Where’s My Murphy Brown?

 

Last week as I wandered the streets looking for purpose, I overheard a woman and her friend bemoan the current state of television.

‘I miss family shows you know? Like, The Cosby Show and Hey Dad.’

Her friend nodded in agreement as if she too had been stuck down a mine shaft with her companion for the last three years…

I watched as they continued on their way, no doubt going home to old VHS recordings of The Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris Variety Hour while eating Subway sandwiches.

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing. It makes us reflect on more ‘wholesome’ times, even if most of the time we are reflecting through rose coloured glasses.

Indeed, when it comes to TV we are particularly susceptible to this, just look at the recent reboots of Fuller House and The Gilmore Girls. We somehow have managed to convince ourselves that these shows were from a better time, you know, when you stayed at home with the family, without a single smartphone screen in site and simply watched families be real families – unlike like the chaos of TV today.

Yet they were from a better time, but for a much better reason – TV was bolder, not always in a good way, but it took chances.

Stay with me on this…

And nothing was bolder than situation comedy…

I can’t cover all the comedy from the 80s through to the 90s, so I’m going with a few that just popped into my head while I thought about this topic.

I’m going to start with Punky Brewster – this is a show you couldn’t pitch today unless it was reworked as a gritty urban drama written by the guy who penned The Wire.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, 7-year old Punky Brewster was a modern-day Annie. Abandoned by her mother, along with her dog Brandon, in a grocery store car park, she finds shelter in an empty apartment, only to be discovered by building manager Henry – a single, older man who lives on his own.  She moves in with this stranger and it all works out happily ever after.

Ok, to recap – abandoned 7-year-old girl, moves into a squat and is discovered by a man, whose other passion aside from building maintenance, is photography. In the 80s this was a ridiculously popular family friendly show. Today, it’s a Law & Order SVU episode.

Like I said, bold.

And let’s not forget The Golden Girls. A bunch of women over the age of 50 (yes, over 50 and on actual television screens) all without the responsibilities of husbands and children (well, with the exception of Sofia, but that’s different) live a wonderful, friendship filled, at times challenging but rewarding life in Miami, with their own storylines and character motivations. They even eat cheesecake at least once a night and they actually look like women who would eat cake. And no, Hot in Cleveland is not the equivalent.  No, this show was groundbreaking and unfortunately one can’t help but feel that after that ground broke we’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years refilling the hole, and filling it with cement…

Let’s see, The Golden Girls tackled important issues such as aging, disability, gay rights, feminism (it was a feminist show full stop), AIDS, aged care, loneliness, death, gun control, reproductive rights – heck, it even covered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – by using humour and pathos. So a bunch of amazing actresses over 50, on our televisions, being funny, with no fixed lead male characters…our equivalent today is….is….is….is…I’m sure something will come to me…maybe there’s something on Netflix…

Rosanne. There I said it. Weird ending aside, this show was and is to this day still bold TV. Yes, before Mike and Molly, believe it or not we had other large lead characters on our screens – Roseanne and Dan Conner. But being big wasn’t the focus of their show. No, it was about story, family and all the crap we have to get through every day just to survive. It was hilarious, relatable and is the reason I lusted after corkscrew curls for most of my teens.  Our equivalent of a working class family today – The Middle. That is all. I’m just going to leave that there – The Middle.

(P.S. By the way, the fact that real-life Darlene married the lead singer of 4 Non Blondes, makes up for the way the show ended…barely).

And in these days of debate surrounding gender pay gaps, abortion rights, gay and transgender rights and online trolling of women is our god damn Murphy Brown! The only comparison that springs to mind is Press Gang, but even then that show was of the same ilk and time. I can’t help but think our 2016 version of Murphy Brown would be the story of a single working mum trying to have it all, set to a montage backdrop of New York City.

Now I’m not saying that just because a show was bold makes it somehow better. There was definitely a fair share of bold and questionable in the 80s. Just take Perfect Strangers – and the less said about that the better. Much like the questionable set-up of Punky Brewster, Charles in Charge could easily be tainted with the same SUV brush today. Charles, a college-age student moves in with a family who has a teen daughter, as their babysitter and housekeeper. Yep, college student moves in with family, who has a teen daughter…and he becomes in charge of her day, of her life… I’m not saying college-age men can’t babysit 16-year-old girls, but this was the 80s and it was Scott Baio. That’s all I’m saying.

Maybe I just miss Let The Blood Run Free or Doogie Howser MD too much and that’s why I wrote this, but I’m not sure how much I’d like a reboot of a show about a teen genius that would inevitably just make me question the life choices that have lead me to still be a blogger and a renter at 36. Perhaps I don’t need bold TV like that, perhaps I should be content with groundbreaking TV like Modern Family that finally gives much-needed visibility to the older man/ younger woman relationship.

I’ll think about it… while I’m thinking about a TV comedy that stars women over 50 not being predominantly caregivers – sorry, couldn’t resist.

