When I was eighteen – old enough to be damn sure I was a dyed-in-the-wool faggot, and young enough to still be terrified, and also to have some really idiotic views on things – I used to idolise straight guys. By “idolise,” I suppose what I really mean is “want to fuck”. Did I mention I had self esteem issues?

This weird, self-defeating desire began, in all likelihood, with my teenaged crush on one of the very straight, very football-playing ‘king dick’ guys from my high school. If you asked me then – or even now – what it was I actually found attractive about this young fellow, I’d be hard pressed to tell you. He wasn’t overly funny, intelligent, or charming. He wasn’t even particularly handsome – sure, he had a good body, a tan, and an occasional six pack, but he was a bit of a pizza face. He probably grew out of it, though. Maybe. Anyway, for whatever fucked up reason, my brain decided that he was it: he was the one for me. Forget that we basically barely spoke to each other, and that some of his best mates’d delight in making my young gay life hell, it was him. He was it. We shared a few classes together and so I’d sneak glances at him out of the corner of my eye – only occasionally though, lest I ruin it him by looking at him for too long. Sometimes in Summer he’d lean back in his chair and his school shirt would ride up, and those were the happiest moments of my fat and insecure little teenaged-self’s life. I think, as much as anything, I fell so hard for him because, aside from ticking the obvious and boring white-bread hallmarks of attractive, he was also lithe and muscular and thin, something I wanted so badly to be.

A year or two out of high school I fell hard for another heterosexual male – a bit older, in a theatre group I attended, and, as the boy from high school, desperately straight. This mattered not for my brain: I suppose, in a sense, having them be so incredibly unattainable made them safe. The only possible outcome was rejection: hope was imprudent, and I’d only have myself to blame when things didn’t go my way. (I should here say that they gave me no signs to anything beyond being as nice to me as you are to someone you don’t outright hate.)

Truth told, now, I couldn’t think of anything worse. I went through darker times in my childhood, as I’m sure every little gay boy did – the times I’d pray to God and wish to wake up in the morning as a straight. I even convinced myself, once, that I’d developed a crush on a girl: Svetlana, or Sveta, from scouts. One day I decided that everyone else had crushes, so it was only fair that I had one. Sveta was attractive, and halfway nice to me – though we weren’t ever particularly close – and the other options didn’t look so great, from where I stood. So, it was official: I was crushing on Sveta.

I stared at her like a weirdo with no social skills across the four hour of a Scouts meeting one day. She probably thought I was plotting to kill her. I focused on the nebulous image of her and me together in my brain, holding hands and sharing a milkshake with two straws, or something else equally clichéd and vomitus. I focused on that image so hard, like casting a spell. I focused so that it became concrete and unmoving, and then I rode home, standing on the pedals of my bike whirling through late Summer air and whooping to myself, laughing: “I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON SVETA! I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON SVETA!” I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.

This ‘crush’ lasted all of a week, tops. I probably then discovered someone else attractive – someone better suited to my tastes, like, someone with a penis. Through the motions of stalking an old friend, I accidentally stumbled upon her profile the other day. She’s married with a kid, now. Her husband is hot. Good for her.

The thing about heterosexuality is that it makes me angry.

It makes me angry that we’re conditioned for it from birth, that anything not-hetero is therefore made Other, weird and disgusting. It makes me angry that in the shitty jobs I’ve had, straight people talk about going out with their girlfriends and boyfriends and all the cute dates they attend, but if they ask you what you did, and you reply: “Oh, I had a picnic with my boyfriend,” you can see their eyes and minds glazing over. It makes me angry that I’ve then been asked: “why do you talk about being gay so much?” after I’ve said the above, like that’s a question that holds any legitimacy or needs answering. And it makes me angry that we’re not afforded the same rights as other individuals, and that said individuals get the privilege of being bored by our fight, forgetting it.

Last night – this is being written on Sunday the 6th of November, though I won’t post it for another week or so – I attended a trivia night with my partner, Jeremy and some of his friends, and his friends’ friends.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – A SHORT PLAY.

the lights rise. a slightly overweight, balding older gentleman with an ‘ocker’ accent stands centre stage. he is the HOST of the trivia night.

HOST: Heeeeeeey ladies and gents! BONUS ROUND. Tonight we’re gonna have a bit of a ‘dance off’ with difference – can we get the two OLDEST couple at each table to stand up and dance together?

the couples do – predominantly man and woman, but one or two same-sex friend couples.

HOST: HEY NOW, I see godda few SAME SEX COUPLES HERE. I forgot to mention, a secondary prize tonight, laydeez and gents, is an ALL EXPENSES PAID TRIP TO MARDI GRAS, HAHAHA.

the guests laugh appreciatively at this outrageously intelligent and humorous display of wit.

HOST: GODDA GET EM SOME BEADS, LAYDEEZ AND GENTS. WHOA NOW, IT’S A HOMOSEX DANCE PARTY!! HAHAHAHAHA!

I’d finish this but it’s making me too angry rn. Sometimes – more generally now, not specifically last night – I think that maybe heterosexuality shouldn’t get me angry, but then I think: fuck that.

I think: you have all the power, and you wield it. The dominant power. The power to drown out any voice aside from your dominant and shitty narratives with your own significance. And that old Louis C.K. comment, tattoo it on my face: YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE WHEN YOU’VE HURT SOMEONE.

This was meant to be about how I used to want to fuck straight guys and I don’t any more, partly because I love myself and partly because I doubt they’d be any good in the sack because it’s not just a matter of slamming it in – like life, it’s more much more nuanced.

This is becoming something else. I don’t fully know what it’s becoming. It’s a complex realm and I don’t know how I feel, really. I flash between caring and not caring from moment to moment; if only I had the chance to not care: to wield that power, to have some modicum of chill.

To wield the power to walk down a street late at night and not be afraid. The power to say words and not have to worry about how they sound in your mouth, lest an erstwhile lisp give you away. The power to have nothing to hide.

