I’ve always written. Tasked with using each spelling word in a sentence, I’d weave them all into stories that filled notebooks. I read my first novel at seven and graduated to Mum’s historical fiction at 10. I was hungry, adding new words to a list to look up in the dictionary. My most beloved teachers […]
One foot off the plane and I’m already smacked in the face with humidity. A lump rises in my throat. Melbourne didn’t hit me like this. Adelaide didn’t hit me like this. Only one place in the world hits me hard in the chest like this.
The old Queenslander I’m staying in is just like my childhood home. Stained glass windows line the wrap-around veranda to let the lazy air flow when a breeze chances by. Paint curls up the windowsills. The floorboards creak and squeak. The wood has swollen and aged over the hundred years since being lopped. Piles of dusty tools are stacked in the bare dirt beneath the house, just like where we’d make mud cakes as kids.
Percussive crickets jam with geckos, frogs and bugs.
I sleep with the fan on high, futile,
blasting humidity at my feet
that poke out from the sheets.
In the morning, I look out the bathroom window. Chickens peck around the roots of a pawpaw tree. A mango tree. The air is thick with memories.
Blooming jacarandas line the road.
A sensual assault.
I set off at midday with the sun at its highest. How could I make such a Rookie’s mistake after 25 summers in this town? My singlet is plastered to my sun-screened skin.
Walking briskly as if with a purpose, I arrive in West End. Old favourites like the iconic Music Kafe have been forced out, unable to pay rising rents. The shops now stretch further along Boundary Road, named by the colonisers. Nineteenth-century troopers enforced a racist curfew with whips and bayonets to maintain segregation and protect their stolen land. Yet again indigenous folks are being displaced; this time by gentrification. A ‘new global neighbourhood’ is under construction. A hipster market is unaffordable to the ageing hippy residents. What made West End a haven has been strangled.
Less soul, more swank. Shoreditch light.
10 minutes in and already I see a phantom from my past. Seeing her sucks the air from my lungs. I feel defenceless, on display.
Does she see me? Does she notice my thighs?
I crave a shaved head, some dramatic disguise.
Every passerby becomes an old friend I cast off, a drunken one night stand. I long for the anonymity of busy London streets, the comfort of layered clothing to cover my body.
All that I ran from hangs in this heavy, humid air. I see ghosts and old selves.
I keep losing and finding them
over and over again.
I’m only breathing in my throat now. Tears rise from my stomach as I pass Three Monkeys. I am coming up on fear.
I hide sobs behind sunnies, face soft so no one will see. I reach out for nothing, because there is not a thing out there that I need. How can I soothe myself? I glance at my phone and consider all the distractions it contains, inadequate. I consider binge-purging, a quick route to numbing out and my trusted method of emotional regulation. But I know these feelings need experiencing right here and now. Should I phone someone? It’s the middle of the night in London. I call Melbourne.
“I feel the same when I go to Brisbane,” she says. “I know that sick feeling. I’m feeling it right now just talking to you.” Her voice is a salve.
Calmer, I head towards the train station to see my siblings for the first time in two years. The stench of sweat blasts up my nostrils from the air-conditioned train.
My brothers live together. I used to be their neighbour. The dog had a huge yard to run round in because we never closed the gate between our houses. Dad lived round the corner and we’d all walk up to his place for barbies on Sundays. He’d drink goon from a glass in his pool like a king. We’d play tennis in the summers, fruit bats screeching. On the river we canoed as kids and jet-skied as teens – that’s where we scattered Dad’s ashes.
My mother bore five children and there are just three of us left now. I’d clutched Mum as she deposited me at the airport in Adelaide. Mum, who has survived three types of cancer, who has diabetes and neuropathy, who has cataracts and who time will only ravage. “See you in a couple of years,” I say, and it burns.
Time is not linear.
The past is present.
I’m raw, wearing my insides as a robe.
This place is a sandstorm on my skinless flesh.
I’m reunited with my siblings now. My little brother is twice my height but he will always be my baby. I am so proud of the man he has become.
But then – I feel the load settle on my shoulders: to help, to fix, to play that old role. I witness the trauma and violence rippling down through the generations and I am powerless to stem the tide.
