This song, “I regret nothing’, famed by French songstress Edith Piaf, epitomises most of my life, both psychologically and physically, including my sexcapades and love experiences with various men. Many of my liaisons I haven’t recounted; suffice to say they were eminently forgettable, just passing dalliances between the sheets, signifying nothing.
However, without sex for six years, I certainly missed the pleasure and fun of carnal cavorting, but in some ways, what I missed more was human contact, the soft but strong touch of fingers caressing my naked skin and the gentle but firm feeling of physical humanity alongside me in bed.
Of course, some of my sexual encounters failed to achieve the sensitive intimacy my body desired and needed, instead contenting myself with gentle massage on my own and at times masturbating in the bath, the waves of warm water some sort of sensual substitute for a man’s touch. After decades sleeping alone in bed, there was the occasional night I longed to curl up in a man’s strong arms and surrender to a peaceful slumber. Sadly, there was no man I felt so inclined to do that with. Simultaneously though, I was pleased to be without a man, albeit an incompatible one just for the sake of having someone to couple with in a partnership for social approval.
Over the years, a couple of friends, both female and male, accepted relationships, even marriage, as the way to live, yet complained these relationships were sadly ‘sexless’ and often ‘loveless’ too, a friendly companionship preferred to being alone, despite an absence of passion, lust and profound psyche connection. Reflecting they were participants in ‘marriages of convenience’ I eschewed for myself, nonetheless I listened as empathically as I could to their lament about life with their partner, but at times it was a personal pretence believing they had chosen that lifestyle, however discontent.
Understanding it was their choice, I oft refrained from making comment having copped much consternation and criticism from friends in the past about being ‘alone.’ I now appreciated it was each to their selves, recognising I didn’t really know about anybody else but me. They could live how they chose, but at the same time no longer wanted, moreover needed, any more abuse about how I chose to live, tired and angry hearing their endless dissatisfaction about their problematic relationships. Too often they accused me of having ‘all the problems’ because I was alone; frightened of commitment, too choosy, maybe hostile to men and even too obsessed with sex, unable to ‘love’ another because my perspective, which included sex as significant in choosing a permanent partner, was wrong in the first place. Talk about projection!
While mutually pleasurable sex was pertinent in my choice of men, just as important was having an intimate emotional and intellectual connection in my relationships, and damned if I was going to settle for ‘second best’. I never had and never would, my understanding of my own needs and desires clearer to me than they ever had been in the past. Many women I believed, supported by well-documented research I read, highlighted that they oft chose ‘a good provider’ who seemingly offered financial security instead of appreciating other qualities and personal needs, such as emotional rapport, intellectual inspiration and sexual compatibility.
In 1990, Time magazine devoted an entire issue to female equality titled “WOMEN: THE ROAD AHEAD”, which included a survey of 505 male and female Americans aged between 18-24 years which revealed 77 per cent of young women regarded a well-paying job as ‘an essential requirement’ in their choice for a spouse, compared to just 25 per cent of young men. Moreover, 41 per cent of young males believed physical attractiveness an ‘essential requirement’ compared to 19 per cent of young women. Intelligence was more or less equally important for both genders with 95 per cent of young woman ticking that box and 88 per cent of young men. Another big difference was in masculine/feminine traits; 41 per cent of females applauded this category as an ‘essential requirement’ compared to 72 per cent of young men. On fidelity, it was a fairly level playing field, with 100 per cent of women compared to 97 per cent of men regarding this as an “essential requirement.”
While this survey was a decade earlier, research I perused since then indicated that a male as ‘a good provider’ is still top of the pops for a majority of young women. And having a man, even if he’s lost interest in you as a partner, still creates emotional trauma for many women, seemingly bedevilled by not just losing ‘love’ in their lives, but their whole raison d’etre. But how could wanting a man who doesn’t want you be desirable? This was a conundrum for me, having recognised way back in my late teens that if a man wasn’t as interested in me as I was in him, I had to face and accept that reality as a no-go relationship scenario. You couldn’t ‘force’ anyone to be interested when they weren’t, yet many female friends and some males I knew too, seemed incapable of letting go and facing life without their loved one.
In 1982, American psychotherapist, writer and lecturer, Dr Penelope Russianoff, penned a best seller titled “Why Do I Think I Am Nothing Without A Man?” in which she detailed women’s problem of emotional dependency on men, outlining ways to achieve emotional independence in a solitary life and/or in a relationship. Acknowledging that marriage and male companionship were fine, she asserted women must be able to do without them and their self-esteem must not depend on it. For me the book was already ‘old-hat’, confronting those issues in my 20s when I was on my own. But many women I realised were still wrestling with those issues.
Indeed, two females I knew, one my own age and a former school friend, imparted how, in her 20s and married with a young baby, she had threatened her husband with ‘suicide’ if he abandoned her for another woman he had since fallen in love with. Telling me this personal narrative when I resumed a friendship with her on my return to Australia, she added he acceded to her emotional blackmail and stayed by her side, at least temporarily. My renewed friendship with this girl, then a woman in her early 30s, was brief as I was unable to comprehend how anyone could want someone who was no longer interested in them. Hearing how much she loved him, she said she just couldn’t imagine life without him. Staying together for another couple of years, she finally accepted his passion had waned and replaced her with the other woman. She didn’t try to foil his exit again.
Her experience evoked exactly what Russianoff wrote in her book but just a decade later, another friend of mine in her early 30s, with her own job, financial independence and abode shared with two male mates, was ‘dumped’ by her boyfriend after seven years of togetherness who she envisaged as a life-long partner. Shattered by his rejection, she filled her bath with hot water to slash her wrists and commit suicide when I called her on the Friday night shortly after the separation to inquire how she was feeling. Crying uncontrollably on the phone and informing me about her intended suicide, I hung up, ordered a taxi pronto and was at her place within about 10 minutes. Home alone, she was sitting at her dining table still in tears and checking out her bathroom found the bathtub full of water, still warm. Talking to her as best I could about how young she was with her whole life ahead of her to meet another man did not alleviate her abject sadness, sobbing for the next three or so hours as I continued to talk to her.
Waiting till one of her house mates came home as he was a psychiatric nurse, in the short term, I at least had stopped her from getting into the bath to slash her wrists. When her nurse house mate finally arrived sometime after midnight, I was emotionally exhausted, telling him what had transpired whereby he told me to go home to bed. Duly departing, I retired home and fell asleep, calling the next day to speak to him. He explained my friend was asleep, had taken a sedative and was feeling better. I knew she had been taking anti-depressants for a few years when I met her, and although she recovered and seemingly overcame her anguish at losing her boyfriend, it wasn’t long before she had another boyfriend who caused her more anguish; albeit of a totally different kind. Without her knowing it when she met him, he was a heroin addict.
Stealing from her and betraying her financially, he caused more heartache and sorrow. Often turning up to my apartment in tears to relate yet another tale of woe about him, I floundered about what to say as she had quickly left one difficult relationship to start an even more problematic one. It seemed living without a man was impossible for her. A couple of years later, he was tragically dead from an overdose. At that point, she did seek psychiatric counselling, but lived on her own for a short time only, soon befriending another man to co-dwell with. Still popping anti-depressants, she soon became pregnant.
Seemingly adopting a new persona as a mother, it became evident that she didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, sadly I surmised because I may have known too much about a past she didn’t want divulged to this new partner, not that I ever told anyone about her and her problems. I haven’t seen her for more than 10 years and I write this now because I believed she was yet another woman unable to not just be alone, but live contentedly without a man, certainly for long, repetitively choosing male partners that only caused pain and suffering.
But it wasn’t only women I realised that were frightened, or for other reasons perhaps too, unable of being alone with emotional dependency issues. The man from regional Victoria I befriended at the football some eight years before was to my shock, consistently violent towards his wife, with her finally deciding to leave after more than a decade of marriage and a young son as well. Having 12 months earlier introduced me to his wife on one of her occasional attendances at the football, the three of us became friends for a while, inviting me to their home for the weekend after the football was over on Saturday afternoon.
Having a young son to look after, his wife rarely accompanied him to matches, but she was one wife who didn’t seem at all bothered or concerned about my friendship with her husband, always welcoming and as friendly to me as he was. Moreover, he had never made any hint or suggestion of anything sexual with me and I certainly didn’t fancy him either, believing they were happily married and simply enjoying our football forays.
However, after a couple of weekends at their home, my belief in their happy marriage soon dissipated as he was abusive, disrespectful and psychologically violent towards her, making me uncomfortable, uneasy and uninterested in being with them. Making excuses about why I couldn’t spend any more weekends in their home, a few months later I was surprised when she called to say she had ‘left’ him, taking her now two young sons with her. The fact she allowed herself to fall pregnant again in an abusive and violent environment was actually none of my business, but privately, I was appalled and horrified.
Unqualified in any field, she started living on government assistance, renting an apartment in the same city as her husband. During her call to me, she imparted tales of his physical violence, punching her and pulling her hair accompanied by verbal insults and attacks as well as telling me that her oldest boy, now 5, had started copying his father’s behaviour and begun hitting her too. Being as supportive as I could, it was hard to know what to say, sharing my own story about Richard with her, albeit in shorthand, suggesting being on her own was all for the best. As for my friend, certainly I had witnessed his angry aggression and outbursts at the football, but then, I could be just the same, regarding these emotional displays as simply passionate support. I was remiss what to make of him. However, a few days after her call, he turned up on my doorstep at midday in Richmond, alone and wanting to talk to me.
While his temper often flared at games even more intensely after a couple of beers at half time, I was unable to detect any whiff of grog on his breath when I let him into my apartment. Telling him his wife had called and I knew what transpired, he sat down next to me on the couch, burst into tears and bawled his eyes out, resting his head on my shoulder and telling me how much he loved her and wanted her home. Pulling a wad of white paper scrawled in blue biro out of his pocket, he handed it to me. It was the letter she left for him when she walked out and he wanted me to read it. Writing how unwanted, unloved and frightened he made her feel, I also told him about Richard which I hadn’t done before, trying to make him realise how his wife felt as I’d been there, too. Informing him he needed help to better understand his behaviour in order to change, I suggested he contact a men’s network service for violent men that I’d researched previously for a story, but he dismissed my advice with short shrift. A couple of hours later, he left.
Within a couple of days, his wife called me again to say she had returned home and what could I say? Sadly, it was an all too familiar story, which continued for a couple of years until I no longer wanted to know them, even at the football. His behaviour towards her while initially improved, soon reverted back to its abusive and disrespectful ways, and I was exasperated with her calls, his lament, with neither of them prepared to seek help from professionals. She was unable to be alone but so too, was he. It certainly wasn’t love, but I believed, an emotional need that sadly hooked both of them into a prison of endless pain and torment. There seemed no other choice but to walk away from both of them.
Nearly 50, I accepted I might never meet another like-minded man to indulge in the sexual frolics I fancied, and as disappointing as that reality was, I had to acknowledge that youth was the catch cry of the saucy, sexy and salacious desires of many males, even the older ones my own age I encountered. Certainly, I didn’t feel at all old; indeed, at 26, I penned a diary epistle about “Why Growing Up Didn’t Mean Growing Old” as even then I witnessed so many young people settle into staid suburbia in marriages of convenience which I considered stultifying, soporific and aged, certainly for me. Yet, the pervasive but pertinent innuendo accompanying my hedonistic lifestyle was silent testimony of an immaturity and irresponsibility to my peers and family; an anathema to the so-called ‘grown-up’ woman.
Fun was a dirty word, juvenile and childish, favouring a serious and secure perspective instead; a ‘grown-up’ woman needing to be married or at least ensconced with a male partner somewhere out in a suburban wasteland with 2.4 kids and 2.2 cars with a joint income guaranteeing lifelong prosperity for ensuing happiness. The reality of too many people’s consequent unhappiness seemed irrelevant in this fairytale gospel still imbuing the conformist and conventional societal norms; anything other than that was intrinsically aberrant and pathological; a woman to avoid as a ‘freak’.
Indeed at 18, I wrote in my diary about how our society is what we create, yet, as an individual that society can destroy us, a syndrome that ‘doesn’t seem to make sense’. However, over the years of my life it made lucid and profound sense as I refused, or simply was unable to succumb to the socially-sanctioned stereotype of a ‘grown-up’ woman because it just wasn’t the way I felt inside and had no deluded aspiration to follow the flock. As an individual, social pressures had sometimes felt crushing, but my father’s perception of me as a ‘radical, non conformist’ made all the sense in the world to me. The social milieu I inhabited just didn’t accept, or accommodate, individuals who dissented from the stereotypical norms.
