"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, March 26, 2016

la femme nouveau

Now Playing: Work by Iggy Azalea (this dream is all that I need cause it's all I ever had)

Once upon a time, a woman could become a wife, or a working woman. The two paths were so incompatible that women were fired upon getting married or falling pregnant. To choose an industry or academia was to live in a man's world, yet never be part of a man's world.

I feel like women are still making those choices today. We build our careers and sweat over textbooks at ages when our grandmothers were tripping down aisles and having babies, and being a working mother - or even just a working wife - is a condition that is still so full of barriers and stigma and gossip. I should know; I watched my mother do it.

I want to know what will make me happy. We're so quick to judge and ridicule women who give up things for love, but I don't think we live in a world where we can have it all. Men can. I never heard of a man who had to choose between women and job security. I've reached that age where I am, apparently, making choices for myself - but I don't know if I really had any say in any of the choices I made, and I don't know if anything I am choosing today will make me happy.

My friend got married around the same time I left home to come to ANU, which was a very real and visceral event to remind us of how different we are, and what different paths we have taken; how I have some open doors that she has closed, and vice versa. We don't live in the 50s; she still goes to uni, she will still work, we will both eventually find some way to balance life and love and work and family - or, at least, she will. Maybe I'll just be learning to balance my life with a cat.

She has the life I walked away from - not that I was anywhere near getting married in Perth, but there's a security in your hometown that you'll find nowhere else. I have so many opportunities here, but having lots of opportunities means having a lot of uncertainty; and, as always when you take a big leap of faith, when you capitalize on the privilege and luck that bears you hence, you also make sacrifices. Maybe we have both made the right choices. Maybe we will both be happy. I don't know. I certainly don't know if I'll be happy.

I think a lot about what it means to be a strong woman, how that term has evolved and yet has remained so stagnant. A strong woman remains a sexless one; we still associate weakness with falling in love, with being a fallen woman. We're constantly told that getting married too early or getting pregnant or even having too serious of a relationship will throw a wrench in our careers; I think at the end of the day society is still pushing us to be motherly or matronly, because to be otherwise, or even to be both, is to be something too momentous to handle. But I think it takes great strength to do something that society tells you not to, at an age where people judge you, without the ironclad security that this you are absolutely going to pull this off, that this is absolutely going to work - I admire my friend enormously.

In the previous generation 'to have it all' was to trick someone into reproducing and cohabiting with you, and to have the same burden of being stuck in an office all day as your husband, and all with less pay and the same housework responsibilities as the browbeaten 50s housewife. But equal happiness, equal opportunity...I think that still eludes us. Nothing I do these days seems conducive to finding happiness in my private life, just as the few months of utter indulgence did absolutely nothing for my career.

I hate the shame that is attached to so many things - I don't think it's shameful to be a woman who enjoys sexual relationships. I don't think it's shameful to want to be loved, and to love. I don't think it's shameful to want to be a mother as much as you want to be a career woman. Sex, love, children...these are not things that men have to apologise for. They are the things that keeps the world turning, that keeps the species alive. They are huge, momentous things. And, especially as someone who studies sexuality, I don't think I'd be where I am if I hadn't let myself love and indulge in these dreams sometimes. Dreams are the most intimate wishes of the heart. And the heart wants what the heart wants, as they always say.

I am deathly afraid that there are some dreams that will not be fulfilled; and I am frustrated because I feel like I have not been allowed to pursue them. Sure, these are my dreams and this is my career, but when it is funded by other people's money and opinions, to walk away, or even to compromise, is not really an option I can take. I have never been allowed to openly pursue the reckless, wild things that I loved; I did it anyway, but always with the idea that it was a distraction. But from what? I don't want to be successful and alone. I don't want to be chained to a relationship with no independent prospects of my own. I really...I want it all. I don't see any other way to be happy.


Now Playing: In a Week by Hozier ft. Karen Cowley (after the foxes have known our taste I'd be home with you)

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great

And would suffice.

- Robert Frost 

It's a huge trope, isn't it, that a woman is this block of ice and a man's fire/lust/whatever is supposed to melt her and she warms to him and then happily ever after or...whatever. I wasn't great at sitting through cartoons when I was a kid, because although I study movies now I was petrified of them as a kid. It's in Great Expectations and the 60s film of Romeo and Juliet and in every rom com ever and also a lot on my Tinder which is a graveyard of disappointment right now.

Here's the thing; I have always resisted the urge to cut myself off. I have an almost masochistic need to throw myself into things head first, fearless; I toughen up and make less stupid mistakes, but I've never given up on the things in this world that shine bright. Firstly...I have the self control of a shoelace. But I also don't think it's a good thing, to become cold and impenetrable and just go all Ice Queen on people until someone decides 'hey, she's a bitch, but she's pretty', and then tries to melt down your icy ivory tower. Like, that's always been a terrible model for human relationships.

It's also a pretty slut shaming model for human relationships, if you think about it; because it's just a pretty metaphor for pursuing and being pursued, and when women turn that narrative on its head they're a slut, they're loose, they 'give it away' too easily. It's totally absurd. And aside from batshit insane people who use being frigid (as in cold, not virginal; be as virginal as you like, girl, do what you want) to torment people into loving them, I think people who are cold and hurt just want to be left alone and not have the burdens of love and lust thrust at them repeatedly. You know. Just a thought. Maybe we shouldn't be romanticizing the pursuit of unwilling participants.

