conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on the challenge of bisexual identity, reconciling one’s own masculinity, grindr racism and off soy chips

Another anonymous conversation

The Setting

– Describe where we are.

– We are in a park. There’s – like – surprisingly lovely green grass. There’s a plane flying overhead. This is an audio recording, I didn’t need to say that. Oh wait, it’s getting transcribed.

There’s one of those weird early 90s playgrounds that’s entirely vivid McDonalds-coloured plastic and it’s kind of amazing. I’m kind of really into that aesthetic. There’s also this weird sketch old dude with a really fat shih tzu. Me and Fleur have just had a long conversation about whether we’d be able to run from him and we’re pretty sure that we could.

There’s also one of those coin-operated barbeques, which hold an incredibly fond place in my immigrant heart. We honestly couldn’t believe when we moved to Australia that there were coin-operated barbeques. That’s fucking amazing. That’s the most Australian thing. Like, how are you meant to deal with that? That’s insane.

Yeah. And that’s where we are.

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker, as usual

Men kissing men

– Tell me about kissing men in public.

– Ha! God dammit, Fleur! Um… I mean I guess you would just dive straight in with that.

– Yeah.

– Look, I guess I have an anecdote: My boyfriend moved continents this week. It’s weird when you find yourself as a bi-sexual man, who has kissed girlfriends goodbye at the airport, getting anxious about how you grieving a partner leaving is going to play out in the public sphere. Yeah…

It was a pretty grim day. I mean, I cried a bunch but I was pretty okay by the time I got to the airport. We were hanging around waiting for the gate to open and then it opens and suddenly he’s not okay. And he just looks at me, hugs me and says, “Just promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” and then bursts out with tears hugging me in this airport.

I was wearing this t-shirt that said “Thieves in the Night” and the security guard had already told me off and there were these two random, rat-tailed bogans who thought it would be appropriate to tell me off for it as well. And they were sitting just there and here I am, getting hugged by this crying man. He pulls back and he kisses me.

There’s something about kissing men in public that just is completely transcendentally affirming. Like, you know that you’re absolutely not meant to and going through the back of your mind you’ve simultaneously got these images of people getting bashed post-Pride but, at the same time, thanks to your Wikipedia addiction, you’ve also got the Bash Back! slogan going through your head. It’s this weird place where you’re so ready for it and you’re also so ready for what will happen when it ends and when nothing happens it just… Yeah. It’s something else.

And I guess that’s my anecdote. It’s feeling anxious about kissing my boyfriend at the airport while wearing an inappropriate t-shirt with a bunch of scary, rat-taily people watching, and it being totally okay.

– Do you remember the first time you kissed a guy in public?

– Oh my God! I’m not sure that I do! Wait! No, no, no, no, no! Oh! Wait! Ahhhh… Yes! I do! I do! It was the only New Years party I’ve ever thrown. It was 2009. There was this friend who I’d been crushing on as a teenager who I’d kind of forgotten about but he turned up. And we kind of did that thing where eighteen-year-old heavy-scare-quote “straight boys” do where we joke kissed.

He tasted like cigarettes and Jack Daniels and it was the most surprisingly erotic mix. God help me: if you smoke a pack-a-day and drink whiskey, I’m there for that! And it’s bizarre because it wasn’t meant to mean anything but it was really nice, actually.

– So at that point, you’re still thinking of yourself as straight? Was that the bizarre part?

– No!

I’m bisexual. Oh and I’ve always known that I liked guys and girls and I’m reluctant to tell stories about my sexuality to start with because I think that is a narrative that straight people expect of us and want to hear. I think that they want us to be like “no! No, I am so sure of myself!” because it re-affirms that their heterosexuality is sure and set in stone in the way that our society says that it should be.

Look, I found myself attracted to men first, then I found myself attracted to women but this was all in my very early teens. But for a long time I really just hated men. A lot. Most of my early romantic longings were for women but most of my early sexual longings were for men. I mean, look: men are bastards. Don’t get me wrong. We are.

I think at that point I thought of myself as “Straight Plus.” It was this thing where I was like “loooooook: more than likely gonna end up in a relationship with a woman because girls are just wow. But guys are stupidly attractive.”

