It is just over 12 years that I launched The Femmosexual online magazine, and with so many “expertariats” waxing lyrical in every way on any subject in the mainstream media, on podcasts and social media via Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, among others, it seems timely to reappraise, reassess and reflect on my own writings during those years.
Certainly, it’s difficult to remember exactly what I wrote and thought, but re-reading some posts have realised how my analyses and perspectives about several issues have changed, re-shaped and re-considered by a very different focus. With supposedly new research, studies and surveys reported daily in the news, my ideas, thoughts and beliefs have been challenged by facts and information, even others’ opinions, experiences and realities, I was previously ignorant of and hadn’t even contemplated.
Consequently, what I think and believe now appears even more complex, obfuscated by seemingly so-called inconvenient truths and assumed honesty of people’s real-life triumphs and/or torment. Clearly, many of my posts raised questions without answers, pondering curiously about the veracity and validity of many studies and oft arguing with myself, usually critiquing those studies with a concrete conclusion. Now unsure about some of those conclusions, I appreciate how the more I know, or think I know, the more I don’t know. Ascertaining what’s really true in this complex, convoluted and conflicted world seems even more confusing. Does the truth even matter; a universal, all-embracing, irrefutable truth that leaves no room for reasonable doubt?
Sometime in my late 20s, I wrote how the truth, as I and others then perceived it, or believed we did, could change depending on one’s perspective. Examining and exploring experiences, circumstances and relationships with others were perhaps all permeated by a particular perception of particular memories, at particular times, for particular reasons and in particular contexts. The particular, often prioritised for dialogue, discourse and debate, could, and did change, as time moved on.
Having read a book at university during my Arts degree fifty years ago called What is History? by British historian E.H.Carr, I posit that same question about my own 70plus years of life as it relates to my writings. What does my writing recorded in my diaries, letters, books, musings, articles and online in The Femmosexual, reflect about my life history? Are those writings honest, real and a true reflection of who I was, and what is their significance in who I am now? With a very different understanding of my truth as it was, even more pertinently, why I wrote what I did, I look back wondering whether the truth, mine and others, was actually just a psychological construct to fit the pieces of our personal jigsaw puzzle comfortably together. Were those alleged truths designed to facilitate self-understanding, even acceptance and/or approval in society?
History it is often said is written by the acclaimed winners, in wars, revolutions and in relationships with nations and their people, and if this is indeed true, can we ever access a realistic and valid portrait of history? Moreover, about myself too, as despite decades of personal and professional failures, foibles, faults and fantasies, I feel like a winner, irrespective that others might label me a loser. With past conflicts, confusions and complexities replaced by accepting imperfections, ignorance and even ignominy as part of my life’s journey, what others have opined about me, in the past, the present and for all the tomorrows, seem almost irrelevant in the here and now. During that journey, I have enjoyed several great friendships, but the most significant reality in my life is that I have ultimately always been my own best friend. It dictated my priorities, perspectives and perspicacity.
Remembering a story I wrote at 19 about the late Sir John Monash for The Sun News-Pictorial as a cadet journalist at the launch of a new biography, I asked a couple of his family members and others at the launch what they thought of him. I had not read the book, and was unaware if they had either, but their knowledge, perception and memories were perhaps surprisingly to some, but very interestingly for me, all very different. What do those diverse insights realistically reveal about who he was? In attempting some answer, could it be that Monash manifested as a different man dealing with different people in different contexts for different reasons at different times; a multi-dimensional human being rather than a simplistic, one-dimensional, superficial stereotype? The latter perspective is too often preferred by those who choose to ignore and/or avoid, confronting the complexity of humankind, however conscious or unconscious.
As a teenager, I watched a brilliant TV program on Channel 7 called Tell The Truth, where three different people appeared with the same name, gender and age, narrating exactly the same script about who they were. The script included facts such as what city they were born in, what school/s they’d attended, what jobs they’d had and also, their relationships, friends and marital status. Two of the participants were liars, or in the current popular vernacular, specialists in spin. Only one was for real. Yet discerning who that was proved extremely difficult, if not sometimes impossible, and mostly, I got it wrong. Nonetheless, watching that program was a great educational and instructive experience, realising how easy it was to deceive others about oneself. If one was a good liar, public performer and/or actor, convincing others they were telling the truth flowed as easily as water off a duck’s back. Obviously, in movies, the theatre and across the arts industry, brilliant actors make a killing at the bank, their roles believable and credible, and I assert, in most walks of life, especially professional politicians, barristers and even media celebrities, among too many others.