I feel like we are encouraging in men an obsession with the unattainable. They love unattainable women, because to win is to be great and exceptional. And men think they are so exceptional in their fiery lust for all the finer things in life, they're so petrified of women who share that fire. But to be great and exceptional is to love unironically and without fear; it is to have a backbone in a relationship. Maybe it's because I'm young, and that I've only met young men, but I've never met anyone with the emotional maturity to deal with women as actual human beings; because emotions are run hot. They burn and scald and leave scars. Sometimes being great and exceptional is not in one's own fire, but in dealing with the fire around them. The chase is easy. Any idiot can chase, especially a block of ice. They don't really have a high top speed.

I spend a lot of time thinking of the endless way in which men compartmentalize and over-simplify women, force them into boxes, and sometimes cages; the frigid bitch who eventually warms to the first person with a penis and the bright idea that she's available, and probably hasn't got a lot of men to compare you to - because she's a bitch - is an endlessly frustrating thing to be boxed into, and the need to reduce us to these boring tropes and stereotypes speaks a lot to the fear men seem to have for women - I don't forget that they used to burn women for speaking their minds. I don't have a pathological fear or disgust of men. I'm just plain impatient.

I've always been a kind of fiery person. I have a loud voice and loud opinions. I've always had a ferocious temper. I have been hurt, badly, but I cannot, and will not, ice over my heart. And I won't do it to indulge some deluded patriarchal fantasy. I want people to fight fire with fire with me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Now Playing: Long Live by Taylor Swift (long live all the mountains we moved, I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you) 

It's Autumn here in Canberra, which is strange because Perth doesn't really have an autumn, just a brief period where the sun tricks you into thinking that it's okay to wear a nightie to bed and you wake up at 2 in the morning freezing your tits off, and then when you get dressed for the day you put on jeans so that the sun has the pleasure of slow-roasting you in a denim cocoon.

Around this time two years ago - when the nights were starting to get cold - I was sitting on someone's shoulders, and he was walking through Nedlands in the dead of the night. I remember we were so drunk he could barely walk straight and probably should not have been trying to balance 50kg of human on his head, but he was twenty five so I thought he was probably grown up enough to make those kinds of decisions for himself. I was eighteen, and balanced on some stranger's shoulders I was on top of the world. I felt like a constellation. In a world where the miracle of having a bachelor's degree is no longer such a miracle - he had a Masters, after all - being an undergrad was this weird space of adult freedom, but also the comforting childhood security of just going through the motions of school, because the general consensus in my circles was that there's really not much you can do without a degree so it's virtually compulsory. I was so happy and free.

I never saw that guy again. He was sweet and silly and smart and had such a wonderful sense of adventure. I still have his number in my phone, but I've never called it. I never felt the need to make it more than it was. The day after, when I stumbled back to the floor where I should have spent the night, I felt so...adult. I felt like I got it, finally.

He was a bit weird about the age gap. I was all defensive, as eighteen year olds are, about being 'legally adult'; I didn't understand his reservations. It's only now that I'm in my twenties and a graduate that I realize that he had his life put together, more or less, and hanging out with this silly little kid who can't see past the deadline of her next assignment would have been a weird experience. I thought we were both in that weird space between childhood and adulthood - he showed me how he had cleverly strung all his windsurfing equipment to the ceiling to save space in his tiny tiny room, but his wardrobe was also just a pile of clothes on the floor, so it wasn't like he had everything figured out; but now I realize we were in very different places.

But he was kind. There weren't any promises, but that meant that there were no promises to break. I think younger guys who are really invested in grandiose declarations and high falutin language might think that he didn't give me the kind of excitement and hope that teenage girls want, but he had mastered the art of being able to walk away whilst leaving feelings intact, and I appreciate that now more than ever. He was important to me but he didn't need to be a lingering presence, and his affection was not in saying things he didn't mean, but in carrying me when my feet hurt, and driving me back to wherever I needed to be, and totally not understanding that bright young things consider it perfectly acceptable to wear last night's party dress on public transport.

I coincidentally worked with his cousin a few weeks after that night - it's a very Perth thing, you know, to meet everyone and their entire families as a matter of pure coincidence. She said that she said hi to him from me, and I was mortified; you do that to some of the guys I know and they send you a restraining order and a stern email about how Totally Not In Love they are and how I really have to Move On. But I just got a 'hi' back, no drama. I was really taken aback by how drama free our encounter was; because I've managed to get through an astonishing level of drama even in the most vapid and trivial of encounters. It's like we - sometimes them, sometimes me - don't understand how to interact without setting things on fire; we can't graciously accept defeat that some things just fade away, we can't bear the humiliation of having to be cordial with someone you've been so intimate with, so we just obliterate things so that we can never go back to them or turn them into something kind.

I spent my teenage years more or less addicted to drama - I lived in the highs and lows of adolescence, even if I had to artificially heighten some of it. It's funny how the first step I took as an adult - leaving home - heightened all the drama I had to leave behind. I had a kind of last hurrah of childhood, of being a teenager, of doing things that are stupid and reckless that ends with you napping at 3pm because you are absolutely, absolutely exhausted - and I loved it. But I've also moved on. I didn't understand that sometimes things have to end for other things to start - I clung on to things and cried when they ended, because I thought that you try desperately to make something work, try to create something that exists in this weird space and time vacuum where you're young and beautiful forever, and when it doesn't work, because you're seventeen and he's eighteen and you're both stupid, that was failure. I wanted my life to be exciting, because I thought exciting was synonymous with happy. And I still want it to be exciting. But I just want to be happy, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Now Playing: Work by Iggy Azalea (people got a lot to say, but don't know shit about where I was made, or how many floors that I had to scrub just to make it past where I come from) 

Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture
and into another,
because I am in all cultures at the same time