Instead, I’ve got a lot to hide. And I hate it. I hate that my parents and extended family see a couple of my 3 year old relatives together and say: “WHOA. LITTLE LADYKILLER HE IS. WHAT A CHARMER. BOYFRIEND AND GIRLFRIEND ALREADY, HEY.”

I hate that at the shitty call-centre I still occasionally work at I’m afraid to be out, to ‘come out of the work closet’ lest they make comments. I hate that I’ve already heard them make disparaging comments about fellow faggots, and I also hate that I’m pretty certain the timbre of my voice has given me away.

And I hate that the only way I could write about the homophobia I experienced last night without slathering it in my own emotion and subjectivity was as a jokey stage-play – and even then that I failed at it. I hate that everyone in that room will see me as a histrionic faggot.

I hate that after this continual, several hour beating, a drunk middle-aged woman at my table just said: “WHY DON’T YOU JUST GET OVER IT, YOU’RE LETTING HIM RUIN YOUR NIGHT AND YOU’RE BEING RIDICULOUS.”

ME: Thanks, but until you’ve lived the life of a homosexual and dealt with all of that, I’m unlikely to take your advice on receiving abuse.

HER: NOW look what you’re doing! YOU’RE JUST AS BAD AS HIM. I’ve got several homosexuals in my family, SEVERAL, and I know what I’m talking about, mate.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Okay.

I tried so hard to be straight once in high school that I didn’t speak for nearly a week. Speaking gave me away: I used to gesture effeminately as I spoke, and my voice didn’t drop as far as the other boys. Probably it was just psychological, but I felt more recognition that week: everything about me curled up and repressed deep down inside me, hidden within, and all that was left was what was recognizable to my heterosexual classmates. Like Olga Baclanova at the end of Freaks: “one of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, one of us!”

I’m pretty staunchly anti-marriage. I campaign for equal marriage, but it’s not something I’ve got any interest in. I just know a bunch of lovely people who’d make good husbands and wives, I think, and who deserve to find that out for themselves. And also, can’t deny it, having the equality of equal marriage is way overdue. When I expressed these views to my mother a few years ago, after much of her pushing – expressed my view that marriage was just kind of an overrated ritual I wasn’t interested in perpetuating, she replied: is this because you can’t get married? I bit my lip. I didn’t know how to respond.

I don’t know what, exactly, but I feel like those two anecdotes together say something. I’m sick of biting my lip, though – I taste blood. The blood that pours through my veins and throbs in my forehead, dull and insistent and pointless, keeping me both angry and afraid. The blood of all the histrionic faggots past, and all the histrionic faggots yet to come. The blood of all those who’ve come beforehand.

And now, of course, a week later and Trump’s in power, and it’s all going down the shitter – what seemed like a bad dream, an ‘alternate timeline’, has become this timeline. And on one hand, all of this seems irrelevant, now: there’s bigger (ugly orange) fish to fry. Of course, this is so easy for me to say, as a white gay man of no specific denomination but a specific kind of privilege.

Trump runs a country on the other side of the world, but his presidency sets a disturbing precedent, and let’s face it: we’re already a backwards, garbage, racist and phobic country. I feel like Trump would be proud of our shitty Australian record. The world keeps spinning, and we keep finding new ways to fuck everything up. The blood is metaphorical: the blood of every wound that gets opened and reopened, time and again.

I was what is colloquially referred to as “an accident”. I like to think – in my lower moments; when drifting aimlessly along and writing twitter updates about my insecurities seems like a viable life plan – that this set the tone for the rest of my life to follow. As if Monique, my birth mother, had held her hands over her swelling stomach and fetal child and just chanted: “You’re not here on purpose. We had no choice. You’re not on purpose,” over and over like a spell, and maybe adding in a “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?” every now and then, for good measure.

Funnily enough – not funny “haha”, but funny “weird” – I’m staunchly pro-choice. My mother once turned on me when I expressed how ‘okay’ I was with abortion, snapping: “you could’ve been aborted, but you weren’t! Think of all the things you wouldn’t have been able to do!”

I don’t remember what my answer was, but I’m fairly certain it would’ve been: “I wouldn’t have had experienced anything, pre-abortion, not even crying and shitting and drinking breast milk, so I wouldn’t know any better. I reckon I’d have been okay with it, given the embryonic circumstances.” But this is quickly becoming a feticidal think piece, which isn’t what I want, so I’ll abort this topic now. Or at least strafe away from the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

*

I think, when you boil it down, that teenage ennui is essentially this: “I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN!” Preferably yelled from the top of a staircase through a tortured visage, and mascara that’s running more than the speaker ever has at dreaded high school ‘sports days’. It’s… histrionic, certainly, but not without a grain of truth.

Maybe that’s my true calling: in twenty years time I’ll cycle out of theatre to invent a range of time machines like The Magic School-Bus that’ll allow prospective parents to skip forward eighteen years into the future, sit their kid down and ask them, face to face: “It’s a pretty fucked world we live in. You sure you wanna commit to it?”

If their kid says no, they don’t, then it’s easy – the parents return back to the present timeline and refrain from fucking each other for, say, a month. Problem solved. Go spend the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) you would’ve spent on the child to relocate to somewhere fabulous around the world every few years. Make sure you fly everything first class to use the same amount of greenhouse gases your child would’ve produced, though.

*

It’s coming up to my ten year high school reunion, and I’m pretty unsure how to feel about it, honestly. How have the ravages of age and cynicism affected us all? Who really cares? I didn’t attend my five-year reunion: I was working in the industry that night. Like, not as a FOH or bar person, but legitimately, produced and as a playwright. That took place of pride in my mind.

I did attend my one year reunion – because my school thought that was necessary, like we couldn’t possibly go a whole twelve months without having those wounds reopened. I went because I’d lost about twenty-five kilograms in the intervening year, and thought I deserved to show it off – especially when I’d been relentlessly mocked for my curvaceous figure in years previous. Not to show myself off, or anything – though objectively, my self-esteem had improved, I held no desire to fuck anyone who attended that school, not even the dudebro straight guy jock of the school who I’d harboured a misguided crush on for some reason years previous, before I’d learnt what ‘self respect’ was. I attended, really, in the petty hopes that one (or two, or three) of the aggressive boys who’d beaten the snot out me for my weight problems would be there, and I’d… what?

