Crying in Cars With Babies

We were 6 hours in on our return trip from Sydney to Melbourne when He started to grumble. It was a slow build at first. A disgruntled 10-month-old, uncertain of where He was, why he was there and understandably annoyed with having to face backwards when all the fun seemed to be happening in the forward-facing seats of the car listening to My Dad Wrote a Porno (what! He’s 10 months old! It’s not like he knows what a taint is any way or how to even put it to good use!)

 
But within minutes’ whatever revelry – Nay- comradery we as new parents were experiencing in the front seats of our family-sized SUV was about to be threatened to within an inch of its life.

‘He needs his dummy’ JK postured.

Incy wincy spider-

‘He spat it out’ I declared.

Climbed up the water spout-

‘Well put it back in’

Down came the rain-

I distorted my body into a position I’ve coined ‘the early onset arthritis maker’.

And washed poor Spidey out –

No dummy could be found.

Out came the sunshine –

‘I can’t find it.’

And dried up all the rain –

‘What do you mean?’

So Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the spout again.

‘Do you need subtitles? I said I can’t find it.’

(*in rounds this time) Incy Wincy –

‘I’m driving’

Incy –

‘And?’

Spider climbed up the water spout

‘I can’t read and drive at the same time!’

Spider climbed up  –

‘Oh but you can direct and drive at the same time?’

Down came the rain and –

‘Yep’

Down came the –

‘Fine.’

Washed poor Spidey out –

I twist around again, this time certain I won’t be able to do stairs ever again.

Washed poor –

‘There are no dummies. He’s destroyed all and any evidence that they even existed before this car ride started! He’s a sociopath. A tiny sociopath.’

Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain –

‘He’s a baby Lou, get a grip.’

Out came the sunshine –

‘Well they’re not THERE, THEY’RE NOT ANYWHERE! HE’S PLAYING US AGAINST EACH OTHER!’

2 hours later…

(*in a strong almost mocking French accent) Incy Wincy spider –

Having calmed down somewhat I was now in the driver’s seat, while John this time was battling Field of Screams’ and it was at this point, after non-stop screaming for no apparent reason other than ‘cause’ I finally started to get Punky Brewster’s mum – a much vilified and maligned woman from TV history or was she perhaps a misunderstood hero-mum who finally took a stand, said enough-is-enough?

I remember with great concern watching Punky Brewster as a child. Here was a young girl, left in a supermarket carpark by her mother, only to find solace and care with a retired elderly-yet-to-be-vetted old man whose apartment she broke into in a desperate attempt for shelter, food and safety. While I loved the show I never understood why more wasn’t done about her horrible, neglectful, monster of a mother – but now as I drove along ‘a google shortcut’ taking me to the middle of nowhere, I momentarily longed for the days of binge drinking and morning after pills.

Climbed up the water spout –

‘Maybe he needs a bottle?’ I suggested.

Down came the rain and washed –

Milk splattered all over the back seat.

Poor Spidey out –

‘Nup, that didn’t work’

Out came the sunshine and dried up the all the rain –

‘Food?’

So Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the spout again.

‘We have some leftover pizza. I’ll try that’

(* through the heavy weight of tears this time) Incy Wincy Spider –

‘Make sure you pick out the olives. He doesn’t like them!

Climbed up the water spout –

‘Nup, that didn’t work’

Down came the rain and washed –

‘You don’t work!’

And washed poor Spidey out –

‘He’s your son!’

Out came the sunshine –

‘You mean our son!’

And dried up all the rain –

‘Your son is possessed!  Can’t you see what he’s doing? He’s trying to destroy us.’

So Incy Wincy –

‘When he’s like this he’s your son. We had a deal remember?’

I hate this song! I hate this f**king song!!!!!!

‘Na-uh’

‘Yes ah-uh’

‘Get out of my SON YOU DEMON! WHAT DO YOU WANT????!!!!’

3 hours later…

(*with the aching jaw of a speed addict) Incy Wincy Spider –

Pitch black, raining and with tears streaming down all our faces now I pulled into a near empty service station. The outline of Melbourne glistening on the horizon, so close, yet so far…

‘You’re an idiot’

And then without saying a word, we both jumped out of the car, pacing around it, taking deep breaths and cheap jabs at each other.

‘No, you’re an idiot’

And then silence.

Not the silence you get from slamming a car door, locking the noise within. No, actual silence.

Could it be?

We opened this car door with as much hope as a virgin at the schoolies…

And…

He was asleep.

Our little angel was asleep.

It was beautiful. He was beautiful. A f**king miracle.

We looked at each other.

‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’

‘I’m sorry I snapped before’

‘No I’m sorry.’

We hoped back in the car, our relationship restored, our family still intact.

We even picked a new podcast for the last one hour left of our trip.

But then suddenly the silence was shattered –

Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the water spout…

 

 

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Breastfeeding Fails

 

I’ll be honest. Breastfeeding didn’t come easily to me, in no small part due to the enormity of my breasts. At 42HH it wasn’t like I could just drop a silky camisole strap while chatting over a latte, no my breastfeeding experience was far less social and a whole lot more Bad Boy Bubby.

To give you an idea of what 42HH looks like –  sure you could Google it (be warned that breast size seems to appear alongside a lot of people who have had concrete ass implants for some reason), or you could imagine two 4 kilo twins dangling from your neck as they punch you repeatedly in the lungs, screaming the whole time as their heads graze your lap. Aroused?

In an attempt not to smother bub I was given a bunch of handy tips from everyone from maternal health nurses to complete strangers. Some were amusing – heave your boobs up onto a level table and pull baby towards you. It’s best to do this while wearing a house smock, compression tights and not near anyone who might want to have sex with you again in the future.

