Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Learning from top to bottom

2018 has been a year of learning and growth for me. So I could really relate when I saw this in one of those best of 2018 in Tumblr things:

Well kids, gather round, because I had one of those moments myself this year. A moment that shifted all my paradigms, distorted my memories, ruined my friendships, and almost got me kicked out of brunch. I want to tell you a story.

Let me start by saying...when my best friend from high school came out as gay in 1999, we weren't really surprised. And because he was effusive and popular and I am awkward and malodorous, I followed along with the friends he made, in and out of clubs. I met some lovely lovely people and had some great times, and "all my friends are gay" was said with a shrug, not a boast. I joined support groups myself when I was questioning. So what I'm saying is, I am no stranger to the gay life, or at least what the gay life was in the first decade of the Milennium (think cruising, not grindr). I've heard conversations at 4am, I've seen come ons and come downs and a lot of gay porn. (For some reason).

So of course I know gay men have sex, and I know how they have sex, and in what sort of positions,  and I know what tops and bottoms are.

Or so I thought. You see, that's what I thought top and bottom were: sexual positions. And like any sexual position, of course you'd have your preferences, stuff you liked more than other stuff. But I thought that was as far as it went.

Then I started watching Drag Race. And as I started to get into it, started to follow the lingo, I came to a horrifying realisation. Top or bottom isn't just what you like. It's what you are.

Top or bottom for gay guys, I learned, is a lifestyle choice. It's a complete identity. An identity that apparently comes with its own tastes in fashion and music and cuddling. It can even determine who pays for dates.

The first scary fallout from this is wondering how the fuck it is possible, even with my dim emotional awareness, that knowledge of this failed to reach me before now?

But much, much worse is the flow on knowledge that all the gay men I know, almost all of them, are either a top or a bottom. It's like when you find about sex for the first time and then you look at all the adults you know and think "oh my God, they actually do that?". With the guys I know, now I'm wondering who's who. I think back to the couples I've known - "I wonder who was what? I reckon it was...no hang on, remember the time he..." and now that is all I think of when I remember them (which I do a lot, with the whole memoir thing). I wonder it when I see gay guys walking down the street. "Do you reckon he's...?". I have to know.

This top and bottom thing is messing with my head. Overcome with curiosity at brunch, I turned to the gay couple sitting in the booth behind me and said "I'm sorry, I have to know. Which one of you is-" and they cut me off "finished with the tomato sauce? Actually, we're both done. Take the bottle". I don't even like tomato sauce, but I ended up covering my hash browns in it to hide my shame. I really am not good at making eye contact, and end up staring at the condiments when I'm trying to talk to people.

But the other thing I feel is kind of angry. One thing I did already know is gay people love making fun of straight people, or bi people who have straight sex, for having boring sex lives. Straight sex is something you know I've done at least once, since I have a kid, and I'm too poor to afford IVF (incidentally, my kid is lucky in this way, as an only child. He's too young to know much about this stuff yet, but when he is, no child wants to imagine his or her parents having sex. As an only child, G can imagine we only did it once, and it was a terrible drunken mistake we don't even remember, and the next day we were filled with guilt and remorse and returned to our lives of chaste platonic companionship except for the fact said sole, lone, only incident of forbidden lusts resulted in him).

So when gay people joke about straight sex being vanilla and boring I'm angry. I'm like oh bitch.

Because no matter what you think of not-gay-male sex, at least we're not doing it in the same position all the damn time.

But this top and bottom thing has blown my mind. How did the knowledge of this escape me? I've seen every episode of Queer as Folk, several times, albeit not recently. Did I miss something? Was I in the bathroom for all of the crucial chatter between Ted and Emmett? Was it all the chemical enhancements I was on at parties? I wish I was alive to see this. Cause I'm too old for earth shattering revelations anymore. And to my gay friends, I'm sorry, but I've thought about you having sex recently. Which is not as bad as it could be, but this is still pretty bad.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

2018, love and other catastrophes

Hey everyone, I've been on a bit of a blogging break cause I've been kinda busy. It's safe to say the past few years haven't been great for me, leading to such delightful low points as running down a Central Coast street past a bunch of pensioners in broad daylight with my underpants around my ankles*.

