look and went “yeah, what a weirdo, that’ll work!” and your response was that the right person doesn’t actually find you weird at all, they just love you right off the bat. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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While we’re on the topic of meeting people, I appreciate that it’s complicated to make sense of why two people who love, support, co-habit and plan a future together can not be having sex, but here’s the secret: WHEN IT IS BEDTIME, WE DON’T DO IT. We are more than willing, in fact we’re hoping, to accommodate a person in each other’s lives who brings that romance, intimacy along with love and support. But how people can expect that once you hook up with one of us, that the other goes off duty, or that our years and years of trust and trauma will conveniently scatter to the wind will always confound me. The happiness we craved and cried for, we have found with each other, and there’s no chance in hell we’re giving it up; we’ll transform it to involve other people and share the love and happiness, but to love us means to love the parts of us the other has helped to build. So be grateful and lets get to kissing!

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Most people who know me understand that I struggle with the whole ‘together’ thing and due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, I’ve historically not been involved in too many relationships. I’m still coming to terms with what it means for us to be in each other’s lives, because I fall into the same traps of not seeing us for what we are, soulmates. The reality is that if we were same-sex partners, everyone would be on board. But we’re not, and that permits us to find other means to create value in our relationship. Who knows what the future holds for us, but here’s all that needs to be known:

Phoenix, you make me happier than far too many people wanted me to believe I could be. You make me excited for the future, and your presence gives me the strength to tackle so many things. Your honesty has helped my friends be bolder with me, your caring has helped my family relax about my choices, and I just think you’re all about it. I love you Brow Bae. Crack Pussy. Vvife. P. Phi. You’re it.

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PS thank you to every reader who has reached out. I know these latest ones have seemed a little self-served, but I need to do that at the moment. Establish myself, evacuate those things about me I want to share. It’s part of a bigger picture I promise. I also promised I wouldn’t do announcement things, so just enjoy and please be one of those people who feels encouraged to be you and fight for whatever makes you happy and contributes to the happiness of the collective. We need that. Happy Valentine’s Day.

B.

PS. Babe 11 years is jewellery. Or if you count the lost years, 28 is orchid!

fave