Moreover, without a recognised successful career, this 70s aspiring Superwoman was now socially reduced to no more than a sad, spinster stereotype, alone and unemployed without money or a man, love or sex. In that perspective, entertained by many people, I was a ‘failure’, a loser writ large without all the external accoutrements enshrining success, though I didn’t see it or feel it that way. Indeed, I regretted nothing. How? Why? Or was I unconsciously deluded about my destiny or simply in denial of what I really wanted? My resounding ‘no’ to any assumed denial by others counted for nix to them, but dismissed their beliefs and opinions as irrelevant and immaterial to how I felt on the inside, revelling in my past memories and experiences, particularly the positive and enriching ones, casting the negatives aside as a woman who lived life to the full, regretting nothing.
Ups and downs were inherently part of my rich tapestry of life, never wanting to live on a straight line in monotonous monogamy and boring routines. Taking risks, albeit more carefully and considered as I aged, was still my mantra. Love of a man might have come and gone, but I now enjoyed a self-love and love of a few friends that enriched my life, and while there was no sex with a man, my masturbatory pleasures counterbalanced my frustration. As for my career, I had abandoned the mistaken faith in that as a source of satisfaction long before, realising it was too often about status and prestige rather than genuine enjoyment of the work. Money well, I never earned much anyway and was only too well aware that while having more of it could have enhanced my enjoyment of life, it certainly didn’t ipso facto guarantee ever-lasting happiness. As The Beatles’ sang in the 60s “Money can’t buy you love”.
More significantly, my love life, sex life and work life were my choices about what mattered to me. Hedonism, or the pursuit of pleasure as I could find it and with whoever wanted to accompany me, underpinned those choices however reckless or irresponsible they were regarded by others. Power over my own life was paramount.
Another book I’d read more than 20 years before “Not The Marrying Kind”, published in 1983 and written by two women resident in Australia, Robyn Penman and Yvonne Stolk, focused on the exposure of ‘a set of psychological and social myths regarding the nature and status of women comparing these myths with the realities from the perspective of single women’. Claiming that ‘rigidly defined and constrained sex roles’ limited the liberating potential of both women and men, they affirmed that “Because single women (did)…not conform to the status quo, society automatically assigns to them the deviant role of spinster…We aim to show how and why the single way of life can be a real alternative.’ The authors surveyed 435 single women in Melbourne, including one woman, born 23 years before me, who experienced “twenty years of personal struggle….(before disentangling) herself from society’s conceptions of what she should be, and to recover her own self-esteem outside of those conceptions.” I believe these conceptions were, and are indeed still, misconceptions, still underlying the choices of both women and men today.
Confronting those conceptions, the authors assert, “challenges the very foundations of our culture.” They also argue that “it is believed, almost without question, that marriage in some guise or other is essential (for well-being)…And it should be emphasised, this belief is shared by nearly all members of society, both men and women.” Later, they contend, as my personal experience attested to, that “women without men…have to face the social difficulties of living in a couple-oriented society; a society in which the unattached woman, whether by default or design, is always the odd one out, the ‘fifth wheel’; a society in which it is considered unacceptable, and often dangerous, for ‘decent’ women to eat or drink alone. It is also a society in which married women fear the unattached woman, either as a husband-seducer or as a reminder of the married woman’s own lack of freedom.” Moreover, the authors claim that being with a man is perceived as “both socially and psychologically normal for women in our society….(and) women without men (are) not only… socially ambiguous but also…deviant...” Touche!
In 1984, I purchased another non-fiction book called “Having It All”, written by Helen Gurley Brown, author of the “Sex and the Single Girl” I read way back in my teens. The “All” she defined was Love, Sex, Money and Power, but on the first page, detailing how women who were of the ‘mouse’ mentality, that is, passive and docile, needed to wrest their strength, become assertive and demand their rights to accrue the ‘All’, only angered and frustrated me. No more being the subservient and acquiescent female squeaking platitudes in the corner to placate their men. Moreover, the ‘All’ was inextricably linked to having a man.
Tossing the book in the rubbish bin, I read no further, only disappointed I cannot now quote how ignorant, naive and stupid she was about women like me who were outspoken in their attitudes, even verbally aggressive about my rights and sexually fulfilling my needs who were regarded, albeit unconsciously more often than not, as a ‘threat’ to the status quo and too alarming to others, women and men both.
She failed to acknowledge or even contemplate that ‘speaking out’ and being a strong, sexy and secure woman came with a price to pay, too many others disturbed by her personal power, confidence and strength. It was my choice to walk away from people, women as well as men at least when I could, who tried to silence me in a social strait-jacket of conformity and control my life with no respect for my intelligence, individuality and integrity. Gurley-Brown seemed remiss to appreciate the reality for some women like myself and the repercussions of NOT being passive, docile and a “mouse”, even in the 1980s.
The one thing I did have at 50 was a strong sense of self, a sense of my own power to channel my energies and passions how I needed and wanted without having to ‘power’ it over anyone else and indeed, feel ‘powered’ over by anyone else either. That feeling was immeasurable, inexplicable and invaluable, but beyond most others’ frame of reference, my friends and family included. No longer needing understanding, even empathy about my life from anyone, I felt emotionally independent as Russianoff advocated, even though economically I was dependent on the government for the dole. To me, that was an irrelevancy, an ‘outside’ need for food to sustain myself as what mattered more was feeling emotionally worthy about myself without the artificial props to buoy me up, though occasionally I played the game of ‘family togetherness’. I also sought company with people who were not on my psychological wavelength, realising I needed acquaintances as well as friends.
Celebrating the arrival of the new millennium on a hot summer night, I indulged my football passion by attending a ‘special’ football match at the MCG between my team, Carlton, and its oldest rival, The Magpies. My teacher sister came with me. It was a joyous occasion as the Blueboys won by many goals, finishing at about 10pm when my sister and I adjourned for dinner to a Greek restaurant in Chapel St, a thriving night spot for the young and not so young. As a teetotaller, my sister didn’t drink, (she never enjoyed alcoholic tastes), but after imbibing a couple of vinos and devouring a delectable lamb souvlaki, we heralded the 21st century with much merriment and hope.
Enjoying my birthday over a month later in February was my next important calendar date, bumping into Brian in Richmond on a bright, sunny morn where I’d gone for a caffeine fix and to read the newspaper, a daily routine I always enjoyed alone, having met several interesting people in the cafes I frequented. Suggesting he’d buy me ‘a birthday breakfast’, we travelled in his ute to St Kilda, buying me a couple of glasses of champagne replete with strawberries accompanied by fresh, buttered toast. The weather was truly beautiful as it often was on my birthday in Melburbia, a warm day but without scorching sunshine or steamy humidity. Sporting a suntan, slim and dressed in my favourite garb of denim jeans and a black sweater, I felt as beautiful as the day was. Brian had his own problems too, having resigned from Leader Newspapers to pursue his ‘own thing’. Somewhat worried about his future despite being just 34-years-old, we were anxious ‘soul mates’ about money and jobs, putting our concerns aside to focus on my birthday festivity.
That night, I accepted a barbecue dinner invitation at my oldest sister’s home, attended by my mother, my teacher sister, Brian and a girlfriend who was more acquaintance than close friend. Tucking into the juicy steak and drinking good red wine, it was a pleasant night without any tension or trauma. In the five years I had known Brian, he had become like ‘a brother’ I never had, sharing a close albeit platonic love that I’d never experienced with any other male. No holds were barred as we revealed secrets in our lives, imparting his lack of confidence and self-belief that I aspired to boost for him. Difficult to inspire him without really grasping why he was unable to believe in himself as I did, he soon obtained some casual work through one of his mates at Melbourne’s biggest TAFE institute in a quasi-PR role as communications officer, complaining at the same time he was bored. After about three months, he informed me he was leaving to take up work in the Victorian Public Service, suggesting to his female boss I could fill the vacancy. After an interview over a cigarette outside her office (glad that she smoked too), I was duly installed on a five-day a week casual basis for a month at the end of July 2000, then extended to a contract till the end of the year.
Achieving more coverage in the media for the varied TAFE courses than both Brian and his PR colleague had garnered during those six months, I was then offered a full-time staff job where I stayed for the next seven years, replacing two full-time staff. It was timely to say the least, earning more money than I ever had previously and more importantly, was mostly my own boss, directing myself in the stories I covered and where I placed them in the media. My immediate boss was a reasonable female, much younger than me, seemingly satisfied to leave me alone to ‘get on with it’. With my own office and friendly colleagues in the communications department, I could once more enjoy the job with money to pursue extra-curricular activities such as attending movies, concerts, dance events, the opera and occasionally, the theatre. Football was still high on my agenda, too.
Brian continued dating many and varied women younger than himself, sadly now unhappy in his public servant role in communications. But with the security of long-term government employment, he purchased a house in inner city Abbotsford with a hefty mortgage, signing away his freedom and relinquishing any opportunity for more suitable and stimulating employment. Feeling sorry for his decision in some ways as I believed his mortgage had trapped him in unsatisfying work, he soon met a woman he ‘fell in love’ with, curtailing his dinner outings at my abode and the frequency of shared time together. Slowly, he was creating a different life for himself, as his ‘lover’ moved in to his house with plans for marriage not far away. Despite my interest in wanting to meet her and happy he was with someone he said he really ‘loved’, it was a few months before he actually arranged a threesome at a Vietnamese restaurant in Victoria St close to his house.
Suffice to say our cosy dinner of rice paper prawn rolls, beef with ginger and spicy chicken was undermined by Brian’s girlfriend’s superficial discomfort with my questions about her background; the school she attended, her Year 12 achievements and her career choice. Brian’s family was well-off, his father a doctor and his mother from an established wealthy old Melbourne moneyed family, attending a prestigious boys only private school, which while he never enjoyed, was socially way ahead of his girlfriend who grew up in regional Victoria of working-class parents and almost ashamed of attending a government public school. Moreover, initially aspiring to be a doctor, then a physiotherapist, she reluctantly had to accept studying occupational therapy as her marks were too low for entry into medicine or physio. Without realising my faux pas, I told her my sister was a doctor and her daughter too, elaborating how my other niece was a physiotherapist. Despite elaborating that the niece didn’t actually like physio and that the doctor niece also had misgivings about her medical career, didn’t seem to register as some soothing albeit compensating balm for her; instead becoming almost rude and abrupt in her responses towards me.
Unintentionally and inadvertently, I realised I’d probably made her feel inadequate, even perhaps not very bright, with Brian ending our dinner together as he paid the bill and we left. Returning to my apartment alone and upset, I felt I’d ‘fucked up’ our encounter so that our later rendezvous were always strained and uneasy. Meeting her on a couple of other occasions, I felt she didn’t like me or enjoy being with me. Moreover, Brian always greeted me with a kiss on the lips as well as bidding me adieu, much to her chagrin. Sad that his wife to be and I could not enjoy a friendship as I had with him, another female friend I knew who had previously dated Brian suggested she was ‘jealous’ as when she had dated him, she said he talked non-stop about his relationship with me and how much he loved me. While she knew our relationship was a brother-sister one, his new girlfriend obviously didn’t, though what she did think exactly was unclear. It was disappointing that this girlfriend couldn’t accept our friendship as a ‘brother-sister’ relationship the way we both did and for the next couple of years, I didn’t see much of him, missing the fun and rapport we had so enjoyed.
Yet, being platonic friends with ‘married’ men I had already realised was a no-no, the men seemingly unable to have a female friend that was single and unattached. Certainly, a few of these married men I met wanted to have sex, but I declined their offers as I no longer wanted dalliances with married men and moreover, didn’t fancy them. Liking these men intellectually and conversationally, they ended our ‘friendship’ when I refused the sex, incapable or unwilling to enjoy a relationship with a woman other than their wives, surmising their only interest was sex and my single status was a threat to their women, despite the ‘sexless’ nature of their marriages.
Indeed since the late 90s, I had attempted to write a football book about winning one’s personal premiership, endeavouring to enlist an ex-footballer to co-write it with me, but the men I approached all shuffled excuses about being too busy, though initially evinced interest in my idea. I started to conjecture whether these males, all married, were simply ‘scared’ of working too closely with a woman, albeit in an amicable and non-sexual way. Would their wives be frightened of their husbands spending time with a single woman? Worried they might have sex? Or were these men deluded thinking I wanted to fuck them when I just wanted to write a book with them? I cannot answer these questions but after approaching half a dozen of these ex-footballers who all declined over a period of 11 years, I am left pondering the reason for their rejection. Similarly with the media men I contacted about a documentary series on men; they too were initially interested but then suddenly became too ‘busy’.
Indeed, in 1985, I returned to London for a month’s holiday and to see some of my old friends there, contacting the freelance director I worked with in Yorkshire on the phone about the documentary series on men. His immediate response epitomised it all as he replied: “I’m married now,” implying that as a married man, he was unable to work with a single woman, though he didn’t ask me if I was married. He was still working freelance in London and what I intuited was that he assumed I wanted to have sex with him again, even though I had stopped wanting to fuck him while we still worked together in Yorkshire.
