It has been a while, poor, neglected bird. I have lovely theatre-y things to feed you but I also have a deadline that I really don’t want to fuck up. I am no Douglas Adams. I don’t “love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. I am very into grinding to a halt on top of them with such abruptness that my seatbelt leaves bruises. So until you can smell burning rubber, have another anonymous conversation with another beautiful human being.
Fleur: Describe where we are?
Him: We are in a… I’ll call it a ‘courtyard’. There are some buildings behind us from… well they want to be the 18th Century but they’re not quite. There’s a gallery on one side and the back of the museum building on the other. They’ve also managed to wedge in a little car park down the side. And this rather nice tree! What is this tree?
Fleur: A green one. With some with rough bark and it seems to have dropped a little scattering of cigarette butts under it. Yeah.
Was there – was there a kiss that’s lifted the bar? That’s made you go “oh, they could be all that!”
Him: Any number! Um… Let’s see.
A long, long pause. We’re talking at least a minute here.
Him: I’m having to search the archives. I’m really not trying to be coy. It’s just coming across that way.
Another long, long pause. I take off my shoes.
Him: There was one in particular that I suppose was very different because it was quite unexpected and out of the blue and out of my league, so I thought. So certainly my defences were down.
Fleur: So what happened?
Him: There was a phone call from out of the blue saying, “do you want to get a coffee,” which was a shock in itself. I’ve never been the type that people would call so that sort of put the nerves up right from the beginning. Even then there was still a sense of self-doubt as to whether anything was actually happening: “This can’t actually be anything more than a coffee, can it? That’s not what’s going on.” It was somebody who I’d been interested in for some time but had never really been able to acknowledge it at all. Then suddenly the head was on my shoulder and she sort of looked up at me and… there she was.
Fleur: How did it feel?
Him: It was a bit of an over-load of sensation. Not even just the physical sensations actually but just my own response to her interest as much as the kiss itself was something that I wasn’t really expecting. It was quite overwhelming.
Fleur: Are you still the guy who’s surprised to be called? Are you still just as shocked?
Him: Sometimes. Yeah. I think we change. We change more than we think in some ways and less than we think in others. In some ways I feel more confident than I did ten or fifteen years ago and in other ways I’m always surprised that those feelings of surprised do come up quite regularly and I realise that I’m surprised I’m surprised still. I think “oh really? Are we still doing this? God help us all.”
At the moment I’m thinking that continued efforts to try to fight it actually make it worse. Because you make a duality of it so your efforts to work against it give it extra strength. You’ve given your doubts so much of your attention whereas if you focus on other things – the things that you might actually be good at, things that make you worthwhile, things that make you a person – that’s a better way of going. Ultimately that’s what you are. That’s what you have and people are attracted to that or not and that’s not really your call. Does that make sense?
Fleur: Yeah. Absolutely.
I think there’s an inherent awareness among decent, sensitive men that their presence in and of itself can be a frightening thing. How do you navigate that?
Him: It just gets too difficult to even think about at times. My boundaries of impinging on other people’s comfort are so wide that require visas so the idea of even nudging into that is a bit of a confrontational thing for me to deal with, before we even get to anybody else. It’s also…
I’ve walked home at night and there’s been a woman twenty meters in front of me who I can tell is clutching her handbag more tightly because I’m walking behind her just because I’m a guy walking behind her and it’s midnight. So then I start thinking about the six-foot male syndrome of going “Right. This woman rightly or wrongly (in her perspective, rightly) is seeing some largish guy walking and fearing the worst. Which is completely legitimate.”
Fleur: That’s probably about as long as I can sit on grass for. My legs are just hating me right now.
We get up to move. I slap my legs a lot and hate my grass allergy. I switch off my recorder and say something like:
Fleur: I hope you don’t mind me saying this and I don’t want to… objectify you or anything but when I was asked to do more of these and asked who I wanted to interview I said “I want more straight men. They are the group that feel the most… mysterious to me.” I guess they talk to me less about their gender and sexuality than straight women or queer friends.
Him: I find it strange to be representative of that group. (I switch back on the recorder as we walk.) I find it strange to be a representative of that group. I grew up being influenced by all things British pre-1950. Then I landed at primary school and it’s like “what are you people doing?” It was a different world and I had no idea how to interact with it. I would watch these guys kind of strut around the school yard and go “One: you’re an idiot. Two: what even is that?” It just looked like this enormous act.
Fleur: You’re still saying good stuff so we’re sitting down here.
We sit at a terrible plastic table in the loudest, windiest place to ever. I hate Fleur of the Past. Total jerk move.
Fleur: So you’re saying you’ve just never associated with being part of this group that is The Heterosexual Male. That’s just not your people.
Him: Not in this country, anyway. In other countries they read me very differently. Often times in this country I don’t particularly get associated with a group called “Straight Male” but in other countries I do. The first time I went to the UK and Europe, people gave some sense of reading me with some kind of straight sexuality. Yeah. Rather than being this kind of odd, quirky, off in my head somewhere, bater-ish male whatever. Which still is how I pretty much feel here.
Fleur: Is that because other countries have a more multifaceted understanding of what it is to be male than Australia?
Him: Ummmm. Yes but I would also say it’s historic. Um. I think this country was founded on a couple of particular versions of the founding myths that perpetuate themselves through a lot of external activity and a lack of investigation of certain aspects of the way the world and country works. That is not to say that that’s not present in other countries but there is a different sense of identity that plays out in other places.
Okay. Really, really base-level example: I was in Norway and I called up this guy who – I don’t know! I think I was supposed to stay at his house or something like that. I’ve forgotten that now. But I call him up from the airport, this friend of a friend of mine. And I was sort of talking to him and saying “hey, this is me, blah, blah, blah” and he says in this – the perfect irony of this guy saying this in a Norwegian accent – he says “Oh! You sound so masculine!” That was the first time! I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight and that was the first time anybody had ever said that. Ever.
I did a demo reel over there for a voice-over job. I did it in an English accent because that was the usual thing. And here as a voice-over artist I get bank ads and insurance commercials. There they said, “Oh, he sounds like James Bond!” I’m like “Who are you people?” So there was this total, strange re-defining. And it wasn’t about being Australian either because my English accent at that point was pretty pinging. I really got the phonetics down. There was something else going on just to do with the way I was being read. The difference was palpable all across the board. And I don’t know how much of that was just my own internalised perception of whatever that I play out here – a self-fulfilling prophecy maybe – I’m sure there’s probably an element of that – but the standard definition of masculinity in this country sort of puts me like this.
He puts his hands far apart.
Him: This is my experience. In terms of attitudes, in terms of approach and appearance. In terms of income? Absolutely.
This is going to sound how it sounds. The low point of that for me was when I had a former partner who gave me an income target for me to be acceptable.
Him: That was the kind of extreme spots version. “Wow, this exists!” I was kind of living in this dream world of love conquers all. That sticks in your head. There is definitely that element of income and material status as a display of masculine identity. Absolutely. And I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy it.
There were reasons for her saying that. Don’t get me wrong. She’d been brought up in this sense of precariousness that meant that she felt she had to have a certain financial baseline to feel any sort of sense of safety or security so I’m not – I’m not saying that was wrong for her. But I’m saying it does play out.
The wind roars. A gust sends all the chairs moving across the courtyard like a shitty fleet of plastic ships.
Fleur: We’ll try ending again.
This time we manage it.