Others were functional – use a funnel. Yep. A. Funnel. Otherwise known as a ‘Nipple Shield’ To be attached to my nipple so bub could actually find it hidden amongst my cascading flesh.  Kinda like cave diving.

Do it in a bath – boobs float, babies float. They’ll float towards each other and BANG! Nutritional bliss. This does not work. Because first and foremost you need to fit into the bath and if you do manage to squeeze your recently expanded girth into that ceramic suction tube, the matter then becomes how to retrieve said boobs from their new hiding place – your armpits.

Naturally not being able to breastfeed with convenience (which to be honest is what they sell the whole breastfeeding thing on) – when the need for convenience did arise, all my inhibitions would have to fall by the wayside because when baby needed to feed well he made the point of letting me and anyone within screeching distance know.

That brings me to the gazebo incident. Whilst visiting my in-law’s I went for a walk with bub. Down rolling hills, up steep roads (we were in Sydney) past assholes in cars winding down their windows and telling me to lose weight, to a nice, pretty park, with a gazebo covered in bird shit and some council workers loitering nearby.

It was as if bub was fated to want to feed at that exact moment, you know just as I’d stopped crying after being called ‘fat’ by a couple of teenage boys. And of course, as luck would have it, I was wearing a dress that could only be pulled up at the waist to reveal my boobs, I didn’t have my funnel and he wouldn’t latch without it. It was a mess. I was a mess. But I had to push on. My fiancé hastily constructed a tent out of a scarf but it barely covered me. That was ok I thought. Get over yourself, Lou. You’re a mother now. Pull yourself together. So I pulled the scarf down and there in my undies in a shit covered gazebo I tried to breastfeed.

And for 30 blissfully non-screaming minutes it worked but then he came off, milk squirted everywhere and my nipple kept slipping out of my hand like a well-oiled melon. The audience of male council workers offered little in the way of support, instead choosing to leer at my half naked form under the guise of needing to check the stability of the gazebo railings. Their seedy concern –  nauseous.

I decided to call it quits. Bub screamed all the way home before I was able to thrust him up onto a table, with a funnel and sate his appetite. This was fucked. Short of committing to a life as a hermit breastfeeding in public was always going to involve me getting a council permit of some sort.

As luck would have it thought, bub decided on his own he didn’t want to breastfeed anymore. Maybe he was over the funnel or the threat of constant suffocation by boob that hung over his day-to-day existence. He just quit.

I Googled what that meant and was not surprised to find very little support in the way of what to do when a bub suddenly decides to wean. Nup, everything I came across told me I had given up too soon, too easily. It takes 12 months to wean. I must have done something wrong – had I considered lavender? I needed to get him back on the horse or he might never live up to his true potential.

But he was having none of it. He wanted to feed himself.  In fact in terms of supporting my decision to not pursue breastfeeding any further bub was my most ardent supporter. He did the break up for me.

And as for the funnel? It comes in handy whenever I need to fill up my thermos with coffee so I think I’ll be keeping it…

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Warning: Toilet Humour (or How I Learnt To P** Again)

I read once that a guy was so constipated that he took a hot shower, bent over and tried to spoon himself out. It was a success and that spoon is supposedly still in circulation today. A true hero’s journey.

Why do I mention this?

Because I too once thought the idea of removing a shit with a spoon was beneath me, that is until five days after having my son, I found myself hunkered over a hospital toilet, toothbrush in hand, contemplating a similar fate.

Here’s the thing. No one tells you that your first shit after having a baby is going to quite possibly be a worse pain than actually birthing said baby. No one says you become so consumed by the painful and never ending reluctant evacuation that you can barely focus on your new child, let alone name them. No one tells you that the downside of being pumped so full of painkillers is the cementing of your intestinal tract, much like that of a heroin addict.

And absolutely no one tells you that you might end up squatted over a toilet, crying, staring at sign warning against ‘anal strain’ and considering, just considering…

‘JK – are you there?’ I shouted out through the slightly ajar toilet door, into my hospital suite.

‘Yeah, babe. Any movement at the station?’ he asked kindly.

Yep, this is what our relationship had now come to. With the intimacy of childbirth a distant memory, our joint focus had turned to whether or not I would ever be able to provide a stool sample again.

‘No’ I whimpered. ‘The trains still delayed.’

‘Oh, babe. Sorry.’

Pause.

‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

Pause. I looked at my toothbrush.

Dare I ask?

Could I ask?

Should I ask?

I mean he had just seen a human ripped out my intestinal lining (did I mention I failed biology in high school?) and that had, I was in no doubt, brought us closer together, so I mean surely a request to bend me over and scoop poo out of me would only bring even more intimacy and meaning to our relationship?

Or…

Well…

There was always the possibility that it would destroy our relationship.

But here’s the thing – for a fleeting moment, as I saw my strained reflection in the mirror (yep, great place to put a mirror btw) I thought that it might be actually worth ruining my marriage for. I mean I could always meet someone else…

‘Lou, everything alright in there?’

He’d picked up on my silence. My contemplation.

‘Um…is there a spoon out there?’

‘Um…I don’t think so. Why? Do you want me to ask the nurse for one?’

‘Um…’

‘Lou?’

Pause.

‘Are you going to ask me to scoop you out?’

Silence.

We had reached this point. If I said yes, that could be the end of us. If he said no it could be the end of us. 

I took a deep breath, ready to give me answer –

BANG!

The door flew open.

