A Tough Tote with a Touch of Sass.

Hamish glanced at the bag I had set down as I entered the staff lunchroom, and reacted apparently without engaging a single critical faculty:

“That looks like a female bag”, he offered, immediately followed by a minor facial spasm, which suggested that his brain had just caught up with his inane verbiage.

Two prospective responses leapt simultaneously to my mind:

Option 1: “My bag does not have a sex, Hamish. It is just a bag. It is without hormones, chromosomes or genitals. It is an a-gender, non-binary container. It is simply my bag.”

Option 2: “I suppose you’re right.”

This was not a Monday-morning conversation that I had a strong investment in prolonging, so I selected option 2, thinking that this would put the matter to bed.

“But I suppose a man can still use it, though”, Hamish generously conceded, in a desperate bid to resurrect a facade of social proficiency.

“I suppose you’re right”, I concurred once more, hoping to convey disinterest,  infused with just the faintest essence of contempt.

Tote
Figure 1

The bag in question is a faux-leather tote-bag (figure 1), which I’d bought the week before after weeks of hunting for just the right item to accommodate the increasing load I was transporting to and from work, since starting my new job.

I had rifled through shops of all kinds to find just the right mix of practicality and aesthetic appeal. I liked my new bag.

My previous one had become too small and I’d grown out of it (figure 2). Work-mates and acquaintances had politely referred to it as my ‘man-bag’, and I had generally refrained from delivering my ‘my bag does

Man-bag
Figure 2

not have a sex’ speech. I would have been quite happy for people to refer to my ‘handbag’, as once did, to my office mate, Margaret. She reacted as if I had told her that I was wearing my dead mother’s underwear, so I didn’t try that again.

It seems strangely random that the word ‘hand’ should denote exclusively female usage. I regularly play hand-ball in the backyard with my nine-year-old boy and have never considered that there might be something emasculating in this. No-one has ever suggested that the game be renamed ‘man-ball’.

Actually ‘man-ball’ sounds vaguely inappropriate for a family-oriented recreational activity, so good call there, I reckon.

As a person of the homosexualist persuasion, I’m no stranger to sashaying dangerously along the boundaries of prescribed gender expression and, from time to time, stepping across the line. I have learned, as an out gay man, that there is absolutely no purpose – or indeed benefit – in dressing and acting like a complete and utter bore.

Released from the tyranny of fear that I might be labelled a sissy or a girl, I am free to express whoever I am, in whatever colours, and decorated with whatever accessories I choose.

My bag is just my bag, Hamish. It has no inherent gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. It requires no prefix and it makes no apologies for being a tough tote with a touch of sass.

 

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Spray-can Hits Raw Nerve

I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would choose the tedious complexities of a conversation about the trans-generational trauma unleashed by colonisation and the 250 years of subsequent oppression of First Nations Peoples over a simple, reassuring narrative about dole-bludgers desecrating our national heritage with their Marxist filth.

In the interest of public order, I feel someone must reassure an understandably rattled Australian public that the mysterious figure recently caught on CCTV, splashed across the media and rightfully dubbed a ‘cowardly criminal’ by our Prime Minister (henceforth referred to as ‘Strong Leader’ or S.L.) was not a deranged jihadist or a serial rapist, but a lefty-pinko-tree-hugger with a spray-can.

Be assured, however, that no-one died and no living creature was injured, as a consequence of the man’s actions, although three pigeons were possibly inconvenienced. The pigeons hardly have a right to complain, having enjoyed shitting on Captain Cook’s head, quite without remorse, since the monument’s unveiling in 1879.

The strong words of our great S.L. will be widely applauded by those who recognise the real transgression of this spray-can wielding degenerate. Jabbing with such savage ferocity at the heart of our Australian identity, it was his audacity to demand, with such ill-bred delinquency, that Anglo-Australia should take a fair and honest approach to reflecting on its past and making reparations in the future.