 

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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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‘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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She’s one crazy broad

It was a late night. I was at a bar. It was crowded. It was full of familiar faces; yes it was the sort of place where everyone knew your name. I didn’t care though. I was drunk. A drunkard. A lush is what we might have called me that night in that bar, back in the day.

There was a time I knew her by sight, now I knew her by name. The girl who’d been going round town saying things about me to people, telling them things she had no place to be telling them. Things about me and a boy of no particular consequence, but hey, like I said I was too drunk to care right?

I know that some people would say looking back on the night, that Lou she sure was a crazy broad, where did she get the matches from? But could anyone have stopped me? I doubt it. I was a stubborn filly with money to spend and a reputation to burn.

Earlier that night…

They’d run out of paper towels in the bathroom again. I’d not told Larry the barkeep 2 days earlier that if he wanted to keep the ladies happy all he need do is keep them in a fresh supply of paper towels, but I knew he had other things on his mind. His wife was fiddling Con who owned the local Wash’n’Wear. Everyone knew, Christ his wife knew he knew, but he got a discount on linen, so if he forgot the occasional paper towel, I could forgive him.

The last cubicle door swung open, and out she stepped, that bit of sass I told you bout earlier. Normally I wouldn’t have noticed a gal like her, all plain, dressed up and no one to share it with, but tonight was different, but not right then it wasn’t, because at this point in the story we were just two ladies looking for somewhere to dry our hands.

I settled on my skirt as the right kinda dry place and quickly touched up my lipstick. I could tell she was watching me, watching my lips, wanting to know what it was like to kiss him, feel him. She hadn’t done that yet, but I knew it was her intent, for she was a lady brimming with intention and not of the good variety, no sir, not at all.

‘Why hello there’ she said smirking her flat mouth. ‘Hey’ I responded. We were not friends; I cared not for how she was, if her parents were in good health, if she were to be married in the spring. Her welfare was of no concern to me, but she persisted in making idle chit chat. I had to oblige, I was an accommodating kinda girl. Yeah, some people around town called me too accommodating, but the nights were often cold and long and sometimes I wanted it just like them. It was never about the candy and the chance to ride in a proper motor car, like the ones I’d seen in movie star magazines, it was always bout the being with, accommodating that need.

‘We saw you come in, you here alone again Lou?’ I popped the lipstick back in my purse and savoured the taste of the whiskey sour I’d left at the bar. ‘We?’ I grimaced at the thought. ‘Well, yes me and Tobias’. Ah yes, Tobias, the boy of no particular consequence, the town roundabout. We’d had a short lived tryst, sure it was fun while it lasted, but things went bad fast like a girl in a flammable nightie standing too close to an electric heater on Christmas Eve. It was times like this I missed my sister. I thought about her every night in juvie. Mum and dad thought she was too young to be taken from this earth, but that girl had been a ticking time bomb and she’d seen me on that rainy night, by the freeway with the shovel. She was a wrong time, wrong place girl but she was gone now and I was still standing in the bathroom with another wrong time, wrong place girl – the only difference was she didn’t know it yet.

‘Tobias asked me to grab him a beer on the way back, but I have no idea what he drinks – you’d know, wouldn’t you’. Sure I could’ve told her he’d drink a bum’s urine for the kick, but I wasn’t that kinda girl. ‘He’ll drink whatever you get him, he ain’t that particular’. The last word hung in the air like a kid who’d got in over his head and was now hanging by a noose from a tree in a downtown park where someone was yet to discover his body. His name was Patrick and we’d dated once, but that was long time ago and there was nothing more to be said about that.

‘Thanks’ she replied curtly and held open the door for me as we departed the bathroom. The bar was still buzzing and a quick look around the room confirmed that Tobias was probably out back smoking a smoke. I knew him, she didn’t, but let her find out was my motto. At least it wasn’t me being seduced with the promise of cheap wine and polite conversation anymore. It was her bed now and she could lie in it like my mother use to say, before she’d sit me down in front of the Lord and decide my punishment was another 14 days in my urine soaked bed clothes, cos Jesus was a tough man, a tough teacher and he didn’t appreciate urinator’s and so I’d learn, have to learn the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach me. She’d have to learn a lesson too, Jesus wanted it that way.

She asked me for a light. I obliged her. My whiskey sour still sat there. Lonely, but enjoying the ambience of the evening. My baby was too warm to drink now, its harsh amber liquid wouldn’t burn me like I liked, and the way I needed it, like finger nails deep in my back the moment before the skin tears.

I watched as she lit her cigarette and asked Larry for a couple of pots of draught, the cheap stuff. He wouldn’t know the difference. He was probably already onto the stash of moonshine he kept in a small flask hidden in his boot. She’d never know though. He never took his boots off. Never ever.

I picked up my whiskey one last time and smiled as Tobias walked back in and glanced my way, still looking at me like I was poisoned chalace interrupting his rather predictable evening, again. The whiskey poured itself over her, that girl, the one who had said those things about me. The one who had told them all about the time she seen me at the bus stop with that transient, sure it was all rumour but one day they’d find this body and then they’d come after me and that wasn’t going to happen to this dame, not again.

The match lit first strike. Mama woulda been proud.

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