audience conversations, conversation, criticism, personal, Responses, Sex, Theatre

in conversation: f. by riot stage youth theatre

When I came to record audience conversations of F., (my first in a long time, apologies) my SD card was full of a previous conversation: 

Interlude 1: Setting, an outdoor courtyard of a Geelong cafe. A confused 90-year-old sits with her granddaughter. 

Her: What’s that?

Me: It’s a microphone recorder.

Her: Oh really.

Me: Yeah. You were telling me such good stories on the –

Her: Pardon?

Me: You were telling me such good stories in the car on the way here so I thought –

Her: Was I?

Me: You were.

Her: I don’t think I was.

So my SD card was full the night I recorded with random audience members for F. and I only recorded two incomplete conversations, presented here with interludes from my grandmother. 

Know that this production resulted in some beautiful conversations, not all of which I was able to capture. Know that I feel privileged to have had these conversations with these articulate young people, reflecting on growing up with the internet in the 21st Century. Know that I was thrilled to have been so provoked and unsettled by the teenagers of Riot Stage and that it was a delight to see them owning their voices and stories. Know too that my grandmother would never in a million years understand any of it. 

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 1: Setting, sitting on the floor of a corridor outside the theatre. Two eighteen-year-olds, who have never seen theatre like this before, sit holding hands. They have just finished year twelve exams. 

Me: So what just happened in there? What was there?

Nelly: That was confusing at times!

Me: What do you think happened to you?

Zac: Just discussing issues sort of facing teenagers and that. Yeah. And just the chaotic vibe of it and yeah it’s… you can sort of relate to it I suppose. Um. Yeah.

Nelly: We’ve seen school musicals and stuff but it’s not like that at all. Our school plays are like Pride and Prejudice and stuff. This is like, really different.

Zac: Seems much more relevant and real I suppose. Much more relatable than the perfect pictures that TV and that paint.

Me: Big question but how do you feel about the internet? It’s our whole lives, I know.

Zac: Me and her sort of started being friends on the internet. We were in the same class but I was really shy. I just won’t talk but online I was really loud.

Nelly: Like he had two personalities.

Me: So if it was thirty years ago, when introductions were all walking up to someone and asking them to dance at a mixer, you’d never have talked.

Zac: Nup. That’s why the Internet has a lot of negative aspects but at the same time, it’s very useful in connecting people. We wouldn’t have this connection without it.

End conversation 1.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude: 

Me: You were talking about Nelson and your uncles playing cricket.

Her: Was I?

Me: Yeah. Did granddad play any sport?

Her: Oh… He usually played golf.

Long pause.

Me: Did you ever try golf.

Her: I don’t think so.

Me: Those sons of your must have got it from somewhere.

Her: Do they play golf?

Conversation 2: Setting, a square of lawn outside the venue. My legs are pink with grass allergy and will continue to sting for an hour afterwards.

Me: What happened to you in there?

Jules: I think I was reminded of the distance between being a young adult and being a teenager. And what it’s like to be a teenager. It’s amazing how much you forget even in a couple of years. I’m twenty-two and it was amazing just to be like, there’s definitely –

A parade of motorbikes roar past.  

Me: We’ll give them a moment.

More motorbikes.

Jules: Okay. Rude.

We wait. They pass. We resume.

Jules: I just thought it was a really beautiful representation of being a teenager.

Doug: To me it was sort of this mish-mash collection of snippets, just reminding you of what it’s like to be a teenager. And I mean, I’m 19 so I’m closer to being that teenager but there’s still that incredible distance that forms when you hit uni and you leave that whole high school mentality. I think this did a really good job of reminding me of that and how it feels to be in that claustrophobic environment. It reminds you of all the weird things teenagers do and how their brains work.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

When I was a sixteen-year-old I didn’t know how to express myself very well. It was a lot like in the show, you’d have characters just switching topics almost on a dime, just talking awkwardly. It was a lot like that. Now I find it a lot easier to structure what I’m trying to say and separate my thoughts.

Me: Could you express yourself better online?

Doug: Yeah, I think so. It was useful because it sort of gave me time to think about what I was trying to say.

Jules: It is this weird Schrodinger’s Cat thing of being heard and not heard. You can scream into the void but there might be someone listening. If you feel like you can’t express yourself properly at high school or with you friends or family, you end up with this strange sort of dynamic where you simultaneously might have someone hearing you and understanding you and saying ‘it’s gonna be okay’ but you also have this freedom just to say whatever you want because there might not be anyone listening. It is a strange dynamic.

