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.

 

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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.

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!

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What being gay ISN’T.

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Is it time for my life and worth to be the subject of public debate again already?! Gosh time flies when you’re a “minority” at the peak of social cool but still pariahs for equal rights. Guaranteed there’ll be a few hurt feelings by the time this marriage equality debacle and anti-homophobia education conniption is over and we can let humans be happy in who they are independent of outdated discrimination. The LGBTIQA community constitutes a vast diversity (and likely majority) of people, all of whom deserve recognition as valuable contributors to the world by virtue of their humanity, not their plight or struggle.

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The incredible Gus. Image from Gayby Baby.

Here’s what being gay isn’t. It isn’t living as though lives haven’t been risked so you can fill yours up with as much self-expression, passion and joy as you possibly can. It isn’t forgetting your worth outside your community as much as in it. It isn’t mistaking triumph of yourself with torture of others or confusing making good with looking good. Having been accused of conforming to a stereotype in one breath and applauded for brave originality in the next, the pressure to choose sides or meet expectations is all-too-familiar when it comes to appearance, apparel, career, conversation, sex and social life. You name it, someone always has a question to ask. The response to such questions are almost always “nobody’s business but mine!”. Being gay ISN’T disrespecting the years of oppression, massacre and persecution LGBTI people have experienced in order to flourish in who you are, and that includes LGBTI people themselves.

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Sydney’s first Mardi Gras.

Being part of the LGBTI community does not preclude anyone from other prejudices or poor attitudes, just as being part of the community does not suddenly prescribe someone to a specific type of activity, or permit others to treat them as personal property or entertainment. Being gay ISN’T a novelty.

If being gay were about sex with people of the same sex, I’d have long been excommunicated. And if it were about having a gods-built body, hung for days, dressed designer and 1m followers on instagram, then I might have something to tell my parents. And allow me to note that I’m not a witty, fantastic lush because I’m  gay, but because I’m a witty fantastic lush. Everything I do, I do it for me, which is how I do it for you. What I’m hoping is that by living for yourself, you’ll see that everyone deserves the same rights to living their life, and so open your actions to be accepting, humble and supportive of the people and animals and planet around you. Being gay ISN’T adherence to a trope or stereotype, but the experience of a real, only-given-one-time human life.

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Hearing humans at Slut Walk Melbourne. Image by Chris Hopkins for The Age.

 

The two biggest issues in this country right now concerning diverse communities, of marriage equality and anti-homophobia education, when compared with the battles of other communities (of which some LGBTI people are part), is so far beyond ridiculous that our government should be ashamed, except for the part where it is a tactical manoeuvre of misdirection. Indigenous Australians still do not have the rights their lineage, their contribution to our country’s culture, and their triumph over oppression warrants. Refugees are traumatised further than anything an Australian can empathise with, further upon which we traumatise and torture their futures for no other reason than they were born somewhere else and sought to change their circumstances. Australians living with disabilities, everything from mobility to mental functionality, are continually excluded from spaces, employment, support and education models.

Compared to those issues, and the ones that plague the climate we thrive on, the wildlife we should respect, and the imbalanced economy we are manipulated by daily, the ability for me to marry the love of my life has all the trappings of a first-world problem. However, the socio-political equality that is a key component of the right to marry as my heterosexual or simply hetero-apparent? That is a right for which I should fight because it does impact the rights of others, does improve liberation of all people, and involve the consciousness and compassion of our species further and further away from the archaic, murderous notions that take the freedoms and lives of the brothers, sisters, betweens and beyonds in my community. Being gay ISN’T just about me.