‘And how are we going today?! Still no movement at the station I see!’

A nurse beamed down at me.

‘Nup’ I replied. A sudden wave of relief washing over me.

‘Best we get you some laxatives.’

Laxatives!

‘To help move things along. Can’t have you doing all the hard work on ya own.’

Fuck! That was right! Laxatives! Other drugs! How had I not thought of that?

‘That would be great’ I said, beaming like an idiot, as JK cried tears of joy in the other room.

‘No worries, I’ll go grab some right now.’

She paused. Turned back.

‘What’s with the toothbrush?’

THE END.

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Best Birth-Day Ever

By the time I reached 36 weeks, I think it’s fair to say, I was not the poster girl for pregnancy. I was the pregnant woman anyone thinking of getting pregnant needed to avoid at all costs. There was no glow. No increased libido. No ethereal photoshoot by the seaside with my partner’s arms wrapped around my naked belly. Wheelchair-bound thanks to crippling back pain, vaginal spasms (yes, yes it’s completely ok to be aroused by my writing of ‘vaginal spasms’’), a 35 kilo weight gain and a constant flow of discharge – I looked like and felt like a creature you’d find living under a bridge, picking at an abscess in between scaring townsfolk and eating children.

 
And so with that in mind, it was far to say I suspected the actual birth of my son would be like that scene from Alien, you know alien bursts out the guy’s gut, blood, horror etc but in my case, I imagined my baby would simultaneously punch out of my boobs, mouth, head and vag, as if he had been wearing me as a human skin suit for 9 months…

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We arrived at the hospital bang on 6am. I was scheduled for a C-section, so I knew by lunch I’d be a mum and that I’d be out of my wheelchair and the last 9 months would finally be over. I was so excited by the idea that I had never thought for a minute that I would actually enjoy a day of abdominal surgery, spinal injections and stark realities – I was going to be a mum. You can’t give them back when you’re the mum…but I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot, thanks in no small part to drugs.

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And boy when they kicked in, nothing could dampen my vibe. Even when I was being told off for trying to high-five the other women in the ward “Fuck we’re having a baby ladies!! We made babies, ladies!!! – it rhymes! I’m a genius…’ (you get the picture). Turns out you’re not meant to do that… “Not everyone is as excited as you Lou,” the less angry-than-the-other-midwife said to me as I lamented everyone else’s lack of enthusiasm.

 
‘But we made humans’ I mumbled under my breath.

 
‘Not yet you haven’t…’ the midwife corrected me, ‘Gotta get it out first.’

 
Buzzkill.

 
Wheeled into the operating theatre and helped to the table, it was explained to me that someone was going to stick a needle into my spine. Right. Into. My. Spine.

 
Five minutes later, after four failed escape attempts thanks to my spasming vagina, I was resolved to my fate and let someone called an ‘Anaesthetist’, who claimed he was a ‘professional’, paralyse me from the waist down.

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From what I remember the surgery was simple enough. A screen went up and a few moments later a baby was presented to me scrotum-first. Thus my first interaction with my son was to be me beaming up at his huge gonads, which would no doubt bode well for our future relationship.

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It’s from that point on things get blurry. The only thing I clearly remember was giving a lot of double thumbs to various other drugged-out new-mums, extolling to all who would listen to my very strong opinions on bathroom bins and telling the flurry of midwives that crossed my path that we should call this whole C-section surgery affair a ‘Macduffin’. Could have been the drugs talking…maybe…

 
Finally, my son was presented to me, not a scrotum in site and with no time for a more proper introduction, he was attached to my boob – to further cement our already Oedipal-esque relationship. Now while in the past someone attaching themselves to my boobs, no questions asked, was not something I’d be cool with, when it came to this little guy I was ok it…

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By the time I wheeled up to my room, I thought to myself how nice a day I’d had. What a great birth experience it had been and how lucky I was. It was a nice thought that lasted all of 4 minutes before the pain meds started to wear off…

 

Chapter 2. The Pain.

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I love you, just not what you’re into.

Since we nearly broke up a few months into our relationship after I told my Lord of The Rings loving boyfriend (JK) that ‘I didn’t care for fantasy’ I’ve made a concerted effort to champion his interests while remaining detached and uninvolved. Like he’s really into historic drama TV shows – Vikings and Hell on Wheels type stuff. Sometimes he even insists we watch them together so I try and make a game of it, guessing how far into an episode I’ll see a woman’s breast, or her rape or perhaps her sale to a wealthy landowner.

He’s also really into reading books about dogs, which is cool, if that’s your sort of thing but he thinks I should read them as well so I can get a better understanding of our staffy. But I’m not sure how much reading is going to solve the issue that our dog, who is so in love with JK, will one day kill me in my sleep, proceed to make a Lou suit out of my skin and resume her rightful place on the pillow beside him.

Anyone in a relationship will admit it’s hard to like all the things your partner does, well unless you’re these guys…

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…and while it’s great to share interests and be introduced to new ones, there comes a time, let’s say past 30 where you just think ‘fuck it’. I mean most of us spend our 20s pretending to like things we don’t in order to get laid or not die alone, so why, as I head into my late 30s should I continue the charade? After all, don’t all of us die alone?

This leads me to where my preamble has been heading – gardening. Yep, gardening.  My boyfriend is really into gardening. He loves it. He’d be a gnome if he could be, complete with short man syndrome and pointy little hat, but alas he is 6’1 and refuses to wear a waistcoat, even though I think it would be totally cute, but whatevs.