Interlude: 

Me: When you were a teenager, working on the farm. What did you do for fun?

Her: I think they took me shopping with them. Thursday was a shopping day. I don’t know if it was much fun.

Me: Did you like reading?

Her: I never did very much reading.

Me: What was your favourite thing about Granddad?

Her: Granddad?

Me: My granddad.

Her: Your granddad? He was away at the First World War, granddad. He didn’t have a very happy life afterwards.

Me: That’s your dad? Is there anything you remember doing with him?

Her: No, I don’t think so.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 2:

Me: I really loved the scene early on: the two boys chatting with the text behind them and just how understated it was: ‘I came out to my parents, we had tacos,’ that kind of thing. I’m 30 and this was a great reminder how, in such a short time, what was a big deal has changed and become a regular part of adolescence. Still, there are people for whom coming out is a big deal and is traumatic and has frightening and very real consequences, but for a lot of young gay people, that’s not the toughest part of being a teenager. The main difficulty for that teenager was just being a teenager: being caught in that land between autonomy/self-realisation and that childhood dependence on others.

Doug: I remember when I came out to my mum and she just turned to me and said ‘oh I know’. I was like ‘oh okay.’ I was fifteen or sixteen. I’d been expecting more drama I guess. She’d always been very accepting but yeah it was… odd.

I think the scene that’s sticking with me the most is with the two girls that were sitting watching porn and just that raw discussion of sexuality and their vaginas. When you’re a teenager with a trusted friend and you haven’t really explored these things before, you just talk about it. She was talking about how she wanted to change how her vagina looked and stuff – that really introspective stuff that adults are a lot less likely to just let out because it comes rooted in insecurities and things like that. I used to talk a lot about things I didn’t feel great about. Mostly to close friends, a lot of them I only knew through the Internet, which I think really helped. Like, I don’t really know this person, so it won’t matter as much if I just talk openly with them.

Me: The first time I saw porn I was talking to this guy a couple of years older than me on Nine MSN. He was this gay guy –

Jules and Doug: Oh MSN!

Me: And he was like ‘this is the kind of guys I like’ and he sent me this link. Suddenly my screen was covered in all these naked women. I worked out ages later that I must have got a pop up but at the time I was like ‘he’s a gay guy, he would know what men are’ so I was looking at them going ‘so these are men… so he likes men with make up and… boobs and small thingies’. They were so clearly female bodies. Very naked, very female. But I didn’t have any idea what gender they were. The colour scheme was not what I associated with naked women. It was all pink and gold and shiny and slippery and just… didn’t look like the naked women I’d seen in my life. And I wrote to the guy and was like ‘this is the kind of men you like?’ And he was like ‘yeah’ and I was like ‘men with boobs?’ and he was like ‘what? Men like the men I sent you!’ We worked it out after a while. But that was my first experience of Internet porn: just not even knowing what I was looking at.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Doug: I got tricked. This was in primary school. It was one of those gags that was going around. People were saying ‘if you go to redtube.com, it is like youtube but it’s in HD!’ So I hopped on our family computer that was out in the living room at the time, typed in redtube.com and up came these… not youtube videos. It took me a second. I scanned the page and I started scrolling down and I was about eight or nine, I think. I’d just been given permission to use the computer –

Me: And you blew it, straight away.

Doug: I blew it straight away! I scrolled down and I saw all these images that I didn’t really understand. My dad came over and understandably he was sort of ‘what are you doing?’ I told him that I’d been told this was HD but it didn’t look like the youtube videos I normally watched. He closed out of the browser and we had a little talk about what porn is. I think he just said ‘it’s videos of people having sex on the internet’. My parents never glossed over things. They never talked about genitals with weird words, it was always ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’. I think I was probably four or five when I asked where babies came from and they just straight up told me.

Me: I remember asking what ‘cunt’ was and my mother said ‘it’s another word for vagina’ in such a matter of fact way that I thought for years it was a more polite word – like the medical terminology! Not that it came up in conversation because it didn’t but yeah, I was like ‘oh, that’s the grown up way to talk about vaginas! Good to know!’

Interlude:

Me: Look at that. They’ve got a chandelier hanging in the greenery. Looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: What’s that?

Me: I was just saying, it looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: Oh.

Silence. Knives and forks clatter. 

Me: What are you most proud of?

Her: Oh. (A long pause.) I guess… most proud of family life. Mum and dad and the family. Mum kept the family together really. Dad was good too but… aftermath of the war, I think. He drank a lot of alcohol which was a worry, not only to mum and myself but the rest of us.

