Sunday, January 20, 2019

Second Life

To celebrate several life events and also because I haven't been overseas in literally fifteen years, I'm planning an overseas trip in the middle of the year.

Of course, it's a somewhat daunting prospect. I've never done this by myself before; all my previous trips were organised for me. I have to confess I'm even a little scared. Every morning at 10am I eat a pink lady apple. It doesn't matter if I'm at work or going out to brunch or that right now being summer there's a vast array of much cheaper tropical fruit available. It has to be a pink lady apple and only a pink lady apple. So yeah, how am I going to manage if I can't find them? I'm picturing myself freshly arrived in Los Angeles after 15 hours in economy and scouring supermarkets in that city famously hostile to walking and public transport, trying to find pink lady apples, getting hot and dusty and semi-delerious, bursting into tears and giving up, or worst, settling for red delicious apples, whose name we all know is a filthy stinking lie.

I'm sure you can understand when I say I've had frequent thoughts of cancelling the trip altogether, and staying here with my geriatric cat and duck down pillow and shower I can get flowing just so by muscle memory and the new 55 inch TV I just bought me and my pink lady apples.

But I know I have to go. For so many years I dreamed of trips I couldn't go on. This, I can do. It doesn't need to be the perfect trip. I'm looking at round the world fares, planning out the stops I could make. But unlike the 20 something backpacker planning out their big overseas adventure before they settle down to career, serious relationships, possible children, I don't have to see everything now. There can be plenty more holidays in the future. For children and marriage aren't in that future. All that is behind me now.

For most people who go down that path, the days of freedom from the mechanics of family life don't come until you're in your fifites or sixties, at which point you call yourself a grey nomad, cash out your super to buy a camper, and spend the rest of your days roaming Australia and the world annoying everyone you cross paths with by doing 95km/hr in the right hand lane on the freeway, delaying busloads of passengers by treating bus drivers as mobile tourist information centres, blocking aisles with your luggage and talking very very loudly in every cafe you darken with your presence. "This is my time! I deserve it!" say you, a member of the generation for whom everything has been yours, and you haven't deserved any of it.

But what do you do when family life and all the hopes and dreams that went with it are take from you not in the natural course of things in your fifties, but suddenly and painfully through divorce and custody losses in your thirties? What do you do with yourself? You mourn, you grieve, you tear your hair out, you bang your head on the carpet. All of that. But eventually, eventually, with psychiatric care and medication and the damned healing properties of time, you start to get to a point where you can live with it, can even enjoy your new life.

For I have been given a strange gift. It has arrived in separate packages I couldn't always appreciate at the time, and I've had to assemble it myself, but here it is nevertheless; I have been given a second life. It has arrived through grief subsiding and a permanent place to live and a good job and learning, from the work of various alumni of RuPaul's Drag Race of all things, to embrace being the most and best me I can be. So I've decided what I'm going to do with this life is no longer suppress all the parts of me that I locked away for so long, because of the rigid standards I was raised with and society's expectations and the little (normal) voices in my own head telling me what is the proper thing to do and being mostly closeted most of my life and living my life in a permanent state of exhaustion masking my autistic behaviour without realising what I was doing and all the goals, hopes, dreams, dignity and joy I sacrificed in futile attempts to make other people happy - I am done with all of it.

I decided that, since my attempts to be normal and pleasing didn't really work out, from now on I am going to live life how I want, never harming other people, but not caring what other people think or what is the right thing to do - especially the dreaded right thing to do at my age.

So far, it's working out quite well. Take my bedroom. It's the bedroom i always wanted growing up but never had, and now I have it, and after waiting all my life I finally got to paint my bedroom purple, and there are butterflies and Victoria Frances prints on the walls, and I don't care if it looks like a moody (but very tidy) teenager's room. There is no one to complain about my Living Dead Dolls in the lounge room, or my morbid posters and postcard wall, no one to pressure me into throwing away my art supplies and books, no one to mess things up. (Mr G comes over on weekends, but he's very sweet about tidying up).

I will wear a Hello Kitty t shirt and glitter eyeshadow to work, and no one minds. Three months in, and I'm already the office eccentric - technically very proficient, excellent industry knowledge, very caring, but a strange soul nevertheless. My Drag Queen Funko Pops are arriving tomorrow, being sent to the office cause, well, we've discussed what my home postal service is like. I explained to my supervisor/friend that I'm happy for people to look, but if anyone touches the dolls, I'll reject them like a deer.

You'll what?!, she said.

You know, I replied, deer. If they smell human on any of their fauns, they reject them. Abandon them and leave them to die.

She said she'd love to get inside my brain and see how it works.