Myself, I’m not into gardening.  Never have been and at 36 unless I’m struck by a bolt of lightening and wake up from a coma as a totally different person I never will.  Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a good garden as much as the next person, some of my best friends garden but I’m more of an applauder than a performer when it comes to a good mulch or a well watered vegie patch. I love that in my yard I have a slew of burgeoning red cabbages, spring onions I can always count on, sprigs of thyme perfect for soup and even a passionfruit tree. I love that there are pots of flowers all over my house, mainly all gifts I’ve received over the years from JK, and only alive due to his efforts, though my ongoing disinterest in their welfare has made it touch and go on occasion.

But what I love most of all – I’m not responsible for any of it.

And so it was, that on Melbourne Cup Day, I found myself dressed in flannel and a 80s vintage jumpsuit, reading instructions on the side of a bag of fertiliser that assured me it would not burn my eyes, playing gardening assistant to JK, or apprentice as he liked to say. We were planting tomatoes because that’s what you do on Melbourne Cup Day, that and kill horses for sport.

He had requested my company. Said it would be fun. It would be my job to hand him things, fill buckets with things and control the afternoons music selection. One of those things I did with great abandon, the other two, I did somewhat half assed. To be fair he had offered me a way out earlier in the day, suggesting he fix up the hammock so I could read but I was tired of being cast of the bad witch from Wicked in our relationship, so I insisted on helping. My ego thwarting me once more.

We gardened for what seemed like days, no months. Winters came and went, summers were cruel, the springs a welcome break from the intense labor that came with handing JK a watering can at varying intervals and clipping off bits of twine to secure the vegetation. It was exhausting, soul destroying. I think I lost a piece of myself that day…

I was about to give up, walk away, perhaps get lost on the way back to civilisation and Foxtel on Demand and starve to death in our driveway when JK suddenly turned around, smiled, running a well calloused hand through his beard. ‘Thanks for today’ he said ‘I know you don’t like gardening, but I really like getting to spend time with you. It’s been nice.’

With such crippling accusations levelled at my feet I realised he was right. I do not like gardening, that day being no exception, but there is something I like more – spending time with JK, watching him do something he enjoys, so I smiled back in a way that communicated ‘I love spending time with you too, but no, we’re not watching The Hobbit after this.’
There’s only so few compromises I was willing to make that day.

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I’ve dated a Trans Person. A lot of us have.

‘….our identity is a sum of our parts, not just one part in particular.’

I’m not Trans. I can’t speak to that experience. So I won’t. What I will speak with is the experience of someone who was once in a relationship with a Trans Man. Some people know about this, some people don’t. I always felt uncomfortable talking about my experience, thinking that in doing so I was revealing something that wasn’t mine to do, so much so that when I did a show about this particular relationship back in 2009 I didn’t mention it. I was really into prop comedy at the time anyway. I argued it wasn’t important to the story. I argued with my director, my script editor. I told them it wasn’t my story to tell. And you know what? In all honestly I didn’t want to distract from the show.  I didn’t want the audience to spend any of their time trying to figure ‘it’ out.  Trying to figure out what that made me? Oh and the much more common concern – watching the audience try to figure out how we did ‘it’.

Does that sound crude?  Abso-fucking-lutely it does. And sadly it was a question I got asked all too often.

No one ever thought they were being offensive or intrusive when they asked how we had sex and my grimaced smile didn’t really send home the message that it wasn’t an appropriate question to ask – the sort that revealed more about the ignorance of the asker then the answerer. I thought by not answering their questions  that that would say, albeit silently, that their questions were inappropriate. Like when they asked ‘have they had the surgery?’ or when they said ‘it’s amazing, they pass so well. You’d think they were a real man’ or my favourite ‘I could always tell.’  I’d tell them finally to shut up, that it was their ignorance and lack of education talking, but I was loathed to discuss it further as I still believed that just because I’d dated a Trans Man, that didn’t give me the right to discuss it.

But now that I’m older and as an LGBTQI ally and advocate I believe it is visibility and experience that is our strongest assets in this community. Putting aside the Bruce Jenner media spectacle we’ve seen in recent weeks, sharing our experiences, even if they are fleeting is important. It doesn’t mean you’re telling someone else’s story, it means your telling only part of your story. So yes, I dated a Trans Man.

As friends, we were great. As lovers, we were fun, tempestuous, fiery, belligerent and miserable – the perfect 20something relationship.  During my time with him, aside from the constant teary eyed break-ups and passionate reunions I never really thought about what being with him made me. People who knew us just thought it was great we’d gotten together, finally. Only when I started telling some close family and friends that didn’t know about him I was asked ‘are you gay?’ I would always answer ‘No, I date a man because I’m straight’ but I knew what they meant. They needed to make sense of it, as open minded as they were. If I was gay it would make sense. It would explain all the Indigo Girls albums and my fondness for the film ‘But I’m a Cheerleader.’ What didn’t make sense was that for all intents and purposes I was in a straight relationship and my boyfriend could be an asshole just like everyone else’s. On the odd occasion his transition  would come up during our time together he used it to try and empathise with me, like when I was complaining of period pains and he tried to empathise and I threw his trainers out the window…

I won’t write about his journey in this post. I still believe that’s his to tell. What I will say is he was an activist and friend to many in the trans community and it was hard not to be in awe of what he had overcome to be the person he really was. And whilst my relationship with him didn’t make me gay, it did make me more aware, more liberal and more importantly, did in some way contribute to the person I am today. But that’s what all relationships should do. The good, the bad – they teach us something about ourselves.