My skin is a battlefield
My skin is the war of my people
The oppression and domination of myself by my self

The mud of the battlefield runs
Thicker than blood
In my veins

I am a leper
My skin is my Juden Star
My Scarlet Letter

He held my wrist against his
Told me I(t) was beautiful
He loved my skin like a blood diamond
In a Tiffany’s ring

I learned it was not called rape
It was called civilization

When a barbarian takes a barbarian
They make a mongrel

It was not called rape
You cannot make love
You cannot make war
To a beast

My skin is a traitor
To the beast within

Do not TELL me you CANNOT SEE my skin
A flayed woman is  a dead one

I am the colour of the lands you could not conquer

That night with our bodies pressed together
White on gold
I learned between my legs
You learned against my teeth

We all bleed the same
Beneath our skin

~ ~ ~

There are a lot of international students from China at the college that I live in, and let me tell you, we chafe badly together.

Identity is often about what we are not, as much as it is about what we are; and when you meet someone who is both you and not you, it sits uncomfortably. I don't think they like the idea that someone who looks like them acts like me; I am a scandal. I do not speak the language.

I tried to have lunch at a Taiwanese cafe near campus, and I'll never go there again. They were so horribly rude to me and I couldn't understand because surely they've met some Korean of Philippino or other Asian who can't speak Mandarin and then I caught them staring at my wrist, at the jade bracelet that is a symbol of an old and ancient culture that both banishes me and holds me prisoner. Sometimes it feels like a shackle.

My mother wears a jade bracelet; I've always wanted one, since I was a kid. People say it suits me, and I think yes, it should, because I am the colour of the lands that your people could not conquer; I am the colour of the earth that my jade bracelet was mined from. But let me tell you, Asian girls don't act like me. And my bracelet, the eyes of my ancestors, is with me as I am myself; when I am free. It is a silent witness to every act of sin - it clinks against every beer glass, it presses into bodies like a seal into hot wax.

People insist on talking to me in my language but it is not; it is the language of the people who never bothered to claim me, who left me for dead. At any given time I have about four languages squabbling over me, trying to take precedence; several conflicting, contradictory traditions that I am meant to honour all at once, and ultimately I fail at all of it. But then I feel guilty, guilty for not speaking in the tongues of my forebears; one day, when I am under the earth with the warriors and the mothers of kings who begot me, perhaps we will just sit in awkward silence. As I grow older I notice gaps in my parents' English and it frustrates me; but then I get angry and defensive when people mock them, or mock the mistakes I learned from them, because my dad passed to me the infamous, immense Korean pride, but then he had to swallow that pride and let a child help him write. But my own lack of words frustrates me, too. I feel like half a person, a person who can so easily be silenced. Sometimes I am embarrassed and humiliated, but other times I am just angry. I exist, as I am. I will not live my life in apology.

I have the right to wear my jade, dammit. I exist as an accident; I live in a world ashamed of my presence. I am sorry that things die with me. But with me, things will also live, and endure. After all, that's what I've done; that's what we all do. Endure, in spite of everything.

Confusing stimuli

Now Playing: All You Never Say by Birdy (all you never say is that you love me, so all I'll never know is if you want me) 

I'm really worried that we are not teaching men that there is any other way to show love and affection and care, especially in a heterosexual context, aside from romantic, sexual, borderline obsessive, til death do us part love.

I think this manifests in two ways - this pervasive anxiety that women will get hopelessly attached if you ever accidentally treat them like a human being, which pops up in things like 'I don't have sex with virgins' or various permutations of asserting that sex doesn't equal love, which I think most girls after the age of about sixteen manages to wrap their heads around anyway, so it seems condescending and paternalistic to constantly cut through interactions by reasserting the obvious. But I think the other way this manifests is through...blatantly lying.

If men don't know that there are more non-permanent, less intense ways of expressing affection and care for another human being, they default to the grandiose, super intense rhetoric of star crossed lovers a la Romeo and Juliet - my friends and I describe it as 'men who fake a future to get what they want in the present'. But that kind of love and that kind of relationship really needs the stars to align - and for all of us to age about ten years - for it to work out, so when circumstances change women are supposed to know that...well, they weren't exactly lying, but we're idiots for taking them on face value.

I feel like I spend a lot of my time, as a woman, trying to justify and rationalize what I'm doing - both in my personal and professional life. I spend a lot of time trying to hammer out the logic of what exactly I'm doing, both with my life or with the boy I happen to be with, but despite all that the endless cheap humour remains about women being nonsensical and illogical and irrational. I don't say things I don't mean, which you might think is quite a low bar to set, but you'd be surprised how many men spectacularly fail at even that.

We teach men that patriarchal logic is the default of cultural thought; which, paradoxically, doesn't exactly encourage men to think things through. We demand that women accept what men say, regardless of what exactly they're saying, and then we're idiots for falling into traps that never should have been laid out for us in the first place. A lot of rhetoric around heterosexual interactions is men trying to force women to trust them, to relax and let their guard down - but that's never been an exactly worthwhile exercise for me. I miss my undergrad days of beautiful strangers and blue hours not because chance interactions result in the best sex or the most meaningful interactions, but because I could always keep some armour on; it's much easier to wrap your head around the fact that nobody is really saying exactly what they mean when both of you are making a point of not exchanging phone numbers or last names.

I'm a big fan of sex, and I'm something of a romantic; but my love and care exists outside of that. I think it was just the way I was raised - in my family, to have is to share, and I keep tabs on people who I have loved, check in on them; not because it's not expending energy, but because I think affection is worth expending energy over, even if it's not in a romantic or sexual context. But I think people don't really return the favour; I have been loved intensely, and in the moment, and then dropped in quite a hurry. What is the point of loving if you don't leave people for the better?