We regress in our ways of relating to each other, as if the years haven’t passed by. Families have a way of reducing us all to our former selves.
Love is infinite. Emotional energy is not.
“C’mon, Nic!” my niece says reaching for my hand, as if there is no time to waste. There really isn’t. Precious moments made painful by the inevitability of my goodbye.
The weight of my past, the shame and the guilt.
The weight of everything I’ve missed and will miss.
The weight of loved ones lost and those living lives I can but glimpse
through a screen.
It is all so tangled and I have no space to catch the threads.
“You fucking bitch!” he spits at me, his pointed finger an inch from my eye. In recovery, I no longer have the armour of anger that protected me when this was the norm. I turn his violence in on myself and spend three days in bulimic relapse.
“I was being assertive, NOT aggressive,” he tells me later. “You need to work on your emotional resilience. Talk to your therapist about building up your internal locus of control.” I wonder how resilient he would be without his addictions. But I’ve learnt over the years that for my own safety, I must swallow my thoughts, push down my feelings just as I force the food down my throat till I bloat.
I will always be weaker, smaller, and therefore less entitled to speak my mind. It took me a chipped front tooth, bruised ribs, black eyes and a split open scalp to learn that lesson. It took fights with cricket bats and knives. Finally, I learned to zip my lips like women throughout history.
I sit behind road-trains on the Warego Highway now, farmland flat to the horizon. My grandparent’s farm is ruggedly beautiful, so much greener since the drought broke. Flies buzz round my mouth as I stroke my pet cow Rosa, her waxy coat blackening my hand. She leans in to it blissfully. On my last visit she was a spindly-legged newborn, following Pop round suckling his shirt. Now she is a proud heifer. Her trust of me emboldens her peers so there I am, standing in a paddock surrounded by staring cows.
Life has a gentle pace out here. I sleep well and wake early to vegemite toast. I pat the dogs at the dam. Pop collects me in his ute to cruise round the farm. Emus and wallabies are dots in the distance. We get out and walk towards a herd resting under some trees. Shuffling along in the heat, Pop wears a long-sleeved high-vis shirt and broad brimmed hat.
“I wanna die on this land,” he tells me. His voice is thin with age.
Nan and I do crosswords till morning tea as Pop dozes in his armchair. The football hums in the background. She hasn’t been able to walk since the accident but her spirit is bright. I record her telling me tales of her childhood to preserve our history. She instructs me on her very specific method of washing up. Pop tires easily, his hands shaking as he lifts up his tea. His laughter is drying up. This will be their last summer on the farm. Too old to cope, they’re forced to sell up and move to the city.
At the coast I bring in the New Year with my childhood friend and her family. Fearless in the rough surf, I lather my niece’s wriggling body with sunscreen constantly.
My friend’s Mum is a woman of extraordinary heart and has been a part of significant moments in my life: family funerals, my wedding. She is dying of cancer. It is the last time I see her.
Angels have carried me on their backs through this trip. Recovery days on two wheels with a friend who has known me and grown with me half my life.
There’s time to be, time to let the overwhelm subside.
No need to make decisions, I’m free to follow, free to let go. Legs peddling, sun beating, sweat dripping. Icy poles, plovers, frangipanis.
Brisbane as beautiful as Brisbane can be.
I’m a tourist in my hometown.
Lovers have also cushioned the pain, lovers I could escape into, take sanctuary within, diving straight to the depths. Fast intimacy is balm for my vulnerabilities. Tears from the intensity, bruises on my skin. Can you see how much I am hurting, how much I can take?
In the last few days, we visit our school friend in rehab. A trauma-bonded bunch, we all seek recovery now. So much is swirling round my head but none of it is solid. I am sinking in quicksand on the couch so I succumb to sleep while my mates play pool.
Time. What happened to time?
After 10 weeks I still experience moments where the accent sounds foreign to me.
Each place I didn’t want to be then didn’t want to leave.
No amount of time is ever enough, but the longer I stay the less I can bear.
The longer I’m away, the deeper my roots elsewhere.
That desperate feeling when my plane flies away.
The conflicting desires to flee and to stay.
The overwhelming urgency to go back, change my flights, too late.
Brisbane in the distance.