After we broke up and I started dating again, I would sometimes disclose details of my past relationship with him and be met with a mix of curiosity and utter transphobia –  ‘oh so now you’re with a real man’. This comment uttered by more than one but less than a few. Those relationships would last the length of a short breath.

I saw this short documentary once, where a Trans Warrior went around asking people on the street questions about what it meant to be a man. Questions like ‘If you were in a car crash and you lost your cock would that make you less of a man?’ In all of these ‘if you lost your cock’ questions the answer was always the same ‘having a penis didn’t make you a man’.  The interviewers intention was clear – our identity is a sum of our parts, not just one part in particular.

I realised while reading some of the reporting surrounded Bruce Jenner’s recent admission as well as  watching TV shows like Orange is New Black and Transparent –   that while it is important we continue to see trans visibility increase in our society, that it is also important that those of us who have been in relationships with Trans People not fall silent on it. By letting people know that being a relationship with a Trans Person was part of your story it can help lessen the stigma and at times offensive curiosity surrounding the community. It can show young people struggling with transition that they will love, live and have tempestuous and at time shitty relationships just like the rest of us. It might just show them that it does get better. It sure showed me that.

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I’d F**k A Funny Woman Any Day.

I find women funnier. I just do. There, it’s said. It’s out there. For years I’ve taken a diplomatic stance – funny is funny no matter what the gender, no matter who is telling the joke, but who was I kidding, give me an Amy over an Arj any day. Now by no means is that meant to be taken as a disparaging comment on the Arj’s of the world, it’s just that my pen is inked from a different well, um, a well of ladies.

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I was born this way. From the moment I came into the world, as my mother looked at my tanned skin and joked between puffs ‘oh look, she’s nicotine stained’…it was inevitable.

About a week ago some guy called Wippa from a radio show mentioned that funny women don’t get the guys. Mama Mia writer Lucy Gransbury posted a great response to his assertions – ‘Eat a bag of dicks’. A more articulate response to the ‘funny women shut up if you want to get laid debate’ I’m yet to see. My fiancé, a man no less, decided he too would post a response. Less barbed he conceded that funny was sexy no matter what gender but I begged to differ, and I did. Under his post, I wrote ‘I find women funnier.’ It was out.

As much as I’m a fan of David Sedaris, it’s his sister Amy Sedaris who I stalk with unwavering commitment. Her Instagram account is ‘what Instagram was made for’ a friend recently declared. Her recent turn in Broadcity, something to behold ‘where isn’t a toilet?!’

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Judith Lucy and Jane Kenndey were the reasons I fought to stay up well past my bedtime to watch The Lateshow, it had little to do with Mick or Santo. Then of course there was Lynda Gibson in Let the Blood Run Free, Madge in Big Girls Blouse, Smack the Pony, Lucille Ball, The Golden Girls, Mona from Who’s The Boss, Ruth Cracknell, Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler and Shelley Long in anything. Oh and then there was Girls on Top that introduced me to Tracey Ullman, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. And Julia Davis pretty much revolutionised my viewing experience with Nighty Night, um and Jo Brand, Ab Fabs Patsy, Tamsin Greig, Janeane Garofalo, Olivia Colman and Parker Posey, and that my friends is only a list encompassing my formative years to say about the time I started working in comedy in the early 2000s.

Now sadly it was only when I started working in the industry did I learn, or sorry, I was told that women weren’t funny from some punters, some promoters and the odd comedian thus negating my entire back catalogue of inspiration, well they would have if I’d actually given a shit and for a moment believed them. I guess it doesn’t help that near every year some journo with space to burn poses the question ‘Are women funny?’ it’s about as relevant and interesting a question as that from my Year 12 debating final ‘Should you be permitted to choose whatever clothes you want to wear outside of school?’

Sure I have friends who are professionally funny and successful because they’re funny, but it’s also my lady friends from other walks of life that crack me up just as much, if not more. I think it’s the reason I think I’m drawn to them in the first place, that and their hair. It’s what I value most in a friendship, a good laugh and good hair. My mum is one of the funniest women I know, now whether or not it’s intentional we’ll probably never be certain, but on more than one occasion she’s made me pee my pants and this is well after the potty training years. My friend Clem never fails to make me laugh-cry in my face and then there’s Hattie. I see her maybe every 5 years or so, but I’m still left smiling for years after our catch ups because of  her tales of exotic world travel engrossing me while her cigarette animatedly dances around the table as she weaves her squeal inducing stories. Actually if I’ve invited you around for dinner and plied you with booze and you’ve got a vagina it’s probably because you’ve made my tummy hurt with laughter at some stage….feel used? Good.

I’m sure if you know me you’ve probably always suspected that I’m funny girl inclined, there’s been rumours floating around for years and I just felt it was time to set things straight, on my own terms. I plan to raise my children as lovers of funny women and you know what, I don’t think they’ll be alone, especially if the recent spate of fan obsessing ver the Amy’s, Mindy’s, Tina’s and Ilana’s is anything to go by and they’ll be in the best of like-minded sexy funny company, I’m sure.

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‘What is your story?’ – a much more rewarding question.

When people ask me what my cultural background is I like to set them at ease by telling them I’m half second generation Australian. If you put the word Australian in there it makes them feel better like they could be friends with you. I bring this up because it’s something I’ve been thinking on since Australia Day and whether you celebrate it or not, I think we can all agree on the same thing, being Australian means different things to different people – like to racists it is a day to drape a flag over your car and drive around yelling out to people like myself to ‘go back to where we came from’ or the more enlightened but equally oblivious leftie idiot, it’s a day to let me know that ‘my people’ enrich this country and they’d totally ‘ride with me’.

