stuff i think and do

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


I don't blog here very often anymore, and today I log in not to comment on Penny Wong or climate change, on riots or economic crises, but on that most pertinent of contemporary issues: Obvious Lesbian Subtext in Ostensibly Heterosexual Television Programming.

Let me begin.

In 1998, when I was 14, I was madly in love with a beautiful prefect 3 years my senior. This love was grounded in and found its safety in, certain undeniable truths:
  • nothing would ever happen between us
  • any other desires directed at me were not to be acted on because of my devotion to her
  • I would never love anyone like this again
All the while, I spent my lunch breaks sitting in a computer room next to a friend of mine, reading Xena fan fiction.

I don’t remember who introduced whom to Xena, though I know there was soon a group of us, all just-out-of-the-closet baby-dykes and baby-bis, who merrily gathered for sleepovers to watch this rather appalling tv show. We passionately analysed the glances and touches, puns and innuendo between the two lead characters, and a few of us read fan fiction. The internet was still in its infancy; we had no facebook or youtube, but we had email and fan fiction, and the school hadn’t worked out how to block porn.

And it was mostly porn we read. We consumed story after story in order to imagine what the television wouldn’t give us in Xena and Gabrielle: a requited lesbian love story.


The appeal of unresolved sexual tension (UST in the fanfic world) isn’t new or original. From Austen to the X Files, we adore being voyeurs as characters we deem so clearly in love dance around the possibility of romance.

The delicious tension of unrequited desire filled my adolescence: the prefect I couldn’t touch but followed through the halls; the straight girls I crushed on, imagining they might one day turn (some did, though not for some years, and not with me); the television programs spanning seasons without fulfillment, and the similarly themed rom coms I consumed voraciously.

There was safety in unrequited desire, in seeking only what I couldn’t have. More than safe, it was totally hot, and though I’m thrilled I hit a turning point at about age 25 and started seeking people I could actually have, I still sometimes yearn for that denial, and I satisfy that yearning with more UST-laden TV.

I recently started watching Rizzoli and Isles, a rather ludicrous buddy cop dramedy staring the devastatingly good-looking Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. I chose to watch it after I read a lesbian blogger’ssubtext recap’ celebrating its lesbian UST.

You can taste the UST subtext oozing off the screen. These two women touch each other gratuitously, share a bed regularly, have candle lit dinners, pretend to be gay to put off unwanted men, get jealous when the other dates, have a superb butch/femme dynamic, dine with each others’ mothers…I could go on.

I don’t know whether the producers planned it this way, or just started playing up to their rabid lesbian fan base as the series progressed [search #Gayzzoli and isLez on Twitter if you wish to find them] but now, in season 2, the subtext is ridiculously blatant. However, the actors, writers and producers continue to insist in interviews that these are totally straight women who are “just friends”.

And so the tv producers win: we, its lesbian viewers, keep going back for more, recapping crumbs of tension as they arise, penning epic tomes of fanfic and getting off on that divinely cruel state we remember from our adolescence; the closeted, secret, unrequited desire of a friendship laced with sexual tension.

Meanwhile, they keep the “family” viewers happy and don’t have to tackle the issue or become a “gay tv show.”

And most of time, I don’t really care. It’s a stupid tv show, that I watch cos the women have beautiful shiny hair, good comic timing, shoot guns and look at each other lovingly.
But part of me gets angry. Because Josh / Donna and CJ / Danny had their resolution; the Good Wife / Will got hot and heavy at the end of only the second season; Bones is pregnant to Booth; and Moulder / Scully had some weird drawn out romance resulting in that second movie that was shit.

Poor Xena died with only a chaste peck for Gabby and I highly doubt Rizzoli will ever push Isles against the elevator wall and finally show her how well a butch can treat a lady.

Of course there are exceptions – shows like Buffy, Glee and Greys Anatomy – which bravely allow previously straight characters to discover new facets to their sexuality and come out. But they are the exceptions, and these characters tend to be surrounded by a straight ensemble cast, rather than being eponymous heroes.

