Just See Us

I cried as my partner and I sat in front of the television in 2013, watching the New Zealand parliament vote for marriage equality. I thought of all the young queer Kiwis who would grow up with a level of acceptance and self-esteem that I could only dream of as a boy.

“Why do gay people want to get married anyway?” she unleashed. “It’s so bloody overrated.” I considered, just for second, that I might venture a serious response, but thought better of it.

I’m coming to the realisation that social media is reducing our tolerance for meaningful dialogue to the Twitter-prescribed 40-characters or less, before we retreat to cute videos of cats mistaking the neighbour’s miniature Zen garden for kitty litter.

In any case, Barbara was several flutes into a magnum and, in the five minutes since we’d stumbled into one another’s company at the Story Bridge Hotel, she’d unloaded a torrent of offensive material without even trying. “I just love gay men” she gushed. “They dress impeccably, they are so witty and you can tell them just about anything because they will never judge you.” All at once I felt underdressed, dulled-witted and savagely judgmental.

Maybe in the sober light of day – minus the vat of Bollinger – Barbara would see with blinding clarity the foolishness of her statement. “I just love heterosexuals”, I might say. “They dress so sensibly, they’re so good at sports and if you ever need advice about home-loans or four-wheel-drives, they are always so willing to oblige.

So, why do gay people want to get married? Well Barbara, I’m going to give this a go, but it won’t be forty characters and there will be no cute cat videos.

Actually, I never wanted it. I’ve spent a good forty years accepting my place on the peripheries of society, a half-citizen with only part-access to the privileges of the dominant culture. Marriage was always something that belonged to others.

Like every queer person I know, I internalised the rejection and I never imagined that the love I shared with my partner would one day be afforded the respect of heterosexual society. And through a distorted lens of internalised derision, I never believed that it should.

Queer thought on same-sex marriage is as diverse as the community itself. It includes the view that taking a place at the table of heteronormative privilege is a betrayal of the egalitarian relationship structures we have built and defended, against relentless forces of societal ostracism and condemnation. It’s a view that I probably once held.

But the construct of marriage lies at the heart of every civilization, in some form. It is a rite of passage, through which people have been granted full membership of their community. It has survived successive generations of feminist and libertarian critique, to remain a potent symbol of belonging. And we all want some of that.

I cried as my partner and I sat in front of the television in 2013, watching the New Zealand parliament vote for marriage equality. I thought of all the young queer Kiwis who would grow up with a level of acceptance and self-esteem that I could only dream of as a boy. Studies in America have shown that this simple legislative amendment increases levels of understanding and acceptance in the extended families of gay and lesbian people

image: www. hyperallergic.com
image: www. hyperallergic.com

So, legislation does have a role to play in opening the door to conversations that could not be entertained when the door was closed and our communities – straight/gay, black/white, male/female – stood on opposite sides

When black people and women won the vote, white men were forced to contemplate living alongside them as equals for the first time – not tolerating, not condescending, but genuinely collaborating in the co-authorship of a new and more egalitarian society.

One day this door will be opened for Barbara and she will see that this rich and diverse queer community cannot be reduced to witty retorts and a talent for accessorising. If I had just forty characters or less for Barbara, they would be these:

Do not see us as greater or lesser. Just see us.

Male Violence

Why are we shocked by the high levels of male violence in society, when the celebration of male aggression is woven throughout our culture and modeled at the very highest level?

I suspect I possess emasculating levels of personal ambition and drive, but I must confess that I have never wanted anything badly enough to thrust another man’s face into a muddy paddock to get it.

image: www.dailytelegraph.com.au
image: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au

I’m not entirely claiming the moral high ground here. On the day that H&M opened their first Australian store, I had a momentary lapse in composure that saw me reach across the face of a competing shopper, to secure the last available Cotton Stretch tee in the V-neck of my preferred colour. So I am perfectly attuned to the emotional turmoil that might give rise to an act of such naked aggression.

For those unfamiliar with the classic ‘spear tackle’ maneuver, it is an attempt, within the context of a jolly football match, to gain a competitive advantage by driving another man’s head into the ground at spine-snapping velocity. It’s all in good fun of course and the offending spear-tackler need fear no greater forfeit than a small fine and a two-match ban.