At Midsummer in Melbourne,
high on sobriety
and queer energy,
my last full day ends.
Sunset on Altona beach now.
This red-earthed, white-washed land was never mine.
This place is my homelands, but not my home.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Triggered thanks, you?”
“Oh I’m fine. Hey I’m going to the shops in a bit. You need anything?”
“I just need to stop thinking about my brother’s autopsy report. The horror of it. After 12 years I still remember the cold, violent images it seared in my memory. He had hickeys on his neck you know, as well as bruising from the rope where he choked himself. After he died we met a grieving mother at a suicide support group whose 15 year old son hung himself, and his autopsy showed scratch marks where he clawed at the tightening rope. My brother didn’t have such marks. Unlike hanging, choking can be stopped at any time. So we take small comfort in the knowledge that he didn’t have a last minute change of heart.”
“Ok cool, anything else?”
“Well if you could find a way to switch these flashing memories off, that’d be great. They assault me most in the dark, where the day’s distractions cannot reach. Anxiety feels like my stomach is tying noose after noose. Amplified by the silence, I binge-purge to rid my body of the images. He had insect eggs in his ear canals, you know. Insect eggs incubated in my brother’s body before he was even laid in the grave.
“No worries, I’ll see if they have any. See you in a bit.”
“Cheers. See you later.”
Last summer a cute pink-haired femme took me on a date to the Proms. I’ve never understood classical music; it’s always felt alien and perhaps a bit too bourgeois for working-class me. But seeing that conductor dance, sending ripples and waves across the orchestra, I felt my heart swelling open.
This wonderful date was with someone I’d only just met. “You look beautiful,” my wife said before I left, kissing me on my cheek to keep my red lipstick in place, her hands on the waist of my cherry frock. “Good luck.”
How is this possible?
Polyamory to me is way of conceptualising love, sex, relationships and the balance of power. It’s a set of values, a philosophy and a way of life based on respect, boundaries, trust, safety, openness, honesty and effective communication. It is an important part of my identity, as are the terms queer and femme.
Monogamy is a social construct and not an innate way of being, despite what society would have us believe. Consider how often cheating happens in monogamous relationships.
I do not believe ‘the one’ exists, that a single person can complete us. This is a deeply ingrained cultural myth. No matter how compatible we are, no one person can meet all of our emotional, intellectual, romantic, sexual and spiritual needs. Expecting a partner to do so is a lot of pressure.
I have no other half; I am already a whole person.
We may connect to someone emotionally and romantically but not sexually. Or we may only connect with someone sexually. We may love someone deeply but not share their values or want to become pair bonded and intertwine our lives. Being poly means we can value the connections we have for what they are, rather than measuring them against societal ideals of what a relationship should be.
I realise that many people prefer making a monogamous commitment and if that works for them, wonderful! Polyamory is not inherently better than monogamy, nor is it a more evolved way of doing relationships (despite some poly folks looking down on mono ones with contempt). But I believe monogamy should be actively chosen, negotiated and worked at, just as polyamory is, rather than being taken as a given. I also believe that critiquing cultural assumptions such as ‘the one’ can be helpful even for those who choose monogamy.
There are lots of ways polyamorous people choose to structure their relationship models, such as hierarchically or egalitarian, open or closed to within a triad or group, and solo poly. I am married so I fall into the former category, where I have a primary and tertiary partners.
Polyamory is about embracing positive sexual/romantic expression and exploration. My wife and I both reject enforced monogamy. We are in favour of personal growth, fulfilment, fun and exploration, in whatever form that may take. Better than anyone, my wife knows the traumas I have experienced throughout my life. She wholeheartedly supports my need to heal and take ownership of my sexual selfhood.
So far, my wife has not been interested in having other sexual or romantic encounters. Our relationship may therefore seem unbalanced to onlookers. But the fact is, she is choosing what feels right for her as an individual, even if that looks different to what is right for me. Introverts like her require a lot of quiet reflection time. The time I spend feeling energised on dates she uses to recharge through reading, writing and wandering art galleries. She can choose to see other people – or not. This sense of choice itself feels liberating. She actually resents when people wonder whether she is getting the raw end of the deal, because that assumption completely underestimates her personhood. It also seems ridiculous to think that she is somehow required to have other partners just because I do.