Australia Day seems an endless parade of the question ‘where you from?’

 

To be clear I’m half Spanish, half Port Melbourne bred Irish. I’m as white as they come but to quote  Rashida Jones ‘I’m ethnic’. I have a certain glow about me, a tan like I’ve just returned from holiday – really you must tell me your secret…

My gripe with the ‘where are you from?’ is that the question lacks nuance or a curiosity for a more complex answer. As if saying where you are from gives us all the answers. Surely we would get a more enriching response if we asked ‘what is your story?’

My father who immigrated here as a teen built a life and became a successful chef, but what came before that I don’t really know. I’m not sure what Spain was like other than being acutely aware that ‘the food’s better there’ and ‘they sleep after lunch.’ I was never told stories of the old country, partly due to my dad’s unrelenting work ethic and my  relationship with my Abuela (Spanish for grandmother).

It has always been fractured. Since I can remember she didn’t seem to like me. She displayed this lack of affection towards me in her own special way, like only an emotionally estranged adult could – like buying me bras made for flat chested men and making me put them on, parading in front of her. Or refusing to speak in English to me, or getting annoyed when I voiced an opinion that challenged her traditionalist sensibilities, or forcing me to role play being a ‘maid’ or ‘wife’ whilst my brother got to be a ‘man’ and was rewarded grandly with lollies and personal freedom whilst I was ‘allowed’ to learn the secret art of ironing men’s underpants…

I never knew why my Abuela had so many issues with me. My mother explained it away over the years by telling me she didn’t like her either and true to form, when my grandfather (Abuelo) died late last year mum found photos of my father and the woman they wanted him to marry instead of my mum stuck behind old picture frames. They now sit pride of place in my parent’s house because my mum reckoned my dad looked pretty hot in them and it would have been a shame to have thrown them away.

Of course I never confronted my Abuela over any of her problems with me, I was young and, to be honest, my biggest interest was myself. As far as I was concerned, I was her granddaughter and it was her job to love me and shower me with praise regardless of clashing personalities. I always knew I could blame her reluctance to speak English to me as the reason I never really got to know her.  If she didn’t like me then why should I have bothered asking her questions about her, about her life, you know before she became my grandmother – the role she had been reduced and relegated to only in the last 16 years of her long life.

It was only at her funeral that I got a bit of a glimpse of the person my Abuela had been and it was eye opening.

The crematorium was filled with other Spanish immigrants as expected, armed with tortillas and paellas, but there were also other ‘new Australians’ all eager to pay their respects to a woman who had opened up her home to them, helped them set up homes by donating furniture, clothes, food, accommodation and providing language classes run in the front room of her house when they arrived in Australia, isolated and alone. WTF? As her eulogy was read I couldn’t help but think ‘this was a woman I wanted to know. How come these guys got to know her and I didn’t?’

A few years after her death my parents, on one of their regular pilgrimages to Spain to eat and talk of retiring there one day, connected with some relatives long ago estranged. It was on this trip that my father learnt that his mother hadn’t always just been his mother. She had a been a woman with a challenging, complex and at times brutal past.

The story starts with my bisabuela (great grandmother). She worked as a caretaker and domestic whilst actively involved in the Republican movement. In my fathers words ‘yes, she was a communist.’  She was also a mother of two boys and one girl. One of the boys was adopted, a result of a rumoured illicit pregnancy of a famous Spanish actress whom my bisabuela worked for.

My father learnt that one day when he was out playing, a priest with strong fascist leanings in the town, frustrated by the noise of children playing outside his window, tossed out a brick, killing the boy instantly. This was the catalyst for my bisabuela to become a gun runner for the resistance movement, hiding and stockpiling live ammunition in her home for her fellow comrades. The story goes that she outed by a fellow freedom fighter (snitch!) and one day the police turned up her house and arrested her, well not before she blew up the arsenal she’d been in charge of.

Taken to a prison, that to this day people are very reluctant to admit existed (even though it functions as a prison still…) she was summarily sentenced to death. My bisabuelo, told that she had been executed eventually hung himself but not before being known to sit in his backyard with a glass of wines as bombs dropped around him because he wanted to face his death. His body was discovered by his remaining son, who realising what the death of his parents meant to the children of the resistance, fled Spain and joined the Foreign Legion. My Abuela, now alone, was sent to an orphanage that from all accounts was abusive (think Pan’s Labyrinth) and eventually she was released into a life of servitude. The kicker in all of this, it turns out, was her mother wasn’t killed. The powers that be had lied. My bisabuelo was eventually pardoned and returned home to find her husband dead, her son gone and her daughter living in the belief her family was dead, as a domestic.

Hearing this story made me wonder, why had Abuela come here? Was she still afraid of persecution and rightfully so? I heard that my bisabuela was almost stopped from visiting when my father first immigrated because of her communist connections – maybe my Abuelo wanted to escape that ongoing association and that’s why she never spoke of it. Maybe her problem with my outspoken opinions and causes scared her because after all she had experienced first hand the devastating effects fighting for what you believe in can cause. Maybe her work with immigrants and refugees was fuelled by an empathy and understanding for their situation, their want and need to escape their old life. Maybe because as cliches go I ‘look’ Spanish…maybe, maybe, maybe.

I don’t know. Sadly I didn’t know the woman. I wish I had.

 

 

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It’s a Straight Issue.

‘As far as I’m concerned, everyone – gay or straight –  has the right to be as unsure and skeptical of the institution of marriage as I am.’

