‘Like the ocean, the native state of the feminine is to flow with great power, and no single direction. The masculine builds canals, dams and boats to unite with the power of the feminine ocean and go from point A to point B. But the feminine moves in many directions at once. The masculine chooses a single goal and goes in that direction. Like a ship cutting through a vast ocean, the masculine decides on a course and navigates the direction: the feminine energy is itself undirected but immense, like the wind and deep currents of the ocean, ever-changing, beautiful, destructive, and the source of life.’
‘There are three things that amaze me—no, four things that I don’t understand: how an eagle glides through the sky, how a snake slithers on a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, how a man loves a woman.’
Proverbs 30:18-19 (NLT)
We would get to the water before the rest of the island woke up – except, of course, the handful of local gromits.
Dad wore speedos, almost always. Sometimes even goggles.
I remember being in awe of how he did it.
He could catch any wave, one hand out the front to steer him. He was an exceptional swimmer – still is – and passed the genes on to my brothers. I was intent on developing the gifting, but I always lagged behind them.
He’d take us out past the breakers.
Dig your fingers into the sand as you dive under the wave, and you won’t get dumped.
I knew we had been given the best secrets when it came to body surfing. Nobody was as streamlined as Dad.
Once we were out, we would practice treading water. I would stare at the shadows in the sand, constantly asking about stingrays. Dad would pick the biggest wave, and catch it all the way to the shore. My brothers would join him, and I would always pause a moment too late. Having been left out the back alone, I would catch the next one in on pure adrenaline.
I loved it. My body would rest weightless over the foam – gentle in violent water.
As my brothers learned to body-board and surf, I stayed without apparatus, stirring my legs like they were whisks. I would float beside them, out the back, then catch the same waves in.
It simply felt safer. I didn’t trust myself with foreign objects. The resonance was between my body and the current. I wanted to partner with the water, alone.
I still dig my fingers into the sand, as if any wave might pull me over with it.
The male identity has been something I have watched intently – almost longed for. I love the minimalism of masculinity. The straight lines, the sudden bursts of energy. Since those days as a child, I have always had this deep desire to understand men. I wanted to be their friend, to be more like them. I imagined that was how one was able to get a boy to fall in love with her – by joining him, in his world. By becoming simpler, stronger, more objective.
The years passed, and my admiration of masculinity became less about friendship and more about power. I wanted to be able to speak, and have my words quiet a room. I wanted to be able to protect another human being. I wanted to be able to pursue, to pick fights, to own my sexuality, to be liberated in my profession.
How quickly, admiration turns to envy; gratitude becomes blame.
We collectively have a lot of anger towards the straight, white male.
We tell him – no, stop, be aware, be less, be better, and we sweat out muted words when they are discarded. We rage at the silence of Australian men, so unwilling to sacrifice their inherited authority – as if it is something they have earned.
Ultimately, that’s what scares me so much about my own privilege – that on some level, my heart wants to justify it, and tell me that I deserve it. I have shame about the power given to me, and I want to rationalise it. Yeah, it’s ugly.
I understand the defensive trembling of men faced with questions of sexism, or violence against women and children – taking responsibility is a submission like no other. But this isn’t about collecting confessions from perpetrators, it is men taking up the burden, to inspire and lead a generation. It is hard, but imperative, that we partner in grief over the divide between us: here in Australia, in 2015 alone, sixty-six women have been killed at the hands of men.
We have so much to consider, when it comes to power.
But I don’t actually want to talk about power. I want to talk about love.
Our human longing, and the very process of love, is to know a person, and be known by that person. This isn’t heterosexual. As women, of any orientation, we have an automatic relationship with our binary, irrespective of their orientation. The binary is fluid, sure, but it’s there, and that is how we can move it around. In our Otherness, we might just be revealed.
Regardless of the relationship – be it family, spouses, friends, colleagues or strangers – it matters, how women know men, and how men know women. Our communities are built on how we see one another, hear one another and touch one another.
I have experienced these small, transformational moments, where the different forms, hormonal balances, cultural perspectives and bodies of men and women have collided in front of me, with great love. It is in those moments that I have harbored clues to why God/the beautiful evolutionary matrix, may have made both males and females (I would like to note that I do also acknowledge in this those who may identify as either gender, or neither, regardless of physiological sex).