Unfortunately, your average Captain Cook memorial plaque offers less ad-space than a twitter post, so all he could manage was ‘no pride in genocide’ on one surface of the Sydney statue and ‘change the date’ on another (for the benefit of my millions of overseas readers, this refers to the national celebration of ‘Australia Day’, which shares an anniversary with the warmly welcomed arrival of the first colonial fleet in 1788, bringing fairy bread to all the native children and generally spreading joy and loveliness all around).

Apparently, a handful of ungrateful Gen ‘Y’ feminist, homosexualist-types choose to reflect on the foundations of our great country a little differently. But you can’t please everyone, can you.

I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would choose the tedious complexities of a conversation about the trans-generational trauma unleashed by colonisation and the 250 years of subsequent oppression of First Nations Peoples over a simple, black and white narrative about dole-bludgers desecrating our national heritage with their Marxist filth. Seems simple enough to me and S.L.

If consumers of Australian media would tune into more Current Affair or Today Tonight and less of whatever socialist, free-loving propaganda is being peddled as news by SBS (Socialists, Boat-people & Shirt-lifters), this country would be a far more comprehensible place for all of us.

I hope I’ve helped to clear a few things up.

To Motherhood

I have yet to see so much as a brass plaque commemorating the unsung heroines of motherhood, to whom we are all indebted for whatever approximation of human civility they manage to wrest from the delinquency of our self-absorbed adolescence.

Three months ago my husband and I became long-term carers for a seven-year-old boy called Algernon (I’ve changed his name to protect him from the potential malevolence of my fan-base. I’m not sure that ‘fan-base’ is the correct term, as it derives from the word ‘fanatic’ and usually implies a substantial following. And not one of the modest collection of visitors to my blog has yet accused me of being either a genius or a raving lunatic, so I can’t really justify attributing the word ‘fanatic’ to any of them). Where was I? Ah, yes, Algernon.

In my more egocentric moments I would characterise my new role in Algernon’s life as a relentless crusade against the ever-threatening gap between the parent I would like to be and the inescapable reality of my day-to-day parenting performance. I frequently fall short of my own self-imposed KPIs.

But, if public perception is at all important to me (ok, just a smidge), I am aided – as a 50-year-old gay man – by the cultural presumption of my absolute unsuitability and certain incompetence* as a parental figure. I am assured that, if by some fluke I manage to adequately feed and clothe dear Algernon and steward him safely into adulthood, fundamentally unimpaired, I will undoubtedly be lauded as an iconoclast – possibly worthy of sainthood.

Now, I am embarrassingly aware that young mothers, the world over, endure a far greater burden upon their shoulders than 2.5 kilograms of newly occupied BabyBjorn. They also bear the societal expectation that they are the natural heirs of a primordial lineage of inherent maternity. No pressure! So, while I muddle my way through my induction to parenthood, to the soundtrack of kind words and commendations – “You’re doing such an amazing job, Chris!” – women everywhere are going about the business of protecting and shaping our next generation in relative silence and anonymity.

A newborn bub would find it hard to spit a dummy in this town without hitting some or other monument to a pompous pollie or champion of colonial conquests, but I have yet to see so much as a brass plaque commemorating the unsung heroines of motherhood, to whom we are all indebted for whatever approximation of human civility they manage to wrest from the delinquency of our self-absorbed adolescence.

So, from the lofty mantle of white male privilege and a social media presence which strains under the pressure of unrivaled popularity (just go with me), I pay respect to the mothers of the world, with this humble tribute:

We honour you, the mothers, who, moments after giving birth, gaze with unadulterated love upon the very creature that, minutes earlier, caused you more excruciating agony than you will ever know. We honour your grace and composure in accepting the reality that your tireless efforts are unlikely to be rewarded with remuneration, massage, a Brownlow medal or the rest of ea3b71f563cca008e367d139cf59abbfthe week off. We honour your resilience in facing the guilt of not being the perfect composite of Mother Teresa, Angelina Jolie and Rosie Batty. We honour the working mothers, the stay-at-home mothers, the single mothers and the may-as-well-have-been-single mothers. Lest we forget.