I watch wedding shows. Heaps. Say Yes to the Dress, Four Weddings, anything with David Tutera in it. I watch them to see how the other half live. They’re my version of Animal Planet. When a bride turns to camera to share with us that they’ve dreamt about this day since they were a little girl that to me is the same as David Attenborough telling me that male Koalas have two penises. WFT? Mind blown! Really? And there is where I disconnect. I never had dreams of getting married as a young girl, having a wedding, of wearing a princess dress. It never made any sense to me. There were so many other things you could be doing like swimming, bike riding, reading ALL the Babysitters Club books, studying, debating, dressing up as a playing card to attend your friends 10th birthday party, reading all the POINT THRILLERS but planning a wedding at 8 years old – surely that was a thing of the past? Something to be frowned upon in a more civilized and evolved society.

Clearly it is not.

Now here’s the thing, before I go any further I should let you know that I’m engaged to be married, which sounds a lot like ‘I’m a hypocrite’. But hear me out. Turns out the guy I fell in love is really into the idea of getting married. I can’t say he tricked me. I knew pretty early on in our relationship, well our first date exactly where his cart might be hitched when he told me in great detail about his ideal wedding (Spoiler alert: involves the Speigletent, a flash mob and some sort of trapeze with dolphins). As he concluded with the idea of rounding out the ceremony with a song from the Titanic soundtrack he turned to me and asked ‘so that’s my perfect wedding, how about yours?’ I nearly choked on my vegetarian dumpling.

I’m not the marrying type. I have problems with it. In some countries it’s still about property, abuse and subjugation or/and same sex discrimination and sure I hear you scream at me ‘but marriage has evolved in the Western world. It’s about mason jars, commitment and Ed Sheeran songs now, not ownership. You can even keep your maiden name! It’s evolved!’

Oh really? I reply. Has it? It’s evolved has it? Then tell me why in this country it’s still only the domain of straight couples? It hasn’t really evolved has it when you need a legal proclamation in your wedding service that really drives home the discriminatory practice of straight Australians participating within an antiquated and frankly embarrassing piece of legislation that is as old as settlement itself.

My issue with marriage? It’s exclusionary and as it stands in regards to certain sections of our community – discriminatory. My straight partner and I can sit and talk about marriage and plan a wedding in the knowledge that we can do it. However if in Australia you sit outside of the heteronormative, that is to say you’re not a man marrying a woman to the exclusion of all others well you can talk about it, no law against that, shit you can even plan for it but you can’t do it. And why? Because you’re not straight. But don’t worry, sure you might not be able to marry, but you can put your name down on a registry/ excel spreadsheet in most states. Isn’t that enough?

To be clear I might be ambiguous about marriage but I do like weddings. I love love and all that goes with it. Celebrations, parties, get togethers with an open bar –all a good thing. The idea of having one ‘snuggle bunny’ for life – adorable. Maybe not entirely realistic, but it’s f**king adorable. However not all of my friends can stand in front of their friends and family and tell their ‘snuggle bunny’ that they love them, nor can they declare the whole in sickness and in health thing either and look if you want to be pedantic there’s a whole bunch of rights in regards to equality in this country that same sex couples don’t have because basically they can’t marry. Same sex couples can’t jointly adopt in Victoria and some other Australian states because they’re not married. Rights to your partners pension should you die, carers benefits etc are also not the same and absolute as married couples. Inheritance rights in many states are not recognised in the case of same sex and defacto couples.

Ha! You said defacto couple! – so it’s not really about discrimination just against homosexuals is it? Yes, yes it is. There have been a few moves to overhaul rights for defactos in regards to adopting, inheritance and property rights, however because that would mean giving same sex couples the same rights as the marrieds…well no we can’t have that. They’re slippery little suckers those gays – trying to get their civil rights by bootstrapping their cause to the average straight Australian defacto relationship…well I never!

And of course never mind the fact that inequality of the Australian Marriage Act is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because who gives a shit really. I mean for most of us, the fact that same sex couples can’t marry, or can’t even opt out of getting married (just like the rest of us, because choosing not to do something is as much a right as doing it) doesn’t affect us and our day-to-day lives. And why should it? We’re the first class. We’re straight. I mean the only way it might start to affect us was if straight people stopped getting married, as a protest. That, until everyone had the same rights, the BILLIONS of dollars pumped into the Australian wedding economy every year would just stop. Imagine that – florists, cake shop owners, wedding dress designers and wedding DJ’s the country over out of work like employees of the ABC.

People will start to ask why the people of Australia stopped getting married and we will tell them – that we will no longer help our government facilitate discriminatory practices against members of our community. Leaders of business, feeling the sting of dried up bridal spending will write letters to their members of Parliament asking for bailouts to help them in this time of wedding austerity. Members of Parliament will put pressure on their political parties to change their stance of the Marriage Act as the Australian economy cripples under the weight of the estimated loss of over 2 billion dollars a year. Even the most homophobic misanthrope wedding car hire service owner when faced with such a financial loss like will declare – ‘oh for the love of god, let them marry!’

Now I don’t imagine everyone will jump on this protest straight away. Like with any social change it will start small. A few couples here and there will cancel their upcoming weddings after realising their newly out cousin might feel uncomfortable and excluded at the wedding when the celebrant has to legally declare that their union is ok because it’s between a man and a woman. Then we’ll get a hashtag started like #letthemmarry (spit balling here) and that’s when things will really take off. A groundswell of support will emerge and Tony Abbott who by then will be Minister for Menstruation and the Hymen Renewal Scheme will be forced to make a change.