My wife and I do not need sexual exclusivity to feel secure. Sexual exploration outside of our relationship is not a threat to the solid foundation we have actively constructed. It doesn’t negate our emotional, spiritual and romantic connection. In fact, the level of openness we share about our thoughts, feelings and desires, including for other people, gives our connection a greater depth and authenticity. I love my wife even more for respecting my autonomy, for overcoming her insecurities about abandonment, for caring more about my desire to be fulfilled as a person than she does about wanting me all to herself.
That, to me, is love as a verb.
We are lucky in that my wife doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body. We have always been able to tease each other about little crushes and flirty blushes. That was a good starting point for us.
Even so, we have worked hard to be where we are. It has been a slow process of opening our relationship up after a period of default monogamy. Although I’m certainly not recommending this for every polyamorous couple, the 3 years of default monogamy helped us both to feel safe and secure in what we have.
Over this period, we expanded this openness. We began by talking about how this or that hypothetical would feel. About feeling attracted to someone. Then me actually having a date here and there. Then kissing someone. Dot dot dot.
All the while I have checked in to see how each step feels for her, letting her know I could adjust the pace, demonstrating that I would always respect her limits. As a result, she felt less of a need to set limits. I have showed her that I won’t abandon her, that she is my priority. This is how we have built trust. I have reassured her that this isn’t about anything lacking in our connection. And as time has gone on, this has become evident to us both. It is clear that my other relationships don’t detract from ours, and in fact they enhance it.
Sometimes it has felt excruciatingly slow for me, and has involved a lot of restraint, but it has been worth it for what we now have.
I initially wrote all this as an email in response to a jealous lover. So I was explicit about this point: I find being dominated, possessed or owned incredibly erotic in a sexual context, but I do not do possessiveness as an approach to relationships generally. Being polyamorous is about letting go of jealousy, shame and guilt. These are just feelings that don’t need to be acted upon. They can be acknowledged, felt, worked through and transcended. I do not see expressions of jealousy as a sign of how great your love is, but as an indication of a deeper issue or insecurity that needs addressing. We can resist ascribing these feelings the power they possess in heteronormative culture.
How this works in practice is, if a fear or insecurity comes up, it can be discussed in a supportive way, with each partner taking responsibility for their own feelings and behaviours.
Experiencing a pang of jealousy is fine. Attempting to control someone else’s behaviour because of it is not. Neither is pointing the finger by saying “you’re making me jealous.” Or shaming another person for their human desires.
This is not one-sided for me. I want all of my partners to be autonomous and to have their sexual and other needs met. To be happy and fulfilled as people. To do what feels right for them, whether that is seeing other people, or choosing not to. I wouldn’t want to prevent a partner from doing something they want, then have them resent me for it! Seething resentments from a sense of constriction can destroy relationships.
I have had two lovers who wanted me to only see my wife and them, which has felt just as limiting as monogamy would. That’s partly why I wanted to write all this.
Doing polyamory requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and maturity. It involves being or becoming skilled at negotiation and healthy boundary setting. The ability to practice self-care & self-soothing is also essential. Polyamory is not the ‘easy’ way, it’s not a matter of having your cake and eating it too. It’s definitely not a free pass to do whatever I want and fuck whoever I want. It’s careful, considered and ethical. It requires a lot of hard work and personal development, but the rewards can be tremendous. And it is definitely not for everyone!
I am far from perfect at any of this. I am working on issues around establishing, reasserting and respecting boundaries (both my own and others); assertiveness and feeling entitled to having an equal voice; balance and sharing power in relationships; feeling a right to have my needs met; and resisting the urge to give more than I have at the expense of my well-being.
It has been on an incredible journey of self-discovery the past few years, for both of us. So far I have had a strong connection with a ‘part-time boyfriend’, where I have really started to heal trauma in my body. I’ve found there is only so much work I could do in the therapy room, and that a more profound level of recovery has been in practice with a beautiful, boundaried and safe person. I’ve had an intense roller-coaster ride with a short-term girlfriend. I found myself in an unhealthy dynamic with a sexy dom lover who I’ve ended it with. And I’ve experienced how light it feels to share the emotional labour of boundary-holding with a tender butch Sir. I’ve found how deep a connection can be built with good before, during and aftercare. I have learnt and grown indescribably as a result of all of these relationships through the highs and lows.