I worked briefly as an intern at a childcare centre, and I learned that children naturally gravitate towards love. I would arrive at work in ratty clothes and no makeup and a greasy ponytail and a swarm of toddlers would rush up to me, remember how I play with them, remember the songs that I know, remember that I love cuddles and that I have endless patience for reading the same book several thousand times in a row (I don't, but love is about the charade, sometimes). And even in children who can barely walk and talk, we are still quick to see this as clinginess, as if love is a bad habit to break. I think it strange and sad that we don't teach young people that there are other ways to love aside from that intense, passionate, and often unsustainable way - which results in many young people who aren't in romantic and/or sexual relationships, like a younger more vulnerable me, to feel deeply unloved even when they are surrounded by less overwhelming, but ultimately more sincere and constant expressions of affection. I don't think it's any wonder that young people have little idea of how to engage with people outside of specific contexts that are glorified in the media.

Relationships end. People grow hot, then blow cold. I think that's okay. But I think it would be easier to accept change if people tried, at least, to care - consistently, even if it is in an ever evolving manner. I think the girls in my life know that even though we don't always talk, they're always in my periphery, and a relationship is always ready to spark up again when the time is right; or not. Sometimes people are better off crystallized in the past. But affection is constant. I wonder how to teach everyone that.

Friday, March 18, 2016

the politics of terminology

Now Playing: Someone New by Hozier (would things be easier if there was a right way? Honey, there is no right way)

I use the word 'partner' to refer to people with whom I've had non platonic relationships with, and it drives people batshit.

The word 'partner' has been associated with the queer community for a long time, when gendered words like boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife either weren't allowed to be used, didn't accurately describe a relationship, or uncomfortably enforced patriarchal, heteronormative, cissexist standards on queer relationships. It's also gaining popularity in the upper echelons of the professional and academic world, especially by professional women, because it's a more egalitarian and less...personal word? It stops one's private life from interfering with public matters.

I like the word 'partner' for several reasons. Firstly, I get judged...a lot...by how I conduct my personal life, so the word 'partner' is a neutral element in what can be quite an emotive discussion; much to my mother's chagrin, I don't have boyfriends. Millennials are great at the non-traditional. 'Partners' is an easy way to refer to a group of people who are or were important to me, but in very different ways; it's a shorthand for referring to all the weird and wonderful things you get up to in your teens and twenties. I also like divorcing relationships from my gender and sexuality, and from the genders and sexualities of the people I have relationships with. I like the gender neutrality of the word 'partner'; I don't want people to make assumptions about my sexuality or the gender of my partners through use of gendered language, because, like many people, my sexuality and experiences of attraction are somewhat separate things right now, and that's okay, but I'm proud of my identity nonetheless.

The word 'partner' is like the word 'relationship' - we define its meaning. People associate the word 'partner' with really serious relationships, but in the context of the study of human sexuality, which is my background, the word usually refers to the people you've had sex with, as in 'sexual partners'. 'Relationship' is sort of the same; any human interaction is a relationship, but we euphemistically use it to refer to a specific kind of ideal, idealized relationship that we bar people who exist outside of the sexual and romantic ideal from using the word. But when we alter words so that people cannot use them, when we limit the lexicon and vocabulary to people because they aren't straight, or they aren't cis, or they aren't in specific kinds of relationships that we deem worthy of the words 'partner' or 'relationships', we ultimately disempower a huge portion of the population from adequately explaining, discussing, and thinking about their experiences of sexuality and human interaction.

Nobody, including myself, has objected to the way in which my partners have referred to me or to my relationships with them; this has included the extremely hurtful way in which my abuser and my assailant has talked about me to other people. Because I've never been in an 'official', serious, long term relationship, my partners usually use more euphemistic or vague terms to refer to me; usually like 'this girl', 'my girl', 'one of my girls', etc. I tried doing this once - I used to refer to a few guys as 'my boys' and let me tell you, shit hit the fan. I don't know whether guys are not used to being referred to as 'boy' in the same way that women are called 'girl' long after childhood and often in a sexual context, or because I used it as a collective and they wanted to be special, or people were uncomfortable with my casual, non-platonic association with people with penises...God knows. But that was definitely a double standard.

People also object to the words 'partner' or 'relationships' because even though they are quite...neutral words, they are associated, especially by younger people, with things that are committed and serious and everything we're allergic to; but I resent that. I think it's a stupid stereotype that women are somehow overly attached to people, especially men, and that we can't relate to men in ways that aren't whiny and clingy, when in reality women get attached to things in the exact same way that all other people do. It's a strange mix of archaic notions of gender, slut shaming, single bashing...whatever. I'm tired of it. I have relationships with partners and nobody's going to change how I discuss them.

Speaking of discussing, people seem uncomfortable with women talking about lovers past, present, and future as a whole; men are constantly encouraged to talk about that broad that they pulled last Friday night, but women are supposed to be very hush hush about these kinds of things. I should know. My abuser was very keen that I did not talk about our abusive relationship.

When I say I'm a writer, I don't mean that I have published books or that I am making any living through writing (or anything at all, really, at the moment). Being a writer is a frame of mind; and it is the profound, life-changing knowledge that words carry omnipotent power. Every day we, as individuals and as communities, define the words that define us; but when we exclude or barre people from engaging in this intellectual activity, because they are insufficiently male, or straight, or whatever, we erase from history huge parts of the human experience, and we disempower people by preventing them from making sense of their own lives and to participate in this exercise of empathy. In my short life I have loved and lost, I have hurt and been hurt. I have woken up next to beautiful people and cried myself to sleep. And I will keep writing and talking about it, because my experiences are valid and even though I live in a world where my colour and femaleness and queerness is not respected or valued, I exist, and my existence is important, and my words are magic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

a very abstract ache.