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Speaking of those issues of marriage equality and anti-homophobia education, let’s recap:

  • Homophobia and transphobia impacts ALL children. Anyone can be called a homophobic slur or misgendered as a form of bullying in a school environment. Education about LGBTI people is what prevents those types of harassment from destroying the self-esteem and mental health of those students who experience it as attackers or sufferers.
  • We do have same-sex de facto relationships recognised in Australia, which isn’t the case in many countries where marriage equality has been introduced, and so there hasn’t been as much urgency. However, decisions on end-of-life care, custody of children, provision of insurances and family support, travel safety, organ/blood donation, census information are all impacted by the ability to declare your marital status.
  • The absolutely abhorrent state of sexual education in Australia is responsible for the kinds of abuses experienced that conservative and homophobe alike use to discredit and disparage LGBTI people. Suppression and shame of sexuality can have lasting and dangerous impacts on the individual, and therefore put others around that individual at risk, but not because they’re gay, but because they’ve been mentally beaten and made an animal by their torture, internal and societal.
  • Inclusivity has never had any impact but a positive one on society at large, and it is exclusivity from systems like marriage, like spiritual lifestyles, like politics and education that have created the insanity of our species. That insanity where we kill each other, we revert our very natures, we live in alarming disharmony with the resources of the planet and have developed a way of being to secure our own destruction as soon as humanly possible.

Being gay ISN’T a lot to ask of our fellow human beings.

See I can get married if I want, just not your way. I can have a child, I can educate myself, I can feel love, I can travel. There is no difference between your life and mine, except you’ve got it in your head that your way is the right way. I’ll gladly leave you to the delusion, or I can rescue you from the cruel fate of strangling yourself in your own web of prejudice. Choice is yours, because I didn’t get one.

B.

Beauty is the Beast

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This is her. The one who showed me ever so dazed through the door of beauty, and upon my discovery of how tiny, claustrophobic and torturous the room on the other side was, swiftly locked the door and left me there. This is her. She is a crack-team of digital specialists, cosmeticians, marketing sharp-shooters, managers, their managers, their managers, and an innumerable force of people willing and proven to be counted upon to throw money up in defence of the obliteration done to their self-esteem. This is her.

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I have been measuring myself to this standard since I saw this advertisement at the age of twelve. Twelve. While most boys were looking to transform themselves into the Herculean hyper-masculine adored by the opposite sex doing as they were told, I was following suit. Same-sex attraction in the age of well-meaning ignorance, where my educators knew what the word ‘gay’ meant but still weren’t sure how to use it, created a vacuum where pursuit of the heteronormative standards was the surest road to romance. I knew what boys liked, and I could totally see why in this picture. But how on earth was I ever going to achieve it for my own? This question would haunt my posture, weight, gait, mannerisms, gender expression and self-esteem all through adolescence and well into adulthood.

They don’t necessarily call it body dysmorphia when although your perception of your body is inaccurate, you love it all the same. It’s hard to explain that when I look in the mirror, I see her. The reason I see her is because I learned somehow that as much as it was the shape of the body that created the attraction, it was the shape of the spirit and the sensuality that created the confidence. I know I couldn’t make a body like that no matter what I did at the gym, or what I ate- or didn’t. What I could do is invest in the inner parts of myself that believed I was as sensual, as sexual, as proud of my body as the woman in the picture.

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I don’t make a habit of being naked. The body has been politicised and commoditised to the point where thousands of jobs depend on our own dissatisfaction with the body we have. The only one, I might add. We can augment and amend it, but all too rarely we have no idea what it’s doing, what it’s asking of us. Some people think of their body as a bag for their brain. Some people think of it as their summary value proposition. I think of mine as a work of fiction.

To me the key to beauty is the willingness to confront your fears about your body, your comparisons to other bodies and in spite of every single thing telling you your body is insufficient or offensive, you don’t believe it. You better believe that the only thing ugly about you is a magazine, the only thing wrong with your body is a spring fashion show, and the only c-word you should find offensive is cosmetic.

Now don’t mistake me: being healthy, being strong, the best you can be is all incredibly worthwhile. But know the difference between genuinely feeling good about yourself, and feeling good about your appearance. That could be anything from your body, to your diet, to how busy people think you are, or how accomplished. When your whole self, flaws and all, become completely inseparable and you can truly love all of it and feel stronger for it, that to me is true victory. Fucking beautiful.

B.