For the most part, we are left grasping at subtext and settling for unrequited desire. While straight viewers can watch with the hope of resolution, we settle for less.


I introduced that same Xena-loving high school companion to Rizzoli & Isles and she is, of course, hooked. I could have bet my right boob she would love it. Within hours of pressing download, she had texted me with ‘this is everything - EVERYTHING - I want in a tv show.’

I went over for dinner the other night and we gleefully told tales of our high school explorations. We have never kissed – rare among lesbian friends – but I discovered parts of my sexuality more with her than with the group of friends I did get drunk and ‘practice on.’

Because with her, it wasn’t practice. In that computer room, she was learning the ins and outs of her desires, and finding community in writers using the internet to tell the stories we weren’t getting on our screens. She was the first person to really describe lesbian sex to me, after being the first of my friends to have it.

She expressed her teenage desires in ways I wasn’t ready to understand, still caught up in unrequited love for my prefect – who was so safe because I couldn’t have her. At the time I think I was intimidated by how bold my friend was, and, while I seemed to have the power, as the early object of her affection, in truth, I looked up to her, so sure of what she wanted. To this day, I am in awe of her guts when it comes to sex and romance. She may privately eroticise the unrequited but she nearly always gets the girl.


My friend’s girlfriend watched, aghast with delight as we dissected our new show and reminisced about our geeky teenage adventures: “oh wow…I feel like I’m meeting you both aged 15,” she said.

Much has changed since then. I get now that requited love is superior and far more satisfying long term; these days, lesbians kiss on prime time tv; I’m facebook friends with that prefect and while she is still very pretty, it’s more than a decade since I thought we were “meant to be.”
But, it was nice to discover what hasn’t changed; what my friend and I still share, after 12 years of friendship. It’s more than a penchant for shitty tv, - it’s a certain kind of desire, and a certain way of enjoying what sets our community apart. The delight we take in getting attached to these characters, despite our text always being sub, is an unrequited desire all of its own.


Monday, 31 January 2011

The Kids are Alright

I finally got around to watching The Kids are Alright last night. Anyone not up to speed, google it, watch it or be prepared for spoilers.

Basic premise is a family with 2 kids and lesbians mums. The teenage son wants to find their sperm donor so they look him up and contact him. He starts hanging out with the family, commences an affair with one of the mums, is discovered and then - thank god - is summarily rejected by the whole family.

Til last night, I had boycotted it. Finally, there was a lesbian mums film, and it had to be about the fucking sperm donor? And worst: about fucking the sperm donor.

Now, someone told me it was autobiographical when they heard my cry of "That would NEVER happen", but my complaint stands, because, despite it happening in this instance, it is not indicative of most lesbian families.

You know who lesbians often cheat with? Other women. You know how much time I devote each year to thinking about my sperm donor? Maybe 25 minutes, when Louise gets a birthday card from him and updates me on his life and I think, well gee I'm glad he gave

my mums that sperm.

In all my years of Lesbian Mothers with Children meetings and Rainbow Babies, The Kids are Alright is not a story I have heard. Curiosity about sperm donors: yes. Contacting them for information: sometimes. Lesbian mums having mad hot affairs with them: not so much.

The Kids are Alright is well written, with full characters and a bright script. I'd see it again just to see Annette Bening tell the sperm donor that she needs his advice "like I need a dick in my ass." It would have been ok - good even - if I had already seen five or fifty films about a variety of lesbian families, with a variety of stories. But WHY does the First Lesbian Mothers Film have to be about the god damned sperm?

And... it gets worse: the sex between the two women is dull, hidden, mechanical and lacking passionate. When Julianne Moore fucks the sperm donor, it is naked, graphic, passionate, varied, aggressive, penetrative and - apparently - better.

Not. Ok.

But perhaps the absolute worst thing about The Kids are Alright is how much it affected me. Perhaps it's that an hour after watching it I found myself in tears, halfway through brushing my teeth, sobbing because I had just seen my family on screen for the first time in 27 years. Sobbing for the parts of my family I have lost, and the parts we have fiercely held on to - having fought so hard. I watched a lesbian family with teenage children struggle with issues I recognised. I saw lesbian parents battle through infidelity. I saw the subtle differences that occur when 2 women parent together; differences I can't list here without hideous generalisation, but marked differences that fellow children of lesbians mothers would have seen too. Moments and lines and feelings we have seen and said and felt.