– I know, right!

By Sarah Walker, as usual

By Sarah Walker, as usual

The challenge 

I’m really interested by that idea of straight people wanting a queer narrative to be a particular way.

– Yeah, it wasn’t something I really thought of until I read Shiri Eisner’s book, Notes on the Bisexual Revolution. Shiri Eisner is a fantastic, gender queer, bisexual, badass, Israeli author. She talks about it a lot in the context of transgender people’s narratives and, talking about how men especially want you to tell them that their gender is stable. She goes on to talk about it in the context of bisexuality, which is obviously how it most pertinently relates to me.

But I mean, it is challenging! Straight people are challenged by this because this is stuff that’s contentious in the light of how we frame this hegemonic straightness in our society. “Yeah, no, no, no, you have to be one thing.” It’s not how it works. At all, actually.

I think fluidity of sexuality is a kind of dangerous concept sometimes. My sexuality isn’t really that fluid at all. It’s been the same for a while. But, at the same time, it kind of is. I feel like a lot of these terms are designed to destabilise bisexual identity – Anyway! I don’t know where I was going with that but yeah.

– That sounded like a good sentence that you just threw away at the end there.

– I’m sorry.

– That’s fine!

Reconciling by disowning

I was thinking about what you were saying about men being bastards. How do you reconcile your own masculinity with this sense that – That’s such a big question!

– No! It’s a big question but it’s a big question that I’ve been asking myself a lot. Yeah – Look – Honestly – I think – Like – What I’ve been slowly coming to terms with is – I’ve been basically…

Reconciling your own masculinity is actually mostly dealing with your own internalised misogyny. If we’re honest. Like – it is. Like –

Oh God, I have another fucking anecdote:

So my brother got married and he had a Buck’s Weekend. Let me just repeat that: Buck’s. Weekend. In a little country town.

The other fun thing to preface this with is that my brother is a – My brother is not a dick but he is a moderately conservative Christian. Like, he’s a really cool guy but he fucking loves Jesus! And also, had absolutely no desire for there to be any strippers. At all. He was like, “look. First of all, I think it’s gross. Second of all, I’m getting married. I don’t want to see another woman’s vagina ever again. That’s literally the point.” And I was like, “I don’t think it is. But that was a cute sentence.”

He had one other gay co-worker. We drove up together and we drove back together. We’re good mates now. I’m not incredibly masculine but his co-worker is just a glorious, glorious dude. He has wonderful blue hair, he’s in a long-term monogamous relationship with another man and just completely fucking owns his gender performance in a way that – like – I am not at a stage that I can do.

So it was this fascinating thing having drunk straight men tell me that they liked me more because I was less “girlie”. That was the first thing. And I was like, (puts on an overtly effeminate voice) “Well, first of all darling, she’s exhausted! She’s fucking tired! She’s had a long fucking day hanging out with you dickheads. And you’re sitting there drinking your UDLs and drinking all of her Coopers Pales and it’s fucking tiring her out, Darling! It’s so tiring! It’s exhausting! She’s practically aching for a drink.”

(He returns to his regular speaking voice.)

And it became this thing: we both just ended up using female pronouns for the entire weekend, which was incredibly fun. They got really angry about it at one point. There’s nothing like someone yelling at you that they accept you but you’re being really fucking annoying that tells you everything you need to know about how straight masculinity works. So that was really fucking funny.

So I guess that’s how I reconcile my masculinity. Like, fuck, I am a man. I just don’t think that being a man is anything to be proud of. I am a man. I am a gross, sweaty, hairy man and I food poisoned myself as a vegetarian by eating soy chips I’d left in full sunlight on my desk for two weeks. I’m a disgusting twenty-something dude but there is nothing to be proud of in that. Like, actually at all.

I guess my big thing has been coming to terms with understanding that there is absolutely no reason for me to defend that or have any interest in perpetuating my own masculinity. And yeah, when I’m confronted with people who do that, my basic response is just to be as feminine as possible because, like, shit! Like, actually fuck it!