Too many men I met over the years were unable to maintain friendships with me other than having sex. It was disappointing in many ways, but at the same time, I pitied them in their marriages and relationships that couldn’t include friendship with a single woman. Brian was now one of them too, though fortunately, I still shared a Xmas dinner with my ex-boss every year, continuing our relationship without sex until a tragic traffic accident injured his brain and I no longer heard from him. Our last dinner together was a sad occasion, realising his brain damage and unable to relate to him as I had.
Just after starting work in my new full-time staff position at the TAFE I received a devastating phone call from a female friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years telling me Larry was dead; by his own hand. He was 54. Indeed, I had originally met this woman as a friend of Larry’s in Melbourne in the 80s, another journalist who had tragically been brain damaged in a car accident, never recovering sufficiently to work again successfully in the media. Larry had married her in 1985, the marriage however short-lived and abandoned only a couple of years later. Staying friends with her after the marriage dissolved but since drifting apart, she called me to tell me of his suicide. Saddened but not surprised, I had never told her about his foiled attempt at 18, but hung up after a brief conversation to call his second-wife in Perth. Disappointed she hadn’t called me, she recounted how he had left her a few months previously to live alone without a steady job or much money.
Having lost contact with both her and Larry for a couple of years, we only talked for a short few minutes, putting the phone down feeling remiss I hadn’t been in touch with him or her for far too long. Likewise, they hadn’t contacted me either. I didn’t have a clue whether she knew about Larry’s suicide attempt at 18 and I didn’t impart it. What I did say however was that I knew Larry hated himself and she replied I know. His alcoholism, first manifested when I initially met him as a 24-year-old, was but a mask for psychological problems and psychic escape. While I didn’t feel exactly guilty about what happened, I spent the next couple of days reflecting on our lost friendship, mutually reinforced, but nonetheless, with a tragic outcome. Would staying friends with him have helped? Certainly, I couldn’t answer that question, but paradoxically, his wife, a secretary when they first met, had returned to study to become a psychologist, obtaining her Masters degree and working as a full-time counsellor. If she had been unable to ‘help’ him, how could I? Moreover, if lack of money was a compounding issue, did he ask for financial help from his wealthy family or was he too ashamed? Trying to understand why he had chosen to take his own life was futile and while I felt deeply saddened, I couldn’t help berate myself at the same time. While I suggested to his wife that we keep in touch, I felt it was up to her to contact me and never heard from her again. She had sounded so distraught and shattered and I felt at a loss as to how to deal with her pain. Hopefully, as a qualified psychologist, she would be able to help herself. The fact was she hadn’t contacted me to tell me in the first place and could only trust that time would heal her hurt.
Just a couple of weeks later, I received another shock via the telephone yet again; my girlfriend from my first days at The Melbourne Sun who became a club owner and helped me obtain work at Leader Newspapers with her male photographer partner had died in a car accident on holiday in Tasmania, her partner the driver who survived. It was just before her 51st birthday. Attending her funeral with three former journalistic colleagues from my past, it was a big occasion, with more than 1000 people gathered in the church, including many of Melbourne’s rich and famous who were patrons at her famous club. Reminiscing in my own mind, life seemed so incredibly precious and fragile without justice or fairness; not just for her but for Larry too. Confronting my own mortality, I felt lucky to be alive, determined to savour every moment as best I could and lucky to have a full-time job again to enable me to enjoy life again.
For more than three years, I thrived at the TAFE, and as 2004 was coming to an end, my mother passed away. Shortly after celebrating her 88th birthday in May, she was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, dying of pneumonia in November that year. Her death was a blessing, avoiding the agonising pain and suffering of incurable blood cancer, but was nonetheless, a very sad loss. As with my father, I wasn’t with her as she gasped her last breath, leaving the hospital for a brief walk outside to have a cigarette after being at her bedside all day, returning about thirty minutes later to be informed she had quietly and peacefully passed. My oldest sister was the only family member with her, pleased she was with her at least but perhaps understandably not as upset as I was about not being there as I was about my father. My teacher sister had also departed the hospital for a break outside with her daughter shortly before my mother died. I did shed tears, drinking several cups of tea in the hospital awaiting the Orthodox Jewish undertakers to prepare for her funeral within 48 hours not the prescribed 24.
Leaving the hospital on my own, I adjourned to my local pub for dinner alone, wanting to be myself rather than with my sisters as they invited me to share dinner with them. Having drifted apart from my mother, certainly emotionally, over many years, it was as if another chapter in my life was over, remembering all our joy and laughter playing Scrabble, attending the football in her later years together and our stimulating if not sometimes complex conversations and relationship. Eating dinner and having just one glass of wine, I returned home to sleep with the next three days off work as family leave.
Sadly, my doctor sister’s daughter’s wedding was just a few days later, my mother previously telling my sister to go ahead with the arrangements despite being unsure about what would happen to her. With the funeral come and gone as planned, the wedding took place as scheduled, a difficult day not just for me, but for our family. Feeling alone in my grief and sadness, I was only too well aware my sisters had no idea about my emotions and likewise, I didn’t really know how they felt either. The three of us never discussed it; still ‘strangers’ in our lives in the way I believed really mattered. Superficially, we related amicably, but beyond the surface amity, was a void empty of empathy, interest or genuine care for each other. It was sadly how my family really always was to me, but my sisters seemed to cherish the idea of ‘family’ irrespective of its reality, in some ways, ‘married’ to each other as much as their spouses. Accepting their delusion about the ‘happy Jewish family’, I played the game required avoiding any further dissension and conflict, feeling bereft they did not even perceive my pretence or dishonesty. I knew my mother had at least understood some of my feelings about my sisters, but she too maintained her own facade because as a ‘mother’ that had been her life; marriage with three daughters was how she had lived, despite her depression at times about how it had turned out.
Indeed, for several years before she died, she was on anti-depressants, often seeming ‘away with the fairies’ when I visited her in a nursing home where my sisters suggested she would be better off living. Having stopped enjoying our Scrabble games because she would sit looking at the letters and quietly start singing to herself, I no longer wanted to play with her. Our competitive games were now just some solace for whatever was going on in her head that I wanted no role in; our fun times together now past.
A couple of months after her death, life resumed its routine, often having dinner at my local pub en route home from work. Meeting a man there a few years younger than me, we occasionally talked together over a drink, and one Saturday afternoon when I adjourned there to have a drink I asked whether he wanted to have sex with me. Although I wasn’t that in lust with him, I felt I needed a fuck, and agreeing to my request, we walked to his house 10 minutes away and around the corner from my apartment. Fair, slim, and reasonably attractive, he was easy to converse with, though we hadn’t actually ever talked about sex. It was now almost 10 years since I’d had sex with a man, and knowing he was unattached was an incentive at least, resolute about staying true to my dictum of no more liaisons with married men. However, I may as well have not bothered.
Lying on his bed naked and he similarly disrobed, he attempted to ‘fuck’ me except I was as dry as the desert sands. Without feigning any interest in more than intercourse and without any guise of a kiss or foreplay, he retrieved some lubricating jelly from his bathroom, rubbed it on me tentatively, inserted his cock, coming within a couple of minutes as I lay there unresponsive, unmoved and totally indifferent. Getting up and dressed within a few minutes, I went to give him a peck on his forehead as I said goodbye, only for him to wince uncomfortably at my polite but disingenuous gesture. It was yet another ‘wham bam, thank you, mam’ encounter, writing him out of my future as I had so many others.
Surprisingly, or just plain stupidly and idiotically, he called me at home a few days later, telling him I didn’t want to talk to him, hanging up quickly and abruptly. Some men were beyond belief. A few nights later, as I was having dinner at the pub with my teacher sister, he was there alone having a drink, coming to our table to say hello to me. Dismissing him without much ado, my sister then asked me who he was, adding he’s not very good-looking, is he? Telling her he was just a guy I had previously talked to at the pub, I didn’t even bother responding to her comment about what he looked like as I didn’t actually agree with her, but neither did I impart to her our farcical sexual episode. I had learned long before not to divulge my sexcapades to anyone much, let alone my sister who had sex with only one man in her life and that was her husband. Oft criticising me as promiscuous, her abuse was a damning indictment of her abject sex life, not mine. He left the pub and I never saw him again.
Less than three months later, this sister was dead too, suddenly, unexpectedly but not surprisingly. Obese and with diabetes, she had her first heart attack, albeit a mild one, about three years before, but while she had given up smoking since then, her eating habits were unchanged as was her lack of physical activity and exercise, driving to buy milk instead of taking a brisk, ten-minute walk. Shocked and stunned with this next serious heart attack, she was in hospital for just five days, having a stroke and another heart attack to be pronounced dead. Her glucose reading was a massive 20, anything above 7 is diabetic, and I was unaware of how high it had been, learning later from her daughter she never treated her diabetes.
The funeral was a sombre occasion as she was just 58, and while I hadn’t been close to her most of my life, over the previous six years we developed a genuine friendly relationship, albeit impersonal in most ways, that involved country weekend jaunts, dinners together in reasonably priced restaurants, cruising ‘shops’ together on a Friday night for clothes and other bric-a-brac and a conversational rapport that focused on politics. Then retired after 30 years as a politics and history teacher, I bawled my eyes out at her burial, almost unable to stop crying. The grief over her death took months to dissipate, even now, I still miss her and the good times we enjoyed together as she occasionally also accompanied me to the football and cricket, though was less an addict than I was. Within six weeks of her death, her husband, who was already sadly dying of emphysema, was dead too. I felt great sadness for her two children, now adults, but without parents to accompany them on their journey of life.
Just six months later, I received a phone call from a mutual friend in Sydney telling me Richard was dead, too; cancer finally catching up with him. Thinking seriously about attending his funeral in Sydney, I decided not to, realising I would be too upset and cry too much. In tears as I rang a couple of his old mates in Melbourne to tell them, I was very aware they had no idea about my relationship with him and how I felt, believing they needed to know even though they hadn’t seen him for years. His death seemed so cruel, untimely and unwarranted as he was only 56 and far too young to die. Although I hadn’t spoken to him for 11 years and our friendship had ended a long time before, I felt grieved and sad, sending flowers to the church in Sydney with a message: “Always My Love- Rest in Peace”. As one of his mates I called had also worked with my ex-boss, I asked him what had happened to him too, to be told he had passed away two years earlier from brain cancer, not long after our last dinner together. He at least was 72. The tears about them all didn’t stop flowing.
In less than twelve months, I lost too many people I had once loved so much, still thinking about them all from time to time and appreciating “there but for the grace of God go I”. Despite being irreligious without strong faith in God, I just didn’t know what else to attribute to my on-going life, except that I looked after myself as best I could, living each day to enjoy being alive. The Jewish ‘l’chaim’- to life, became my mantra.
Enough already of the sad episodes in my life as the next year, Brian and his girlfriend finally celebrated matrimony with Brian seating me at a table with three of his older brothers. As one of nine siblings (his parents weren’t Catholic, his mother just wanted a big family, he told me) I had met his parents and brothers and sisters on several occasions including his birthdays and other family events. Although we hadn’t seen that much of each other since the dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant, we maintained our friendship feeling really happy for him to be with a woman he genuinely seemed to love. The wedding was in stark contrast to my niece’s, first and foremost in the bride’s choice of apparel. My niece, who was 35 on her wedding day, chose an off- white, up-to-the-neck gown with long sleeves, decorated with tiny red, rose buds and lacy frills. Her image conveyed a pretty little girl that was anything but sexy, seemingly denying being an alluring or sensual woman.
Curious as to what Brian’s wife would wear as her wedding garb, I was gladdened and cheered to see her in a lemon, silver-bead encrusted, slinky figure hugging gown, evoking a subtle sexuality and stunning appeal. Of course, Brian commented on his ‘beautiful’ wife during the after ceremony dinner speech and indeed, she did look breath-taking as she was very thin and almost titless and it was Brian who dressed in a non-descript beige suit but who nonetheless looked his gorgeous handsome self, now minus his long, curly locks replaced by a neat back and sides. His wife did not make a speech which wasn’t surprising but it was one of Brian’s brothers sitting next to me at our table whose conversation I found almost predictable, if not even laughable.
Asking me if I had ever been married and telling him no- “I actually don’t believe in marriage”- he looked askance at me and intuiting what he was probably thinking, I added: “I’m not gay either’. Why did I need or even bother to say that? I can only surmise that I wanted him to know I wasn’t a lesbian, having copped so much abuse about my sexuality over my life feeling I had to spell it out loud and clear that I had chosen to stay unwed not because I was gay, but because I didn’t like the implicit expectations marriage connoted and oft demanded in practice, especially of me as a female. Elaborating on some of this, I realised he didn’t understand anything I was talking about, so instead just shut up. I wondered too whether Brian married the woman he did because both of them shared some kind of unspoken sense of inadequacy, even inferiority, a marriage of convenience where both of them could unconsciously indulge in feeling worthy to each other but not in a more holistic, all-embracing way.