2018 was the year everything changed. I moved house, twice, but finally into a lovely apartment with a leafy outlook where I hope to stay several years. I've even been able to paint the rooms. I had surgery to correct an annoying hand problem that's plagued me for years and prevented me from driving. I lost 20kg. After what seems like 87 years, I graduated from uni, and landed a full time job (you want to talk miracles, people? I walked out of an arts degree into a great job in my field of specialisation. When does that even happen?). I have money, peace and stability. I'm daring to hope.

So... I decided it might well be time to dare to date again. Dating has changed rather a lot since the last time I had anything to do with it. Last time I was dating, we were all excited about America's great new President and the hope and change he represented, back here in Australia our most popular Prime Minister ever was surely going to stay in office for several successful terms, Taylor Swift was just an innocent ingenue who may or may not have had the best video of all time, and Steve Jobs should have just gone to the fucking oncologist.

Meanwhile, online dating has moved from the realm of losers and weirdos and genre specific forums (those were actually kind of helpful...Coffin Mates, anyone?) to the realm of the normal, the realm of a dizzying array of apps. It's socially acceptable now to say you use online dating apps. That's not to say what you find there is acceptable. I am not a prude by any means. I'm just...private about some things (the woman who described her induction in great detail is pausing for laughter). But I've seen things, things on dating apps. Things I expected from men. Men are trash. But I wasn't expecting to see them from women too. Let's just say I've learned not to open my messages on the bus. (Maybe a tiny peek). 

Through all the noise, I managed to cut through and get talking to a very nice young woman, who gained my interest with her vintage dress sense and kept it with her love of art and reading. We chatted over a week, seemed to get on, and we agreed to meet for an actual date.

My first formal date since the end of my marriage.

My first formal, prearranged date with a woman since I finally made public peace with my sexuality.

Because I don't like loud ambient noises of bars and restaurants, we agreed to a day time date, seeing an exhibition at the art gallery, then getting lunch in the city.

And despite my changed luck in 2018, I'm still me, the original disaster strumpet. So it all went wrong in spectacular, clich├ęd, I-don't-fucking-believe-this form.

I managed to get ready without an anxiety attack. We met on time, I wasn't stood up, and she looked like her picture not a greasy 48 year old guy named Warren, so we were off to a good start. Conversation was a little stilted, but like all milennials she soon warmed up to talking about herself - which was fine really, I'm just okay to listen. The art exhibition was great, I'll have to go back when I can look properly. Okay, so then we discussed lunch. How's sushi? Yep sushi sounds great, let's do it.

So we walk through the Domain and Hyde Park (Sydney you can be so damn pretty some times it makes it harder to hate you) and on to the Pitt Street Mall, and we're just discussing where exactly to eat when among the pre Christmas shopping crowds whoops, we cross paths with my ex husband.

And my ex mother in law.

And my seven year old son.

Who never, ever come into the city but did that day for a birthday lunch.

Who, on that day, in a city of five million people (plus summer tourists) I somehow manged to run into.

And when your own child spots you, it's kind of hard to pretend you didn't see someone. What followed was the 60 most awkward seconds of my life. It was so awkward that I've blocked most of it from my memory; my brain has just saved a buzzing noise filled with fuzzy images and dread. I don't think I introduced anyone. I don't remember if I even said anything much except Hi to my boy. I don't think anyone except my ex knew what was going on. (I sure as hell didn't). All I knew was that running into your ex, ex mother in law and your child - a scenario the worst 90s sitcom would dismiss as too far fetched - had just happened. To me. Because of course it fucking did.

Perhaps, in a land of fairy tales and destiny, a date could recover from something like that. Ours didn't. The conversation returned to awkward, to stilted, to parting ways without so much as a peck on the cheek. I didn't expect to hear from her again, and haven't. I'm not particularly upset about it - I know it might take time to find someone right for me, and the age gap would probably have been insurmountable.

But we'll never know, because on my first date after my marriage ended I ran into my ex husband. On my first date in three years I ran into his mother who probably hadn't been into the city in that long. On my first date with a woman I ran into my son, neither of whom knew of the possibility of the existence of the other.