Me: Was that part of the reason you never drunk alcohol?

Her: I suppose it might have been part of it but I never took a liking to it anyway. Anything I tasted I never liked. You wonder how anyone could ever like it.

Conversation 2:

Me: I think the scene that really wrecked me was the scene with the two actors on opposite sides of the stage. The first night I was sitting with two straight men and they were watching the boy and I was watching the girl. I really noticed the different ways our heads were turned. I think that is a scene that is so heartbreaking for both characters but you do experience it very differently as a male or female. I don’t know. And I don’t know how different it is as a gay man either. I think a lot of heterosexual men move through the world with this deep fear of taking advantage of a woman.

Jules: I didn’t know where look: whether I should watch one of them, whether I should not watch any of them and just listen. I thought it was really interesting that they chose to make it very dubious as to what actually happened but very clear that she didn’t want it. I feel that that’s a situation that happens all the time and far too –

End conversation 2, with a full SD card.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude:

Her: We had two or three horses we used to ride. Might have been more than that at times. The neighbours – they lived four or five miles up towards the boarder and eh – they had a lot of shetlands. They were half broken-in and they used to pass them on to us to ride. Some of them were very good to ride but others were very cheeky.

Me: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds hard work.

Her: I forget how many we would have ridden all together.

Waiter: Spinach and feta borek?

Me: That’s me. And the lamb is here.

Waiter: And would you like a knife and fork with that one?

Me: Would you like a knife and fork, grandma?

Her: No. Thank you.

Waiter leaves. Silence.

Her: A knife and fork would be handy.

End interlude. 

F. is by Riot Stage and was presented as part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival of 2016. It was directed by Katrina Cornwell, written by Morgan Rose, performed by a cast ranging from 15 to 19. 

Standard
creativity, My own plays, personal, Sex

a year in moments (and a few numbers)

2014treelegs

At Abbotsford Convent, photo by my sister.

1.

“I think we should have sex,” he says. “I’ve seen your photos. You’re beautiful.”

“Okay. So you know those are – like – five years and five kilos ago, right?”

An acrobat balances on the handles of a bike. Round and round she goes. The crowd growls its delight.

“Should we kiss or something?” I ask.

“Nah, better not. I’ve slept with a heap of girls here. But sometime. If you’re keen.”

Ten months later we stand in the dark in an empty room staring out at a garden strewn with paper lanterns

“Are we in one of your stories?” He asks. “The awkward silence. It feels like this is going to end up in one of your stories.”

2.

“There’s this guy I’ve been seeing who I can’t stand. He talks about feeling energy through his fingertips and shit. You’d be perfect for each other. You’re so fucking whimsical.”

Out the window of our car, the landscape shudders with heat.

3.

There is a burn-off by the side of the road. We slow down to pass and I feel the heat through the glass, slow-roasting the left sides of my face. Above us, dozens of hawks dive through the air. They look drunk. Or high. Ecstatic with the giddy pleasure of the heat columns the fire produces and the thousands of insects it sends to slaughter.

4.

We drive through mist. He tells me about his wedding day:

“Everyone was so full of hope. And expectations. Not only were we expected to have this perfect marriage but we were meant to set an example to the world of what marriage should be. Jesus to His church. We’d borrowed your grandpa’s Volvo for the honeymoon. As we drove off, the car felt so big and she, so far away.”

The marriage has lasted twenty-five years longer than their religious conviction.

At work.

At work.

5.

I have been archiving for days. Weeks. Hour after hour, balanced on a small white stool. But that’s okay because I’ve discovered time travel.

Time travel is much simpler than we thought it would be:

I pick up a file and I’m transported to a time when someone born in 1975 was ten-years-old; when a 1981 baby was referred to as ‘Master’; when someone born in 1895 was a “spritely 90-year-old” rather than a walking miracle; when September 10th, 2001 was just another day and not the last day before the world changed.

Time travel is also more boring than we thought it would be:

On these days, made miraculous by my sudden transportation to their re-animated present, all that happened was that patients got their ear canals cleaned.

6.

In between patients I run to the toilet and spit bile into the bowl. My boss gives me knowing sideways looks. She clearly suspects pregnancy, a common plight amongst my demographic. I nurse my empty stomach and fantasise about sick leave.

7.

I dream of whales the size of skyscrapers leaping into the eye-blue sky in perfect unison. From my vantage point clinging to sandstone cliffs, they are like cities, rising and falling in moment, rather than millennia.

“They look like a screensaver,” I think.