One of them was there, and I kept an intense awareness of his presence the entire night as I threw myself into the provided alcohol. We finally came eye to eye towards the end of the night at the toilet door, him exiting, me entering. He looked at me, and I at him, and… I did nothing. Afterwards, of course, a million witty and cutting things I could’ve said flashed through my skull, but in the moment I was gone, part of me drunk and thin and objectively sexy (not that it mattered to this straight bully, or to me), and part of me was 16 and fat and on the concrete of St. Leonard’s College with that thug of a child standing over me, eyes full of hatred and neck-vein pulsing, ready to strike.

I haven’t thought about this incident in years, but I’ve thought about it a lot recently as the Australian Government have consequently done everything they can to squash or delay the equal marriage movement, or force a plebiscite onto the unsuspecting public. I don’t even want to get married, though I think that homosexuals should have the same fucking right as straight people to make as many stupid mistakes as they make.

So, I went to my one year, and didn’t attend my five year, but I always imagined I’d attend the ten year reunion, because, why not? Romy and Michelle did, and if they’re not role models, then who the fuck is? I also used to think, pettily: Five years isn’t enough for someone to really fuck their lives up, but ten is. Enough for someone to get fat, get a drug addiction, get pregnant (which are all basically the same thing.)

Now I don’t even care to go to look at the freak show.

Now, I don’t even think there’ll be a freak show – it’s just going to be a collection of people with whom I have nothing at all in common except for the fact we all went to the same shitty, overpriced school.

*

I’ve recently been diagnosed with something called ‘adjustment disorder’. When I say ‘recently’ I mean about six months ago, but time is a relative, and also an illusion, right?

My psych diagnosed me as exhibiting: anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and adjustment disorder. All of this aside from the ABI, of course. In a way, I’m thankful. Being able to name each symptom, each nasty, paranoid thought that worms its way into my skull and snakes around my throat and my chest, is actually an amazing power. Adjustment disorder really stuck out to me, though, simply because I didn’t know what it meant. My psych described it as such:

“You know how in war movies the grizzled old one-eyed veteran will say: I’ve seen some stuff, man. It’s basically that. Everyone’s going around living their twenties and enjoying everything without the knowledge that bad things can happen, but you’re not. You know bad things can happen. You didn’t go out on that night expecting to almost die, but you almost did. Because that’s the way the world works. And everyone seems ‘behind you’, in a way, because they haven’t cottoned on to the fact that life really is just that random, and just that unfair.”

I suppose the ‘adjustment’ that’s being disordered is my adjustment back to regular life. Makes sense to me. Shit can happen, and bad shit can happen, but, what: I’m gonna live my life worrying about it? Waiting for some magical anvil to drop from the sky and take my life, properly this time? No. It seems dramaturgically unsound, though: like, “your life is missing a defined and proper conflict in act two, you need to make sure you develop one. Also, all of life is fucked and we’re all going to die one day. Probably not all at once, but maybe one day soon. Maybe you.”

*

The other day I saw on Twitter: ALL MY FRIENDS ARE GETTING MARRIED, HAVING BABIES AND BUYING HOUSES, AND I’M JUST OVER HERE USING THE INTERNET AS A POOR FORM OF INTIMACY.

I think about that tweet a lot.

1. One of my best childhood friends announced to me one day he was going to get his ear pierced. “Left, or right side?” I asked. “Right,” he said, lip curling up in disgust. “I don’t want people thinking I’m a faggot.”

2. I was quite a hefty child, weighing 104 kilograms at my heaviest. A favourite name for me around school – aside from “fattie”, which, well, yes – was “faggot.” Both were apt, and both were said with an amount of hatred I’ve not seen again, except in the words of the ACL and their collection of random internet homophobes.

3. A name I was repeatedly called by my father: “nancy boy”. Or, rather: “nanthy boi,” with the lisp included. I can only assume I was given this name because I lived with my head constantly in a book, had neither the inclination or coordination for sports, and wasn’t traditionally masculine. This name was later parroted – though not towards or about me – by my brother.

4. On a family trip to Broome one year, we took a family outing to see “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which was playing at the local drive-in cinema. I wasn’t invited: the movie was deemed too ‘adult’ for my tastes. Instead, me and my mother went to the swimming pool, and 10 year old me stared at half naked men in budgie smugglers, transfixed by their masculinity.

Later, my mother stopped me on the street: “don’t walk like that.”

“Like what?,” I asked.

“Like that. Wiggling your bottom like that. If you do, a man will take you away and stick his penis into you,” she said, jamming her knuckle into my arm to demonstrate.

5. My parents fought over me a fair bit: I wasn’t the easiest child and consequently my father took sick pleasure in tormenting me. Mum would take my side, and as she did, my father would insist: “you’re turning him into a poofta.” Indeed, he was pretty happy to use that word a lot: at me, at others and just as a generally derogatory term: you bloody poofta.

I guess he was right – not that I was ever ‘turned’ into a ‘poofta’, just that I always was one. I’d say “sorry dad,” but, surprise! I’m not sorry.

6. Four boys from my high school followed me around relentlessly beating me at numerous times throughout the years of 2005 and 2006 – randomly punching and screaming at me as they passed me in the hallway, and occasionally subjecting me to full-on group attacks. They said it was because I was fat, sometimes as they spat on my cowering body. “If it was really because I was fat,” I wondered, “why did they continue screaming ‘faggot’ at me?”

7. I’m not the most straight-passing of gentlemen, and that’s okay. I’ve come to terms with it. Even now, though, I hate my voice, which comes down to the fact it sounds more feminine than I’ve been taught it “should”.

I work in a call centre and nothing breaks the tedium like the horror of hearing my voice echoing back towards me through my headset: a slight lisp, higher, weaker than I imagine it to be. In these moments I am stuck outside myself, if only for a second: caught in learned fear and loathing toward my voice, the only one I have.