Oh, another story from that weekend! There’s a shit load of textas around and one of the shitfaced guys decides he wants to tag the house. So it’s this old surfer sort of hostel thing. White weatherboard house. So he tags on the side of the house in blue texta “Gay House” then, after about thirty seconds, realising he is in mixed company, hastily scribbles it out. And that’s it: that’s my effect! That is the effect that I have had. Someone who is enough of an idiot to draw on the side of a fucking house was like “oh, I probably shouldn’t say ‘gay.’” That is my good in the world.

– You have carved a safe place that is those three inches of weatherboard on that weird surfer house.

– Fucking funny. It was one of my favourite of my brother’s telling off rants. He cares for intellectually disabled children for a living and he was like “I have never had to tell one of my kids that it is not a fucking good idea to draw on a fucking wall, you fucking idiot.”

I’m making this sound like it was no big deal! I’m pretty sure I cried at least once that weekend. I had to build myself up to it for weeks. I watched drag queen insult videos for a solid week beforehand just to prepare myself. I think my favourite one was from Veep – this isn’t even a drag queen insult but it’s great: “You’re like Frankenstein’s monster if Frankenstein’s monster was made entirely out of dead dicks.” That was probably my favourite insult I dished out that weekend. But it was pretty fucking horrific. Fun times.

That’s how – that’s how I reconcile my masculinity: by actually disowning it most of the time.

One of my own photos. From many year ago. I regret the martini glass.

One of my own photos. I regret the martini glass.

– What role does feminism play in your life?

– Look, okay, feminism isn’t my space to intrude on. Which is to say, I’ve read a lot of feminist texts and I love them to bits. I owe a shit load to feminism but I’m not going to call myself a ‘feminist’ purely because that is their space. I’ll call myself a decent fucking human being who espouses the same beliefs! But honestly it’s a space for women to be allowed to speak without men present. It’s so important that women have these spaces. Feminism plays a huge role for me in terms of how I educate myself but I do honestly believe that there should be spaces that women are allowed to go without men.

– Do you think that there should be a space for men just to be amongst other men?

– You mean the entire world!

– Well done.

– I’m sorry but all spaces are men’s spaces by default in our society.

– Are there conversations though, that men should be having amongst themselves?

– Absolutely. I mean I can’t speak for straight men – I’m not even gonna pretend – but yeah, as gay men we need to have some serious conversations about race and misogyny within gay circles. Absolutely. I mean gay men who think they get a pass from being a white man because they are gay shit me the fuck off because most of them are still misogynistic pricks. And if Grindr has taught me anything, it’s that there are plenty of racist gay men. It’s fucking horrific. “You don’t want three billion people? Three billion people disgust you sexually?” Wow. What a nuanced fucking worldview, you cunt! I’ve so got zero time for any of that. And we need to have those conversations really desperately in gay circles.

And misogyny is a huge deal. I think this is because a lot of gay men are very protective of their masculinity because that’s a reasonable response to have when people are trying to feminise you in society: to try and sure up your masculinity. I mean, women do this, too. They do! “No! I’m not a silly woman! Look at me in this blazer!” I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I assume there are blazers. But it is actually a reasonable response… if you’re fucking twelve. We need to get to a point as a community where we are less precious about what straight people think of us. It is such an issue. Yeah. This is a bad direction for our identity to go in. We’re enforcing the same systems that made us feel like shit when we were kids. It’s just not acceptable. That’s my feelings. On that.

I’m upset now! I get bummed out when I talk about queer identity politics. I need to remember that a significant number of people I talk to about this whole-heartedly agree with me. Just because dickheads with muscles and haircuts on Grindr are as big dickheads as people with muscles and haircuts outside of Grindr doesn’t necessarily write off a significant amount of wonderful people. It doesn’t.

Hello 2015. Nice to meet you. Let’s be friends. 

Speaking of friends, go and check out Sarah Walker’s website for more of her outstanding photography. She is also running a year-long project called The Art Olympics, which is all about pushing us to work outside of our comfort zone and in different mediums. Go and sign up. 

Thank you to my outstanding interviewee. His words were a delight. 


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