Picking the TV participant who told the truth could depend on the questions asked by a panel of three “judges” about the script, re getting each one to elaborate and explain more about the details and background of what was in it. Their answers, and the delivery of them, either acclaimed their acumen as clever and creative, bullshit artists or exposed them as imposters and frauds, but more importantly, revealed how adept they were at making things up relative to the scripts’ facts. Devoid of knowledge and/or experience of those facts, they lied blatantly and brazenly, without knowing what they were talking about; the “truth” improvised, connived and manipulated to create difficulty discovering who had told the truth. Similarly to me, many “judges” got it wrong, despite being adults.
Why and how then, do people apparently entertain different opinions, interpretations and judgements of others and on what basis are they made and deemed true and real? And what about what one opines about self? Is one’s truth mysterious, intangible and beyond genuine understanding by others, and more particularly, even by self? Does one need and/or want others to endow him/her with insights and clues to one’s true sense of self? Moreover, if that sense of self can, and does change for many people over time, what is the truth about self? By learning more holistically about self and developing new and/or different perspectives, does that make past understandings redundant and/or superfluous? One realistic insight into my teenage diaries on re-reading them over the years as I told a friend some months ago, is that I often wrote statements without detailing what underpinned them, leaving the why of my feelings at the time of writing unclear, confusing and easily misinterpreted or assumed. It was hard, if not impossible, to tap into the feelings and mental memories I had then without the elaboration and detail. Mostly, they were written without context, particularly when I was depressed, upset and crying. I also wrote I rarely wrote much when I was happy; writing being some kind of therapy to maintain a sense of balance and equilibrium in my life.
Re-reading these writings several times over several years, I did have different understandings about myself, my family and some of my friends, but also, I acknowledged some of what I wrote, and my choice of words, were misleading, about myself and about others. Maybe I wrote as comfort, a sanguine solace to alleviate my sadness, however deceitful and dishonest it may have been, and unconscious. I certainly didn’t realise at the time of writing, except that at 14, leaving my diary open on my bed, my mother told me she had read it, much to my dismay and disgust. Later, I pondered whether a lot of what I subsequently wrote was true at all, given I oft pondered whether my mother would read it again. Perhaps too, I may have even hoped she would read it to better understand some of the problems I was grappling with. Without being able to clarify these issues after more than 60 years, I can only repeat a certain mystery about my truth then, wondering now what it is for me, and most people.
Since those adolescent years, I stopped confiding in many friends and family members as I realised they weren’t really interested in me or even in the slightest bit empathic. Writing was still my way of self-connecting as I couldn’t with others. In my 30s, a few shrinks, psychologists and counsellors, gender, race, sexuality and creed, sadly irrelevant, did not come close to any genuine insights or connection with me. They didn’t, or couldn’t even ask the right questions to broaden those insights and perceptions. Indeed, some journalists were the same, unable to actually ask questions that would reveal some truth about my experiences. It was as if they had already made up their mind about me, based on books I’d written but never published, and information from others, however inaccurate or biased. They were uninterested in testing that information by probing more profoundly because what I might say could, or would, contradict their comfortable assumptions and invalidate that information from others. Reluctant to challenge and confront themselves about those assumptions, however conscious or unconscious, I did it instead, sometimes deliberately, sometimes just incidentally, but fortunately discovered how they denied, distorted and disrespected me without any self-awareness about their body language, their own script and specialist training. Encountering some people in my life who “ran” away from conflict with me, or even just disagreement, I suspected they perceived my ways of being and seeing as too unnerving or disturbing to consider as meaningful or worthwhile, possibly threatening and/or undermining their sense of self, satisfaction and contentment, and dare I add, their self-righteous arrogance and sense of superiority.
The TV program always ended by a voice-over asking: “Will the real So-and-So please stand up?” Only one person stood up of course, but in the context of Sir John Monash and the differing opinions about him, who, I can only wonder, was the real Sir John? Moreover, who was, and is, the real me? Contemplating these issues on and off for decades, I wrote at 30 that one was lucky in life if one knew oneself, realising even then that family, friends and workmates, among others, all countenanced differing opinions and beliefs about not just me, but others in their orbit. Yet, that being said, our journey through life and the opportunities and relationships we form in that journey, are usually based on not just how people perceive, judge and think about us, but also how we perceive and think about them. Nine years ago, at 63, I considered myself “unknown” to others, thinking about being dead in the morgue with a cardboard sign around my wrist saying “Unknown”.
