The third instalment in my ‘intimate portraits’ conversation series. The previous conversations can be found here. I’m sticking with Leonard Da Vinci sketches to illustrate these for a while. They are utterly stunning.
– Describe where we are.
– We are sitting on the side of a hill surrounded by skeleton trees. The sky is moving pretty fast and there’s dead, white branches reaching into it and there’s undergrowth that has slowly made its way up to be about a third as tall as the dead trees.
– What’s your most memorable kiss?
– I think my first – like – very memorable kiss was with my first boyfriend when I was seventeen. We were in the kitchen at my mum’s house. I don’t know what I was doing. Probably cooking or something. And – you know – we were very awkward and teenage but at some moment I was kissing him and I pushed him up against the cupboard and was like “ohh”. It was the first time that a kiss had ever thrilled right through me. And I was like “ohh! That was like – fuck! That was really powerful and electric. That’s what every kiss should be like. That’s the one thing that you want to feel again. This is why we make out. I get it now.”
I remember a kiss that was a total surprise. I… I make friends with people very easily and sometimes it’s hard to know if people like me in a romantic or a sexual way. I’d just met this person and was – like – walking and talking and then we kissed and that was the moment of being like “yes! I was hoping it was this thing!” It was like winning. It was just winning. Like, our brains are having the best time and now our mouths are too. Awesome.
What about you? What’s your most memorable kiss?
– Um… well my first kiss was kind of hilarious just in how underplayed it was. Because I was seventeen and everyone else – all my other friends – had these big dramatic first kiss stories of “aw that was gross” and “aw slobber!” and “boys: eww! But I want more!” But my first kiss… I was at a party and everyone else was making out and doing all that stuff and then I knelt down to get something out of my bag and my friend snogged me and wandered off. That was the only sexual contact that person and I ever had. A few years later he said to me “you’re the only female friend that I’ve never tried to have sex with.” And I’m like “thanks, buddy. Makes me feel special.” But it was kind of great that it was a really underplayed moment.
– Yeah, for sure.
– My most joyous kiss – and I’m actually kind of surprised I didn’t go to this straight away – was with my first boyfriend and I’d wanted – I’d been – it was the first time – I didn’t –
I didn’t notice boys until I noticed this boy.
– Yeah, I remember that feeling.
– And and and I loved him for about ten months and he knew. We were in Year 12 and had the same frees and we’d go for – like – walks on the beach together every week. And that was just our exercise. Our unwind. Our little decompress. Then at Valedictory he kissed me. It was a really brief kiss but it was just so joyous. We’d just finished Year 12 and it was the start of something new and important and I fell over three seconds into the kiss. I lost my balance. But that was the start of what is still to date the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever had. There’s part of me that just goes “why was that when I was eighteen! I wasted that one on eighteen-year-old me and she fucked it up!” Not badly but just, I didn’t realise what a good thing I was onto. I think I just thought that all relationships were that good. Since then I’ve gone “oh. Some of them are average and some of them are quite shitty and none of them have been that beautiful since.”
I don’t know. I think that probably my most memorable kisses were really the ones that were wrong. That were really… they shouldn’t have happened. And the electricity of the “shouldn’t have” and the sheer amount of emotions going on is just this incredible mix of self-hatred and – and lust and desperation and neediness all sort of rolled into one moment. Yeah. Hm.
– It’s weird how that burns into our brain, isn’t it?
I think there’s like an imp version of myself that definitely didn’t exist when I was a teenager. And to be fair, some of that was trauma from that first boyfriend and trying to reclaim my own sense of self and my own sexuality. Like, “okay. If I push myself out there and make decisions for myself and be quite aggressively sexual I can have control over that rather than being objectified. Or vicitimised.”
My friends from high school were like “whoa! What’s happened to you? You were not like this in high school. This doesn’t fit your personality.” And it kind of – it didn’t fit my personality because it was a reaction to what happened. But um… that version of me is a bit of an imp as well. So that might be drunk me going “This is a great idea! I’m just gonna go and pash that person! Or, I’m gonna sleep with that human and that will be good!”
– Did you have a moment where you figured out – was there a moment where you worked out your sexuality?
– I’m still figuring it out. I like girls and boys but I’ve never had the same kind of relationship with a woman as I have with a man. I’ve definitely been in love with women before but maybe I’ve been afraid of that in different ways.
– How is that fear different when it’s with a woman?
– I think maybe because the signals aren’t always as clear. It is more common for women to have close female friendships than for a man and a woman to have a close friendship. One of my absolute best mates is a guy and everybody is always like “oh surely you’re a bit in love. Isn’t he totally in love with you?” And I’m like, “no, not at all. He’s actually kind of like my brother.” But that level of closeness is seen as being really weird because he likes girls and I like boys so it’s not really allowed. So many of my female friends are queer as well and yet it’s just totally clear that we’ve never been attracted to each other and never would be.