I'm watching two TV shows where the average hookup rate is about 4 per minute per person, and I'm gonna be honest with you, it's not sitting well with me.

I'm twenty, I live in a shoebox, and I'm alone. Not the fun adventure times drunk yolo single of my undergrad, but like...'sometimes I don't see another human being for days on end' kind of alone. So I'm alone, with memories, and nostalgia, and a very abstract ache.

Canberra is a city of lost souls; almost everyone here is from somewhere else. There are three kinds of people - the moths that are drawn to the fire of the country's politics, or ANU, and the people who are running away (usually from Sydney, who is Canberra's older, sassier, vastly more interesting, but sort of druggie cousin). Canberra is the capital in the same way that Washington DC is America's capital; it serves a purpose, but people are at the end of the day gonna go to New York. So as much as I feel like a provincial hopeful lighting out for the big city, Canberra is not a big city; it's a small, quiet place with lots of space for reflection, which often means endless existential crises.

By far the most useless exercise that I must constantly refrain from is 'what if'. What if I had stayed at home. What if I had been happy being there with my parents like they wish I was. What would my life been like if I'd become a Perth mum instead of a Canberra nobody. It's not a healthy train of thought, because the ram has touched the wall, all the bridges have been burned to the ground and Caesar has properly crossed the Rubicon. But still, I wonder. Because I am afraid.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

hurt in this world.

Now Playing: Not About Angels by Birdy (we know full well there's just time, so is it wrong to dance this line?)

I actually really love living alone. I'm strange and weird and kind of neurotic and I'm a big fan of casual nudity and odd sleeping hours, so living alone suits me.

What I'm not loving so much is the silence.

Fortunately, I have unlimited internet, and a phone that requires its own CPR machine to stay functioning (it turns out when your PC fucks itself and takes your iTunes down with it, switching phones is quite a challenge) but can be propped up almost anywhere and rigged to my trusty bluetooth speaker, so I've been watching a looot of YouTube; when I'm doing laundry, when I'm doing dishes, when I'm attempting to fix dinner...in the shower (sandwich bag tied to a coat hanger, ladies. Instant aquatic entertainment). I've always watched a lot of YouTube; I'm a huge fan of online video, even more so given that the TV that came with my room is apparently for ornamental purposes only. And so, even though I'm alone, in my room, too poor to indulge my love of DFTBA merchandise, I feel more connected to my beloved nerdfighter community than ever.

But I do disagree with John Green on one small thing.

In my favourite John Green book, The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus Waters says 'you don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world. But you do have some say in who hurts you.' And I absolutely don't agree with that.

When I was in high school I visited the chaplain a lot; I wasn't Christian, but I was depressed, and so we had a shared goal in seeking a higher power. And she used to warn me against my casual habit of falling hard and fast for shitty, smelly teenage boys - she told me that we're like pieces of paper, and when you stick together and then try to pull apart, the paper rips and you leave some part of you behind.

My chaplain was a lovely lady, but that's crazy.

When I was fourteen I had my third heart surgery; it was the most minor of all my surgeries to date, just a 45 minute procedure to replace my pacemaker, but it was the most traumatic, given that I was old enough to understand and comprehend and be genuinely afraid. A few days after the surgery, I was at home. My head was swimming with drugs and I'd lost a lot of weight, but I was so bloated that my belly swelled out in front of me like some monstrous pregnancy. The muscles in my chest and stomach had been cut so I couldn't stand properly, so I limped around like a crochety old lady. I was in a lot of pain and I smelled of blood and sweat and piss and I just wasn't feeling my best.

There was a sticker over my surgical cut - people think of surgical scars as neat, tidy incisions but in the days after surgery they're just a mess of congealed blood and pus. I slowly pulled the sticker off, ripping off some skin and hair. I'd never felt quite as bad as then; the trauma and stress of hospital, even routine management of a congenital condition that sucks, but does leave you relatively able-bodied, does weird things to your body and brain and the relationship between the two. I thought of how much my body had been manipulated and played around, and how I had literally no say in the matter - for children's surgeries children have absolutely no say in what happens to them, but fourteen is a little old to be considered fully a child. It was pain and suffering I just had to endure - not because it was part of being human, but because it was part of being me.

And then I healed. You watch your body go through trauma and then you watch it heal again; not entirely, but a scar means that the hurt is over. And then, in locker rooms and at the beach and in bedrooms, I watched as people took in my scars, smile, and say that I was beautiful. I try not to make a habit of extracting my worth from the opinions of others, but it was just evidence that you can move on from being the fourteen year old who was flayed on an operating table, and you can move on from being a...piece of paper who had ripped and left half of itself on another piece of paper.

But you don't have any say in the matter. Pain is as inevitable as life or death or taxes. I think it's natural to want to assert some autonomy over the cruel inevitability of the universe, especially when you're young or sick or afraid, but in my experience, pain and the people who inflict it don't particularly care about you or your opinions. But that's not the part that matters. The part that matters is that you move on, from broken to healed, from victim to survivor. You may not have had any say in the people or circumstances that caused you pain, but you also have people and circumstances that can help you rise above it. We are not weak for our demons, and we certainly can't pick and choose them. But we are brave for overcoming them, for knowing that the only way out is through.

Okay? Okay.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Monogamy

Now Playing: Youth by Daughter (we are the reckless, we are the wild youth)

Six weeks before I left Perth, I started a new relationship.