I told her it's a nice place to visit but she wouldn't want to live here.

Sometimes, fully embracing my identity as a queer autistic person in my late 30s - after a lifetime of trying to shove myself into the boxes society set out for me - feels like a giant playground. At other times, it feels like - nah, I'm kidding, it's always cool. The fun and freedom - was this what childhood was supposed to be like? I mean, actually admitting to myself and the world that I want to date women and putting myself out there and doing it hasn't always worked out so well, but the point is I am doing it.

But whilst I might be boring my friends stupid with the bisexual memes as they think "it's a sexuality, not an identity" and flap my hands if I get excited and wear metal t shirts paired with polka dot hair accessories to meetings, the true difference is in my own head, where you can't see it. But it's there. I have given myself permission to be weird, permission to not feel guilty if I do something nice for myself, permission to put myself first, permission to be happy. It's too late for all the opportunities I missed so far in life but it's not too late to do things differently now. I'm free. I have been given that rare thing; a second chance at life.

Of course, the trauma I have survived will always be with me. I can't separate one part of myself from another. Aspies can be quite suggestible. So can emotional abuse survivors. (Is there a word that's not victims or survivors. I am "a victim" but that term is so loaded. I'm nothing as thriving as a survivor. Or maybe I am). There are days when I'm hit with torrents of despair that make me think oh shit, I thought I was over all this. But I know now, that it is normal, that it will pass. I reach out to other survivors online and we assure each other that the brain takes time to recover. You will be all right. 

There's nothing about living as my true self that's problematic. I could say I'm lucky to work for a queer friendly company who make allowances for all my aspie ness, but every company should be like this. (But for now, I'm lucky). Mr G knows that his Mum isn't "normal". Do you want a Mum who wears capri jeans and yells all the time? He's got a Mum who goes on waterslides with as much glee as he does and scoots her booty across the lounge room and dresses him up as a drag wolf warrior. He's happy, and it's what he knows. When he's with me, he comes first. When he's not, all bets are off. This is the beginning of the rest of my life.

I'm working with what I've got. I didn't choose this path, but I'll walk and skip and flap my hands and stare vacantly along it anyway. When life gives you lemons, make lemons your thing. Tell the world you're all about lemons now. Wear lemon hair accessories and post lemon memes and talk incessantly about lemons and put up lemon posters and live a lemon life. Have meaningless flings and finally get around to giving stand up a go and decide that's it, this is the one haircut you're sticking with for the rest of your life and if you want to try something different, you'll wear wigs. After trauma, things will never be the same again. Use what you've learned and make them better. And if you're nervous about spending thousands of dollars travelling alone, just buy a VIP ticket to Drag Con before you've even sorted your passport out oh God what have I done. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hungry for the good old days

Recently some colleagues and I were discussing food. They were mostly younger than me, and from ethnically diverse parts of Sydney, and they spoke of the food they grew up eating. Lebanese, Italian, Vietnamese, yum cha, festivals, neighbours sharing dishes from their home countries, dumplings for Lunar New Year or sweet sticky baklava; a wonderful array of flavours and textures that made you grateful for just a tiny slice of the many great goods immigration has brought to Australia.

The food I grew up with? Not so much. A statement you'd express literally when served some of the dishes that predominantly featured in the Anglo-Celtic inspired cuisine of Australia in the 1980s, which I grew up eating. I pretty much hit the "no thanks, I'm full. Really." jackpot when it came to the food I grew up with. My parents were immigrants - from Ireland, a nation noted for its rich literary heritage but where, alas, for centuries we were either being starved, or too drunk from writing to care what we ate. My father was a traditionalist, scared of anything new and rigidly adherent to routine; my mother hated cooking and had marked issues with food. We lived first on the Northern Beaches, then moved south of Newcastle, so the cultural influences at play were pretty much when white met bread. The neighbours would be having a BBQ chook, pasta salad and soft white bread rolls. We would be next door having a BBQ chook, pasta salad and soft white bread rolls.

I'm sure it won't shock any of you to learn the menu prominently featured mashed potato. There was also a heavy rotation of frozen food. We had mashed potatoes and grey, crumbly chicken nuggets; mashed potato and grey, crumbly fish fingers; mashed potatoes and Findus crispy pancakes (I love those and have missed them dearly ever since they were withdrawn from Australia); mashed potatoes and lamb chops; mashed potatoes and - oh god, the PTSD of writing this - lamb's fry, aka liver, which is so revolting that I'll eat most anything today but the smell of makes me flee the room. 