Even unconscious I’m still an expert mood-killer.

8.

There is champagne. Bottles of it on ice and our full glasses on the bench. Next to fifty bajillion bobby pins. Next to flowers. Next to our awards.

Suddenly I’m sobbing in Danny’s arms, which is fucking dumb because, you know… award. Perhaps it has something to do with becoming unemployed (again) the same hour I win something. Perhaps is about with the way I spent my day reminding myself of all the times I had been a runner-up just to make sure that I wouldn’t be disappointed if it happened again. It probably has a lot to do with exhaustion.

Which is fucking dumb.

Two days later I’ll remember to be happy and I’ll be thrilled. I’ll remember the three years of work that went into it – how the structure and the characters’ motivations were the hardest of any I’ve had to grapple with – and I’ll be happy. And grateful. And relieved.

But that night my brain melts from my ears. I sag. My usually terrible memory is replaced by an even worse one and almost every face that congratulates me, that leans in and kisses my cheek, is a stranger.

Which is fucking dumb.

In Dalby, Queensland photograph by Gabriel Comerford

In Dalby, Queensland, photograph by Gabriel Comerford

9.

I ask Siri why we make art. She thinks I’m asking her to make out and suggests an article called ‘why nerds are unpopular’. She gets me.

10.

This year I worked on twenty different productions.

I saw eighty-seven shows in which six hundred and eleven actors performed.

I kissed five people and slept with two.

I ate ice cream five times.

I saw a doctor five times.

I slept without medication one hundred and one times.

I flew seven times.

11.

A fifteen-year-old boy physically picks me up and spins me around. He is tall and my feet swing like a rag doll. It is a beautiful moment. In the air, I stop being his mentor and director. We are just collaborators, celebrating the play we’ve made together. He sets me back down. We are laughing as his classmates swarm in for a teary group hug.

12.

We walk along the creek, mugs of mulled wine warming our hands. We lie on a bench and he reads bit of his poetry to the sky and I, stopping from time to time to say “what a wanker” or “pretentious bullshit”. The view above us is dizzying. Stars hang like an infestation. Birds watch us from under their wings. On the way home, we find wet concrete. I write, “Tony Abbott is a bit of a cock”. He writes, “make art.”

A parting message for Dalby.

A parting message for Dalby.

13.

Of the six-hundred and eleven actors I saw perform, eighty-four of these were people of colour. This sounds like a fair percentage but you have to look at where the numbers lie. Curated festivals that actively encourage diversity in their programming (Next Wave and the Melbourne Festival) are where the bulk of these numbers come from, both in terms of their cast sizes and their representation. Sometimes, during open access festivals such as MICF and Fringe, I seem to be wading through a sea of white faces. That’s not to say that these festivals are devoid of people of colour but where I am working, in the hubs, the stages are undeniably pale. Only the whitest make it to the centre of the island.

I didn’t see any one-man shows where a person of colour was that one ‘man’. I wonder about this. What is it about a single black man or a solitary asian woman that seems unrelatable? Or unentertaining?

It is the big casts that make me most uncomfortable. I saw a MacBeth performed by eighteen, glowing white faces. Worse still, I saw a musical with a cast of nineteen. The solitary Asian-Australian played the maid.

Most of the non-white performers can be found in shows about race. Colour-blind casting is apparently still a distant dream in Australia.

14.

I really should have warned the actors. I’m a terrible audience member when it comes to viewing my own work for the first time. I cower throughout act one and gnaw on my hand in act two. I feel shaken. Brittle. And totally thrilled. They accept my apologies and I learn to school my face and body for the comfort of actors and audience alike.

15.

I’ve cried nine times this year. I don’t just mean a couple tears. I’m only counting those unstoppable moments, when your insides feel hollowed out. Yeah, these are the kinds of thing I keep a record of.

17.

Through wood, her laughter sounds like sobs. I often peer around the kitchen door, anticipating tears only to see her wreathed in steam, laughing at Jane Austen as she cooks.

18.

We lie on the concrete in a sort of puddle of limbs, plastic cups of red wine close at hand. We are trying to harmonise but it is one of those nights when we seem to have forgotten every song we’ve ever heard. Which is fine. Because the acoustics are so good that the few notes we can string together sound angelic. And we have each other so fuck the world.

Some days I worry that I don’t have the words to express how much these two mean to me. But the way our voices blend despite their differences and casually find golden moments under the dark roof says it for me.

And if that fails, I give good hugs.

19.

At the airport. My mother says goodbye.

“I love you, my Fleur. I’m really glad that there’s you and me.”