It didn't make any sense, but I don't think relationships, especially when you're young, need to make sense. You just meet wonderful people and have wonderful times and it doesn't need to make more sense than that.

I'm also a big believer in the short term relationship. Forever is an incorrect concept, and I think it's stupid and dangerous when people as young as I am try to imagine the partners they will want decades down the road. I've always had fleeting relationships with profoundly unsuitable people, but I've always relished in that incompatibility, that disconnect, the inevitable doom. It gives me wonderful bravado, to experiment in the sandboxen that these teen and early twenties relationships inevitably are.

I don't believe in monogamy. I oscillate wildly between deluded optimism and crushing cynicism and I go with the latter on this one. I realized how incompatible I was with monogamy in the same way frat boys give up on the concept of respecting women; sexual incompatibility - not just with each other, but with society. I don't know much, but I know me, and I know sex, and I know that monogamy is artificial and difficult and, for a lot of people, a zero sum game.

And so, naturally, I entered into a monogamous relationship.

I was cured of the cultural obsession with monogamy when I was a young undergrad. I was seventeen, I had vaginismus, I was smart and aggressively feminist, I loved sex, and I was a sexual assault and emotional abuse survivor. I had wonderful, healthy, fleeting encounters with people allergic to commitment, but who were also the sweetest, kindest people I had ever met. And I realized that obsessing over the sex lives of men who had not in any way committed themselves to me detracted from the happiness and pleasure of the moment, the moments that existed when two human beings collided and the other people of our past, present and future didn't matter. I learned to stop obsessing over what they were doing when I wasn't there, because another girl being there yesterday didn't detract from the fact that today we were drinking beer or playing video games or sleeping in a messy tangle of limbs and sweat and bodies and that I had a heavy head resting on my shoulder, mumbling endearingly and incoherently. And I learned that although we weren't the best of friends, didn't stay in contact, drifted apart, stopped sleeping together and even really seeing each other, these people were important and those moments were special, even though, for them and for me, there were other people in the picture and there was never any 'future'. I learned to love unconditionally and imperfectly and in the moment.

The people who had hurt me in the past believed in all the patriarchal institutions of heterosexual interactions, which naturally resulted in one cheating on his monogamous partner and using that conflict to hurt me, and the other having no qualms about sexual assault or shattering the illusions of a very naive girl. My immoral, slutty, non-monogamous friends and partners and encounters were flawed, imperfect people who sometimes did immature or even downright cruel things. But their respect for the human condition allowed us to understand each other more complexly, to forgive, and to live in the moment. That's what my slutty, smutty undergrad meant to me.

I did not enjoy monogamy, but I enjoyed the person I was being monogamous with. I didn't feel the need to go out and fuck indiscriminately, but being told that I had to be committed sat uncomfortably on me. I think it made our relationship more intimate than a six week relationship before you fly out really should have been, and the juxtaposition of intense intimacy and the looming plane ticket was probably more angst than was strictly necessary. But I genuinely enjoyed our time together, and I don't regret any of it.

It was interesting regulating my behaviour in ways I wasn't used to. I did not go clubbing during those six weeks, which was a post-semester ritual of mine - but I associated clubbing so intensely with beautiful strangers and blue hours that I didn't trust myself to not slip up. I found myself getting angry and frustrated when our schedules didn't sync up - because even though I was not having nearly as much sex as people imagined I was when I was single, it was weird having one person, but only one person, that I was allowed to sleep with.

But it was also comforting. It was comfortable. It was, after all, a social norm, albeit one that gets broken more often than it is honoured. There was a degree of intimacy and security that I never had before, and people started treating me differently. I had finally achieved what women were supposed to achieve - to con a man into promising not to fuck around - after years of being off the rails. And I'll admit, it was nice, even if people assumed that I was the one who had insisted on the monogamy.

And then it fell apart.

It was a very minor indiscretion, but for someone who was not really invested in monogamy the degree of the fuck up didn't matter to me. I was hurt and angry and jealous, things that I hadn't felt for a long time, emotions that I associated with a younger, stupider self. I was angry that I, the person who did not believe in monogamy, had nonetheless made a solid effort to honour something that was important to my partner, but had been let down by the person who adamantly insisted on the monogamy. And I felt like a failure, because in the narrative of monogamy I was possibly at greater fault than him.

And then I felt this overwhelming urge to keep it all together. This was the last time I would see him and I was not strong enough to make a grand gesture and refuse to see him, because I wanted to. And I didn't even think that what he did was particularly immoral or wrong or unforgivable because, again, I didn't believe in monogamy. But I pushed this confusing train of thought to one side and went to my going away party together, the perfect couple, with nobody none the wiser that the hickeys on his neck were not from me. I wanted to have it all, and for those few short hours, I did. I had the perfect partner and I was surrounded by friends and we were all young and beautiful in a heartbreakingly fleeting way. I had an offer to the best school in the country, but I was still in my hometown where I was loved. I had it all, but I was not happy. Because in that moment, next to my lapsed monogamous partner and friends that I was going to lose, I was more aware than ever that 'having it all', like all social delusions, was an illusion.

I think people cling to monogamy because we're told that it provides security; but that is a myth. I was abused and assaulted by two men who believed most ardently in monogamy and failed spectacularly at it. Security in a relationship is completely removed from exclusivity - a 'monogamous' man can still cheat on you, and anyone can leave you, monogamous or not. The fact that we were sleeping with other people didn't change the affection that drove people to carry me when my feet hurt or walk home with me, hand in hand, or for me to force feed water to a tequila-addled boy or text a former fling when he was depressed. And this indiscretion didn't change the fact that my partner was there for me when I needed him, which was all I ever wanted; and I think that's what we all want, which is why we blindly pursue monogamy, but I just don't think that's the answer.

