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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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.