Similarly, I recently was a guest on a podcast, Contact Mic, by Fleur Kilpatrick and Sarah Walker. I haven’t listened to it, and doubt that I will – although the subject matter is conceptually hard to listen to, it’s not that. It’s that I can’t stand having to listen to my own ‘faggoty’ voice for forty minutes.

8. There’s a strange dissonance when I walk down the street past a loitering gang of nearby teenagers. I realise, once I’ve reached the comfort of safety afterwards, that I’m a 27 year old man, that I go to the gym 5 times a week and could almost certainly outrun or outpunch them, but in the moment I see them I am scared and naked and exposed and 18 again. And fat. Can’t forget fat.

9. In 2008 I bumped into the four boys at a café in Hampton called “The Brown Cow.” I spent a coffee date with a friend in heady shame as they coughed, and eventually just straight-up yelled at me: “faggot. Faggot! HEY, FAGGOT!!”

Possessed by god knows what, I proceeded to have a loud conversation with my friend about how good it was being a ‘faggot’ and how good anal sex was. A month later, I bumped into these boys on the street and they glared at me, cracking their knuckles like cartoon bullies, and I was scared. Really, really scared. In that moment I regretted ever, ever standing up for myself.

10. When I came out to my mother, she asked me, like a cliché: “have you tried not being gay?” After she’d moved past this, she confided in me: “We suspected you might be gay, anyway. You were always flapping your wrists about as a child, and you liked Drama in school.”

Months later, after I’d properly come out to the world at large, a straight male friend: “well, I mean, you’re not like one of those gays, thankfully.”

“What d’you mean?”

“You know – one of those gays. Trying to have sex with me and stuff.”

11. I read a report on June 14th that had Omar Mateen’s father blaming his son’s violence partly on the fact he’d recently seen two men kissing. I hated him and his father, in that moment – for spreading the fear and making me second guess myself – for making me, for a few days, ensure I’d wholly taken in my surroundings before I expressed any affection.

12. When my mother called me on June 16th, she asked: “oh, how was Hobart? You didn’t tell me!” My reply: “Oh, it was great, and then it was really horrible.” Her reply to this: “Why, are you and Jeremy fighting?”.

And then, after I spelled it out: “well, people die all the time and you don’t care. This is because they’re gay people, isn’t it?”

On June 12th of this year, a man named Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun. He took the lives of 49 people that night, injured 53 more and took several hostage. He had previously expressed hostility towards LGBT people and in the following days it was hotly debated – to the point that it seemed, in parts, to take over the coverage of the atrocities – whether or not Mateen himself was gay. He’d been seen at several nightclubs previously, had been a regular at Pulse and reportedly shared photographs of his genitalia with other men on hook-up apps and sites like Grindr and Adam4Adam. We all know at least some variation of what happened – it’s in our collective consciousness. After all, it took over the news world, for a few days, at least.

It was June 13th when the full details of what had happened trickled through. I’ll be honest: when I heard the details of what happened, before I’d seen the photographs or read the names of those who’d been slaughtered, I was incredibly affected. I was in Hobart at the time, attending Dark Mofo with my partner Jeremy. I spent the day being shipped around through an art exhibition, paying little to no attention, finally sitting myself down in the corner, gluing myself to Twitter in the desperate hope I’d stumble upon some news telling me it wasn’t true, it was all a mistake, a dumb joke. As day turned to night, news spread across my social networks of candlelight vigils, and groups going out to gay clubs together in memorandum. I desperately searched through the corners of the Internet but to no avail – I could find nothing of the like in Hobart, save for a couple of understated gay clubs with dubious names like “The Pink Flamingo.” As the night wore on and friends posted photos on Instagram of gay gatherings they’d attended and support networks they’d called upon, I… did nothing. I didn’t even have gay sex. I just went to sleep, too shell-shocked to even cry.

I’ve been thinking, since then, as to why I’ve had such an intense reaction. Even as I was having the reaction, part of me very clearly thought: Really? Reaaaaally?

I didn’t know the victims – I’ve never even been to America. There’s been a thousand think-pieces on this, already: on what a violation it was, on how gay clubs are – or were supposed to be – our “safe spaces”, the one place in all the world we could go and exist with gusto, with pride. Even the fact I felt compelled to write about this is questionable. I’m not going to invent the sociological wheel of grief, and I don’t really want to. But: To my mother, and to anyone else, I say: yes. Yes, it is because they’re gay people. But it’s also because I’m gay people.

As a third of my Facebook feed filled up with these aforementioned think pieces and articles lamenting the way that Australia’s government had, while still denying GLBT+ people basic human rights, used it as a red flag, a way to paint Muslims as cartoonishly evil while neglecting to mention that it happened in a gay club, the other two thirds of Facebook simply carried on with their lives. People read about it, said “oh, that’s sad,” closed the article and went on with their day. They had the benefit, the complete ease of being able to just forget about. But I, and others, couldn’t. For a while, my Facebook feed looked like this:

FIVE THINGS THE ORLANDO MASSACRE TAUGHT US ABOUT HOMOPHOBIA
Don’t tell anyone, but I think ‘bros’ fist bumping is endearing.
ORLANDO, WHERE’S THE EMPATHY?
Cats will eat your body after you die, and I respect that.

With the silence that continued on after – from people I love and respect, people who’d been so outspoken about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris or whatever else Facebook-filtered grief free-for-all was being spotlighted this week – that old fear began to set in. Fear and difference, side by side. Nothing like 49 dead victims and the collective silence of most of your friends to remind you of your difference, your Otherness, right?

It makes me sick and angry – fucking angry – and for my well-meaning but silent straight friends, it’s an excuse to talk about gun laws, if anything. And maybe they think it better to exist in silence than to speak out and risk saying something wrong, but I respectfully disagree. Fucking risk it. There’s only one thing that we can’t afford to risk, and that’s not speaking up about the next tragedy that hits us, whenever and wherever that may be. We need a fundamental shift in the way that Otherness is seen and treated in our lives, and we need it yesterday. (As an aside – none of you were or are French, yet y’all changed your profile pictures in memory of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so.)

I was afraid, and I am afraid, but I don’t have to live in fear. None of us do. I wish I had some pithy moral to top this all off with, but I don’t. I didn’t know what else to do, but I couldn’t keep this inside of me.