20.

“Where are we flying to?”

“We’re just flying home to get something.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Up, up the plane goes!”

“What can you see out the windows?”

“Nana filling the birdbath.”

“What colour is your plane?”

“It’s a red and yellow plane.”

“What colour is the sky?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do.”

“Lots of colours.”

“They’ve brought around the food. What have you got on your tray?”

“A little drink.”

“Shall we land now?”

“Yes.”

“Aaaaaaaand BUMP!”

“Again.”

With my niece.

With my niece.

Standard
conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on kissing, sex, gender, queer identity in straight relationships, oral hygiene and being a person

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. 

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Kisses

– 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.”

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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!”

Genders

– 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.

– Bonus.

– 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.

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Conditioning

– 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.

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conversation, intimate portraits

on flirting, mirrors, sex, tummies and being really, really ridiculously good looking

I am fascinated by conversation. Two weeks ago I decided to start a new project where I record and transcribe conversations that aren’t about theatre (for once). Rather, they are anonymous conversations about gender, beauty, sex and sexuality. This is the first one. Enjoy. 

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Flirting

– Describe where we are.

– We’re in your bedroom. I’m trying to lie down without putting my feet on the bedspread so I’m going to take off my shoes so I’m using my abdominal muscles less. We’re on your bed in your apartment. The curtains are closed. The bed is covered in clothes.

– I put some things away yesterday. So. Um… how do you flirt?

– I don’t know! I think this was the thing I just missed the class on. I was so busy at high school being good at school and doing extra-curricular activities and – and I just never –

People I know figured out how to talk to boys and I just didn’t. I was friends with some boys but we just did things like talk about Vivaldi and be in musicals together and awkwardly lust after each other but not be able to do anything about it.

There was a boy that went – That was in a high school near me and we sort of – Would sort of flirt at each other awkwardly on MSN and then I remember he drove me home from a party or something. He walked me to my door, hugged me and then left and then later sent me a message saying “Why didn’t we kiss?’ And I said “Well because you – When you want to kiss somebody you kind of have to hug them for longer than one second. You’ve gotta kinda hold on for a bit.” And he was like “Ahhh. Yeah. Right. Yeah.” And then we just never – nothing ever happened. He dated one of my friends and then – and I’ve never got better at that!

I got to uni and I was just like “What are these things with penises?” I don’t know! I just… Every time I’ve ended up hooking up with somebody or dating somebody or anything it’s been because I’ve just been really awkward and then somebody’s kissed me. And usually it’s like “How did this happen? Why am I naked? You’re touching my boobs! What?” Yeah.

– How do you think you’re meant to flirt? Do you have a conceptual idea of what’s meant to happen?

– I feel like you are meant to sort of hold eye contact with people and smile at them in a sort of sexy way. You’re meant to be a little bit mean to them but not too mean.

– I think you’re meant to touch them like –

– Oh yeah, yeah! Apparently if you touch people… Yeah.

– Just like “Oh you’re so funny that I’m touching your thigh.”

– Yeah. And I – And I think I’ve experienced that as a person being flirted at where someone’s touched me and I’ve been like “Oh! Yeah, that’s nice! Being touched by people’s pretty good, hey!” Yeah.

The Mirror

– The days when you look in the mirror and you think “Yeah! I’m smashing it today!” Can you articulate – Like, at the time are you aware of the things that are working? What makes you feel more attractive than other days?

– Some part of me is pretty sure it is just the light.

– Oh totally!

– Like I’ll do my makeup and be like “YES!” And then I’ll move to another mirror and be like “NO!” And I’m just like, “is my entire self-worth entirely lighting?”

– I think this often. When I’m putting on makeup in my room, I don’t have lights anywhere near my mirror so I use a light sort of reflected into the mirror and it’s always really unflattering and I’m always like “Goddamn it! What am I doing?” Then if I move into natural light or just top lighting I’m like “Aw yeah! Look at ma chin! Look at my jawline!”

– There’s a time of the day when I just shouldn’t go into the bathroom because the light –

– What time is it?

– It’s – it’s like late-ish afternoon. I’ve just recently figured this out! Don’t do that! Because the light just shines through at such a way that it makes me just appear immensely hairy.

Both laugh.

– That’s brilliant.

I think sometimes um, like if I’m side lit it just makes me really aware of having hair on my face which I’ve never – It’s not a thing I think about! And I often think about this about movie stars because they have to be lit in all sorts of ways and I wonder if they just – What’s it called? De – delip – delipadating – dilapidating – dilapidated – epilating?