Now, can we just get a damn plaque?

Image: https://au.pinterest.com/pin/157766793169738875/

*I would historically have defaulted to the infinitely more expressive adjective, fuckwittedness, but, alas, responsible parenthood has incrementally robbed me of my ability to freely revel in the more festive embellishments of the English language.

Us

Personally, if someone extends a helping hand to me, from a place of love and genuine goodwill, I won’t be checking the colour, age, gender or sexuality of that hand before I embrace it.

“Nothing about us without us”, he spat, flicking the words in my direction, like holy water intended to burn holes in my heathen postulations. We were discussing the plight of Queensland’s Queer communities and the challenge of building and sustaining support systems in regional outposts.

I had just begun to promote the qualities of a colleague of mine – a stellar advocate for LGBTI rights – when my conversational adversary cut me off like a speed-freak on P-plates.

“But she’s bloody straight”, he protested and then, perhaps wishing to seem a little more erudite, “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US! HAVEN’T YOU HEARD THAT?!”

Nothing+About+UsI had heard it. So we stood for a moment in silence, while he glared triumphantly, like a second-rate tennis player who believed he’d just served the winning ace and I deliberated over whether or not I had the energy or inclination to return the ball.

Now, I enjoy a punchy slogan as much as the next placard waving, bleeding-heart lefty, but I have to call ‘relevance’ on this one.

You see, the phrase in question comes from a rich lineage of social activism, reaching back to the European democratic movements of the sixteenth century. It supports the idea that decisions pertaining to the rights and welfare of a group of people should be made only with the direct participation of members of that group. No argument from me there.

But there is nothing in the spirit of this iconic doctrine that suggests that heterosexuals should not use the privilege afforded them to support the rights of gay or lesbian people. Surely we need all the help we can get.

Of course the subtext is that many members of minority groups have spent decades relegated to society’s margins, persuaded that they do not belong in the centre and should be grateful for what paltry crumbs of kindness might occasionally spill from the lips of the cultural overlords.

Queer Queenslanders, who lived through the tyrannical reign of Bjelke-Petersen, toiled long and hard for the right to meet in the local cafe with people just like them and, if only for an hour or two, not have to explain or justify their existence.

But now, liberal-minded heterosexual college types are turning up in their Suzuki Swifts with their ‘I Welcome Refugees’ bumper stickers and wearing their Yothu Yindi T-shirts, tossing around the word ‘queer’ like it was their freaking birth right. It’s enough to make a gay man with hard-won self-respect and some unresolved anger issues stand up and yell “Rack off, straighty! You’re not welcome here!”

Oops. Did I say that out loud? Well, there it is, I suppose. The pendulum swings. The oppressed becomes the oppressor. And reconciliation remains a distant aspiration.

Personally, if someone extends a helping hand to me, from a place of love and genuine goodwill, I won’t be checking the colour, age, gender or sexuality of that hand before I embrace it.

In the spirit of the great liberationist, Paulo Freire, nothing about us without us should always stand as a reminder that oppressed minorities must be the architects of their own liberation. But it takes many people to build a house and just as I take up tools in support my brothers and sisters of all colours and creeds, in their struggles, I wholeheartedly welcome them as they support me in mine.

 

 

 

Santa and the Virgin Birth

A belief in God assigns one to a life of deep contemplation or no contemplation at all, depending on one’s disposition.

I’ve always known that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, but I’ve recently realised that I don’t actually believe in anything. Well, O.K., not entirely true. There are fundamental concepts of physics that I feel obliged to entertain in order to participate in intelligent conversations. But belief in the existence of atoms and molecules is quite different from that of a mythical character, which requires a certain commitment of faith. And I don’t really do faith.

santa-christmas
image: http://jacksomers.com/tag/god/

I’ve never been able to accept as truth a story that strikes me as fundamentally incredible, be it Santa, the Tooth Fairy or the Virgin Birth. I suspect I’m a deeply suspicious person, or perhaps lacking in imagination. Or maybe there is a faith gene, and I just don’t have it.