In this wide-eyed wonder, I want to honour the men. I see how my own femininity has been revealed, empowered and celebrated through the masculinity placed around it.
I feel liberated, at home in the Other.
When I think of the men who have crossed my path, and then at times even walked the path alongside me, I am humbled.
I think of my brother. I remember the way we would perform, as children. I remember long conversations of hand-written notes, and then the silence, as we aged and hardened. I thought perhaps he had nothing left to say, until the first time I ever heard him sing, as a teenager. He played us a demo through the family speakers – he had been recording music in his bedroom for months. We were in awe. His voice was like smoke rising. He sung words in a new order. He voiced what I did not have the courage to voice.
I think of my youngest brother, with that gappy grin and strange mop of chlorine-bleached hair. I think of him hooked up to his ventolin nebuliser, as his lungs screamed for air. I think of the hours spent in doctors’ waiting rooms, the questions and judgments over his form and behaviour. I remember his curious questions. I think of his hours in the pool, the mornings and the nights of training. I think of the discordant humility with which he then grew in his strength and genius – travelling around the country, and then the world, breathing in every damn molecule of oxygen that he could.
I think of a boy, whom I had allowed into my headspace at the age of nineteen. I think of last Saturday in Richmond, hearing my name being called, as that boy – now a man – ran after me down Swan Street. We exchanged one-liners about our lives, and then as I went to leave, he apologised sincerely for the last time we saw one another: at least eight years ago – us both enraged. I felt a vacuum release, and we stood in it – the weight of shame lifting, two kids allowed to grow up, lined skin softening beneath the morning.
I think of a musician that I know, only a few months ago walking out upon a stage, hearing the jeers of male audience members. He had chosen to wear a bold piece of jewellery to complement his performance. I think of him there, standing tall – his breast adorned – joining the cold war to allow the integration of beauty into the masculine identity.
I think of three of my friends, housing my restlessness on their couch for two months, aligning their waking and sleeping to the girls running in and out of Sydney. I think of their silent intercession, taking me on as family, covering me with blankets, with arms around the shoulder, with grace.
I think of male colleagues of mine that have taken complete responsibility for their bodies, in order to make other actors feel safe. In intimate or violent scenes, offering their whole attention, and being so aware of the power and weakness of their physicality, that others could trust that the space between them was sacred, and controlled.
I think of the men who have cried in front of me. The men who have had dams broken open, right there – in the gutter, in the classroom, in bed, or in the car. I think of that sound: a man sobbing with such urgency and force, as if the acoustics might produce colour, or leave an imprint on skin. It defines strength.
I think of the men who have shown me what they are afraid of, or what they cannot do.
I think of the men who have told me that they love me, and I think of the men who have told me that they cannot.
I think of my father, finding his way through water, digging his fingers into the sand to keep the waves from taking him backwards.
In his life-long dedication to the ocean, I see the relationship he has with my mother. I see the perseverance with which he loves her, the gentleness with which he learns her, and seeks to reach her.
I think of his fathering: teaching me stillness, through action.
A couple of days ago, a few of us wandered down to the south of Victoria. We walked out to Fort Nepean, the skinny finger of land almost closing the bay. I was with two new friends, both men. I followed them quietly – shy. We ran over the abandoned fort, the boys with their sticks and me with my metaphors, watching the sun set and moon rise simultaneously against opposing horizons.
We climbed down to a stretch of beach as the light bled, and gathered around the water, bracing ourselves before we edged in. I had done three winters back to back, and hadn’t been in the sea in what felt like years.
It was so cold. The boys threw their heads under, and I stayed waist deep, watching them thrash about. They laughed at me.
Just do it. It gets better.
I kept looking for stingrays. I kept thinking how Harold Holt had disappeared somewhere along this short stretch of beach, also swimming out of bounds. It pulsed in its old power, but the ocean stayed placid for us, glowing.
There was no sand beneath our feet – only flat rock, smoothed over as if man-made.
I curled my toes, over, knowing they had nothing to dig into.
Then I went under.