– D – d –

– It definitely starts with ‘d’. You can buy de- delapitory?

– Delapitory? Yeah. Yeah. (Guys, it is totally depilatory. That went on far too long.)

– Whatever! But no I wonder if they have to – like – wax their whole faces all the time! Or they put creams on them to – like –

When I was young I went through a period of shaving my (inverted commas) ‘sideburns’. Like, that area in front of my ear where hair grew. Cos I just – was like “Uh! I don’t think there’s meant to be hair there cos that’s kinda my face” and I’d shave it and it would get all stubbly and someone once asked me if I shaved it – a girl at school – and I was like “NO! Of course I don’t!” Well yes, I do. But I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. Yeah.

It’s a funny thing.

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Being really, really good looking and skin

– What does it mean, do you think, to be really attractive?

– I don’t want to be one of those people who are like “Uh! I’m so unattractive!” but, you know, I’m not – I’m not conventionally – No one would ever look at me and be like “What a beautiful person that is!” But for people who are quote-unquote ‘conventionally attractive’ – The sort of people that my brother dates! These women! They just look like they model for – like – Ripcurl! They’re just exactly what you’d expect an early-twenties boy to like. They’ve got long hair. They’re tiny! They’re always tall and have these legs that go on forever and boobs but not huge boobs and no hips to speak of and they just flounce about wearing anklets and tiny shorts and yeah. I wonder what it would be like, being the sort of person who would walk down the street and have people look at you and know that what they were thinking was “that person’s attractive.” Not even in the way that women experience people being like “You’re a woman, therefore I have the right to comment on your body” but just someone being like “Wow! What a babe.”

This guy I know has a blog and he talks on the blog sometimes about “I locked eyes with this girl at Uni today, had a bit of a perv, knew it was mutual.” And just him knowing that I find so fascinating. I’ve never known – Never known that someone was looking at me and thinking I was a babe. Even when someone is like sitting on me and saying, “I think you’re a babe” I’m like “Ahh, they probably don’t though.”

That knowledge! I wonder if that would fuck you up a bit! I think those beautiful people must find it really hard to age. To stop being that person.

– I – See – I was so unattractive as a teenager. Just – so unattractive.

– You discovered eyebrows and I feel like that’s really changed your life.

– It really – It really did. I think it must be a very different experience being someone growing up knowing they were beautiful.

– I think you’d be so self-conscious. When you looked in the mirror as a teenager, did you look in the mirror and think “Oh my God! I’m so unattractive” or did you just go like, “Oh yeah, that’s my face”?

– I don’t think I ever saw my face. For a decade I only ever looked in the mirror to look at how my skin was doing that day. I never took in the entirety of my face. It was always, “where are they today?”

Both laugh.

– Yeah, I remember that!

– I don’t think I pieced together my face as a whole. I remember after our school formal we were looking through the photos and there was a photo that literally had half of my face in profile just peaking into the edge of the frame. One of my friends was like “Whose that? Oh it’s you! You’ve got a really nice shaped nose!” And she was surprised and I was surprised and I feel like I wasn’t the only one that never looked at my face as a whole. I… And maybe this is totally incorrect because of course I can’t know what other people were thinking and seeing but I – my self-image was so caught up in my skin that I feel that no one else ever looked past that either.

And my skin wasn’t even as bad as I’m sure I’m making it sound! Like, my face wasn’t out of shape or disfigured!

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Ageing and sex

– How do you feel about ageing? And I don’t so much mean like eighty-year-old ageing. I mean like getting to the point where you’re like forty-five and being like “Whoa. Got a lot of wrinkles.”

– It’s this funny contrasting thing because my profession has such a long internship and I can’t fucking wait to be old enough for people to trust me to know what I’m doing. And that’s such a big thing. When I think of being forty-five my first thought isn’t “my skin will be worse”. My first thought is “I will know so much more than I know now and people might pay me for that knowledge.”

– Not a bad pay off, is it?

– It’s a fucking amazing thought.

– I sometimes think about my body post-having a child. In my mind, I don’t imagine getting married and having a child and being with that person forever. I imagine more “Oh sorry. We’ve been sleeping together for four months and now I’m pregnant. And ah – ”

– “Thanks for the sperm, see ya.”

– “Thanks.” And so I – I always think that I will be dating after I’ve had a child. And I sometimes think about that moment when I get undressed for the first time in front of someone that’s not seen me naked before. And I don’t think of it with horror. I think about it with – Will I at that point when I take my clothes off my post-baby body, go “God the me of the past was an idiot for undressing with the lights off!” Will I go “Why didn’t I celebrate this body?”