Monogamy has been one of many failed experiments for me, but it has allowed me to see people and relationships more complexly. I understand now why people are so invested in monogamy and so genuinely perplexed when it fails. I did enjoy the comfort and security, but I also felt like it manufactured unnecessary pain, and that it was set up for failure. I don't enjoy feeling like a failure, or feeling like you're dating a failure, when until recently you didn't consider failure to be that, but millennia of patriarchal heteronormativity is making you second guess yourself. And I had reached a point when I was relatively free of that particular brand of paranoia and indulging in paranoia was not good for me or my mental health.

But the biggest thing I learned was forgiveness. Forgiving myself for not being perfect, or the perfect person to spend six weeks with. Forgiving my partner for not being perfect. Forgiving indiscretions and imperfect worldviews. Forgiving that we met in our early twenties (or, in my case, my late teens) and not as older, wiser, kinder people who knew what they wanted in life and from themselves and from other people; I had to forgive that we met as stupid thoughtless kids who could pretty much only agree that sex is fun and that we should have a lot of it. I had to forgive that we met in December and not November and so our relationship was six weeks and not twelve. I had to forgive myself for leaving, not just him but my life and everything I have ever known; an endeavour that was equal parts survival and a selfish delusion of grandeur. I had to forgive the astonishing number of times we managed to hurt each other in a very short space of time, and I have to forgive myself for missing him and missing home when I should be basking in the privilege of being an honours student at a world class university and having to do dishes for the first time in my life.

I really dislike the idea that every relationship that isn't forever is a failure; I was never aiming for forever. The thing that I learned was not that monogamy is not my cup of tea, because I already knew that. But the reason I indulge in fleeting relationships is because I think you become a better person, the more you recklessly and wholeheartedly live and love. When life and love is big and fat and swells until you can hardly bear it; when you've lived through abuse and assault and mental illness and physical pain, you learn to appreciate living large and loving big, in spite of the circumstances. And I really...I really was happy, and I'm glad that I had such a wonderful last summer. I'm grateful to have met people who made me happy, and I hope I made them happy, if only for a little while. That's all that matters.

I will be okay. He will be okay. And that's all I need right now.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Never Grow Up: A Letter to Nineteen Year Old Me

Now Playing: Out of the Woods by Taylor Swift (she lost him, but she found herself, and somehow that was everything) 

So this letter is more than a month late! Moving will do that to you.

Dearest Nineteen,

I'm writing this in a computer lab on campus at ANU. It's weird.

Dearest Nineteen, you've had a pretty good year. Uni was pretty okay. You have new experiences - playing a Jacobean villain on stage, meeting a pretty bricklayer with a thick Leeds accent on a sweaty dance floor on your birthday - and the demons, I think, sometimes sleep quietly for a while.

People may have started taking you a bit more seriously, but nothing is going to make that charming peacock-infested institution of yours take you and yours seriously. Your final year of uni is like skating on thin ice and, as you always do, you run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. Sometimes I wonder at your courage, dearest Nineteen. Now I am all alone in the little room you fought so hard for, and sometimes I don't feel very brave at all. But I keep on keeping on, because I know this is all you ever wanted, and it's all I've ever wanted, too. It's tough, sometimes. But you're very lucky, and all that luck and hard work weighs on you, stays your hand, makes you bite your tongue every time you want to ask to go home.

Your friends are taking paths that you never dreamed of taking, but they're happy, and I wish them well. And then you meet someone, dearest Nineteen, just before you leave, too late to change your mind. He's beautiful and sweet and kind, and for the first time in your life you consider the life you're giving up and leaving behind. You have a wonderful summer together, and now when I close my eyes I remember the warm summer air at King's Park, or the city lights from the balcony. Growing up isn't always about making good or bad choices, doing the wrong or right thing. It's about taking a path, which by definition means you cannot take other paths, and sometimes those paths have pretty hometown boys and a comfortable life that you never really wanted, but is tempting you nonetheless. I'm not saying anything was definitely going to happen with this boy, but he represented everything you're letting go in a profoundly heartbreaking way; I know you don't think you're going to miss Perth, but you do, every day, especially now that life is hard and scary and full of uncertainty. Leaving him is one of the hardest things you'll ever do, but you'll do it, because you made hard choices about which path to take. I hope we made the right choice. I have no regrets, but I'll admit that I go back to December all the time.

Dearest Nineteen, the year ahead is hard, and who knows where it will take us. But it's also new, and exciting, and you'll be happy. I promise.

Just Twenty.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

loving recklessly

People often ask me if I've been in love and, honestly, I don't know. We conceptualize love as the happily ever after, even if it fractures. But it never gets there..what is it?

Sometimes I wonder if I fall in love with ideas, instead of people. This is dangerous and stupid and ultimately disrespectful, but I think it happens, anyway, because I'm young and I'm searching for something as much as I would like to find someone. There were people who represented security or safety or adventure or danger, and sometimes I wonder if the thrill was the thing I couldn't live without, but the person was rather interchangeable. It's a horrible thought, huh?

Here's the thing. I think I love big. I have fat love; I can feel it swell. We treat love like a finite resource, or something that is easily spoiled, but I can't see it that way. I love so many people in so many different ways. I loved all the people I've slept with, for example, in my own way. I don't know if you could call any of it 'in love', but it was love.