You are standing in the cool and the strangely unfamiliar dark of a supermarket, listening to the muted buzz of machines and children and wondering how you got like this.

You’ve been on edge all day – it’s 2.30 in the afternoon and you’ve been awake since 5, up since 6, keeping the routine you obsessively began a couple months after you received a traumatic brain injury.

You could probably go at a more reasonable time, but the waiting makes you anxious, and with each passing gym-less hour you’re aware that the exercise window for that day is closing, and then what will you do? So you’ve been up for, uh – 8 hours? 7.5? With each passing minute a vice closes tighter and tighter around your chest and makes it harder to breathe or think or do anything, really, but panic.

You thought you were over this – you told yourself you were but, shockingly, your brain rarely listens to itself, especially nowadays.

Something is happening. It’s as if your brain has finally come around, in its panic and its anxiety, to accepting an idea. The idea is this:

I DIDN’T DESERVE THIS.

It’s been nearly two years and you’re still talking about it with yourself, and having panic attacks in supermarkets, and maybe, you realise, maybe this isn’t what normal people do. Maybe this means you’ve still got a while to go. And maybe this is a realisation you should’ve come to sooner.

When it happened – when you woke up, bleary-eyed and in pain and drugged up, bobbing in the miasma of post-trauma amnesia, you immediately accepted your situation. You may have had to be told your situation, repeatedly, but you accepted it at face value. You didn’t really have any choice. In fact, for the months following everything, that was your mantra, held close to your heart with desperation and determination: Let’s Get On With It, and get on with it you did – whatever “it” was.

Relearn how to walk? Let’s get to it. Figure out how to talk properly and actually annunciate words? Someone try and stop you. Re-discovering how to write in something that doesn’t look like bizarrely prophetic chicken-scratch? I mean, you’ve always had pretty terrible handwriting, but sure, you’ll give it a shot.

So you kept moving on, with the idea that the more you moved, the more you moved – the further you’d be away from the accident and the broken bones and the dark Berlin road and the sick brain that too quickly turned to the bottle and the emotional support of those around it, even if those around it didn’t quite know what they were supporting or why.

And this is the first moment you really think it so that the words penetrate your skull and wrap around you.

You’d been fairly determined not to play the victim. You’d been put here by your own hand – or foot, or penchant for alcohol – and you’d fucking get yourself out if you had to. You had to move back in with your parents, where you’d be berated and threatened by your father and micromanaged by your mother (out of caring, at least). You had to postpone your Master of Writing for Performance at NIDA and stare down the barrel of two years of full-time rehabilitation at the same time. You cut those two years down to six months. You healed in a quarter of the time they told you it’d take, you were just that determined to get your life back on track.

Your boyfriend flew to Germany to look after you, and found out that apparently you’d cheated on him at some point during your Euro-Trip (can two countries even be classed as a Euro-Trip?). This is news to you, too. You don’t remember this, but you do remember that you love him. Or, you thought you did. It’s as if someone has come and fucked up your life while you’ve been sleeping soundly, chilling out in Vivantes, Berlin.

You get back to Melbourne, and you break up. You write a play in a week, and then you somehow get back together. He forgives you, for some reason. It seems like everything’s slowly getting better, but it isn’t. You then can’t leave the house for two months straight bar rehab – you’ve moved in with this boyfriend after your father repeatedly physically threatens you, on the suggestion of your mother, and she doesn’t have to suggest twice.

Everything seems to continually be recontextualising itself as new information surfaces through your injured brain – like, say, the knowledge you have that you’ll actually always be brain injured, or being told of things you’ve apparently done or taken part in that you don’t, don’t remember – and you’re not sure how to keep up with it, but you try.

But you’re tired of keeping up.

You’re tired, and you realise that, no matter how many shitty things you may have done, no matter how many nice things you may have done, you didn’t deserve this.

It fucked you up, and you didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t deserve it.

I’m standing in aisle three of Carnegie Woolworths listening to Radiohead like a fucking indie dream cliché, and I’m realising that I didn’t fucking deserve it. And I’m not angry that it happened – it’s too late to be angry, really – or happy, or anything beyond slowly comprehending that, yeah. I didn’t deserve it.

I’ve come so far from the brain injured trauma patient marooned in Berlin and trying to do basic math problems and eat without spilling it all over himself, and I’ve come further still from the insecure and mentally ill borderline alcoholic, and… I don’t know.

I drink a least one Red Bull a day because brain injuries make you incredibly tired and I’ve got shit to do.

I have braces for the second time in my life because the only other option was to have my jaw broken in two places and a false tooth medically nailed into my gums, and I’d already been through enough violence to my person.

I cry at random times now and I don’t know why. In supermarkets or while washing the dishes or to music or if I’ve missed a train or there’s small animals on TV or whatever. I never used to. The last time I cried was listening to Kate Mulvany’s Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture, which was at least a good reason to cry, so.

I have a co-dependence on my Google Calendar, now, because I forget things all the fucking time and, when combined with anxiety, I’m nearly always afraid that I’m forgetting something important and that I’ll somehow just fuck my life up with my forgetfulness. Just magically, just like that.

Afraid, yeah. I’m afraid. Afraid of forgetting things, afraid of ending up in a boring and passionless job with 2.65 children and a white picket fence in the outer suburbs of Victoria and a job that I hate. Afraid of graduating NIDA in a few days, afraid of my fellowship ending in a few weeks. Afraid of my independence disappearing again, afraid of getting another brain injury, afraid of ever having an alcoholic drink ever again, afraid of losing my talent, afraid that I’ll never get out of this country, and afraid of people.

I say that I’m not, but fucking hell, I’m so afraid of people.

People that I don’t know, people that I do know, sometimes, and people that I kind of know but haven’t met in person especially. I don’t know what it is but something in me feels a genuine and deep terror at this last one. Like I’ll randomly bump into them in the street and just be incredibly unimpressive and boring.

And angry. I’m so unbelievably angry at this government and this country. I’m angry at people who’ve deliberately hurt me. And I’m angry at myself.