I've learned my lesson though. To date people closer my own age. And if I do get anther date, to meet them in a bar in the country. And to make that country Denmark. Hopefully we don't run into anyone I know there.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The "colonies" are not a threat to you. They're protection for us

Aw man, I was taking a break from blogging. See, I'm writing a memoir. I know I haven't done much, but "O.J. Simpson wrote a memoir, and the jury said he didn't do anything at all"1. Anyway, I have no delusions about getting it published; I'm just going to whack the thing online when it's done, and I'm not going to tie anyone up and force them to read it, and I could, cause I went to the gym a few months back, and even had a little go on one of the weight machines, and I think I'm still pretty pumped.

But I thought I'd post a little something about how Andrew Bolt is wrong. Of course we knew that already. But earlier this week Australia's most urbane and dashing far right bigot posted some racist tosh about how immigrants form colonies and refuse to assimilate, and I got to thinking about other colonies, and why people choose to live there to get away from the likes of Andrew Bolt. 

Yesterday, child in tow, I set off to pick out some paint colours for the bathroom (that beige is hideous). Ah, what could be more Australian than Bunnings on a Saturday! The crowds, the cupcake stall, the sausages. But what was perhaps a little less typical at this Bunnings, a Bunnings in Sydney's Inner West, possibly the most left-leaning area in Australia, was the number of same sex couples holding hands, exchanging kisses after finally agreeing on a light shade, and causing extended queues to look at paint colours (gay men take paint colours very seriously). They are able to do this because the inner west is largely a safe place to be openly gay, a place where gay people can live their lives without fear. And so there are lots of same sex attracted people and couples who choose to live here. I wonder if Andrew Bolt would call this a gay colony?

Columnists like Bolt, and here in Sydney scribes such as Miranda Devine and Piers Akerman, love to denigrate people who live in the inner city and inner west as luvvies, elites, out of touch, wanting to destroy Australian values of merit and hard work - which is a touch ironic, seeing as Piers Akerman, with all the charm of something a cane toad coughed up, has nonetheless managed to secure for both his daughters plum roles at News Ltd, while Devine, who is so anti elite she went to one of Australia's poshest girls' schools then an elite college at the University of Sydney, but is nonetheless not so much close to crazy as pulled up behind crazy yelling "back off arsehole, I saw this spot first!". No mind. When they're not fawning over Trump or whining about plastic bags, hating on the supposed inner city elite is rich, deep pasture for their small and shallow minds. 

Why do they think we live here? Why do queer and alternative people who've never quite fit in flock to the inner west? I mean sure it's the second hand bookshops and small bars and cafes with a choice of almond, hazelnut or tumeric milk. But it's also because we know there's other queer and alternative people here, and we can be safe. Some of us simply didn't feel safe where we came from - the regional areas and outer suburbs - and that's somewhat to blame on the hatred and at times violence stirred up by those who rail against the "rainbow agenda", the "extreme feminists", columnists like Akerman and Devine who pushed for the Marriage equality referendum regardless of the pain it would cause and who denied that pain when it inevitably happened. There's safety in numbers, so we come here where we can feel safe, and connected to others like us. 

When I walk down the street here, and see the rainbow flags hanging from windows and STOP ADANI stickers on cars, I know I am among my people. For many people, residing here means the right to live free of vilification and attack for being who they are. At a time when far right hatred is ratcheting up across the Western world, of course that's more important than ever. When we are under attack, of course we want to bunker down with others like us. But now the same bigots who helped create the conditions that made us feel unsafe in the first place are now furious that people are forming inner city elites and ethnic colonies. Andrew Bolt is furious:

Immigration is becoming colonisation, turning this country from a home into a hotel. We are clustering into tribes that live apart from each other and often do not even speak the same language in the street.

In Sydney’s Lakemba, nearly two-thirds of all residents are Muslim and nearly 70 per cent were born overseas. In Melbourne’s Springvale, one in four residents speaks Vietnamese at home. Another 10 per cent come from China or Cambodia. In Sydney’s Fairfield, one in four residents were born in Vietnam, Cambodia or China.