But those were just the meat and potatoes of our diet. For special occasions, in would come to play the crown jewels of white Australian cuisine. When my mother got to cooking, we would enjoy such treats as:

Apricot chicken, involving tinned apricots and French Onion soup mix

Coronation chicken, involving cold BBQ chook, Keens curry powder, and more French Onion soup mix

Shepherd's pie. Possibly more French Onion soup mix; definitely more potato. I had a hard time finding a suitable image for this. All the photos I saw looked golden and enticing, nothing like the grey lumpy dish of my childhood which I have never made since and - unless forced at gunpoint by some bizarre robber who breaks in and forces me to prepare an bland English main course -  will never make as an adult. I'm not curious to see if I could do it better. Shepherd's pie? You and me, we're through.

Worst of all - except for the liver - was ham steaks, cooked under the grill, each served with a pineapple ring on top.

I began to be disturbed by the fact that the ham steaks had the same perfect, round shape as the pineapple, and wondered what weird perfectly round pigs they came from. It was at about this age when I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian. I was told in no uncertain terms that whilst I was under my parents' roof, I would eat such food as they saw fit. It was probably just as well. If the meat we ate was bad, the veggies were even worse. The bland, mushy peas were all I would eat. Other veggies in the rotation were boiled cauliflower in white sauce, the broccoli which was boiled for so long I thought my mother was trying to cleanse it of evil spirits, and god bless and save us the brussles sprouts which thank god only made an appearance at Christmas and ruined more than one due to the arguments they caused over eating them.

Our taste horizons were not expanded at restaurants, either. Going out to eat was less of a thing in those days, and we kind of lived in the middle of nowhere, but there was also the fact that my father was also of the view that children didn't belong in restaurants. There was a local Chinese place, which my parents regarded with suspicion, but which would have at least allowed me to sample such suburban Australian Chinese delicacies as honey chicken. We did get to go to Sizzler and Pizza Hut occasionally, and boy were they an occasion; excited beyond all sense by the wonders of the buffet, the 30 minute car trip home from Sizzler was not a pleasant experience for anyone, and I would spend much time after we finally returned home groaning in a darkened room.

Please don't think, however, that our lives were restricted and wretched. Sometimes we got to go to parties. Or at least, backyard barbecues. For the uninitiated, let me tell you how an Australian backyard barbie works. Unlike in most countries, where it is beholden on the host to provide the utmost hospitality, if you are invited to an Australian backyard barbecue you are expected to bring all your own food and grog. I don't know why, but that's what they do. Most of the time, this means sausages for the kids, cheap steak for the adults, endless onions, and more pasta salad and soft rolls, if not a loaf of Sunblest bread (white, 60% air), which the hostess would remove from the bag to slather each slice in margarine, before returning to the bag.

So what do the hosts provide at a barbecue to deserve the title? Well as well as plastic plates and cutlery and a sliver of space on the barbecue until the alpha male of the group takes the tongs from the host and starts turning everyone's sausages*, they did offer a selection of delicious nibblies.

Welcome to 1980s Australian party food.


Adorably, Coles still sells a platter of old style Australian nibblies. Cubed cheddar cheese, rolled up ham, chopped cabanossi and twiggy sticks. (It's lucky I wasn't a vegetarian or I'd have starved to death). The Coles platter is however missing the pineapple chunks and cocktail onions I remember as being a fixture of party snacks. Whether it was a tupperware party, an 18th birthday or a funeral, I don't think I attended a single gathering of more than 3 people without the jatz and footy franks combo (along with wine coolers for the women, beer for the men, and Cottees cordial or - if we were incredibly lucky - a bottle of actual Coke - for the kids) until I was well into my twenties.

All I can say is thank god Australia matured, I matured and moved to Sydney, and I got to experience a broader range of food. So when I see a Boomer on Facebook yearning for the good old days of White Australia in practice if not in legislation, I think, do you want to go back to the food? But some people do, and that's why Coles knows there's still a market for their twiggy sticks and whatever that dip in the centre is. There's even hipster goat cheese types getting into this stuff for nostalgia. In fact I reckon if you opened a restaurant in Newtown or Fitzroy serving savoury mince, apricot chicken and cabanossi on jatzc crackers, it would do great business for five months until the novelty wore off and you blamed the lockout laws for being forced to close.

You may even be right. People only pretended this food was bearable. When you're a kid, terrible food tastes good. Witness all the children (most of them) who'd rather have Smarties than actual chocolate. They like mild room temperature cured meat, bland cheese and sugary sauces on rice. The adults, well, remember the wine coolers and beer I mentioned earlier? They were drunk. If you think Australians drink a lot now, think back to the 1980s, with 2 KB beers before dinner, wine coolers in foil sacks and no drink driving laws. Everyone was pretty much completely sloshed all the time. Australia spent generations being too drunk to notice they were eating shit food. They were drinking shit grog too, but after the first drink that is a minor matter.