Love, for me, is the refuge of innocence. It is the place I go to when I am shattered, when the world ends and you feel like an empty shell with everything that you've ever had snatched away from you. The standard narrative is that the angry, bitter, scorned woman becomes hard and cold and closed, but I can't do that. I was not made hard, but I was made strong. Loving recklessly is my last innocence; it is something I cling to even when all is lost. We live in a world where women lose everything when they give up or give in to something or someone; when they first fall in love, or when they first get their heart broken, or when they lose their virginity. But innocence, I think, has to endure all these trivial things.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

keepin' it real

Now Playing: Work by Iggy Azalea (Valley Girls giving blowjobs for Louboutins, what you call that? Head over heels?)

I'm not going to lie, I'm having an existential crisis.

Anyone who tells you they didn't have the OH MY FUCKING GOD WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE nervous breakdown at some point in their mid twenties has amnesia or is a liar; and I'm having that, right now. I really...don't know what I'm doing.

School was just an endless drudge to graduation. Even my undergrad was just an endless drudge to graduation, because I come from a family and I live in a world where a bachelor's degree means diddly squat and will do diddly squat for you in the Real World. But now, as an honours student, the torture is very much voluntary. Or is it?

I left a life behind, in Perth. It was a quiet, suburban, secure life of homey comforts and hometown boys. A couple of my friends went down that path, and I wish them well; and half of me wonders if I should have joined them. There's a lot of security in knowing you'll get a job when you graduate and you'll have someone to come home to. I don't have that. And I wonder sometimes if I'll ever have that. I left that kind of security behind, because I found it suffocating, like clothes that just don't fit you. I remember the last day, in Perth, knowing that things weren't going to be the same again, and it was scary; part of me just wanted to get a degree in a field where there was a labour shortage and date boys who can find your house without a GPS. But part of me had always, always wanted to leave and never look back, and that's the path I took. Growing up isn't always about making the right choices, or even having choices that are necessarily better than others. Going through one door means closing others and sometimes when I am sad and lonely and overwhelmed I start to think about what's behind all those doors I locked.

But at the same time, I really didn't feel like I had much of a choice, coming here. I finished my degree in early November; I spent three months doing absolutely nothing. I had a job that provided, at best, pocket money. There's no career for arts graduates like me, at least not in Perth, at least without a bit more work. Graduation, for the baby boomers, for the people who burned our earth to the ground whilst wagging our fingers at us, because we've never had it so good, was the end. For me, it was the end of childhood, the end of knowing what I was doing, and the beginning of...what? Joining the Centrelink queue?

Now I wake up every day with more work than I could ever possibly finish. I've become a hermit; for the first time in my life I've become that idiot locked in her room all day, every day, reading. My friends message me once a fortnight or so to check that I'm still alive.

To be clear, I have a *very* cushy life. My parents are paying my fees and I have a nice room on campus. I'm doing what I love and although this week I had to not buy chicken because I spent all my money on books, I'm doing okay. But after this, what next? I can't stay in lovely, but tiny apartments on university campuses, paying rather than getting paid to study, for the rest of my life, at my parents' expense. I've never really worried about money, and I still don't, but it used to be that if you went down this path eventually you would be secure; the reason my mother was adamant my sister and I would be educated was so we'd have security in life. But now, we are both college graduates and although we have gone down different paths it is not just difficult in the character-building sense of the term, but completely dim. My work is important. It is valuable. People who have the jobs that I want to have always recognised my talents. But talent isn't enough in this world, anymore.

Sometimes uncertainty stretches before me like the ocean. It's not enough now to have a bachelor's, or a master's, or even a PhD. Our parents and grandparents didn't live in a world where you can get a doctorate and end up a taxi driver; but we do. Not just in academia, but in almost every industry young people are struggling. We are being priced out of jobs, of getting a house, of starting a family with any degree of security. In some ways, I'm here, as a student, when I could be getting a job, because I have nowhere else to go. My generous parents will pay for me to move interstate and study, but they won't pay for me to sit at home and stare at the ceiling, which is what I'd be doing in Perth. And after all this study, and after all this money, will I have anything to show for it? I left one uni because it was pinching pennies and now I've moved to the most prestigious university in the country and I still don't know if good marks are going to save me. My mother came to Australia as a very poor international student; but I don't think it ever occurred to her that failure could still happen even if she didn't actually fail anything.

Our generation is spoiled, sure. We take things like running water and having an internet connection and not dying of dysentery for granted. But whilst my grandmothers could never dream of going to university because of, you know, poverty and the patriarchy, I couldn't dream of paying for university without my parents' financial assistance, because university isn't as simple as getting in to whatever moneymaking empire was down the road - sometimes you're like me, exiled from your hometown because your uni decides that actually giving you an education is no longer financially viable, in spite of the exorbitant fees we have to pay. There are not many people who have parents who can foot the bill for a sudden change of address; things that are becoming increasingly necessary in this day and age. It's not enough to have a university degree, because people who have barely passed high school also have university degrees. I think it was really telling that, when I tried to apply for Youth Allowance, my eligibility was judged on my parents' wealth; whether or not my parents were willing to share that wealth with me. We live in a world where we're constantly badgering young people to stop freeloading, but then we're put through a system where we're judged not by what we have, but who were apparently freeloading on. It makes no goddamn sense.

I now live less than 10 minutes away from parliament, from the fat cats who make these rules. And I imagine, as a baby boomer, it's easy to think that young people today have it so good. But we don't live in the 'started from the bottom now we here' world of yesteryear. Hard work and an unfailing spirit just isn't enough. Soon, hopefully, I will be one of the most educated people at any point in history. It means a lot to me that I live in a time and place where a queer woman of colour can receive a decent education. But what will I have to show for it?