I am 27 and I have never seen my family fictionalised, never had narratives that reflected my own, never had movies or novels or television shows that legitimised my experiences, allowed me to laugh at them, or gave me the catharsis I got last night.

The Kids are Alright made me very sad and very angry: angry because they got it so wrong, and angry because they got it so right.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Blogging for Don't DIS

Full disclosure: The ‘Blog for Don’t DIS’ thing was my idea. So yes, in writing this blog, I am doing my job. But that isn’t why I am writing it.

I started working for the Don’t DIS my ABILITY campaign in 2009, recently returned from my Big Overseas Trip and wondering what to do next in my odd little career. Thinking I’d be biding my time as an event manager while studying, I discovered firstly that what I was doing was so much more than events management and, secondly, that I didn’t want to study for a new career after all.

I feel so genuinely privileged to work for this campaign; to spend my days discovering new ways to think about disability, community, education and discrimination; to meet such engaging and thoughtful people; to develop new language techniques for communicating ideas; to have the chance to learn new tools and media for communicating online and off; to discover new Australian writers, bloggers, activists, teachers, musicians and more.

When I tell people about the work I do, they assume I’m then going to wax lyrical about “giving back” and “helping people” and “inspiring change.” But that is not what I focus on. I think people can tend to try and give the impression that they work in non-profits or social justice initiatives out of selflessness…

I don’t want to diminish the real action inspired by campaigning and education, or the genuine passion of the staff who work in these fields. But while I do my job because it’s important, I also work for Don’t DIS my ABILITY because it’s fun, because I learn, because it’s engaging and because I believe people who have been through hardship, people who are from a minority group, people who know what it is like to walk (or wheel) down the street as “other” are just more interesting.

I will leave this position at the end of the campaign smarter, more reflective, more aware and deeply enriched. I have met wonderful people, seen some amazing things and, most importantly for me, had some wonderful conversations.


Monday, 16 August 2010

iphones are ruining our lives

M: Emily, what are you doing?

E: Feeding my fish in my shark tank. It's an app. Just promise you'll make me quit if I ever decide to buy fish coins with real money. I've been tempted...

A: Don't look at me, I paid for the advanced version of iperiod.

M: But iperiod is useful!

A: I'm on the pill, Maeve.

Monday, 2 August 2010


Old Habits:
  • Nail biting
  • Chewing lip
  • Jaw clenching
  • Smiling
  • Talking
  • Being happy
New Habits:
  • Nail picking
  • Putting hands in mouth to adjust plate
  • Rubbing sore temples
  • Frowning
  • Lisping
  • Being angry

Friday, 23 July 2010


Every morning when I wake up, my jaw is locked shut. I can open it, clicking it painfully but it often continues to re-lock throughout my shower and breakfasting, much to my frustration. Throughout the day it clicks irritatingly, until sometime in the evening when - if I am lucky - it calms down.

After years - yes years - of this problem, I decided to mention it to my dentist a few weeks ago. He thought it was due to grinding my teeth at night and, maybe, my nail-biting habit. He was going to make me up a little splint. Then, luckily, in a moment of honesty, I said "...yeah... If I am trying to talk to someone, or drive, or watch TV, and I am not biting my hands, it's really hard for me to concentrate."

Deeming my problem "chronic" he referred me to a specialist.

I have spent the last month trying to stop biting my hands. It's felt like a break-up. My safe little crutch gone, I have developed a number of other twitches: twiddling my fingers, biting the inside of my lips, scratching at my cuticles and so on. But I have kept trying.

Today I went to said specialist and paid $400 to be told:
a) I am stressed
b) I am a classic personality type for teeth grinding / clenching
c) I clench my jaw at night, drawing moisture out of my mouth and placing enormous pressure on the joints
d) I need a plate - 24 hrs a day for 2 months, then at night. It will cost $900. It will cost $125 per weekly adjustments during the first month.
e) The plate will fix the locking. It probably won't fix the clicking as the ligaments have been stretched and may not bounce back.