Fucking hell, I’m angry at myself.

But I’m learning to let that go.

I’ve started having dreams about the car accident again.

I’m in my office, or apartment, or work – somewhere mundane, when suddenly I’ll flash to the scene of the crime; that dark Berlin road and the hospital. Now obviously this is partly fictionalized; I remember nothing much of the road itself and not a terrible amount of the first hospital I was in – but still. I’ll be sitting or standing or doing whatever, and my brain will suture my present – or “present”, the mundanity of my dream – with my past – violence and pitch black, pain and screaming and heat and asphalt. This won’t be an occurrence, I won’t feel myself flying through the air or observe with any kind of rationality anything that’s happening. It’s more a wave of feeling; something that twists around my neck and my lungs with the every-day horror of my current anxiety.

I’ll wake up, then – not dramatically, shrieking and pulling at my covers, but quietly, rising out of the depths of sleep and slowly taking stock of my surroundings as the horror of the past hours of sleep fades from memory.

I’m fairly certain I’ve got PTSD, then: post traumatic stress dreams.

As a child I was fairly withdrawn, never demanding to be hugged or held or touched at all, in fact preferring it when the adults laid me by myself and let me be.

This is both true and false, now. In certain moods I’ll follow someone around like a lost puppy, not necessarily wanting any sort of affection, but craving the emotional warmth of another human being who I know – hey, look, it’s another human being: you’re not alone!

My mother told me yesterday that a friend of hers experienced some pretty drastic post-traumatic anxiety himself, and that when things were rough, he had always found it had helped if someone gave him a hug to help him calm down.

Perhaps a little too quickly and sharply, I’d answered: “No.”

I couldn’t really think of anything worse than to be hugged in these moments, and very quickly that’s become its own unique fear: that, as I’m having a panic attack, someone will hug me and not let go. Maybe more than one person. I’m a pretty tactile person with the right person and the right mood, but there’s nothing right about an anxiety attack.

I’ve become convinced that I’m running out of time.

There’s something that happens when you nearly lose your life – an insidious recontextualisation that creeps into every facet of your brain and stays there.

At first there was the realisation that I was still alive, and every medical professional I dealt with telling me just how lucky I was. That was alright. Now, that message of luck and life has been twisted.

My brain tells me: YOU’RE NOT DEAD, BUT YOU WILL BE SOON. BETTER MAKE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF.

I reply: “What does ‘something’ mean? What will make you calm down?”

My brain replies: I DON’T KNOW EITHER, BUT YOU BETTER DO IT QUICK. FUCKING. SMART.

I’m aware how ridiculous this all is. I’m only 27, and if I live a long life – or just life of average length – I’ve still got a large amount of time left. (It’s hard to join Winehouse et al when you’re sober and look both ways before you cross, is all I’m saying.) But I can’t deny that it’s hard, and that my anxiety feeds on the success of others: particularly those younger than me, winning things I want to win. Although part of my brain wallows in the regular artistic jealousy that every artist experiences, the rest, instead, turns it back in on itself: you’re nearly 30 and you haven’t done that. You’ve got no fucking chance.

Maybe it’s the way the world, in particular the arts industry, grossly overvalues youth.

Maybe it’s the unfair standards I set for myself – the ones that, a few years ago, inspired me to work harder, but are swiftly becoming more and more untenable the longer I try and keep them up. (I won’t bore you with the details, but essentially it comes down to me requiring of myself to write and produce a certain number of things in a year.)

Certainly it’s the narrative that won’t leave my head; the one of people being ‘discovered’ and becoming instantaneously über successful while I wallow away, attempting (and failing) to sort my shit out.

This utter panic doesn’t just centre around my career but my friendships, too, fuelled on by the realisation that occasionally strikes me: if I’d died that night in 2014, I wouldn’t be experiencing this moment right here. Or this one. Or this one, either.

There’s a friend I’ve made with whom I keep making plans to catch up – plans that for whatever reason haven’t happened yet. We’re busy people. But each time these plans fall through I’m struck with an intense pang of anxiety, which, when followed down to its core, basically comes down to:

You’re probably going to die before you ever get to properly meet this person.

That’s a particularly morbid conclusion to come to, but it’s something I still can’t shake.

This will sound stupid, but it’s only this year that I’ve properly and wholly accepted that I’ll probably never get the luxury of being just an artist. It’s a bitterly logical realisation, but one my brain has only wrapped itself around quite recently. Particularly the idea of making my income solely from writing – of all things, writing!

When I was a child – and probably still thought that, despite my chubby body and fey demeanour, I’d be a grade-A actor – I had dreams of the artist life. I’d live in a mansion, probably on a hill, with a host of taxidermied animals and a shockingly handsome husband. I’d have a whole lot of money from doing my Art, and I’d use it to spread more Art and Knowledge to the people, fostering a deep interest in Art worldwide. And then I’d be thanked for it. Like, not just thanked, but revered.

It’s telling that even as a child I didn’t know what my “Art” would be, only that I’d be doing it. Probably.

Moving on has made things easier. I no longer feel the immense pressure I once put on myself to become “successful” and enjoy financial security as soon as possible. There’s a strange freedom of, if not giving up on your dreams, than recalibrating them: every artistic thing I do no longer feels like a ‘do or die’ situation, but something I can appreciate for the act of what it is. By pulling my foot off the accelerator, I’m allowing myself the natural time to think, grow and change.

This self-acceptance has slowly made its way towards my body, too. For many years I believed that if I tried hard enough: if I ran enough, lifted enough weights, skipped enough meals and hated myself enough, my body would eventually change into something acceptable to me. Regardless of my endomorph status (the “fat” body type), my learned self-loathing (thank you, school and family) and my genuine belief I’d never be good enough. Now I’m realising that it’s my brain that needs to change into something acceptable.

I’m still shooting for the gold, but I’m not demanding it. That makes all the difference.

1. 

I really don’t know why I keep returning to memoir as a form – or narrative non-fiction, or whatever the fuck you’d call this – but here we are. Like a clock that chimes every few months. Even a broken biography is right twice a month, right?