Now, as much as I abhor acts of physical brutality, I have developed a necessary threshold of tolerance for the insistence of two grown men to beat the living shit out of each other, with the following provisos:

  1. It is fully consensual
  2. I don’t have to watch
  3. No third parties are physically or psychologically harmed in the process

Ah, but there it is! If you’re as sharp as me, it won’t have escaped your observation that the average football stadium seats between forty and sixty thousand people at capacity. If a quarter of them is under fifteen, that’s ten thousand kiddies witnessing the spear-tackling shenanigans of their cherished idols.

One thing I know with certainty is that little boys study bigger boys with the concentration of a portrait painter scrutinising his subject for every last crease and contour. They learn that a mastery of prescribed male behaviour is a goal of unrivalled importance and the wages of transgression may be relegation to a social world populated by girls, geeks and homos.

If only I’d learnt earlier in my school career that a life surrounded by girls, geeks and homos would have been infinitely more uplifting than years of trying to squeeze an irregular-shaped me into the square hole of socially-prescribed boy culture.

But I’m veering off track. The point is that boys desperately seek male role models to guide them in their existential quest and no role model is more deified in our popular culture than that paragon of manhood, the bronzed, mythic figure of the footie hero.

Why are we shocked by the high levels of male violence in society, when the celebration of male aggression is woven throughout our culture and modeled at the very highest level? Why do we expect the undeveloped male brain to understand that actions lauded in one context are outlawed in another? On what basis do we trust a young man, schooled on the turf and the terraces, to possess the emotional intelligence to safely regulate difficult feelings when at home?

Ok, you’re right. I’m in no position to lecture. Somewhere in Melbourne there is a casual shopper still traumatised by flashbacks of that day in H&M, when a thrusting forearm momentarily obscured his vision and thwarted his attempt to secure the last available Cotton Stretch tee in the V-neck of his preferred colour.

The Politics of Penetration

The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

image: www.telegraph.co.uk
image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

When a man feels controlled or dominated by another man – usually his boss – he feels ‘screwed’ or ‘shafted’. If he needs the job badly enough he’ll ‘bend over and take it’ and when he can’t take it anymore he might just tell his boss to ‘get fucked’. Because apparently ‘getting fucked’ is the worst fate we can think of to wish upon another human being.

When did the potentially transcendent act of sexual penetration become a battlefield of male ego and the ultimate symbol of aggression? And who decided that the act of giving oneself sexually to another was an expression of weakness and defeat? Surely the acceptance of our ultimate vulnerability is a strength, a triumph over fear and insecurity.

But man’s pathological penetration panic is primordial (reader warning: More gratuitous alliteration to follow). At the head of the food chain, your average fit, able-bodied male has no natural predator, other than – ah, yes – another fit, able-bodied male. And he would sooner be violently beaten to within an inch of his life by another bloke, than tenderly caressed by him. If I weren’t on a linguistic crusade I’d say that’s just a little bit fucked.

Penile penetration paranoia (Ah, there it is!) lies at the very root of homophobia, which is endemic to mainstream male culture just about everywhere. The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

Paradoxically perhaps, the act of giving oneself sexually to another, when entered into with affection, respect and informed consent, is indeed an act of emotional strength. It demands of the receiver the courage and self-assuredness to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be seen as such. Perhaps if every man could just once in his life experience being consensually dominated by a trusted intimate partner, he might have the opportunity to truly understand the rich complexities of trust, vulnerability, submission and the relinquishment of power.

Otherwise, I fear that our cultural conceptualisation of sexual penetration is disturbingly bound up with the exercise of power and, too often, the abuse of it. If being penetrated is the domain of the weak and the subjugated, what does this say about the way men view their own sexual relationships? Are they ‘screwing’ and ‘shafting’ their sexual partners, just as they have been ‘screwed’ and ‘shafted’ by the boss? Do they experience their partners as ‘bending over and taking it’? Can sexual penetration ever be completely extricated from issues of male power and dominance?

Our cultural obsession with intercourse promotes the silly idea that this is all that people do in bed. And perhaps many men would be quite happy with that. And yet, women with whom I’ve spoken on this issue rate it pretty low on the desirability scale, compared with a range of other acts of sexual intimacy. So, beyond our youthful years of exploration and procreation, is the place of penetration in a respectful and mutually satisfying intimate relationship grossly overstated?