Knowing Brian as I had for ten years, I loved him but also recognised he was intrinsically unconfident and lacked self-belief concealed to others behind a facade of brash bravado that had originally attracted me but was no more than a masquerade to mask his inner doubts and insecurities. Too often he was unwilling to risk failure by putting himself in unknown and challenging situations where his talents and hard work would be vulnerable. I’d already realised he was in some ways also lazy, shunning the hard slog of journalism for an easier 9-5 existence. Moreover, by joining the public service, he had opted for comfort zone security that was superficially at least, less confronting and difficult than leaping into unchartered waters.
Selling his house shortly after the wedding, he purchased a bigger house with three bedrooms nearby in Abbotsford as both he and his wife wanted to start a family, his mortgage consequently even bigger. Continuing to see him on his own for coffee on weekends, we were drifting even further apart as he adopted a lifestyle so different to mine we increasingly had little to discuss. Sport stayed our basic link.
Three months later, I too sold my Richmond apartment, hoping to buy again in the same suburb but with more space. The apartment complex I lived in, circa the 1960s and with 14 apartments, had one of the flats recently acquired by the Department of Housing to be occupied by a young woman in her early 20s fleeing domestic violence, or so she told me. Living opposite me across a courtyard, it was just a couple of weeks after she moved in that more violence flared in her abode. Her young guy, also in his 20s I surmised, was constantly drunk, verbally abusive and physically violent, within her apartment and outside in the courtyard, breaking beers bottles on the concrete outside and smashing one of her apartment windows; the behaviour repeated continually over a couple of months.
Unsure as to what would transpire arriving home from work, (both of them were unemployed), my anxiety being in my own home reached an unbearable level, complaining to the Department of Housing, who told me they would take some action to address the situation. At the same time, the relationship between the young, heterosexual couple living above me in an apartment owned by the young woman’s father was also violent, oft hearing verbal abuse in my bedroom below by the male towards the female; abuse including calling her “a fucking whore” accompanied by loud banging and crashing furniture I deduced. Both scenarios went on unabated for a few months until I decided it was time to sell up and find more peaceful environs.
The pervasive incidence of domestic violence was not new to me; indeed, several of my past girlfriends attested to being hit by their boyfriends, a couple in the UK and more pertinently, more commonly heard in Australia, albeit by men working in the media. Having tried on several occasions again to interest various publishers in my novel “The Circle War”, I got nowhere once more, finally surrendering any hope of publication.
In 1991, one of the efforts I made was with the Victorian Government as a then Labor Minister had ‘come out’ about the family violence he had experienced growing up, the Government embarking on a publicity campaign that “Violence is Ugly”. Believing my book fitted the campaign slogan brilliantly, the female public servant I met in a face to face interview about my novel and the campaign imparted that the men in the media she had contacted about the campaign were not really interested in supporting it, reluctant to broadcast and publish the social implications about family violence. Not only that, I had discovered that many men I met in the media working back in Australia were violent against their partners and wives, their violence covered up by a conspiracy of silence by their colleagues.
It wasn’t at all surprising to me as I was the one castigated and condemned as the ‘problem sick one’ in my relationship with Richard whose male friends mostly colluded in his behaviour by not admonishing him or even acknowledging he had a ‘problem’, as if the ‘boys will be boys’ mantra reigned supreme. Moreover, I was also too well aware that many of the women I knew in the UK and in Australia, including my mother too, were perpetrators of psychological violence as many men were of physical violence.
One freelance story I wrote that I was thrilled, if not surprised at its publication in February 1999 in a quality Melbourne newspaper, was about female violence, in which a PhD student undertaking her study in juvenile female violence told me that society had two different behavioural norms about male and female violence. The former, though criticised as wrong and harmful, was not perceived as pathological or abnormal while for women, violence was regarded as ‘mentally’ aberrant and ‘sick’. Moreover, a female psychiatrist I interviewed at Leader Newspapers in the early 1990s told me there were two different norms of behaviour for men and women, violence just an example. In the late 2000s, nothing had seemed to change, male violence now more in the mainstream media but understood very simply as an anger management issue and lack of respect for females, whereas female violence was still believed, and even worse treated, as a psychiatric problem. No one seemed to embrace the gender common issue that violence, be it psychological or physical, was a ‘mental’ health issue that needed redress across the social spectrum.
In 1976 in Yorkshire, I had researched a documentary about a violent woman, diagnosed as bipolar who underwent a new brain operation involving ‘burning out’ part of her hypothalamus to supposedly cure her violence. Pioneered in Japan, the doctor there had been consequently banned from undertaking any more such operations but my research about him went unheeded. Furthermore, consulting one of her previous psychiatrists, he was aghast about the operation telling me she didn’t need it and it shouldn’t have been performed. Moreover, while he acknowledged she had a violence problem, I asked him whether her violence was any different to so many men that society hadn’t labelled as psychiatrically disturbed and even bipolar. He didn’t answer my question and refused to be interviewed for the documentary.
Interviewing this woman and her teenage kids, her behaviour reminded me so much of Richard that I was horrified at what was done to her and how she had been treated. Yes, she had problems, but she hadn’t killed anyone, hadn’t attacked her kids or even beaten anyone up. She had lived with a couple of abusive men and sadly, had retaliated against them with violence too. Compared to Richard, she was more psychologically violent than physically so, but as a woman, her rare physical assaults in the street against parking meters for money and occasionally robbing someone, was ‘psychiatrised’ as bipolar with a serious violence problem. She wasn’t into drugs but had been a prostitute, trying to make money to feed her kids and pay the bills. Socially as a female, she was regarded so negatively as ‘sick’ whereas Richard’s behaviour, not just against me but other women too, was accepted as part of the boys will be boys’ frame of reference.
The documentary about this woman was a complete travesty of the truth in my perspective, leaving me resolute to try and redress the dreadful injustice against females as opposed to males. Reading copious books about female violence and supposed madness, I embarked on writing a book about this woman to tell the true story as I learned from her and her family, but obtained my job in London shortly after beginning to write it. With my experience of more violent men in the media at Thames, the stories I’d heard from various girl friends over the years and my own family experience, I chose to write “The Circle War” as an attempt to focus attention on the deeper and hidden problems pertaining to the issue, particularly how society treated male and female violence so starkly different.
My novel’s continual rejection only reinforced that western societies did not want to countenance anything different; the gender specific norms of behaviour still enshrined in maintaining the status quo be it at home, at work or at play. Facing this reality was a sad time for me.
At the time of researching the documentary, I chanced upon a non-fiction book “Women & Madness” written by American psychologist and feminist, Dr Phyllis Chesler. Published in 1973, she wrote: there exists “a double standard of mental health-and humanity-one for women, another for men which seems to ‘unscientifically’ dominate most theories- and treatments- of women and men.” She quotes Ellen West, (c.1890-1926), a wealthy, sensitive yet suicidal young married woman, who scribed “I am 21-years-old and am supposed to be silent and grin like a puppet. I am no puppet. I am a human being…I am not thinking of the liberation of the soul; I mean the real, tangible liberation of people from the chains of their oppressors… I want a revolution, a great uprising to spread over the entire world and overthrow the whole social order….”
Chesler, also writing about Sylvia Plath and Zelda Fitzgerald, writes: “(they) were desperately and defiantly at odds with the female role. They attempted to escape its half-life by going crazy.” Maybe the woman in the documentary was attempting the same escape; I can only ponder that possibility as I never discussed it with her, but Chesler’s belief about Plath, West and Fitzgerald, also pointed to a reality about the traditional, albeit accepted norm, of the female role which I also rebelled against and tried to escape. So facile for the male-psychiatric establishment to label women like them as ‘crazy’. Furthermore, Chesler asserts that “Madness is shut away from sight, shamed, brutalised, denied and feared. Contemporary men, politics, science- the rational mode itself- does not consult or is not in touch with the irrational ie with the events of the unconscious, or with the meaning of collective history.” Elaborating on how the norm of the female role can precipitate madness, she posits: “Unlike men, (women)…are categorically denied the experience of cultural supremacy, humanity, and renewal based on their sexual identity…some women are driven mad by this fact. Such madness is essentially as intense experience of female biological, sexual and cultural castration and a doomed search for potency. The search often involves “delusions” or displays of physical aggression, grandeur, sexuality, and emotionality-all traits which would probably be more accepted in female-dominated cultures. Such traits in women are feared and punished in patriarchal mental asylums.” The woman I knew in the documentary was one such woman.
Penning thoughts about female violence, Chesler states “It is safer for women to become “depressed” than physically violent. Physically violent women usually lose physical battles with male intimates; are abandoned by them as ‘crazy’ as well as ‘unfeminine’; are frequently psychiatrically or (less frequently) criminally incarcerated.” What I really related to and understood about myself when I read this book is what Chesler concludes: “Women must convert their “love” for and reliance on strength and skill in others to a love for all manner of strength and skill in themselves. Women must be able to go as directly to the “heart” of physical, technological, and intellectual reality as they presumably do to the “heart” of emotional reality. This requires discipline, courage, confidence, anger, the ability to act, and an overwhelming sense of joy and urgency..Women’s ego-identity must somehow shift and be moored upon what is necessary for her own survival as a strong individual…Perhaps only some young woman …will be able to effect such changes through consciousness alone, through the strength of understanding which, if transformed into wisdom, always means the performance of personally necessary actions.” Chesler’s words still resonate with me today.
Without waiting to see what action the Department of Housing adopted, my apartment was ‘For Private Sale’ at the beginning of 2006, a decision which changed my life once again, albeit fortuitously and very fortunately. After nearly three months without a suitable buyer and unable to tolerate the stress of living in my apartment I moved out, finding an apartment to rent in the salubrious suburb of East Melbourne, courtesy of the female real estate agent who was selling my apartment. Scouring various Richmond abodes to rent, they were all dog boxes you could hardly swing a cat in, charging $220 a week rent, and depressed by my inability to find anything reasonably appropriate, my agent suggested East Melbourne, whereby I laughed at her, saying “I can’t afford that!” Replying “You’d be surprised for an older style apartment”, which is what I wanted (I loathe modern apartment complexes), a few days later she emailed me to work informing me about an apartment to rent for $220 a week in the suburb. Perusing it further online, I inspected the apartment and was lucky to obtain it.
Located in a quiet East Melbourne street surrounded by beautiful, Victorian terraces with delicate iron lacework, the apartment was one of six in a Georgian style house, with a very large bedroom, comfortable sitting room with a small balcony, bathroom and small kitchen on the top floor. Reminding me of the London apartment I had rented in 1970 during my first trip to the UK, it was very English in its design and I loved it. A month after signing a six-month lease, I finally sold my apartment for substantially more money than I’d hoped for, investing it until I could find something suitable to buy.
Still working at the TAFE, I became friendly with the other inhabitants of the apartments, mostly in their 30s and late 20s, and as I was now 56, there didn’t seem an age-gap problem, enjoying each others’ company over a joint, a vino and occasionally visiting late night clubs together as well as going out for dinners. Although we were not close friends, it was terrific to know them and share good times together, adding another interesting dimension to my life. One of the guys, in his late 30s, who lived alone and didn’t have a girlfriend, I sometimes fancied, as we talked often, considering him an intelligent, well-read and stimulating acquaintance. However, there was something about him I was unsure of too, so never broached sex as a subject as he told me he would love to have a girlfriend, get married and have kids. Indeed, in one of the other apartments lived a female paramedic in her late 20s who he told me he liked, she soon imparting he had asked her out but she had declined, later telling me she had knocked on his door one night to borrow something whereby he opened the door to her in tears, confessing he suffered from depression and felt very rejected by her.
Certainly, I never told him what she told me, but it only confirmed that my intuition about him, that there was something I was unsure of about him, was pretty spot on. Despite that realisation, we all continued to enjoy time together, and in a sexual perspective, something did occur that I reflected about for a few weeks.
The bottom floor apartment was owned by a heterosexual married couple of architects, who often used to visit me after work for a joint and a glass of red. Their marriage in a tentative hiatus, they left the apartment for a trial separation, offering the apartment to the female’s 23-year-old niece and her 21-year-old lesbian lover to house-sit as they were saving for an overseas jaunt. Neither of them smoked dope or drank, but over a few weeks, they started visiting me in my apartment for conversation and company. Fascinated by their liaison, we spent many hours discussing lesbian sexuality as I had never engaged with lesbians in such a forthright and open dialogue as the three of us shared. One weekend afternoon, the young lover told me ‘she loved me’ and was I interested in sex with her?