There are certainly enough young white males out there sifting through their lives and retelling their own experiences with a bit more zest or flavour added in, just for the kick of it. I’m wholly aware that people won’t – or don’t – care.

Leaving that sentence there makes it seem like I’m depressed about it, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. People don’t really care, except for the few that take the time to read it, and that’s wonderful. I’m not doing this for anyone but myself, so feel free to care or not care away.

2.

Continuing the ridiculousness of my brain and its healing patterns, my eyes appear to be fixing themselves. My doctors don’t know whether it’s the muscles surrounding my eye or the neural pathways that need fixing, but fixing is apparently happening. I really would’ve appreciated this a year and a half ago, but I’ll take what I can get.

I’ve now been fitted with a trippy pair of glasses called “prism”. Prism glasses somehow pull your vision into line so your brain can stitch what it’s seeing into one coherent image, like a normal person’s brain would. It does this through some sort of black optometry magic. Wearing them is a novel experience: something akin to having your finger bent back all day.

By this I mean, at the end of eight hours of uninterrupted prism, it fucking hurts.

3.

I’m working as hard as I can to be a better person, blessed or cursed with the quite and acute knowledge that I have a lot of time to make up for (no matter how much I say it doesn’t, the year of 2014 weighs heavily on my mind, even now.)

The difference is, I don’t think it makes me a good or interesting person.

4.

Zero interest puff pieces lifted from social media, four:

“Facebook is like a Pokedex of all the friends we’ve captured”

“I’m done! FFS! Nothing left! What the actual… ?! ‪#‎innovative

“i’m a trailblazer in the sense that i like to get blazed while walking on trails”

“On set for my first ad in which everyone is working very hard to make sure I’m “unrecognisable”. Three years of drama school.‪#‎welcometothebusiness

“When I’m telling a story and a friend interrupts:”

“karmic retribution is a pretty name for a baby”

5.

Even now, returning to Sydney feels like a battle of epic proportions. Flying over, I can’t help think of me, two years younger, listening to Owen Pallet’s “I AM NOT AFRAID” in the desperate belief that, like “The Secret”, if you put something out into the world enough, it’d become true. The battleground is different, though: there’s nothing immediately pulling me back to That Place (NIDA; the place where I spent the majority of my waking hours, at least the first time) and I’m much more secure and comfortable in myself. (Unlike “The Secret”, I don’t need to put that out into the world – I just am.) More than anything, returning feels like that part of “The Wizard of Oz” where the Wizard is finally exposed for the fraud he is:

Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion – my personal favourite as a child, oh the irony – shake in fear as a huge emerald green head floats in front of them, bellowing fire and shrieking loudly like a viridian poltergeist.

“DO YOU PRESUME TO CRITICIZE THE GREAT OZ?! YOU UNGRATEFUL CREATURES!”

As he screams, Toto – that faithful rat of a dog – calmly trots over and pulls back a large green curtain, revealing a squat and chubby bald man.

OH!” he squeals once he realises he’s been exposed. Then, closing the curtain, the classic: “PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN.

 I’m well into that section, now. The veil has been lifted; I’ve paid attention to the man behind the curtain and I’m just now in the process of figuring out how the fuck to click my heels three times.

6.

Speaking of Sydney, returning last time taught me to be careful about whom I invested in, friendship-wise. Cultivating companionship is harder work than it should be, and I don’t have the time for bullshit, or running around attempting to please people. This mental shift developed into me losing people I’d thought were my friends, but also not really caring as I reasoned:

  1. If they wanted to be my friends, they might consider trying a little harder, and
  2. Less bad friends means more time for the good friends.

Except now my initial, conditioned response – one rarely acted on, mind you – is “FINE, WELL HAVE A GOOD LIFE” if someone doesn’t respond to me within whatever time my brain has decided is polite to respond in. I haven’t acted on this insane impulse, though, as I’ve reminded myself quietly and firmly: people have lives, dickhead.

7.

There were so many things that I wanted to say to you, but I never gave myself the chance – or maybe (probably) I was scared that it’d be too full on to do so. After a year and a half’s worth of unspoken intention and intermittent anxiety, me suddenly developing the gumption to actually speak freely and honestly would’ve been a lot to handle. So, I should’ve taken that chance – or one of the numerous ones offered to me before it – and actually put myself out there like real friends do.

I fucked up, and I’m sorry, but you stepped as far away from me as you could, apropos of nothing – and that’s fine; you gotta do what you gotta do. But don’t expect me to play at the friendship we used to have when I see you. You seem to be doing well, though, and I hear that you’re busy. I’m happy for you.

8.

Five text messages selected at random:

  1. “I’ve never had the pleasure of absorbing that charisma in person.”
  2. “We chose French in the end as we wanted a free bottle of wine jahaha”
  3. “Hi this is disgusting I feel dirty delete it fat x”
  4. “Haha if we couldn’t we’d probably be dead.”
  5. “be gentle”

It’s my new game plan for myself.

9.

Aimlessly browsing Tumblr just now, my finger hovered over the mouse button to reblog a picture. There’s a hot pink painted wall, fluorescent lighting above, and a pink and black sign in capital cursive that reads: FUCK YEAH, IT HURTS.

Previously, I’d have reblogged this without a second thought, playing endlessly into the online persona I’ve created for myself; an intelligent and sarcastic gay boy who you’re never quite sure is joking or hurting more*. Now, I find, I falter, pausing to consider putting that out there: again, FUCK YEAH, IT HURTS.

I don’t really have any interest in doing so. Maybe because it doesn’t hurt. Or maybe because I don’t want to come off like an overenthusiastic BDSM bottom.

* I once found an image on Tumblr that I felt summed this falsity up perfectly: a pastel pink and blue image with the words SASSY AND SAD emblazoned across it.

10.

I’m not doing this for anyone but myself.

I’m too poor for a therapist, so blogging will have to suffice as a poor effigy of mental clarity.

The trick that nobody tells you, is that it actually works.

There’s been a moment in the process every tattoo that currently adorns my body wherein I freak the fuck out.