I can’t take credit for this idea. One of my best friends who is gay (don’t worry, I wanted to stab myself in the eye as I wrote that) told me the only way things would change was if the straights got involved. Succinctly put, he said ‘same sex marriage is a straight issue’.

I’m part of the small grass roots movement. When my partner proposed, I paused, realising that if I was to try marriage it would be with this guy and only him and so I knew that when I said ‘yes, but on the proviso we don’t get married until everyone can’ that he would say ‘that was a given.’ And he did. And so we will wait.

People ask us all the time when is the big date? How are the plans going? And every time someone asks we tell them that we couldn’t imagine inviting our gay friends to a wedding only to have them hear that due to their sexual orientation they are denied the right to stand in front of their nearest and dearest and let the world know that they are in love. Sure, it makes some people uncomfortable but I’m completely ok with that. A little bit of discomfort for equality seems a relatively small sacrifice for both sides of the conversation.

I’m still not sure I’m the marrying type but given I’m in a position to at least choose if I want to get married or not, it means I’m in a position of privilege and I should exercise the responsibility that goes with that accordingly. As far as I’m concerned, everyone – gay or straight –  has the right to be as unsure and skeptical of the institution of marriage as I am.

Now because I’m engaged, I can’t watch my wedding shows with as much irony as I once did but they have helped give me a clearer picture of how my partner will look on our wedding day in his resplendent white dress being led down the isle by his father and presented to me. I’m very much looking forward to that especially with all my friends looking on and taking cash bets on the side to see if I go through with it.

If you support marriage equality as you no doubt do you can go here: http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/ and further show your support! Or you know NOT GET MARRIED TILL THINGS CHANGE 🙂

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Being fat in the ’90s.

1476484_10151783278006039_1435343232_nI was fat.

See this photo.

In this photo what you see here is me, sitting, being fat.

I was probably being funny too, cause that’s what fat girls do best, funny.

You can’t see it, but I reckon everyone in the room was laughing at something I’d just said.

Somebody probably peed his or her pants.

So back to the photo and me being fat in it.

I know I was fat because at the time this was taken I was constantly being picked on for my weight whether it be by ‘friends’ in the playground, or ‘friends’ of my parents commenting on my ‘full figure’ or my grandmother who would purposely buy my clothes too small for me and than make me wear them in front of her. Boys called me names.

One of my more humiliating moments I recall was when my grandmother returned from Spain with a bra for me. It was a 12AA. I was a 10DD. It didn’t fit. In my head now I know it didn’t fit because I wasn’t a boy, but at the time with very little around me to compare my figure to, I assumed that it didn’t fit because I was fat. And my grandmother didn’t correct me. My mother, I think burnt the bra. It didn’t matter how much my mother told me that I was OK how I was, I didn’t hear her. She was also wise enough to let me know there was nothing wrong with being fat either, lots of people were but that didn’t matter, all I heard was fat and now at 34 years old, I still hear it and the worst part is I view it as negative. When it comes to fat shaming myself, I’m my own worse bully. When this photo was taken I was 156cm tall. For those that know me, I had a very minor growth spurt after that (a whole 4 centimetres…small victories). And I was roughly a size 4-6 if not smaller. I weighed about 40 kilos.

It did not help that I didn’t look like all the other girls at my school. They were all so tall, like beanpoles, like all the girls in Australian magazines and soap operas. Thin, blonde, worthy. I had a tiny waist, boobs coming in and hips. Some adults often described me as ‘womanly’ or ‘sexy.’ I was 13.

And so it began. The great disconnect with my appearance. It’s been over 20 years since that photo was taken and I still struggle to see what everyone else sees. I hide behind mainly baggy clothes; I’ve been on a diet since I can remember. I get sick to my stomach if I break 1200 calories in a day. I exercise constantly. I honestly think that when I look in the mirror, that if I could just lose a bit more weight I’d be able to wear clothes that draped. I’m an idiot. I’ve got curves like a Kardashian minus the personal tailor. There will be no draping in my lifetime unless I make friends with flesh-eating bacteria…but hey you can only cross your fingers for so long…

The narrative of my chubbiness has informed so much of my creative work that I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was imperative to my identity. I write from the perspective of the outsider looking in, the best friend character, the strong personality driven girl, the underdog, the alien. I’ve done pretty well out of it, whether it’s the truth or not. Here’s the thing, it shouldn’t matter whether I’m chubby. I might not be. I might be. I really have no gauge anymore. I know I can wear children’s pyjamas but I’m not sure that means anything.

The thing is when I saw that photo the other night I got upset. I wanted to go back and tell my 13 year-old self to not listen to all the fat shaming and than maybe the next 20 years would be different. Social engagements would not be so crippling at times, I wouldn’t always think somewhere in the back of my head that my relationships didn’t work out because of my appearance, I would write populist chick-lit fiction that opened with lines like ‘the clacking of $700 heels only served to heighten her enviable calf muscles and say to the world that she was ready for anything’ as opposed to ‘she masturbated quietly to a poster of Zach Efron as her boyfriend sat in the study on the phone to his new girlfriend.’ But telling my 13 year old self that if anything I was actually almost underweight at the time that photo was taken wouldn’t have been enough, after all it wasn’t myself that thought I was fat, it was everyone else saying it, making excuses for saying it and shaming me into thinking it was the truth, a truth I’ve lived by ever since. It takes up a lot of my time thinking I should like myself better, sorry correction – it wastes a lot of time. My time. No one else’s, mine. I’ve decided next year I’m going to have a body shaming detox and take up sword fighting or podcasting, I don’t know, I could do anything. All I know is, it’s got to be more productive than what I’ve been doing.

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