Winter Crept In

image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com
image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com

Winter crept in while we slept.
With stealth it skulks, that cunning frost.
A dark new season draws first air
Then vomits forth its bitter breath.
It oozes in with silken tones,
Through cultured airs and hands concealed.
It seeps through television screens,
A blossom-scented noxious draft.

Or was the bleakness always here?
Did we not exorcise the spite?
The child of privilege and fear
That sponsored genocide of black, by white?
Was it hidden in our nation’s soul,
Still and silent, yet intent?
And when did this parasite awake from sloth
To unleash such malevolence?

Was it at the century’s turn,
With children stole from mother’s breast?
And then again in ninety-two
When razor-wire replaced kind hearts?
Perhaps it stirred much later still
As Cronulla sands were stained in red.
Then frolicked in the Tampa’s wake,
entombing innocents in salty brine and bitter lies.

But must we don the lambskin coat
That hides our wolfish skin beneath?
Must we hunker down and bear
These frigid and polluted winds?
Or might we, in good time, disrobe
And cast away this bloodstained shroud?
And face our history’s bitter squall,
Once more wise and kind, not proud.

Yes, Winter crept in while we slept.
I don’t believe it is innate.
But fear did leave the door unlatched,
That paved the way for hate.

Rainy Days And Mondays

I love Mondays so much, I am considering coming into work on Sundays and calling it pre-Monday, just so that I can get more Monday into the week.

image: http://dumebie.com

Monday mornings make up one fourteenth of your life. It took all of my available mathematical acumen to bring you that groundbreaker. But think about it. That’s a lot of time to squander away with over-used platitudes, reinforcing the idea that Monday morning is akin to plunging one’s head repeatedly into a bucket of mammalian offal.

After working as a freelancer for years, I returned, eight years ago, to the traditional workforce and encountered a social narrative that promotes the following two precepts:

  1. The period between 5pm on a Friday afternoon and 9am on a Monday morning – we will refer to this as ‘freedom’ – is the brief interlude into which we compress all things that represent pleasure, free will and the pursuit of happiness
  1. The hours from 9am on Monday morning until 5pm on Friday afternoon – we will refer to this period as ‘the working week’ – are an exercise in endurance, through which we accrue enough good karma and financial remuneration to earn our brief encounters with ‘freedom’

Monday morning is the faithless tyrant that drags us from our Sunday sanctuary, like innocent children wrenched from slumber to endure a six-hour car ordeal to Grandpa’s house, where we must earnestly attempt to appear charming and not at all furious about the gross injustice of it all.

Tuesday slips under the radar, largely because we are distracted by the euphoria of no longer being in the barbarous grip of Monday. Wednesday is joyfully celebrated as the summit of a merciless ascent, from which we can glimpse blessed Friday, gateway to the green pastures of the weekend.

I spent the first few months of my employment dodging the Monday morning gauntlet of well-meaning office small talk, the staple of workplace social intercourse. I was determined not to be drawn into a dominant narrative, at odds with my philosophy of finding adventure in the everyday:

“How was your weekend?”                                                                                               “Not long enough.”                                                                                                                 “I know, it never is, right?”                                                                                               “Oh, well. Only five days to go”

 AAGH!! Will it only be a matter of time before I’m reciting the same robotic dialogue, like a character from a B-grade dystopia? I can’t hold out forever, so I’m mounting a campaign of rejection right now. NO, Karen Carpenter, rainy days and Mondays do not always get me down. I happen to like my job and I am not opposed to the occasional precipitation, which brings untold joy to all the lovely flowers in my garden. Let us rise up against this social malaise, which stifles the creativity of the proletariat, rendering us slaves to the dollar and marionettes to the ruling-class puppeteers. I love Mondays so much, I am considering coming into work on Sundays and calling it pre-Monday, just so that I can get more Monday into the week. Who’s with me??? …Are you with me?? …Hello?

Boy Band Blues

I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

The boyband phenomenon of the 1980s & 90s may not have been the paragon of contemporary musical artistry, but its back-catalogue of melodic musings left us with fascinating insights into the male psyche.

The profusion of monologues, directed to an audience of prospective girlfriends, filled the vacuum left by an inability of the average bloke to express the rich palette of his emotional vocabulary with any more variety than Picasso’s blue period.

In 1984’s The Kinda’ Girls We Like, New Edition introduced themselves with a wanted ad for future soul mates:

I’m Ronnie D and I’d love to meet                                                                                       A girl that would knock me off my feet.
A girl that’s fine and divine.
A girl that wants to be all mine.
A girl that can grant my every wish.