I think: “oh, shit. Oh shit, this is on me for life. Fuck, I can barely keep my mind straight about REGULAR things, let alone ‘stuck in you for life with a needle’ things.”

When this moment comes, I usually want to abruptly stand up, upend the table, and run for the hills.

So far, I’ve been successful in that I’ve managed to not do this. Look at me, kicking strangely specific life goals.

I got my first tattoo at age 21 after a particularly rough night.

It’s covered up, now, but:

I went through a particularly depressive stage as a young homosexual – don’t all young homosexuals? – and really and truly considered taking my own life several times. I didn’t get so far as to actually try, thankfully, but it was like “suicidal-light” – the thoughts were quite legitimate, but the actions were not willing.

In the way that brains so often do; I intrinsically linked my discovery of the musical Hedwig & the Angry Inch to my pulling myself – with psychological help – out of this depressive hole. In actuality, of course, it was probably just the fact I was actually seeing a real-life medical professional; an outside party who didn’t know the inner dramatics of my brain but who did know how to metaphorically slap said brain upside its melodramatic and metaphorical face.

I had been toying with the idea of getting the tattoo from Hedwig for about year or two, as a kind of marker for the end of my mental turmoil, but felt intrinsically that I needed something big to push me into it – I needed not a reason but a Reason. If this was to be on me for life it needed to be Deep and Meaningful and something I could Look At Every Day and Feel Proud About My Decision For.

The night before I’d drunkenly hooked up with a friend who was in a relationship. What followed had been a lot of pain, self-loathing, histrionics (some justified, some not; some performed by me, some not) and many emotions. All in all, it seemed like a big enough Reason as any.

I don’t remember much from this time, but I do remember the immense pain this 15-minute long tattooing session caused; seated in the back of some particularly dingy “goth” shop I used to frequent some years earlier with my fellow goth friends. (Now that I’ve been tattooed by wonderful & talented tattooists, I can’t help but think that this immense pain was mostly due to the tattooist in question not being a particularly good one.)

I remember the immense pain, and I remember the feeling that came with it: the feeling like this came with some sort of internal retribution, that there was something coming out of this pain.

Getting a tattoo is somehow both one of the most constructive and destructive things you can do to your body.

On one hand, you’re getting a piece of artwork attached to your body for life; you’re memorialising something through the creation of something new; in a sense you’re collaborating with your artist to find something that suits what you both want to do. And then sticking it to your body.

On the other hand, you’re literally injecting ink into your skin, and, shockingly, bodies don’t tend to like or appreciate that.

When I first began to get tattoos, I felt determined: whatever I got had to have Meaning and Consequence, I had to be able to look at it and immediately be reminded of the reason why I’d gotten it. I thought I was being very deep. Of course, if that’d been the way I’d continued, I would’ve probably gone quietly insane, as it seems that every tattoo I’ve been inspired to get for a Reason has come out of trauma.

REASONS I’VE GOTTEN TATTOOS:

1.     Because a close friend took his own life and I felt this needed memorialising.

2.     Because, as a young child, I used to call myself “Christopher Robin” after the character from Winnie the Pooh, and I felt pretty shitty about being an adult.

3.     Because I thought it looked fucking cool.

4.     Because my heart got royally fucked over and I wanted to remind myself to be more careful, next time.

5.     Because I very nearly died (and I wanted to celebrate my first year of sobriety.)

6.     and 7: because I very nearly died and before I very nearly died I’d been planning to get tattooed by this artist anyway – having the unexpected opportunity to do this again felt like a wonderful second chance. (And also because I fucking love and am fucking inspired by John Waters.)

And then, overall:

1.     Because I fucking wanted to.

In the year and a half, nearly, since my car accident, getting tattooed has become somehow both intensely personal and intensely impersonal.

Confusing, right?

To explain, let’s go back. Way back:

As a kid, and growing up, I had major weight issues.

I fucking hated my body and I fucking hated myself. I was hit, punched, insulted, taunted, teased and so on, relentlessly and endlessly, by people at school and by members of my own family. Unsurprisingly, this created a sharp and heady dissonance within myself; a veritable hatred of self that only in the last two or three years has begun to subside.

By getting a tattoo – by choosing unequivocally what will be placed on my body, where and by who, I’m regaining a bit of my own mental strength. I like the way that I look – and this is the first time in a long time that I can say this – but I really like the way I look with tattoos.

Despite the fuckery of 2014 and my year at NIDA; while I was incredibly cruel to myself in certain facets of myself, I was also weirdly, rather kind. I had always gone to the gym pre-NIDA, but mostly just did cardio in a constant attempt to reduce the imagined obesity that hung about me. As I threw myself into NIDA (and alcohol), I also threw myself into working out on a much tighter regimen, and with a lot more resistance-based training, enjoying and appreciating the new facets of my strength and body that I began to see.

Smash cut to me, somewhere, on a Berlin road, then a Berlin hospital, then a rehab facility. The plugs. The wires. The drugs I was given in secret, the medical additions to my body, the catheter and resulting testicular infection I received and my inability to walk. Aside from this, I gained a casual five kilos, which doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who relentlessly monitored his own weight for the ten years previous, it definitely was.

I’d lost ownership of my body; something I still don’t feel I’ve wholly regained.

There are still problems. Still things that don’t work, and still things that may never do. I’m trying as best as I can, and it gets slowly easier, but there are still problems, and forever things to work on. But, as above: it’s a way to regain ownership of my body and of my self. Each piece of artwork brings me back into the world and hands me back one of the pieces I’ve lost. I get to exercise the power of choice over my body; exorcise my trauma in whatever way I want to and shape myself in whatever way I want to. For someone who hasn’t been able to do this – ever, really – who’s been told that his body is wrong and disgusting or who has simply been unable to even make his body work as bodies should, someone who – like so many others – isn’t afforded the basic liberties and freedoms of most of the people around him, tattoos are a way to get his own back.

So, you want reasons? Well, here you go:

I FUCKING WANTED TO and I NEEDED TO FEEL LIKE I HAD SOME KIND OF OWNERSHIP AND LIBERTY OF SELF.

That’s more than enough. That’s fucking everything.