For the first time in my life, I thought about it, seriously and profoundly, liking this girl who I also found cute and attractive. However, sexual appeal was another issue altogether. Exactly what did I think about so deeply? It was more than three years since my sex fiasco with the guy from the pub, and certainly, I could have benefited from some good sex, but while I thought I could possibly enjoy this girl ‘sucking’ me off, I felt I could not reciprocate and do it to her. It just didn’t register as anything I felt like I wanted to do; moreover, I also felt I just couldn’t kiss her either, not revolting or repugnant, rather just a physical intimacy I had absolutely no penchant to even try. Maybe if I had a bottle up me it might be fun and I did contemplate suggesting that to her, but then, on reflection, I couldn’t even consider that as an attractive option. The bottom line was simply I had no sexual attraction to her at all. Although she repeated her request a few times and I replied “I’m thinking about it” which I was, finally I imparted that I just wasn’t interested in even experimenting with lesbian sex, failing to turn me on in the slightest. I recognised it wasn’t what you actually participated in sexually that was paramount for me, but who you were participating with as some men and I had indulged in antics that were as lesbian as two females. The fact was I needed to be with a man and what we enjoyed together may have been the same as what lesbians did but that was not the issue for me. My sexual interest and/or attraction was to men and even having a cock was not intrinsically the definitive difference. There was something far more inexplicable and complex than just anatomy and when the two young women finally departed for foreign shores, I missed their company but never regretted my choice. I still don’t.
A few months later, my doctor sister suggested buying an apartment as an investment for her grandkids which I could live in for the rest of my life, paying minimal rent until such time as my money ran out. It wasn’t the first time she had made such a suggestion as after my mother and other sister had died, she mentioned the same while I was still in my Richmond apartment, but reluctant to enter into such an arrangement, I had then declined her and her husband’s offer. Knowing they were very wealthy, I didn’t want to be beholden to her for anything, but as my search for a suitable apartment to buy in Richmond was becoming more and more depressing over cost which I couldn’t afford, I started to reappraise her offer.
Suggesting to me that I might even consider East Melbourne, I began visiting East Melbourne locations for a suitable apartment, able to up the price of what I was now looking for as they were buying it. Over nearly two years, my weekends were occupied with inspections, auctions and online perusals of available properties. At the end of 2007, I was retrenched from my TAFE job due to a restructure, along with most of my colleagues and boss. Receiving a reasonable payout for seven years employment, I was glad at the outcome, as for the past three years or so had been bored and uninspired by the similar stories as they recycled themselves. Names changed but the courses were the same and I was fast tiring of them, repeating ad nauseum what I had written years before.
For the next eight months, I didn’t apply for any more jobs, wanting to find employment that I would really enjoy rather than a job for the sake of it, with sufficient money to live on without needing recourse to the dole. Knowing I’d performed really well at the TAFE, I believed I would obtain another job, giving myself some time to ‘sit’ on it and concentrate on finding a good apartment for my sister and brother-in-law to buy meanwhile.
In August 2008, I found the ‘right’ abode; albeit for my sister really, as she had decreed a modern apartment with a lift as she had trouble walking and would be able to access it without having to stagger up stairs. It would also, she hoped, have less maintenance expenses. Desirous of an older style apartment similar to what I was renting, I had tried to buy that apartment from the owner, but she wasn’t interested in selling. Having to compromise, the apartment was in East Melbourne in a complex with only eight stories; the apartment of perfect size as although it was only one-bedroom, it had a large space off the sitting room, almost a second-bedroom, to easily accommodate a large desk, filing cabinet and bookshelf so I could continue writing and working as I wanted. It also had a good covered balcony, overlooked the verdant and lush Fitzroy Gardens and was a five minute walk to bustling Smith St Collingwood, an interesting social environs full of cafes, restaurants and art galleries peopled from all over the world and starkly at variance with staid but salubrious East Melbourne.
In October 2008, I was in my new home, never to move again and settled into an entire new world. For over four years, life was altogether different, investing my money in myself for the future, buying apparel, jewellery, books, enjoying various entertainment outings and occasional culinary indulgence in restaurants. Accepting unemployment for the rest of my days as ageism entrenched itself, in 2010, I embarked on a blog, writing about a myriad of issues focusing on gender, sex, politics, philosophy, sport and fashion, et al. Brian and his wife had a baby girl in October 2007, meeting him for coffee near his workplace on a regular weekly basis. Occasionally, he would invite me for dinner to his home, and while his wife and I seemed to foster a more amicable relationship, I was very aware that Brian was no longer the same man I had once shared so much fun with. Whatever corner of his psyche I glimpsed and loved was now overshadowed by a conservative, conventional and conformist lifestyle that was similar to his family. Jettisoning the more frivolous and unconventional lifestyle he indulged with me, he ‘settled down’ into a job that bored and depressed him as he told me, but was counterbalanced, he insisted, by his life with his family. There were still dinners at his home, but I was always glad to return to my abode heartened that I had never chosen the lifestyle he adopted.
In my mid 20s, I did consider whether I avoided contact with so-called happily married families because I was upset I didn’t live like that, but visiting Brian at home only reinforced my understanding that I never wanted, and never could have, lived in that way. I felt fortunate not to have succumbed to that lifestyle in suburbia, however supposedly alternative and different; the nuclear family of the 2.2 kids and 2.4 cars et al never appealing to me at all. My relationship with Brian steadily deteriorated to one based more on past enjoyment than present common interests, his concerns now far different to mine. Within another couple of years, he had another baby, a son, sometimes asking me to babysit on the rare occasions he and his wife went out socialising. Still meeting for coffee during the week in the city near where he worked, there was just less and less to converse about, maintaining a friendship that had little substance. We soon drifted apart and he became a past memory of good times remembered as he and his family created a life I didn’t relate to and moreover, wasn’t even interested in.
The only aspect of their lives that did interest me was their daughter, now six and going to school, who I often shared fun with reading fairytales, dressing up dolls and talking to. While I eschewed suburban domestic bliss, it was sad on one level not to have had a child, but at the same time, applauded my choice not to have a child just for the sake of it. Brian’s daughter became like the granddaughter I never had, fascinated to watch her grow and develop. One occasion as I was babysitting, we had a revealing conversation, telling me how ‘nasty’ one of the other girls at school had been to her. Quiet but unsurprisingly very pretty, I intuited the other girl might have been jealous, but was unsure what to say to her. Simply telling her that there were always some people in life who didn’t like us and moreover, could be nasty and cruel, it was better to just walk away and not feel too upset, wondering if she was too young to appreciate my advice and whether it would help her cope with the ‘nasty’ girl. Asking her if she had told her parents, she imparted she had not, considering whether I should but later choosing not to. I’m unsure why I didn’t tell them, hoping it would just ‘blow over’ without wanting to make ‘a mountain out of a molehill.’ It seemed female bitchiness started young. Developing a warm closeness with her as she aged, I looked forward to her hugs and kisses when I visited, but the occasions became less and less frequent and within a couple of years, I was no longer seeing them. It felt sad but also predictable, even understandable.
Discovering new cafes in Smith St, I met a man, call him Tony, at a coffee shop which I frequented for my daily morning caffeine fix and media massage. It was the beginning of 2013 and while I didn’t even reflect on any sexual liaison with him, we conversed very amicably and easily, though he imparted his past problems of alcoholism and drug addiction. Married with three young children, we meandered over diverse topics of interest, from football and politics to his teenage son and his current ‘leave’ of employment and consequent legal action against his employer for psychological harassment.
Meeting him on a weekly basis over a period of several months, we developed both an emotional rapport and intellectual connection but sex never came up. Despite being married, he told me his marriage was ‘on the rocks’ and it was only a matter of time before he left, already having another woman in his life. Moreover, he was 13 years younger than me, though I didn’t even consider that an issue.
During those months, I also encountered a young man, call him Jack, in his mid 30s from Africa at the same cafe, ensconced with a Scottish girlfriend working in Australia who was a doctor. Talking to them some weekends, the African had been a photo-journalist in his own country for several years, having since abandoned his camera and now struggling with unemployment and working part-time as a cabinet maker. As a media man, Jack and I shared common experiences and interests, his African country’s war of independence a topic of conversation I’d read about in the UK. Sex never came up with him either at that time, enjoying the conversations with both him and Tony ranging over many issues.
Certainly, I was aware that both Tony and Jack attracted me, but left it alone, content with our cafe rendezvous and expecting nothing more. Strangely, Tony seemed to do a ‘vanishing’ act for eight months and didn’t appear at the cafe again, though I didn’t spend too long contemplating what happened to him. Meanwhile, Jack had parted ways with his Scottish doctor girl friend who had departed back home. On his own, I then invited him for dinner at my abode, establishing a much friendlier and closer rapport over a bottle of scotch and a few joints, his presence at my apartment a bonus to my solitary life and soon becoming almost a nightly fixture at my apartment.
Exploring my culinary creativity in a well-equipped kitchen, I really thrived on experimenting with all sorts of cuisine, with Jack occasionally treating me to traditional African tucker he cooked in my kitchen. Despite being 26 years my junior, I did broach the subject of sex with him, but he didn’t reciprocate my lust, telling me it would interfere with our friendship. Instead, he would occasionally call and ask if he could visit with a new girl friend, adept as he was at ‘picking up’ new women for sex, not that his dalliances lasted for more than a couple of weeks. The women he introduced me to were always ‘white’, and while he was a deep chocolate brown, he told me he never approached African women in bars or clubs because they were off-limits. Their culture, he imparted, didn’t embrace a ‘pick-up’ as white girls did.
Frustrated with my lack of sexual enjoyment and bored with my own ‘fingers’ routine’ and unable to afford investment in a safe, healthy dildo, cost about $200, I sparkled one night to source a new pleasure machine: my vibrating battery toothbrush, cost just $17. Placing the bristles on my vulva and rubbing it in all the most sensitive places and over my clit, I came with such intense pleasure I could only thank myself for being so inventive, creatively applying a basic, cosmetic appliance to a far more needy area than my teeth. Using this toothbrush became a regular ritual, also experimenting with it inside myself as it slid gently in my vagina manifesting a range of physical sensations that were all new to me as I felt its bristles tickling and touching parts of me my fingers could never reach, let alone a hard bottle. For several months it became my new sex toy, suffice to say no longer feeling so frustrated or sexually bored with an old practice, far passed its use by date.
Certainly, I never told Jack or anyone else about my indulgence, our platonic friendship lasting over six months with conversations cascading over a myriad of topics such as homosexuality, female circumcision, marriage, parenthood and his life in Africa. Working as a fixer for film crews in the media during his country’s war of independence, he had also fought as a volunteer child soldier, regaling his experiences of toting a gun as traumatic and troublesome. Lucky to be alive, one night he talked for a couple of hours, mostly uninterrupted by me, about his close encounters with death, filling me with a quiet, chilled horror as he recounted pretending ‘death’ to escape enemy fire on a long night of action. Some of his friends had died. Difficult to imagine and get my head around in my comfortable apartment in secure and safe Australia, I realised how limited my knowledge was of real warfare, certainly fortunate to live and grow up in a country at peace. He provided me with insights about how depressing, dangerous and really frightening war was, making me reappraise yet again on what basis war could ever be justified.
Jovial and joyful on the outside most of the time, that night I glimpsed another Jack, a sad, even scarred man who fought because his country was part of a totalitarian empire he didn’t support. His commitment to a free and democratic country of his own was unfortunately undermined by the man who became leader of the newly independent land he fought for; a man who perpetrated yet another authoritarian and totalitarian assault on people’s freedoms presenting another sadness Jack had to confront. Unwilling as he sometimes was to countenance the tragic outcome for his people, we had many fervent arguments about this, with him telling me the information I obtained on the internet was simply misleading and untrue propaganda. I didn’t believe him.
Furthermore, his sadness was also exacerbated by other unfortunate realities as though he had never married, he had fathered three children he hadn’t seen for years; a now 12-year-old boy in his own country, a two-year-old son in Canberra and another young child in America. Talking often about being a parent, he accepted his distance from his children with nonchalant resignation, acknowledging that’s the way his life had unfolded. His voice was always tinged with a touch of regret.
Although most of his country’s people were poor, illiterate peasants, Jack was reasonably well educated, learning English at school and college and developing his acumen with the help of the British film crews he worked with. After his country won the war, he took up work with a UN Peace Corp in the communications section, travelling and working in London, East Timor and Canberra, later applying for permanent residency in this country. Impressed by his intelligence and his interest and knowledge about international politics and current affairs, we occasionally indulged in fierce arguments as he didn’t like homosexuals and thought they were weird, believed female circumcision which was normal in his country didn’t impact a woman’s sexual pleasure and considered Australia extremely racist and unwelcoming to black people.
