Part four of my anonymous conversations on sex, gender and beauty.
– So if you could start by describing where we.
– We’re kind of sitting on the edge of bowl in this kind of mountainous valley kind of region. There’s a sheer face of lush green and hillocky, rushicky bits on the other side. There’s a nice view of the mountains though that crest in the valley there.
– What’s the most memorable kiss of your life? Do you have one where you’re like “That: that changed what kissing was.”
– When I was seventeen I moved to Melbourne. I’d just got into Monash but I’d also got into this program that the Australian Shakespeare Company had started up. Being new to Melbourne and not really knowing anybody I was just like “this is really cool. This is really lucky.”
During high school I’d only really come out to a few very close friends and one boy I had a massive crush on. And I kind of admitted that one day at a house party and he was just overwhelmingly flattered but sadly didn’t reciprocate.
– Was he gay?
– He was straight but I wasn’t sure because he had that very confident, thing where he was very comfortable with his sexuality and he kind of flirted a little bit and would wink at me a lot which was kind of nice to indulge in.
Um… So yeah, a very select handful of close friends and my mum and my dad and my brother and they were all cool with it but I wanted to wait until I moved down to Melbourne before I went public – as it were.
We started rehearsals for this Shakespeare show in April so it was before I’d even really gone public at Uni but I was like “I’m comfortable in this so I may as well put it out there and see how it goes.” So I kind of mentioned that I was gay and that was cool. Then this other guy in the group was just like “oh yeah, I’m bi, yadda yadda, yadda” and I was just like “that’s interesting” but didn’t really pay it much further heed.
I don’t know exactly how it escalated but over the next couple of days we were chatting and flirting and you know… We shared a few tram trips back into the city and I think we expressed that we were both a little bit fond of each other and then….
We’d just had a break. We were sitting outside and everyone was coming back into the theatre. He turned the corner and went into this little entrance room and then as soon as I rounded the corner to follow him inside he turned around and just kissed me on the mouth. It was just like… yeah. That was my first kiss with a man.
– How did it feel?
– Um… Surprising. In that I hadn’t expected it. Tingly. As they tend to. And kind of… incredibly inspiring and validating. There was this thing that I’d never been able to explore while I was younger and so it was kind of a new frontier. After being so unsure about how people in general would kind of perceive it and receive it, to have that validation of not only is it okay, but somebody’s interested in me. Interested in this way that I’d never explored before. And it was cool. Yeah. And it was quite a sweet little romance that lasted for just the duration of that production. And I’m still excellent good friends with him now.
– Was that his first kiss with a boy as well?
– I feel like it might have been. Because he hadn’t come out to anyone yet and our relationship was the catalyst to him coming out to his parents and a lot of his family. And they were the loveliest people you could possibly imagine. They were so cool and they were really expressive about how much they valued the fact that I was with him and the fact that this had acted as the catalyst for him opening up and expressing who he truly was.
– Was there a moment when you first figured out your sexuality? Was it sudden or was it a gradual thing?
– I think it was quite gradual. It had definitely been a long time coming.
I speak to some people who say they knew they were gay from “the day they were born” or when they were very young but…
I experimented in primary school but at that point you’re only starting your development as a sexual being, I suppose… At the very cusp of puberty. There were a small group of us who would… It’s so weird, now that I think back on it! There was one guy who kind of instigated it. Finding a secluded part of the school ground and just having a bit of a fiddle. It was kind of odd. But I kind of realised that was something I was kind of into. Yeah. And that kind of experimental thing led to –
Jesus! Bull ants! Oh we’re not sitting on a nest are we?
– I feel like we would have realised this before now if we were.
– Maybe it was just a little explorer one.
– We could just move a bit further. Shall we?
– We could sit on the steps over there! In the shade.
The sound of feet moving through long grass.
– Oh they don’t look like they’ll be very comfortable for backsides. I might take this bit of grass.
They settle back into it.
– Um… Yeah. Daniel Radcliffe was my first serious celebrity crush. I remember talking to my parents saying, “It’s really weird! I just feel like a giggly school girl whenever I think about him!” And they teased me for using such phrasing. Not in any kind of malicious, shaming way. It was just a bit funny.
As I progressed through high school, I noticed I was far more into guys than I was into girls. But then I fell head over heels in crush with this guy in my year. I was about fourteen. He was just beautiful. He had strawberry blond hair, a bit of a jock but a sweet jock! One of the quiet ones who wasn’t as performative about his masculinity!
– When do you feel most beautiful?
– I don’t know. The first thing that sprung to mind when you said that was my mum. But in a conceptual way of – like – feeling beautiful when I’m feeling loved. And safe. And held. Um… Yeah. Feeling important or significant, not in any kind of grand public way but feeling a sense of place and a sense that somebody values me or is kind of invested in that connection.