– So being female makes it more acceptable to be not attracted to each other and close friends, even if you are attracted to each other’s gender.
– Yeah. So then when it is sexual I don’t really know how to address it. I’ve never struggled with that with men. I’ve talked about that with my guy friends as well and been like “I don’t see you that way” and they’re like “cool! Me neither.” “Great! Moving on!” But a lot of the time that doesn’t feel like it’s necessary with women or… or perhaps sometimes it’s because it is there so I don’t want to talk about it. So that’s a bit weird.
It is kind of nice at the moment being able to accept that part of who I am. That it’s okay to have that sexuality but be dating a boy.
I remember with my ex, who was the most masculine, fucking oppressed man, macho-person in the world and it felt really strange. I remember going to Queer events and going “I don’t think I’m meant to be here!”
– Because his gender identity reflected on you?
– Yeah, something like that. And I think it’s sort of the weird place that people who are bi or broadly Queer hold in that community… it’s seen as a bit of a weird, undefined space so nobody quite trusts it.
I think my current partner said something a while ago like “will I always be enough?” And I’m like “yeah. You give me everything that a woman would give me except a vagina and I really don’t miss that that much.” I’m very happy. (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that, I suppose he isn’t gonna know.)
Like me, he doesn’t have this strong behavioral or sexual gendered binary. Like, he’s kind of just a person. The same way that I am. Our body parts aren’t what define our sex life. Like, “great! We can use that!” but it’s kind of just a cool thing that they’re different. I feel like I would still love him if he was a lady. He has a very nice penis, though.
– My partner before that, we had to be in a box of “this is the man and this is the woman and this is a hetero relationship and this is how it works.” He wasn’t a person, he was a man and I wasn’t a person, I was a woman, if that makes sense.
Why is there a sign for a yeti there?
– I don’t know.
– Anything you want to ask me?
– How do you think gender interacts with your sex life or your romantic life?
– I don’t know. I’ve been single for quite a long time now so…
I’m straight. I’ve slept with women but that only reaffirmed that I’m straight. I mean there’s stuff that’s fun to do that is fun purely because we’ve both got bodies and things feel good so I don’t mind. I’m sure I’d do it again. It’s not like I had sex with a woman and was like “oh my God, that was gross!”
– “Never again!”
– “I don’t want that!” It was just like “well I’ve done that and, ah, I still, ah, still find myself looking at men a whole lot more than women so…” I don’t know.
I feel very female and that being female is a big part of my identity. And I enjoy my femininity, for the most part. There are some things about it that I don’t like but it’s mostly sort of stereotypical ‘female’ things about women not putting themselves forward in their industry and not being as confident. Sometimes I look at myself and ask, “Is this because I’m a woman or is it just who I would always be, whether I was a man or a woman?” It is hard to know how much of that identity I should attribute to my gender and how much is just what the experience of being a person is. Being a complex, human, person. Yeah.
I grew up with incredibly strong, vocal, feminist parents but walking down the street I sometimes catch myself being weirdly 19th Century-downcast; not making eye contact with people or, if I do look up and make eye contact, I’ll apologise to the universe in general or to that person specifically. Is that just because I’m just weird and introverted or is that some conditioning thing? It is all very mysterious to me.
A fly buzzes.
– I guess what I mean by that is, in terms of interacting with people romantically or sexually – well in general but particularly in that realm because when you’re that close to a person and you have these expectations of each other. There is often a desire from both parties to make that person into the person you want to be with, or something. I guess that’s the thing I mean. Behavioral assumptions. I guess that was the problem with my ex: more “you can’t do that because you’re a woman and therefore you are weak and not capable of it” or “you shouldn’t do that because it’s not how women behave.” Or those sorts of things.
– I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like that. I guess the closest I’ve come was one day when I was chastising my partner for not having cleaned his teeth for a long while and he came back with “well, you haven’t shaved under your arms!” “Yeah, I’m growing it for a photo! So there!” That was weird and still I look back at that and ask was that a warning sign that I should have seen? Him using that as a weapon against me felt pretty strange because it put shaving on par with teeth cleaning, as if to not shave made me unclean and smell bad. Because he hadn’t cleaned his teeth in multiple days. He went “I think I left my tooth brush in… wherever we had been” and I was like “we came back from there days ago… Have you not… That’s really gross!”
But that sort of – that was one of the very few times when I went “you have Gender Expectations of me!”
– I think that’s the ideal, isn’t it? I want to be seen as a woman but I want to be seen as an equal and for some people that doesn’t compute.
You know what you said about your first relationship being really beautiful and then not realising that other relationships weren’t always like that? I’ve had the opposite where I’ve had just a slew of really awful relationships and then finally gone “Oh my God! They don’t have to be like that!” You actually can just be with someone who likes who you really are and sees that person and doesn’t tell you what to do. That’s amazing. So. Maybe that came at a good time. Maybe I’m old enough to hold onto it now. Or to not expect anything less anymore. There’s a good start.