Imparting some of his close encounters with police on the streets of Melbourne, he had also lived in Alice Springs for a couple of years where he was often frightened by the police who would constantly harass him as he drove his car demanding to see his licence and breath test him. Never having been to the Alice, I had to reluctantly agree with some of his sentiments about the police, racism and discrimination in this country, his stories enlightening me about another side of this country I had certainly read about but had virtually no experience of. Hearing his first hand personal accounts made me confront a different reality so many non-white immigrants must face on a regular basis.
Disappointingly, he left Melbourne to work in Darwin as he couldn’t cope with Melbourne’s cold winter freeze and unemployment in the city was an on-going issue. Working part-time as a cabinet maker when I met him, he sadly also imparted how he had lost his confidence to work in the media as he was once a photo-journalist at the UN and while I endeavoured to enlist his photographic skills in a couple of stories I suggested, he told me he couldn’t do it. For a few weeks I really missed him as he had become a close confidante and loving friend, always greeting me with a hug and a kiss and farewelling me similarly.
Attempting to meet some political like-minded souls as the 2014 November State election loomed just six weeks away and unsure as to how I would vote, I investigated the Australian Sex Party online, amazed to discover I could have written their policies myself. Agreeing with almost every policy statement, I rang the party’s HQ to ask if it was standing a candidate in my electorate thrilled to speak to him a couple of minutes later. Thinking I could write a freelance story about him and the party and as I was so ignorant about it and believed most other people would have been likewise, he agreed to meet me at my Smith St coffee haunt that weekend.
At 32, he was gay, unattached and politically savvy, our conversation wide ranging for nearly three hours as I completed my journalese effort, turning our talk to matters of sex and personal reminiscences. He too thought sex was still considered a ‘dirty’ word in our society, homosexuality an issue for too many people and conservative conformity underpinning the status quo. Telling him I’d email him the story in a couple of days to ensure I made no mistakes, he duly emailed me back pointing out a couple of errors which I fixed. Disappointingly, I was unable to sell the story but I had such a great rapport with him, call him Max, I invited him for dinner in a couple of weeks. I also started volunteering for the party for the forthcoming election.
Max and I shared a common interest in sex, as interested in his gay liaisons as he was in my heterosexual dalliances, talking so easily and passionately that I couldn’t believe my good fortune at meeting him. He also smoked dope, sharing his with me on what became a regular meet. As it transpired, he didn’t stand as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly but the party had a female standing for the Legislative Council and on polling day I was busy for eight hours handing out How To Vote cards for the party as well as conversing with a variety of voters about the party. As I had thought, most had no idea what the party’s policies were but some came out of the booths and told me they had voted for the party. The female candidate for the Council became the party’s first ever elected representative.
Max and I continued our friendship sharing a love and intimacy I was overjoyed about, the first man I told about my ‘toothbrush’ technique and many other private sexual experiences I imparted to very few others. But as Jack had disappeared out of my life, Tony reappeared one day unexpectedly at the cafe where we first met, after eight months of not seeing him. Sitting talking for three hours over a couple of vinos, copious cigarettes and coffee, he told me he was attracted to me and opened a conversation about sex. He also told me he was now divorced, ensconced with his girl-friend and back on the drink and drugs. Telling me he was currently living with his mother, he scrawled her number on a torn piece of newspaper and handed it to me to keep. Not even considering him as a potential sexual dalliance before, I now certainly considered the possibility, regaling him with some of my sexcapades as we laughed over my indulgences. His anecdotes were tame and straight by comparison, imparting that I could “teach’ him some new tricks. Giving him my phone number too, he left the cafe and I expected to hear from him.
Wary as I was about his alcoholism and drug addiction, I was interested in having sex with him only, finding him attractive and sexy, too. It wasn’t to be. He rang my home while I was out and while I returned the call to his mobile, he never rang back. Moreover, he had sent me a text saying “I’m really looking forward to fucking you senseless” which I fell for but he soon disappeared out of my life again. Calling his home, his mother told me he had gone into rehab for three months and was pleased he was trying to get his life back on track. His mother started ringing me to talk about him among other things and when the three months were over, I rang her to tell him I wanted to be a friend but nothing more. I never heard from him again.
In January 2015, having discovered a French cafe in Smith St, I started frequenting the premises early on Friday evenings for a vino and conversation with the other patrons. Playing live music at night, the sounds would filter outside where I sat smoking and drinking, the food too costly for my meagre budget. One evening at about 5pm, as I was talking to a local artist about movies not portraying strong, sexy and successful women except as psychopaths and/or deranged, disturbed miscreants, ala Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction et al. a young French man came and joined us at our table, the conversation continuing about why the movies only depicted these types of women.
After a couple of hours discussing other issues such as the young man’s work visa in Australia- he had been in the country for just over 12 months and was hoping to extend his visa- he suggested adjourning to my apartment nearby for sex. Only 25 and old enough to be his grandmother, I didn’t hesitate as it was almost 11 years since I’d enjoyed a carnal connection. Having only imbibed a couple of vinos, I was pretty sober, though struggled to comprehend his English as it was still in the intermediate stage. But who needed conversation? Lying on my couch, he removed my clothes as I took off his T-shirt and he finished taking off his jeans and underpants. The sex was mostly vanilla straight, but it had been so long since I’d felt a cock inside me it was just what I needed, though after a few minutes of passionate thrusting on top of me, I thought I was having a heart attack as a stinging sharp pain assaulted me on my left side below my heart. Ignoring it as the pleasure overcame me, he came shortly afterwards and I felt fantastic. Certainly, there had been little foreplay but I didn’t need it. His body was lithe, taut and terrific and after a couple of cigarettes, he received a call on his mobile summoning him to work in a crepe cafe not too far away. It was about 8pm. He departed with my phone number, leaving it up to him if he wanted an encore. I didn’t ask for his.
As it was summer, the next night I was sitting on my balcony in warm, balmy weather around midnight sipping a cold sav blanc when the phone rang. It was him, telling me he had finished work and asking if he could visit. Yes was my instant reply. Still nursing some pain on my left side, I was unsure about what was causing it, but as I was still alive and breathing normally, realised I hadn’t had a heart attack. He arrived soon after, rolling a joint that we smoked together outside before he asked if he could have a shower. Striding out of the bathroom with his long, thick cock on full display, he was inviting and I was wet within seconds just looking at him. In bed this time, it was still missionary sex, without foreplay, but I was so in need of more sex it wasn’t even an issue. This time lasted longer, fucking him as much as he fucked me. Having come almost in unison, he asked if he could stay the night and soon fell asleep. Lying there for a while as my body revelled in its pleasure I too fell asleep but woke up just a few hours later feeling like sex again. He was sleeping still beside me, and not wanting to wake him I had a shower, got dressed and then went to disturb his slumber. He showered again as I told him I was going for my Sunday morning caffeine and newspaper fix, departing the apartment together. Kissing me goodbye, he said “See you around” and I didn’t hear from him again.
The following week, I visited my GP as my left side was still in pain, wincing every time I stretched my left arm to wash the dishes, procure something from a top cupboard or simply just turning over in bed. Telling me I needed a bone density scan to check it out more deeply, my GP thought I may have fractured a rib in my lustful dalliance which I told him about with a smirk on my face. Having the scan the next day, a fractured rib on my left side was confirmed, laughing to myself about the ‘danger’ of sex as a 60yearsomething with a touch of osteoporosis. Taking about six weeks to heal itself, I realised my body wasn’t quite what it used to be.
A couple of weeks after my French connection and a few days before my 65th birthday, I met another man who changed my life not that I had an inkling when first encountering him. Familiar with him as an avid newspaper reader and caffeine drinker that I oft saw at my favourite Spanish coffee haunt on his own, we never crossed tables for conversation and while I considered he looked ‘interesting’, even attractive, his hair short but dark with flecks of grey and garbed in black on most occasions I espied him, I never approached him to talk. Sitting a distance from where I sat, it seemed too blatantly obvious to go up to him, moreover, somewhere in my psyche I reflected he was probably partnered or married deciding not to think any further about him. He too never approached me either until one Sunday afternoon he was sitting at the table alongside me alone, as I was, reading the papers at my cafe in the Spanish quarter of Johnston St, Fitzroy.
Frequenting the environs hoping to meet someone to practise my Spanish with as well as appreciating great Spanish cafe con leche and churros dipped in chocolate, I initiated a conversation about the Syrian civil war I had read about that day in the papers as he imparted a long standing interest in the Middle East. Wearing my Magen Dovid, the Jewish star of David, it took just a few minutes before discussion focused on Israel, my living there and his reading Haaretz online, one of the more leftist Israeli newspapers. Conversing for about an hour, I told him I wrote a blog, giving him its name which he googled on his phone. We also talked about the previous November terrorist attack in Paris and mused about the destructive manoeuvres of world politics. Getting tired I decided to leave, asking for his phone number and suggesting he might like to come for dinner one night; he did not ask for my number. Contemplating what to do as I still didn’t know if he was married or partnered, I left the dinner invitation floating in my mind.
As part of my Sunday ritual, I returned to the Spanish quarter again the next weekend around lunchtime to read the paper and have my coffee to find him chatting to another man I hadn’t met. Seeming like ‘old amigos’ this guy was also into politics and the three of us started talking about international affairs as the man had actually read some of my blog, telling his amigo he too should read it. Somewhat stunned that he had actually read some of my pieces, I was also really pleased that he had bothered without making any more of it. Call him Alexi and his mate Antonio, the three of us were soon sharing a joint standing near the outside tables where we’d been sitting. Conversation inevitably flowed even more passionately as Antonio detailed his Peruvian parentage as Alexi narrated his Spanish background, though he was born in Australia after his Republican parents fled Franco’s Spain after the Second World War, Alexi and I sharing a heritage as first generation Aussies.
An amicable rapport ensued as Antonio, born in Lima but migrating to Australia with his parents as a two-year-old, imparted his wife, a dinkum di Anglo-Saxon, worked in the arts as a freelance publicist, while Alexi was a musician, playing piano and acoustic guitar and performing in bands at Spanish clubs and bars, supplementing his income by giving music lessons at various schools as well as privately. Thrilled to discover he had been married but was now divorced and happily alone, both he and Antonio lived and worked nearby. Antonio was a freelance writer into politics and social commentary and it was indeed enlivening if not refreshing to meet people who not only still read newspapers in print, but were interested in issues beyond their own backyard. With Alexi unencumbered and available, I decided to call him and invite him for dinner that week. While he was child free, Antonio had one son, now in his 20s, who was travelling and working in Europe as a freelance photographer.
My Spanish experience was brought into the forefront of my psyche over dinner as he talked about his parents’ life under Franco and the country’s alliance with Hitler and while he was born here, he was bilingual, amusingly indulging in some Spanish lingo though much of my vocab had been shoved to a corner of my mind. It was indeed rewarding to retrieve it, albeit with some difficulty. Moreover, while he was born in Sydney, he had come to Melbourne in his early 20s for a more enriching and enlivening music scene, also enrolling in some music studies at the Melbourne Conservatorium. The other pleasing aspect about him was that while his parents were ‘supposedly’ Catholic, they had both eschewed religion with Alexi growing up in a non-religious home, embracing atheism in his late teens and attending a state government high school in Sydney.
Compared to Pedro, Alexi was an erudite and well-read man; a deep thinker just a couple of years younger than me, but essentially, we’d both enjoyed listening to the same music, reading similar books, seeing some of the same movies as ‘flower power’ children of the 60s. His European heritage endowed him with some understanding of my own background; the family expectations and the migrant dream as he too had defied his parents’ hopes by pursuing music instead of medicine. After a couple of hours over dinner, wine and a few joints, he departed my abode with a peck on my lips. Not really thinking about sex, I had thrived on his company, sharing many common interests with excited babble bursting forth from both of us. With my lack of money still a difficult issue, I didn’t venture to the clubs or bars where he performed but was really gratified when he presented me with a CD of his band, a live recording of his own Spanish compositions to which I danced round my sitting room, recalling all my fondest memories of viva Espana.
Over the next few weeks, he came several times for dinner, also inviting me to a couple of his favourite eateries in the local environs where we continued to talk avidly about past history, experiences and beliefs. Certainly, we had some fervent arguments about a myriad of issues, some major differences of opinions and beliefs between us, about politics and in some ways, feminism, until one night at my abode, the subject swung to sex. For those first couple of months, he hadn’t made a pass at me nor had I, wondering to myself that maybe he didn’t fancy me and wasn’t interested in anything other than platonic friendship. Talking about his marriage, albeit a brief one that focused on the celebratory party rather than the ceremony of commitment, he said he didn’t really believe that strongly in marriage. He also told me he had lived for seven or so years with about four or five other women over his life. Hard to keep track of them all, my one live-in relationship with Richard paled into insignificance.