– That’s a lovely answer.
– Thank you.
In terms of physically, I don’t know. In a superficial way, when I look in the mirror and find myself attractive, it’s usually just when I’m feeling confident. Because there are times when I look in the mirror and I’m just like “Ugh. Really?”
– “That’s what I’ve got to work with?”
– But sometimes I’ll be in a great mood and I’ll just look at myself and be like “Yeah! Damn!” It’s weirdly fluid like that. I’ve never really held much stock in a sense of superficial beauty. This guy I’ve just been dating, he was a very openly and kind of proudly superficial person. He proudly labelled himself as such. For him it’s all about beauty and all about glamour.
I feel like there’s far more beauty in flaw and imperfection. Anyone can be beautiful. I’m far more interested in things that make you different. Things that make you unique. Like, my teeth are really crooked and I’ve got a little chip in one of my two front teeth. And I probably need to get a little bit of dental work done to neaten my choppers up but there are certain things that I’d never ever change because they are things that characterise me and that nobody else has. I feel quite comfortable in that. Feel quite comfortable in owning that.
In terms of being a performer, I’m not really interested in being the most beautiful auditionee and getting cast for that. I’ve got stories that I wanna tell and they don’t rely on that. I want to invest in what makes people different. I feel like that’s what makes people interesting. I feel like I’m rambling a little.
Um… When do you feel most beautiful?
– Um… I feel like my answer is going to be really shallow after yours.
– Do it, man!
– Because yours is all emotive and mine’s “no, no! It’s when the light is a particular way and when I’ve just put on make up.”
I don’t know…. Yeah, it really changes. Sometimes I’ll just be a tiny bit fitter, like I will have gone for a five-minute jog, and I’ll come back and go “I am hot! That has done it. That has just tipped the scales.” But it varies so much for me.
I did modelling. I knew I had the potential to look beautiful when I had a whole team working on my face but I was also very aware that I didn’t look like that in real life. That beauty was something that no one saw when they were just looking at me walking down the street. People told me that all the time.
That was – That whole experience really shaped my perception of beauty and my physicality because – because – It never was “I’m beautiful so I’ll do this!” It was something that I absolutely just stumbled into when I was drunk. Literally. I was drunk and a friend had a camera. And it was at a time when I was still really young and still figuring out how I carried myself through the world and where my self-esteem was placed.
I had so many people say things about me in a professional way. I had one photographer say “you’re front’s a bit blocky. I’ll just photograph your back.” Then I had another photographer say, “You’ve got a manly back, I’ll photograph your front.”
– Kind of clinical, industry talk?
– Yeah! I’ve had so much said about And I’ve had photographers say I was heavier or not as toned as they wanted. Then I had members of the general public looking at photos saying, “She’s anorexic. That’s gross.” I had both things shouted at me.
I don’t think it was a damaging experience or anything but… It is difficult and bizarre to shape your own perception of yourself when everyone else is weighing in on this really public, vulnerable, naked self. It’s bizarre to figure out what beauty is after that. What beauty is when you don’t have a whole team and a thousand shots to get that one shot. So, yeah. I think it is something that still… troubles me.
And I also just think I’m really bad at dressing myself. I so seldom feel comfortable in my clothes. I just don’t think I’m good at that. I can’t do my hair. I don’t know how to do hair. There are these things that just… Argh! Wow! Yeah.
– Can I ask, following on from that, in what mode to you perceive beauty in others?
– Very different. Very differently from how I judge myself. I recognise beauty in others so immediately and it’s not this bizarre, glamorised perfected form of beauty that I perhaps expect from myself. I’m so aware of what has gone into making a photo shoot in a magazine. It’s not just the photoshop that people think it is. Image manipulation begins before the camera takes that photo. It’s about how the model holds themselves and placing the light at a certain angle that will thin them down. I know how manufactured that kind of beauty is so I don’t hold others up to that standard.
– So many people, especially in the gay subculture, strive for this manufactured perfection. Some people achieve that or achieve very near it but it’s just something that I’ve never had that much time for. While you’re striving to craft this image, you don’t spend any time developing your personality. Some of the most beautiful people that I know in that scene, there’s not that much to them. I’m not saying they are bad people but there’s not a lot of depth or complexity.
– The most beautiful people I know are like what you’ve said: their beauty comes from confidence. When you see someone who is so at ease in their body and in themselves – and I don’t mean that in an “Everyone’s Beautiful” kind of way but just – There’s something so sexy about someone that’s at home in their body and whose body feels lived in and relaxed and sensual – unashamedly so. That’s a sexy thing when you see that.
Thank you once again to my amazing interviewee and to Sarah Walker for her photos.