Sharing ourselves with others, be it over dinner, a drink, a movie, or just an unplanned conversation as we do, may only encompass some interests, passions and reveal some attitudes and behaviours, with other aspects of ourselves remaining hidden, even obscure, not due to secrecy out of fear and/or shame, but because there is no common denominator with those others to share other aspects about oneself, no questions or interest to evoke a more holistic and realistic perspective. Believing human beings are all complex and uniquely individual, it seems one tragic truth is that too often people find it easier, less confusing and difficult to adopt a one-dimensional, even simplistic and superficial perspective that denies the difficulty of unravelling that complexity. Socrates may have been right in asserting “the unexamined life is not worth living”.
Pigeon-holing humans with a particular set of labels makes us as humans far easier and less complex for others to deal with. Economics Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen puts it so succinctly in his 2006 book Identity & Violence- The Illusion of Destiny writing about “the less discussed but much more plausible understanding that we are diversely different” (his italics). What we need he continues, is “a clearer understanding of the pluralities of human identity…, (without that the) importance of human life is altogether lost, and individuals are put into little boxes…inmates rigidly incarcerated in little containers…”
As I read various journalistic interviews with some celebs and famous identities, I often realise how superficial and assumptive they are without much probing into the whys and wherefores of their statements and answers. I’m unsure whether the journalists even realise what they DON’T ask, and maybe just assume about the interviewee despite those assumptions not being stated. But it’s also possible, maybe even probable, that the interviewee has avoided being probed too deeply, as my own experience with a well-known female comedian who told me decades past “You are not a psychiatrist” when I asked her to elaborate on statements she made about her adolescence. Indeed, other people I’ve talked to who I’ve met casually in coffee-shops or through a mutual friend, have been most critical and contemptuous about my many questions. One woman told me to “stop interrogating her” when I thought I was just being interested in her, while a male I thought I’d befriended in my local café sharing a conversation for more than an hour, later disparaged me to a friend as asking too many questions and he didn’t like me. He would walk past me in the street and ignore me. A male cousin was “disturbed” by what he called my “grilling” of him about past statements he’d made. With these experiences I can only wonder why they reacted that way and whether there was some latent fear about revealing themselves to me.
I am reminded of the Billy Joel song: The Stranger, the words focusing on people being strangers within themselves. On the other hand, I’ve had great two-way conversations with many people in my life where we’ve shared moments of togetherness, empathy and interest getting to know one another as best we can.
The truth about one is still shrouded in mystery, often obfuscated by questions that can be meaningless and miss the significance about one’s truth. As a journalist and/or researcher and publicist, asking questions has been my life, but I too acknowledge how difficult it can be to ask questions that elicit genuine truths about another. Moreover, listening intently to another can also be difficult and tiring, as concentrating for a long time is hard and often leads to dissatisfaction with the engagement.
Returning to my writings, I have some different thoughts now about gender, politics, mental health and even sport, accepting that various studies and surveys present so many differing and contradictory facts and information. I will not conclude strongly about anything anymore, except about myself, as I do feel lucky to know myself as well as I do and acknowledge I’m still my own best friend as I did more than 50 years ago. My male friend I’ve seen for nearly eight years now I do believe knows me better than anyone else ever has, or does, but he too has only glimpses of me as we relate to each other. Likewise I about him, often stunned, even shocked, by some of his utterances and more recently, his verbal abuse. The friendship is not as it was, and never will be again, but I still enjoy his company when he’s feeling favourable towards me. At other times, I walk away and prefer my own company. Each to their own and I don’t know about anyone else but me! Indeed, there are many people I’m no longer interested in or want and/or need to know; they’ve had no interest in me for too long and no empathic understanding, including so-called friends, family members and medicos, among others. I’m far happier on my own without disrespectful and deceitful people who delude themselves thinking they care! Lucky I know my truth over my lifetime and do not care what others opine or think about me as I never have. To thine own self be true; a belief I wrote some 43 years ago, without much interest now in anyone else’s truth either. That being said, I am still a gambler on life, hoping to meet people who DO interest me without playing games. At least I learned a lot from a book I read at 17 by an American M.D. called Eric Berne titled Games People Play, published in 1964. My only game is to keep alive and healthy to enjoy life and its merriment! That’s a truth worth celebrating!