While it has certainly been challenging at times, all of this new sexual and emotional energy has fed into my connection with my wife (what polyamorous folks call NRE or new relationship energy). It has actually nourished us, reinvigorated us, taken the pressure off and made us value the depth of our connection even more. Our sexual relationship is stronger and more exciting than ever. I am filled with gratitude that she has embarked on this journey with me. We do not take what we have for granted.
We are now at the point where my wife happily gives outfit advice for dates and gets excited when I meet someone that I fancy. She is my very best wing-person. This is what poly people call compersion.
I am so thankful that our relationship has not only survived, but is in fact stronger than ever as a result of our decision to open up. It is always a risk. I’ve learnt that love, when held too tight, can be smothered, but in a gentle grasp it can grow infinitely.
– by Nic
Autostraddle’s Poly Pocket series on how different people do polyamory
“We are looking for ‘warmth’ and ‘heat’ from the same relationship. We want to be secure and comfortable with a partner, perhaps building a family with them, at the same time as wanting to have a hot and exciting relationship. It is hard to get both these things from the same person.” – Dr Meg-John Barker, Rewriting hte Rules
“Poly lets me love people the way that my heart works. I have a need that only polyamory itself can meet. My need to freely attach to other people on a very deep level… I now understand my poly as more of an orientation than a choice.” – Rusty on Poly in the Cities podcast, episode ‘Buddhism and Polyamory’
“Wouldn’t we all be better off if we agreed to hurt each other by admitting to our needs, even the scary ones, and negotiating a way to get them met? It’s that, or the usual methods of hurting each other: lying, controlling, martyring ourselves, and resenting each other slowly and over many years until we are both hollow shells of our former glory.” – Carsie Blanton
“Love is not just an intensity of heart, it is actually a skill, and a skill that can be learnt.” – Alain de Botton
“I value the richness, pleasure, closeness, freedom an gratitdue that comes with respectful non-monogamous relationships.” – anonymous “The scary part of being poly is trusting that you’re worthy of love and worth sticking around for not because you’re the only person around but because you have inherent value just by being you.” – Autostraddle’s PolyPocket series
“In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise.” – Ester Perel
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Mikey was in my dream last night. Long-haired, cheeky-grinned, pre-anorexic Mikey. Before the drug-induced psychosis that brought black demons to attack him. Before being sober and drunk again. Alive. Although in my dream he looked as he did at 20, he … Continue reading
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Once the shock wore off, my soul cracked open and my world splintered apart. Wounds from past trauma tore open again. Someone had poured cement over me. I was being held underwater. It felt like it had always been this way, and it echoed out into forever.
“If you’ve ever met a drunk manic person, you’ll know consequences are not forefront in their mind.” Continue reading
I wish I had wings to fly away
But anxiety taunts me; in terror I stay.
Paranoia warps my perception,
I become a slave to the beckoning mirror.
He imprisons me in a cloak of fear.
He covers my eyes making truth unclear.
Hungry for love, I’m starved for affection,
Sickened by my repulsive reflection.
Rotting alive in this fragile shell,
Dying alone in this soundproof cell.
I put on a bandage, now the wound can’t bleed,
I put up a mask so the world doesn’t see.
These mounds of flesh disguise the real me.
Written by Nic age 15 about having an eating disorder.
I met you in early recovery In time for a mad trip to Wales. My body felt like the machine that it is Not just “aesthetically failed”. None of us knew if we’d make it We kind of just went … Continue reading
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‘Bar the seat’ was another sacred rule of sibling warfare, and by decree of the elders it eventually morphed into ‘barking geet’. My brothers made the rules; I simply followed them
Their word was gospel. Once they told me that for each ant you consumed you’d live another year, so there I was in the school yard gobbling up ants. Continue reading
After Suicide [A hole is nothing] By Matt Rasmussen A hole is nothing but what remains around it. My brother stood in the refrigerator light drinking milk that poured out of his head through thick black curls down his back … Continue reading