– I find the whole nudity-sexual partner-discomfort thing interesting because I’ve had a lot of conversations with people where they are just like “I just can’t. I don’t like the idea of someone seeing me naked because I don’t like my body and I get really self-conscious during sex to the point where sometimes I don’t want to have sex because they’ll have to see me naked.” I’m not slender and there’s a lot about my body where I go “God! I wish it wasn’t like that!” But I kind of hit a point in my life where I’d had sex with a bunch of people when I was heavier than I am now and no one complained about that.

I think we do this weird thing where we think that people don’t know what our bodies look like because we can’t see them from all angles all the time and so we sort of go “Oh my God! They’ll know this about my body.” They kind of – They probably know already! And they still want to have sex with you.

– See I know this too! I know intellectually that there’s – I’ve thought back on and gone “did I judge that person’s body while I was… on it?” No! I just did the sex!

– I remember the first time I slept with someone who wasn’t a tiny, skinny, wizened man because they were an artist and they didn’t eat enough because hey, my life. I slept with someone who had a bit of a belly and I remember giving them head and looking up and being like “Whoa! There’s a stomach in the way of the trajectory of where my eyes usually go” but I wasn’t like “aw gross” I was like “That’s fun!”

I remember I tried on a top once and I was like “I don’t like this because it hugs my figure and makes me look heavy. The guy I was with was like “I really liked that on you because it made you look curvy.” And I was like “What? That could be a good thing?” I felt so stupid! That had never really occurred to me that someone could be like “Fuck yeah! I love that!” instead of being like “I’d love it if there were a bit less of that.” Which is so… Oh my God! Way to take the media into my own brain but I –

But despite all that, when I’m having sex with a person, I don’t think I’m ever like “We can’t do this position because then you’ll see my stomach.” I’m usually too busy being like “Hey! Touching naked people!” and celebrating that! I’m proud of that fact. I’m really pleased that is part of my thought process. I’d really hate to be in the position of being frightened of someone else seeing my body. When I’m in the process of getting undressed I’m sometimes a bit like “Uh! It’s happening!” But once I’m naked it’s like “Well, they can see me and they’ve got an erection so it’s going to be fine!” It’s not like they’re making apologies or backing towards the door because I have a stomach and there are some stretch marks in my life. I feel like I’m glad that I’ve hit that point where I’m like “You are fine with seeing me naked and you still want to put your penis in places. That’s great. Let’s just roll with that.”

Thank you to the other talker. The photos in this post are all old self-portraits of mine. I decided that, as this was a very different thing, I should illustrate it differently, so I’ve given Sarah Walker’s archives a break for one week. Apologies for the nudity. 

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Politics, Sex

on sexting, dick pics and the twenty-first century flasher

Okay.  So I want to talk about dick pics.  Specifically one sent to this woman via a dating website.  The facts: it was unsolicited and when she responded negatively he laughed it off, asking if it was ‘to big for ya’.  After some back and forthing, (she was called a ‘prude’ and told ‘no wonder your single’) the woman informed him that she would be sending screen caps of their conversation, including his cock, to his mother on facebook.  I spent too long reading the comments under this happyplace article and now I need to rant so hold this conversation in your head.  I’ll come back to it.

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Look, the nature of the game is changing as fast as our technology.  Naked pictures have been around since the beginning of forever but now we carry mini porn studios in our pockets and the question shouldn’t be ‘is my child sexting’ but ‘does your child know how to be safe whilst sexting?’  The answer?  Like actual sex there is no way to sext without incurring some risk.  Whilst the risks of sex are pregnancy and disease, the risks of sexting are more likely to be public humiliation.  The potential for feeling immensely violated comes with both activities unfortunately.  Yet still, we are not turning to celibacy.  What’s with that?

Everyday many, many people are doing the risk verses pleasure mathematics and coming up on the side of pleasure.  So how to be safer?

There are programs like snapchat that delete the image after three seconds but honestly, the best way to keep safe is to send it to the right person.  As with any other risky sexual behaviour (ie: unprotected sex or fetishes that put you under the control of your partner) , one should only be doing this with someone they trust to not be a dick, to treat them with respect and, above all, with someone who wants to indulge in this type of sexual behaviour.  I think this should be taught in basic sex ed.  Along with the use of condoms this is the best way to avoid being hurt by sex: have sex with as many or as few people as you want but make sure that a) they respect you as a human being and b) they really, really want to be there with you.   Real sex or virtual sex, all the same.  Anthony Weiner, your mistake wasn’t taking a photo of your cock  it was sending it to someone who didn’t fit into one or both of these categories.