Whatever the cause, I feel just a little bit ripped off. Every culture on earth has some version of a story that explains how we got here, what we are supposed to do here and where we go next. It would be so reassuring to have a grand narrative to cling to, explaining everything and negating the need to endlessly search for truth and meaning in a Godless universe.

I never chose to be an atheist. Atheists have often struck me as rather smug and self-righteous – a little bit like Christians. My father was agnostic. I put this down to essential laziness and a general reluctance to think deeply about anything of a personal nature.

A belief in God assigns one to a life of deep contemplation or no contemplation at all, depending on one’s disposition. To my certain detriment, I seem to be a deeply reflective person, which appears to have rendered me entirely incapable of accepting any spiritual assertions with which I feel no experiential resonance.

I once accompanied a friend to a Baptist church service in New York, where the congregation shared with one another an undeniable bounty of love and compassion, extended equally to friends and strangers like me. I felt like a fraud as I sang and clapped, tears rolling down my heathen cheeks, swept up in the heady emotions that flowed through the congregation like sacramental wine. Part of me wanted to renounce the cursed atheism that held me apart from this loving throng. I ached to throw myself on the altar of human kindness and beg for God’s healing love.

Of course this would have been the religious equivalent of a late night drunken text to an ex and I’ve always felt that decisions of lasting significance are best made in relative sobriety. So I repressed the urge and left feeling unsatiated, rather like a vegan at a Brazilian barbecue.

Belief is an idea enshrined by the illusion of certainty. It is the stale remains of one true moment that we could not bear to let go. Truth, on the other hand, is fleeting and elusive. Neither tomes nor temples will contain it. It is neither reassuring nor challenging. It just is. Belief obstructs truth just as surely as clever words obscure true feelings and lead us into emotional disintegration.

Bugger. This post really was just going to be about Santa Claus, I promise.

The Tyranny of Potential

No longer indentured to conformity by the fear of failure, I suspect I may finally be reaching my potential and it looks nothing like I expected it to.

In year-seven Derek Shankhill had it so easy. He was dyslexic, had one leg longer than the other and was legally blind. He lived in government housing with a single mother, an incalculable menagerie of cats and seven louse-infected siblings. No one expected anything of Derek Shankhill and consequently his youth was blissfully unhampered by the tyranny of potential.

Some of us will wait decades to taste the sweet freedom in which Derek Shankhill reveled. You see, unlike my classmate, Derek, I was woefully burdened with the privileges afforded one born of healthy, well-educated, middle-class parents: Three square meals a day, my own bedroom and all the Osmond Family L.Ps my pocket money could stretch to.

At school I displayed a precocious flair for English, performed solos in the school choir and held my own on the soccer field. My childhood possessed all the material prerequisites for a future of success and general awesomeness.

The inescapable downside of being given a good start in life is that you are then expected to single-handedly build an even better middle and end. And there is no surer way to transform a virile, upstanding youth into a flaccid has-been than the bone-crushing weight of expectation.

Wait!…Don’t leave!…There is good news coming. Because if one can survive the gauntlet of dodgy choices, failed ventures and missed opportunities long enough, one will eventually reach the green pastures of middle age, at which point one will have either fulfilled one’s cursed potential or resigned to the possibility that one never will. Either way, the pressure’s off.

There is something refreshingly liberating about reaching an age at which one has become largely invisible to the public gaze, no longer the object of curiosity and intrigue. For the first time one is free to embark on daring adventures and take foolish risks, in the assurance that practically no one is watching.

No longer indentured to conformity by the fear of failure, I suspect I may finally be reaching my potential and it looks nothing like I expected it to.