I sense that Ronnie’s ideal partner is probably not Jeanie from next door, but the genie from Aladdin. Incidentally, no mention from Ronnie of what he plans to contribute to the relationship. Male privilege starts early in boy band land.

image: www.allmusic.com
image: http://www.allmusic.com

And when a boy band member’s expectations prove a tad unrealistic, he can adjust those expectations, or simply bully the girl into compliance. Boys to Men showed how it was done in 1991, with End Of The Road.

Girl, you know we belong together
I have no time for you to be playing with my heart like this
You’ll be mine forever, baby, you just see

Two words of advice for girl in question: ‘restraining order’.

Quite conversely, Take That realised that there was a place for nice boys, who bring your daughter home by 11pm, in roughly the same state as when she left. But, if the chorus of Want You Back For Good, in 1995, was any indication of the boys’ level of emotional intelligence, a wise girl would probably keep her options open.

What ever I did, what ever I said, I didn’t mean it, I just want you back for good.

It’s the quintessential male damage-mitigation strategy: I am going to apologise because I have a strong suspicion that it’s my best hope for getting sex again this week, but frankly I have absolutely no idea what just happened.

All this heightened emotion can drive a young boy band member to ultimate despair. That’s the state in which we find New Kids On The Block, in 1997, as they plead their way though the chorus of As Long As You Love Me. The lyrics might have suggested unconditional love to the thirteen-year-old target audience, but they don’t fool me for one little second.

I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

Translation: I have absolutely no interest in you or your personal history. As far as I’m concerned, you may have filleted your last boyfriend and consumed his giblets with a nice Chianti. My sole requirement is undying love from anyone who will tolerate the stench of my desperation for longer than the duration of this fatuous song.


There is a reason why videos of kittens in sombreros get ten thousand hits on Youtube

When it comes to the environment, population control is the big fat elephant in an increasingly squishy room. It links to every environmental crisis we could mention but you’ll not hear a peep about it on any political campaign trails.

It has precipitated the devastation of natural habitats, causing the instability of ecosystems. It places ever-increasing pressures on food producers, leading to inevitable increases in genetic modification. But you won’t read about it on the front page of your daily rag, nor is the subject likely to arise around the office water-cooler.

Image: https://twitter.com/lailahrahm

But there is no denying that our rapidly depleting natural resources are being stretched across an ever-burgeoning population, as the world’s have-nots scramble desperately for the things that most of us currently take for granted – like the office water-cooler.

Already the scarcity of the earth’s two percent or so of fresh, drinkable water is prompting desperate conflicts – think Somalia – and it’s estimated that we now have just thirty years of oil, sixty years of natural gas and a hundred years of phosphorus, before we’ve used it all up.

So why aren’t we talking about this? Because it’s a great big buzz-kill, that’s why. There is a reason why videos of kittens in sombreros get ten thousand hits on Youtube and your Facebook post celebrating that perfect pavlova gets fifty more hits than the link you shared about chocolate being a leading cause of Alzheimer’s. Nobody likes a party-pooper!

I made up the bit about chocolate and Alzheimer’s, by the way.

Even if we were ready to have a conversation about overpopulation, what would we say? I’d propose voluntary euthanasia as one solution, except that the result would most likely be a slight reduction in the number of cuddly old people in the world and I like cuddly old people. Euthanasia would do nothing to reduce the number of tossers who fail to give me a wave when I let them into the flow of traffic on a Monday morning.

No public official is ever going to get elected suggesting that we curb our ferocious appetite for reproduction. It would negate our primordial purpose, let alone our civil liberty. The idea would immediately manifest thoughts of China’s one-child policy and in politics, the only colour more reviled than green is red.

If there is one thing that capitalism and the free market stand for, it is that we can do whatever the hell we want, as long as we can pay for it. I think that’s the general gist, anyway. And, let’s face it, privileged middle-class white folks simply don’t like being told what to do.

Yes, any politician seeking to curb our genetic proliferations will need to employ some political fast-talking to successfully conceal their intent. I suggest a program called the Child Rationalisation Assistance Program. It’s suitably obscure, with an acronym that offers an alternative interpretation of the bureaucratic double-speak. I’ll be announcing my candidacy on Monday.