* No pun intended

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Gone Postal

Those of us above a certain age may remember back in the heady days of the 1990s when, in between listening to The Offspring and dropping into the cabin to say hi to the pilots when boarding a commercial airline flight, all the talk was of "going postal". The term was derived after a number of United States postal workers, pushed to the point of fury with their employers and turning to guns as so often happens in that nation, resorted to opening fire on their coworkers and customers. It was a series of very real tragedies that became a verbal meme of sorts in the pre internet days; then as the actual internet took over the world, it seemed the death of the physical letter would lead to the end of postal services themselves. The days of going postal were over.

But with the revival of the postal service in the wake of online shopping can we have a minute to talk about the rage experienced by those of us poor helpless customers of the post office? I've written previously about Australia Post taking longer to get a package from Sydney International Airport to my house than an actual snail. But even once they've bounced your package between two depots in the same city for two weeks before routing it through Darwin, they fail to get the hang of delivery.

I lived on the third floor of a security apartment block when the buzzer indicated the package I'd been messaged to expect had arrived. I buzzed from my flat to let the guy in downstairs, but nothing happened. He buzzed again to let me know he was there. I stuck my head out on the balcony and saw him downstairs at the front door of the apartment block. I yelled out that he just needed to try the door, but he just kept buzzing and shaking his head, evidently intending I come down 3 flights of stairs to get my package, which I couldn't do at that moment. We stood there for several moments like Romeo and Juliet in reverse, with me calling out from a balcony and him refusing to try to get to me. (Although after I saw him depart, taking my long awaited parcels back to the post office, I did find myself wishing he'd die shortly). 

It's no use. When you've at long last worked out where your parcels have gotten to, you have to go to the post office, once you can find it, since most of the beautiful original post office buildings in Australia have been abandoned in favour of one ugly retail outlet every 3 suburbs. And you have to go - I tried to send a friend to pick up a heavy package for me, but despite him having the official Australia Post card to indicate there is a package waiting for me, with the official tracking number and barcode and all the rest, which I had signed to indicate he had my permission to pick it up for me, they wouldn't give it to him because although he could name my street, he couldn't remember my unit number.

And when I say retail outlet, I am not kidding. The modern Australia Post office looks like a TV Shopping Danoz Direct outlet filled with cranky customers and the most bizarre consumer crap no decent person could possibly want.

What even are Wonder Arms? I couldn't figure it out despite ample time to  consider the box whilst queuing; an exercise devise I suppose, although I did spot a product warning that said "Results may vary. Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine. Any results from Wonder Arms are coincidental and for information purposes only. Product may cause palpitations, birth defects and arm weakness. Your boss knows you've been fiddling your expense account and you've passed the chlamydia you got from that secret Tinder hookup onto your wife. Product should not be taken internally...much like the Tinder hookup."

The same three people work at every Australia Post office, although there are only ever two of them on duty, unless it is very busy, in which case there is only one of them on duty. The all look tired, vaguely dusty and terribly disappointed. When you at last get to the front of the very long queue, they take your ID, stare at it at length as if it holds the answer to escaping the existence they find such an apparent torment, then disappear for an unreasonable length of time into the sorting room. Have they learned nothing about computerised organisation from Amazon? Otherwise what is going on back there whilst they spend 18 minutes in a suburban post office searching for your parcels? I'd suspect they're all having really wild sex, except no one who's having that much sex could look that wearily done with the world. You certainly wouldn't want your Redbubble delivery back if it was handed to you slightly sticky, but it too seems weary and dusty from its encounter with the post office by the time it is signed over to you.

But even then, you are lucky. I finally made it, sweaty before work on another 35ÂșC Sydney day, to the post office to pick up a package that mysteriously couldn't be delivered despite my working from home that day, to be met with this:

I'm on too much medication to be brought to the trembling fury this would once have inspired, but what the hell was an Australia Post authorised holiday? A picnic day of all things, apparently? Who goes on a picnic on New Year's Eve? No one, in Sydney, unless you like being crushed into a shadeless confine without benefit of alcohol for ten hours, then rained on, seeing ten minutes of fireworks, then waiting four hours for the train home. Precisely the sort of disappointing night that makes postal workers look so defeated. They no longer need to go postal themselves, though. They inflict more than enough pain and suffering on the rest of us. I hope they choke on their canapes, no doubt made using one of the plastic gimmicks they sell in store.

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 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.