 In Sydney’s Five Dock, long after the heyday of immigration from Europe, one in seven residents still speaks Italian at home. In Melbourne’s North Caulfield, 41 per cent of residents are Jews, including hundreds who have lately fled South Africa. Dandenong now has an official Little Indian Cultural Precinct, with 33 Indian businesses.

Such colonising will increasingly be our future as we gain a critical mass of born-overseas migrants.

When racism in Australia seems to be getting more extreme and blatant - with no one in authority doing anything to stop it - of course migrants are going to want to be with others of their own race or faith. They can work and contribute to Australia whilst still enjoying the customs, traditions, foods and cultures they're familiar with - and there's the safety in numbers thing again. If men with payos or women in hijabs can feel a bit safer from attack walking down the street in their own communities, of course it's just human nature to want that.

These colonies will be our future, then, not because people don't want to be Australians, but because certain Australians don't want to accept a modern Australia in all of its fabulous diversity. There's no rainbow agenda in Newtown or Islamist plot in Lakemba aiming to take over the country. It's just people living their lives in the face of certain people who seek to make those lives harder.

1. P.J. O'Rourke, 2001 The CEO of the Sofa.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Disability welfare reform must start at the top

Yet another terrible story of a seriously ill person being told by Centrelink that they don't qualify for the disability support pension.

Single father Robert Laughlin is battling stage 3 bowel cancer. He's currently in a Melbourne hospital, unable to speak or move much, and being fed via tube; obviously unable to work or look for work. Centrelink have denied his Disability Support Pension application, forcing him on to the lower rate Newstart unemployment payment, with its "mutual obligation" requirements to report to Centrelink offices and apply for 20 jobs a fortnight. His family are rightly and justifiably furious. 

Unfortunately Centrelink have come back with their standard response to these issues: “We recognise medical conditions can have a significant impact on people’s lives; however, we do not have any discretion to grant payments outside the very clear criteria set down in legislation.”

This problem comes up again and again. In order to qualify for the disability support pension, a person's condition must be treated, permanent, fully diagnosed and stabilised. And even that isn't enough; you still need to be assessed by Centrelink health assessors, who can override the recommendations of your own treating physicians if they do not believe that your condition is sufficiently grave to disqualify you from any kind of work.

So, there's probably not much point speaking to Centrelink themselves about this. If it's a problem with the legislation, we need to change the legislation. We need to be putting pressure on the government. Either the criteria for Disability Support Pension needs to change, or we need a new payment that covers people in situations where their illness may not be stable or permanent, but they are still unable to work.

And the assessment of ability to work must be realistic, not based on the wishful thinking of conservatives that anyone can get a job if they just try hard enough. (Someone on Twitter said - and I wish I could find it so I could give them credit - that telling an unemployed person "the best form of welfare is a job" is like telling a drowning person "the best solution for drowning is fresh air").

Getting the current government to make life a little bit easier for those facing difficulty with it, however, will be like teaching a cat to waterski by giving it written instructions. The current Minister for Human Services is Michael Keenan. No, I'd never heard of him either. But the top two stories on his ministerial website laud the praises of charging interest on welfare debt repayments and a crack down on welfare cheats in Mount Druitt, so I'm guessing the guy isn't operating off a basis of compassion, or for that matter evidence. Nevertheless, there's a contact form on his website, so I'll be firing off a message today. (I'm always cordial when I do this, FWIW). I'd also recommend contacting your MP. Let's make this an election issue. If Labor and the Greens supported this, the Liberals would probably have to as well to avoid looking like dickheads.

There's an argument heard against increasing the rate of Newstart allowance: it's only meant to be a temporary payment. It's meant to tide you over during gaps in employment; it doesn't need to be livable because it's not meant to be a payment you live on. But changes to the disability support pension mean that for many people it is an allowance they live on for extended periods; they have no reasonable prospect of work, but are not deemed ill enough - or their condition is deteriorating, and not therefore stable - to receive the disability payment. It's a ridiculous, heartbreaking and ultimately untenable situation. Ordinary people know this; now we need to get our politicians to know it as well.