He talked to me for about 45 minutes about stress and, having never met me before, described elements of my personality in depth, with disturbing accuracy:

"You are a worrier. You are over-analytical. You are a "what if" person, unable to make decisions because you are constantly pondering the options and you know that, once a decision is made you'll go over and over it. You may be sitting quietly and suddenly a decision you made years ago will start to plague you and your anxiety will shoot through the roof. You procrastinate. You are good at talking about what you think, but not how you feel. When a friend has a problem, they can call you and you happily provide sound advice but you are unable to apply this practical reasoning to your own choices."

And it went on..and was kind of intense...

This year I have had two long-term problems come to a very expensive head because I ignored them for years (vocal injury and now this). I think I had better call the podiatrist about my fusion foot before I step off the curb and it breaks...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Last night, my mother's dear friend Peter passed away after 6 months of pancreatic cancer. Peter was one of Louise's oldest friends, a veteran from the heady days of communal housing, alternative families and queer-before-the-word-queer-was-trendy lifestyles my parents told me about when I was growing up. The years in London, before I was born, were retold as bedtime stories and through the photo albums lining our walls. I idolised the brown-tinged bell-bottomed hippies smiling up at me from English pebble beaches and little share house kitchens.

Peter was closer to Rowan growing up, coaching him in philosophy and Latin. I loved him as my mother's friend but we did not have a close personal relationship, despite running into each other regularly at Queerscreen events and the theatre.

So when I heard Peter had cancer, and last night when I got the message from Louise, I cried mainly for her, and for his family: two adult children, close friends and ex-lovers, and his lovely partner Rubens.
The past 5 years have not been easy to Louise. She has lost two brothers, the gorgeous Ingrid - another old friend, and two weeks ago, a treasured colleague. When life was hardest, Peter was there in ways only he could see she really needed. While others asked questions, imposed their own agendas and expectations, Peter took her to the opera and on picnics. Astoundingly intelligent, he talked to her about books and philosophy, not divorce and death, and he reminded her who she was and how much joy she could find in the world. He has been a true friend, and I know she will feel the loss of him daily.

Sometimes it feels like death is skirting the peripheries of my life, slowly circling closer. This big bad that frightens me so deeply, edging its way into my life, spiralling inwards, each time hurting that little bit more. I am terrified - cold and terrified - about the moment it will be not a mother's friend, or a cousin's father, but a sister or a close friend of my own. I am terrified that, unlike Louise - who is so much braver than she realises - I will completely crumble.

My mothers and their friends have taught me all I know about family. They have flaws, but you could never accuse them of disloyalty. Teresa told me yesterday how she happily skyped her first girlfriend from uni, Sydney to London, across oceans and what must be more than 35 years. They taught me that once you love someone, you should hold on tight. Some people don't like this little habit of mine - especially ex-girlfriends - but I have no plans to change. Once I'm yours, you're stuck with me, whether you like it or not. I make mistakes; I've hurt friends and I've of course been hurt by those I love. But I am still striving for friendships like my mothers maintain; epic romances really, with people they know so well and so deeply, but are still able to be suprised by and in awe of.

Peter farewelled Louise last week saying, "Enjoy everything, Louise." It's a pretty perfect piece of advice and one I want to heed. It's also something I couldn't do without my family and friends. I'm thinking about them today, and also about Peter.



The Blurb

For maevegobash: yeah, I just like thinking/writing/talking about myself. That's what blogs are for, right? For vegepalooza: I have been vegetarian for 25 years now - so that's always for me. My mothers cooked a storm up in the kitchen and I am carrying the torch filling my friends bellies at every opportunity. I love food and want to share my recipes, tips and tricks here to encourage creative vegetarian eating. There will also be a lot of vegan recipes for my friends with more willpower than me (sorry kids, I just love the cheese). Anyway enjoy, feel free to criticise and most of all Happy Eating!