What I use snapchat for. I think I’m doing it right.

Now onto the unsolicited sex pics.  Don’t!  Just don’t.  In saying that everyone does it and that this dating/relationship/sex game is changing just as fast as our technology is, I am by no means pardoning this idiot’s actions or his sense of entitlement.  Unsolicited sex pics are the cyber-version of flashing.  It is sexual harassment and just because it is commonplace does not mean that we shouldn’t take it seriously.  In addition to this, many of the comments on the article that stated that this woman was on a dating website so what did she expect are the equivalent of real world victim-blaming behaviour such as questioning what the woman was wearing or saying she shouldn’t have been out by herself.  She was putting herself in a situation where she had to expect sexual harassment.  This talk is dangerous.  When we talk about rape culture, this is it!  That a woman should be grateful to receive this man’s dick (or cyber dick) or else she a prude and it is up to her to be able to brush it off.

Police were not contacted.  Only his mother.  His poor, traumatised mother.  He could have prevented this.  Even after he sent the photo of his dick, he could have prevented this by not acting like one.  He could have apologised and pretended the picture was meant for someone else but he didn’t.  Instead he treated her as if she was over-reacting and should be grateful to receive his attentions.  Oops.  The woman is right: Trevor deserves ‘to have that uncomfortable conversation with (his) mother’.   Hopefully the next woman to receive a photo of his penis will have requested it.

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My own plays, Theatre

on sprinklers, under-aged drinking and horrible sex

A monologue from my new play It’ll Last Longer.  Many thanks to Raimondo Cortese who has been workshopping it with me.  

 

So I’m a kid.  Like fourteen?  Fifteen?  Couldn’t have been more than fifteen and its Australia Day and I end up in this pub by myself watching cricket and drinking beer and I’m not really into cricket but after six or seven hours of drinking it’s growing on me and every burly beer gut in the room is my friend now and there are these women with tits out to here searching out my eyes and licking their lips at me from across the room.  You know?  Like I’m something irresistible.  One of them keeps stealing mouthfuls of my drink every time she passes to the toilet and she needs to go loads so by the time the game’s done my glass is rimmed with lipstick.  Australia wins and all the blokes hug me real tight and I’m drowning in their fat and their yeasty t-shirts and we’re all so in love with each other that when someone suggests we go for a game ‘right the fuck now’ we all think it’s genius.

So it’s thirty blokes taking it in turns to throw a tennis ball at a backpack and calling it ‘cricket’ and the big tits have followed us from the pub and I don’t know how anyone can squeal as high as they squeal.  They don’t sound human but what would I know:  I’m just made of beer, right?  One hundred percent pure booze.  I end up somewhere on outfield pissing on a tree and the whole park is spinning like our bowling isn’t and my ears are full of their screams and I’m Brett Lee taking a piss, right?  Pissing for Australia at the MCG: that’s me.  And I turn back to my new mates, dick out, arms up, appealing, like, ‘as if I didn’t fucking slaughter that barky mother-fucker!’

And – that’s it.  Everything goes black for a bit.  Dunno.  Guess I passed out or hit my head or –

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When I come to, the park’s empty.  All those yeasty guys, all the squealing pigs…  Gone.  But there’s this woman sitting next to me.  She looks as old as my mum but she’s not acting like a mum, right?   I’m hammered and I’ve got a lump the size of a truck on my head but she doesn’t give a shit.  Doesn’t even look at me.  She’s not wearing makeup and after a whole day of watching those tongues lick those lipsticked mouths, its like she’s got no mouth at all.  Her face is just a blur smoking a cigarette.  She’s looking out over the oval and the sprinklers are on, singing that song that sprinklers sing: ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch.

She’s goes ‘You’re cock’s hanging out, love.’

And I’m like ‘yeah.  It is.’

‘You gonna put that away?’

‘Nah.  Don’t reckon.’

And we just sit there for a bit.

‘Want me to put it away for you?’

I have to concentrate real hard to nod.  ‘Yeah.’

And shits spinning like those sprinklers and the park is empty but I can still hear those screaming voices.  Like they broke some wire in my ear and it’s just gonna be forever ‘EEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIII’.

She takes me to the hospital after.  Sits next to me in the waiting room for about half an hour then says ‘fuck it’, gets up and leaves.  She was my first.

Photo of the night sky by Sarah Walker.  www.sarahwalkerphotos.com

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