Also imparting he had sex with over 100 women while I had sex with about 80 men, we both appreciated that a small fraction of those dalliances translated into ‘great sex’. Believing I would never meet another man on my sexual wavelength, Alexi’s narratives about his sexual predilections and practices with some women that he divulged, as I did about mine, made me consider he just might be as ‘kinky’ as I was, persuading me to seize the initiative and ask him if he wanted to have sex with me. He replied rather nonchalantly that he could be partial to such a dalliance but it was another couple of weeks before the right time presented itself.
Despite using the word ‘kinky’, I don’t actually appraise my sexual indulgences or his either as ‘kinky’; rather, just adventurous, unfettered exploration of sexual pleasure mutually consensual for him and me. So often however I had heard that word applied to any sex beyond boring bedroom boundaries; moreover, I’d read about it in Cosmopolitan magazine in my 20s in England where women felt ‘uncomfortable’, even offended with what they regarded as anything other than normal hetero sex (whatever that really denotes?), labelling it ‘kinky’ and not for them. Other stories I read however revealed some women really embraced venturing into previous unchartered territory in bed. Kinky seems a convenient, maybe appropriate vernacular for unpredictable and unknown new sensual sensations.
What I find disconcerting is that in the book “Being Male”, written by clinical psychologist, Ronald Conway, and published in 1985, he tries to dismiss “several old chestnuts” about sexuality and sexual behaviour one of which is: “Women do not mind having or submitting to ‘kinky’ sex; in fact, many women actually enjoy being sodomised or maltreated.” While he affirms that “the range and variety of human sexual activity can be astonishing sometimes”, and that “oral sex is ‘something which many women find pleasurable…(he continues that) very few find anal intercourse comfortable or respectful. Most women consider buggery a chauvinistic and degrading male act. As for physical rough stuff, only a rather disturbed woman could prefer it.” Reading this for the first time as I write this now, I am horrified that he uses the word ‘kinky’ in the context he does; moreover, what does he regard as ‘physical rough stuff?’ Does he believe and consider women are delicate porcelain dolls demanding a gentle touch? Rough might be a euphemism for maltreatment according to his lexicon, but certainly not mine. And who are these ‘most women?’ Moreover, I have enjoyed anal sex and never considered it anything other than a different way of intercourse. His assertions and beliefs seem so conservative and misguided it’s no wonder so many men have no idea about what a woman can and might enjoy.
In another context, he does at least get some beliefs on the same wavelength as my own, claiming that “The simple design of nature that sexuality should be associated with pleasure and play…has been overlooked.” Furthermore, he posits agreeably that “Making love must be the silliest of all phrases applied to sexual intimacy, because what we really mean is ‘having sex’, which is hardly the same thing. Deep love may or may not include sexual activity, but sexual activity does not have to be associated with love at all.” He quotes writer D.H. Lawrence: “Too many people suffer from a case of sex in the head which is the wrong place to have it.” I couldn’t agree more.
In further regard to what ‘kinky’ encapsulates, I’ve also just remembered that in my mid-thirties, a girl friend who was then working as a scribe for Cleo magazine in Sydney, rang to ask if she could interview me, albeit anonymously, for a story she was writing about “One Woman’s Pleasure Is Another Woman’s Porn”. Agreeing, I narrated my experiences using a bottle among other indulgences which she didn’t question when I told her. Purchasing the magazine to read the story a few weeks later, I was aghast to peruse they changed the ‘bottle’ to a candle, ringing my friend to inquire who had changed it: her or the sub-editor? Unfortunately, I cannot remember her reply, but suffice to say even Cleo, the supposedly liberated sexual mag for young women, couldn’t or wouldn’t accept a woman liking a bottle up her cunt. So much for sexually liberated young women; there was a long way to go for anything to change.
Having invited Alexi to dinner one Sunday night, he told me he wasn’t sure if he could make it as he had another engagement in the afternoon and was unsure as to how long it might last. Visiting a local pub to watch Carlton play football on Foxtel, I told him to call me by 6.30pm if he could make it for dinner. Feeling in a good mood because Carlton had won for a change, I went home and as 6.45pm passed, Alexi hadn’t rung, so I cooked for myself, cleaned up and undressed, removing my make-up and sitting warm and cosy in my dressing gown when the phone rang at about 7.45pm. Having missed dinner, he asked if he could come by, duly imparting I was in my dressing gown but I didn’t care as long as he wouldn’t be embarrassed. Confirming it was of no import to him, he arrived shortly afterwards to enjoy some fresh apples, sultanas and prunes I’d stewed as dessert.
A few nights before, after dinner as he was leaving, he touched me on my breasts but feelings didn’t translate as seductive, telling him to go home. This night, looking a la natural but hardly carnal in my black, velvet dressing-gown (I had changed my slippers from basic black flatties to a heeled patent style I bought at a market for $4), it was a different outcome. (Indeed, even when Jack and I shared dinner in my apartment, I would often go and undress to put on my dressing gown and sit more warmly at home. It didn’t perturb Jack and I hoped it wouldn’t disturb Alexi). He didn’t seem at all concerned fortunately and neither did I. Once more, he was readying to leave, but as I stood next to him near my front door to bid him adieu, he started massaging my arse and touching me in such a way I felt so turned on that I grabbed his hand and led him to my bedroom. Wearing my sheer, black, lacy, shoe-string night gown as it was winter and cold I didn’t take it off, just tossed off my dressing gown and removed my knickers and lay on the bed, unsure as to what would transpire.
He hardly undressed, just indulging me in such great physical pleasure that I hadn’t felt for years, if ever at all. He played with his fingers inside me pushing them so deep I started to come as well as expertly touching, rubbing and caressing my clitoris so I did come, then putting his fingers back inside me enabling me to come that way, too. I didn’t do anything to him in response, just revelled selfishly in my own excitement and ecstasy. Essentially, it didn’t occur to me right there and then as I was so overwhelmed by my own enjoyment I didn’t think about his. Although we were both a bit stoned, we’d hardly drunk vino and I felt quite amazing, as it had been years since I felt so switched on and satiated by a man. Afterwards, I told him I’d never met a man quite like him despite the 80-odd men on my past sexual landscape. Although there’d been no intercourse, it didn’t seem relevant, telling him he was the sexiest man I’d ever met and apologising for my one-way behaviour. He told me he had a problem with erections, wondering if he should take Viagra, but I replied I couldn’t really tell the difference in some way as I came without his cock. He went home and I fell asleep thinking I’d just met a man to enrich my life so unexpectedly I couldn’t believe my good fortune. All I could hope was that it was not a one-off performance and that as we became sexually more attune to each other, our compatibility would only be enhanced.
Ronald Conway also scribes about penis size, arguing that it is “a male fetish…in which men compete mentally with one another to see who has the biggest. Most women couldn’t care less about the size of a man’s penis; they are much more concerned with what he does with it. Also (and this is where I content he doesn’t have a clue) it is the clitoris, not the vagina which is the primary focus of female orgasm and penile size has nothing to do with clitoral pleasure.” Sadly, Conway didn’t talk to me about the incredible variety of sexual pleasures sans clitoris. Moreover, a very small penis can limit vaginal orgasms which he doesn’t seem to have any knowledge about. No wonder my friend Larry was a very sad man.
One thing he suggests is that “feminists are not wrong when they rage against the ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ approach to sex. Even the male himself, if he had the wit to see it, is missing a large amount of the finer pleasure which comes from the leisurely, tender exploration of both a person and a sexual experience.” With some of his beliefs, Conway is spot on, but it’s not about female rage for me, but about pity for these men.
Still having regular dinners with Max, I shared my joy about Alexi with him, filling him in on some of the issues about his erection problems only for Max to inform me he oft had them, too. How many men I countenanced, even young men, experienced erectile dysfunction and why was this happening so pervasively? Clearly, I was aware I didn’t always come with some men, but they were few and far between and while I also knew there were but a handful of men who had really sexually satisfied me the way I craved and needed, I didn’t feel sexually inadequate or dysfunctional. Was male sexuality more difficult than females’ and how much were men penis focused on a conscious level that affected getting it up? As I became closer to Alexi over the next few months, I was at least receiving some clarity from him, left to ponder why a man’s penis was so pertinent to a sense of self and sexual confidence.
First published in 1989, the book, Masculinity and Power, by British sociologist, Arthur Brittan, tries to address these issues, claiming that the definition of the penis as “the very basis of male power and dominance” is undermined by “the reality of sexual experience”. According to Brittan, Freud’s belief that men’s sexual fantasies “are suffused with images of their achievement as seducers and conquerors of women” sees male sexuality as assertive and needing immediate gratification. Elaborating how sexuality was liberated from the shackles of the church in the 19th century, the state then intruded into ‘private’ life, regarding sexuality as simultaneously creative and dangerous. Brittan continues that “the study and theorisation of sexuality has largely been a male enterprise…(with) men…responsible for the construction of both female and male sexuality.” Moreover, he accepts “that there is no way in which we can successfully locate sexuality in this or that region of the body and the mind...” implying sexuality, both male and female, is still a mystery for us all. Are there indeed definitive and irrefutable answers to my own pondering, I believe not. and while historically, culturally and even physically and psychologically, mass theories abound about sexuality, science cannot provide proof for any of them. It seems as if to thine own self be true, for both males and females, should inspire bedroom behaviour that’s consensual and mutually pleasurable. Certainly, that was and still is the dictum I have followed throughout my life.
Thankfully, Alexi wanted to have sex with me again, this time undressing and seemingly more interested in enlivening my pleasure even more as I was cognisant of trying to reciprocate. Telling him too about my toothbrush addiction, I started playing with it on myself as he watched, enhancing my enjoyment until he played with it on me and I then played it on him. We indulged in finger sex and a variety of ‘lesbian’ sexplays, with me coming so many times as he thrust his fingers inside me as his penis did not respond to me or the toothbrush. At one point, I tried touching his balls trying to arouse him but I hurt him and thought well, I just don’t turn him on. After, I felt fantastic with my body all spent but sadly aware that while he was the sexiest man I had ever met, it wasn’t mutual.
Discussing it over a joint and cup of tea, he told me he didn’t really lust after anyone at the moment and not to blame myself. So why did he have sex with me? Telling me he never dismissed an invitation, I could only conjecture about what he told me; furthermore, he hardly kissed me either, just once during sex. Starting to realise he really didn’t fancy me, I didn’t at all blame myself, telling him ‘it takes two to tango’, accepting I didn’t excite him as he did me. That was life and for that night, we left it at that.
To quote Ronald Conway once more, I can only wonder how many women he’s actually engaged with discussing sex, as he asserts: “Contrary to what many men suppose, most women do not want to be rushed off their feet, ravished, pounced upon, or carted off in an erotic swoon. This sort of thing (interesting choice of word – thing!) is mainly reserved for novels and movies. Your lady (How I loathe THAT word but it says it all) will like you better if you take your time, observe a little bit of gallantry, however old-fashioned, and attempt to sound out her true feelings before diving into the cot with her.” The last part of his belief does not necessarily deny the first; I certainly enjoy being ‘ravished’ but that doesn’t preclude a man taking his time in ravishing me. I just don’t think Conway knows what he’s talking about, except that what he does claim: “Successful sexual partners get on with the business (?) of enjoying themselves. They discover to their delight, along the way, that they are really giving something to each other after all” can be indeed true.
Having told Alexi I liked being tied up, the next sexual encounter he suggested tying me up as I retrieved some long, soft scarves from a cupboard to duly entangle me with the scarves. That was even more amazing as I hadn’t been tied up the way he did it and the sexual sensations were only more intense and ecstatic, still pushing his fingers deep inside me and playing with my clit as well intermittently. Coming several times-I wasn’t counting-he untied me so I started playing with his cock in a way I hadn’t before and well, for a short while it worked as he became hard, fucked me but came in a few moments, telling me after “I feel like I’m 18 again just coming so quickly.” It might have felt like that for him and although I didn’t tell him, I felt hopeful that maybe with more consistent sex and more effort on my part, his responses would be heightened. At the same time however, I couldn’t help wondering whether I just didn’t really turn him on.
Repeating a tied up scenario and more strongly masturbating his cock, the next time we had sex he also got hard and fucked me lasting a bit longer but not to his satisfaction. Talking about it again, he told me to ‘give him time’ and while he wasn’t ruling out sex with me down the track, I didn’t broach the subject again, telling him to let me know when he was interested.