IMG_1528I am learning to wear purple, sit still for long periods, eat exotic food, cry more, worry less, write silly blog-posts, laugh at myself, ride a unicycle, tell people I love them, let go…Let go…Let go.

I recently rediscovered Derek Shankhill on Facebook. He is the CEO of a Charity that supports visually impaired children. Derek basks in the love and support of a devoted wife, three well-balanced children and…just one cat.

What on earth might have become of Derek Shankhill had he been given a ‘better start in life’.

The Lesser of Two Weevils (OCD Memoir Part 1)

It is an irrefutable reality that once seen, an occupying weevil in one’s Alpine muesli cannot then be un-seen.

When I was a child we lived on a boat. It wasn’t a yacht. It was definitely a boat. People who have yachts have lots of money or want you to think they do. I think my parents referred to it as a yacht sometimes, to hob-nob with posh people or elevate their status, after someone had judged them for wrenching their kids from school to travel the world on a…boat.

But this story is not about boats. It’s about weevils.

We lived in a little Caribbean cove, encircled by a reef, and we rowed ashore each day to work or buy food, etc. The local shop sold imported canned and packaged goods. It was always a gamble buying packet goods. They would often have been on the shelf for months and have become home to weevils.

……………………………………………………………….

Weevil: A herbivorous beetle of the Curculionoidea superfamily. The dark brown adult may grow to 6 millimeters. The smaller juvenile (the lesser of the two, if you will) is off-white in colour.

……………………………………………………………….

Predictable weevil pun. (Image: funnyphotos.net.au)
Predictable weevil pun. (Image: funnyphotos.net.au)

I imagine, from an evolutionary perspective, the juvenile weevil’s colour was designed to protect it in the same way that babies are born cute so that we choose to cuddle them rather than eat them or throw them on the fire when we run out of wood. Weevils can’t ever really be cute and whilst it would take an enormous number of them thrown on a fire to provide an alternative fuel source, they spend their awkward youth camouflaged in rice, flour and the like, where they are generally left alone.

As a child I developed an obsessive-compulsive way of being in the world and leaving things alone was not my forte. A weevil that found its way into my cereal bowl of a morning was not a fortunate weevil. I scrutinised my food with pathological precision. I could break down the constituent parts of any meal in seconds, to identify potential hazards, like an elite bodyguard conducting a security sweep on a presidential suite. My task was to control a list of variables that might represent a hygiene threat.

Hygiene Threats:

  • Poorly washed cereal bowl (Encrusted food particles on rim, etc.)
  • Human hairs
  • Finger prints
  • Cockroach larvae (Less common, but anxiety-provoking when found)
  • Weevils

My genuine hope was always for a clean sweep. I knew that my surveillance operations caused tension at the meal table, but the threat was ever-present and complaisance was not an option. It is an irrefutable reality that once seen, an occupying weevil in one’s Alpine muesli cannot then be un-seen.

These unfortunate siblings have just discovered weevils in their pasta. (Image: www.mirror.co.uk)
These unfortunate siblings have just discovered weevils in their pasta. (Image: http://www.mirror.co.uk)

Any idiot can spot an adult weevil in their cereal. You just have to pour the milk and watch the dark specks float to the surface, framed by the pale liquid, like stars in a night sky. But it takes a keen eye and an advanced state of anal-retention to foil the tiny, white juveniles. They might evade the scrutiny of an inexperienced operative, but not me.

My exhausted mother would watch, through gritted teeth, as I painstakingly fished out the reluctant amphibians, large and small, lining them up around the rim of my cereal bowl, like the decapitated heads of my enemies, impaled on the ramparts of my fortress walls.

As a child, I was always aware of the distress caused by my obsessive compulsions, but felt helpless in the face of their power. I was a youth-work student in my late twenties before I learnt about something called obsessive-compulsive disorder and began to understand why I was the way I was.

But that’s a story for ‘Part 2’. This was a story about weevils.