For almost 18 months, we were platonic friends, sharing dinners, joints and even more personal anecdotes about our lives, loves and sex as well as discussing politics, history, science, music and so many other topics, even supposed trivia such as our weight, food and favourite addictions, I’ve forgotten them all. On so many levels, he was a ‘mensch’, a real man I had hoped to meet for so many years and it seemed ironic that while he was the sexiest and most interesting man I had ever met, I didn’t do it for him. Having to face that reality, I came to terms with a friend without benefits, as he once termed it, happy that he still enjoyed my intellectual company even if he didn’t want to have sex. Understanding or at least appreciating he had to work it out for himself, irrespective of me, I enjoyed our hours of conversation and fun, while nestling at the back of my mind was a quiet hope that one day he might want to have sex with me again. Meanwhile, I didn’t dwell on it, returning to my toothbrush when I needed.
Indeed, the old adage of wanting more sex when I was getting it and then my need abating when I didn’t was true again as I was only masturbating once a fortnight or so as I felt randy. Most nights over those 18 months, I was tired and fell asleep, sex not a preoccupation as it had been when I first started having fun with him in bed. One thing we certainly shared in common was that he had been as interested in pushing my sexual boundaries as much as I was myself, though about him, it seemed a different scenario. During those months, we sometimes watched porn together on my computer at his whim, and while most of it turned me on so I felt like ‘grabbing’ him and leading him to my bedroom, I refrained with difficulty and walked away from the screen. Part of me was ‘scared’ to touch him knowing what he’d told me about ‘giving him time’ and at other times, my feelings weren’t about sex, oft just wanting to curl up with him and go to sleep, not that I ever told him. One reality I contemplated was that he didn’t want to sleep with me, literally, always departing for his own abode after sex. While I had previously wanted to curl up in some man’s strong arms and fall asleep and there was no man I felt like that about, it was sadly ironic that the feeling I had about him in this context was not mutual. I felt a love for him I hadn’t felt since my fraternal sentiments for Brian, albeit very differently, and while I did tell him I loved him, we never discussed it. So what was my love all about?
Conway does pen the right words when he writes “Deep, abiding love between human creatures is a great mystery which too much analysis can obscure rather than clarify. Lovers experience their love. They should not be obliged to define it or explain the reasons for it. …In a feeling as profound as true loving, people should not be expected to be held to account for their feelings, put tape-measures over them or respond to ludicrously unanswerable questions about feelings they barely understand themselves…the proof of love lies more in what we do than in what we say.” Enough said but in this context, I concur with him.
Suffice to say Alexi said “thank you’ when I told him I loved him; my simple reality that I ‘loved’ being in his company and so enjoyed our friendship. It wasn’t a mystery but the rapport I felt with him on so many levels manifested for me as ‘love’. That was all I needed to appreciate, no further analysis or clarification needed or wanted either. Yet, on some occasions I felt he was distant, even cold, thankfully only rarely, unable to appreciate his manner towards me, but decided not to over analyse it and resolved to accept him as he was. I did consider he might have been preoccupied with his latest musical composition, his work and money, telling me he too struggled to make ends meet. Whatever transpired down the track was out of my control, appreciating a good friendship that shared great conversation, fun and enjoyment.
However, what I learned from him about other women was fascinating as I had so few female friends over my life I could ever discuss sex with. Hearing his perspective on women was enlightening, validating so many of my own opinions and beliefs about women and sex that I’d formed over my life. Having had sex with over 100 women, only one in 20 had really translated as ‘great sex’ together, a statistic I also shared as there were only four out of my 80-odd men who I enjoyed ‘great sex’ with too, including him. Telling me most of his women did not really seem to enjoy sex per se they more often wanted d & m relationships just to have sex. Moreover, he told me for most of them, even putting his fingers up their cunt was no-go; too ‘kinky’ an indulgence. Mostly, the sex with them was bland and boring for him as mostly these women wanted minimum variation on vanilla, missionary sex. Intercourse was what it was about ultimately.
Certainly, he chased that too at times, even though the women didn’t really seem that pleasured and that really intrigued me. How could he get off on it when they apparently didn’t? Asking him about that after my experience in the pub, I found it interesting that he and maybe men more generally, would want intercourse with a woman even when she was unresponsive and uninterested. I was also thinking about Richard when he raped me and the one-sided sex we’d had before we parted as how could that be sexually gratifying when it was all one-way? I never understood it and still don’t; suffice to say I resigned myself to acknowledging that what might turn some men on didn’t turn me on. What I always craved and needed was a two-way mutual encounter that was as great for the man as it was for me. Anything less than that simply didn’t appeal.
Discussing our weight on several occasions, my own weight became an intriguing focus of my life as not only was I skinny but found it almost impossible to put on weight. Working at the TAFE in the 2000s, I had lost about four kilos early in 2002 due to political stress at work, still eating well but kilos falling off me inexplicably. Certainly, I felt unnerved by the altercation between my female boss and the male CEO who had threatened not to renew her contract, with me somehow a target between them, but as the issue passed when he did renew her contract a couple of months later, I stayed the same weight. Eating and still drinking wine, all the lifestyle changes I introduced way back in London in my late 20s stood strong in my psyche, but I was now only 51 kilos and under the BMI 18 for a healthy woman of my 166cm height. Alexi by comparison had an issue about his weight, with a small, soft roll of flesh around his middle which he continually talked about wanting to lose. Like me, he too had once weighed 20 kgs more, shedding that body baggage many years previously but putting on a few extra kilos since that time five years previously. My weight loss was nearly 40 years before and I never stacked it back on. Now ironically, I wanted to put on a couple of kilos but seemed unable to, despite eating well and healthily.
Alexi had a passionate interest in tasty, healthy food and nutrition similar to my own over the years as I discovered new delights in delicious cuisine prepared in my own kitchen. Alexi informed me about steaming vegetables, using extra virgin olive oil and even ghee instead of butter or margarine, and applying his suggestions to my culinary routine, I then embarked on adding an array of spices, yoghurt and loads of chilli to my concoctions. The result was more orgasmic taste sensations, as I ate about five or six different vegetables sprinkled with heaps of spices I had never tried before to accompany both meat and fish dishes.
Consequently, I lost even more weight, but the spin off for my health was fantastic. My blood pressure became consistently the best it had been since my mid 50s when it increased due to my using HRT, my cholesterol was considerably lowered as was my glucose count too. Walking at least 30 minutes every day also boosted my sense of well-being. Another benefit was I slept better, felt more energised and my mental state was far more balanced than it had been previously; mind and body in unison engendering good health.
After 18-months of celibacy, at least without another man, Alexi completely surprised me one night by suggesting we ‘play’ with a new vibrating massage machine I bought for my own pleasure. Telling him about it and showing it to him without any ulterior motive, a couple of nights later he said we should try it out together. My celibacy was partly self-imposed as I hadn’t met any man I even vaguely fancied and moreover, was ‘in love’ with Alexi and wanted him. That he wanted to experiment with the massage machine was an unexpected bonus I hadn’t even considered when I purchased it.
The hiatus in my hormonal heaven became just an insignificant blip on my sexual landscape as being together in bed again resumed its passionate pleasure, feeling even more transcendental joy as he toyed with my massager on my vulva and various other parts of my body. The massager had three interesting attachments with different protuberances that created great carnal ecstasy and as it was a plugged-in socket instrument, it didn’t need recharging as my old battery dildo did. On my own with it I had only experimented once before, so discovered a source of new sexual sensations yet again. He also surprised me by getting erect and reasonably hard, fucking me too to enjoy intercourse with him. Indeed, after as we lay in bed talking, he informed me that he felt the best he had since he met me.
Maybe he didn’t need a pill to prop it up! Repeating our boudoir benefits in our friendship a few more times, he then told me he still wasn’t getting as hard as he used to, reducing his pleasure and having some problem in orgasming. However, he said knowing I always enjoyed the sex so profoundly gave him pleasure but I was somewhat concerned that his pleasure was circumscribed. Maybe he did need a testosterone additive after all as I was still using an oestrogen patch to supplement my hormonal levels. Discussing this, I thought I could probably also boost my sexual craving from testosterone too as I had viewed a science program on TV where a female doctor, happily married and enjoying sex with her husband, was experiencing a low libido and used a testosterone cream to boost her sex drive. Within a few short weeks, she said there was a significant change in her desire for sex so I considered obtaining some of the cream for myself. As much as I felt strongly attracted to Alexi, my sexual appetite had waned, wondering if some cream would work for me too, putting the thought on hold temporarily.
Despite not having had sex with him for 18-months, that time offered me the opportunity to know him even more, realising I had really grown to love him even without sex. In some ways it was weird I suppose but it always felt so good to be with him, despite occasionally still arguing and disagreeing with his ideas and beliefs, that it didn’t feel weird at all. Accepting him as a great friend to share intellectual musings with as well as emotional and other diverse issues we discussed seemed inherently good. The reality was that I told him several times I loved him and accepted it was a one way street. Clearly, he didn’t feel similarly and I just acknowledged that was the way it was. Still incredibly busy with his music and performing on stage even into his 60s, I was just glad to see him when he had the time or interest in seeing me. I hadn’t enjoyed such an interesting friendship, even relationship as such, with a man in that way throughout my life. We could indulge in conversations about almost everything and anything, except football and sport generally, which he had scant time for. As none of my past male friends ever shared my passion for sport, his lack of interest was par of the course, at least in my life.
How our friendship would play out I didn’t even think about as I still enjoyed living on my own with my own life. Likewise, he said much the same about his life too, neither of us wanting a ‘serious’ commitment to each other. I did think about that on a few occasions, but appreciated he didn’t love me and I was content with the way our friendship was. Maybe if he did love me it could have been different but reality clearly resounded in my head. Perhaps I was partly deluding myself that friendship was all I wanted and needed but at the same time realised that that’s all he actually wanted with me. Whether I was deluding myself seemed irrelevant in the scheme of things. A friendship with ‘benefits’ was more than acceptable too as I also knew there were considerable differences between us and wasn’t even certain I wanted another relationship with any man again.
On my own for more than 40 years and thoroughly enjoying my lifestyle as it was, my only big problem was still financial but that was the way life had turned out.
Despite still endeavouring to make money selling articles, mostly I was unsuccessful even though I knew some of the articles were well-written and well-researched. There was little else I could do as I had no extra money to invest in long-term freelance articles and contented myself with still trying but not expecting much to ensue. Occasionally, I sold an article to one of the more intelligent newspapers for a column with several other writers, being published about once every couple of months. Living on a pension seemed my destiny as much as I had once believed that would never be my fate. Some things were simply beyond my control. Indeed, I had once asked Alexi if he wanted to share a house or flat with me as a friend only (I didn’t want to be beholden to my sister) to which he replied: “I couldn’t live with someone on a pension” which summed it all up for me very loudly. Moreover, he had also told me on several occasions that he lusted after younger women and although he realised he was probably too old for them, that was how he felt. I needed no other information about the limited nature of our friendship.
My friendship with Max continued too, still coming for dinner where we were often joined by Alexi, glad that they both liked one another and enjoyed each others’ company. Through Max, I met another young, gay man who I became friends with who confirmed one of my ‘cock-eyed theories’ about sex when he told me he was having sex with a transgender man with a vagina. For him, it was about the man, his anatomy irrelevant. As with my non-sexual experience with the young lesbian when I rented an apartment, I believed that sex was about who you wanted to be with not the particular biology of the person. This gay man confirmed this as despite having the physical attributes of a female, he was a ‘male’ in all other matters. It was another reality to contemplate as few people ever talked about it and I believed I was myself ‘transgender’, my biology irrelevant too. As a female, my passionate interests, politics, football and sex were mostly male domains in my youth and I often felt far more relaxed and comfortable in male company than with females. At other times, it seemed my gender was actually superfluous to who I was and still am, non-specific gender more apposite.
Continuing to write my blog, I tried to explain and detail this ‘transgender’ concept, and hearing this gay man inform me of his relationship with a male who had a vagina, certainly convinced me I was right about me. Sadly, our social norms still didn’t understand the limits of gender stereotyping based on anatomy.
Now 67, some of my peers were also dead and/or experiencing ill-health and I could only appreciate that for all the risks I had taken, choices I had made and experiences I had, I was alive and well enough to live life as I wanted and needed, money permitting. I had long since jettisoned contemplating the future, living in the here and now and falling asleep each night with the words: “There but for the grace of God, go I” resounding in my head. There were no deep regrets, looking forward to each new day and what life could still offer me, joyfully, positively and even unexpectedly.
Certainly, I had realised that while I had dreams and plans for a myriad of things over my life, the saying “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry..” seemed far more realistic and apposite. Still seeking new adventures and experiences, I approached turning 68 not as a boring, decrepit old woman, but as a female person with the same gusto and optimism I always had. As a Jew, albeit non-religious and non-practising, the saying “L’Chaim”- To Life, became even more apt than it was as a teenager. Who could say what life would present me with tomorrow?
There is an Epilogue to follow this section.