When I was 25, directionless and on a whim, I enrolled in Deakin University’s Bachelor of Arts: Professional Writing. At the time, this was touted as a select writing course. To get in, you had to submit a folio of work and pretend as hard as you could to be a capable, well adjusted adult. In reality, it was exactly like Year 10 English only without the big Lebanese guys sitting up the back sexually harassing everybody.
I went on to spend three years doing this course and wondering why. Looking back, I still wonder why. There are many young writers who benefit greatly from being taught techniques on how to write about death, love and sex without making everyone hate you. Then there are writers like me.
I have never belonged in a classroom. The whole thing made me profoundly miserable. It would’ve saved me and everyone else a lot of time if, on receiving my application, the university had replied with the one profound literary truth I needed to have revealed: ‘You can either live life, or write about it. You cannot do both at the same time.’
As it was, I stumbled across this truth myself. And suddenly, the pattern of my life became clearer. There will be a frenzied bout of activity, in which I buzz around doing strange things like one of those anthropomorphised alarm clocks in Loony Tunes cartoons; then, the world will collapse and the energy will flood out of me. I am left washed up, confused and introspective, on the shore of the terrible mess I’ve made of things.
Unfortunately, both states involve a lot of guilt. There is guilt in the frenzy, because stringing the simplest sentence together on the page is like trying to pull bits of my spine out through my nose. There is guilt in the aftermath, because while words flows freely, getting dressed and making a cup of tea involve long-term planning and a flow chart. But without one state, there cannot be the other. It’s the making sense of chaos just past that allows me to write.
At the moment, I find myself in a liminal between-state. There has been noise and drama and confusion and moving and Brazillian students and high emotion and depression and living with low-functioning sex addicts. This has all now collapsed. The storm has passed over, although the odd lightening flash still illuminates the landscape. I find myself again in quiet, this time unemployed and seemingly unemployable in Perth: the most expensive city in the country.
It is time to pack up and go home and think of what to do next. I cannot afford to do this yet – unemployment, of course, means that I must wait until the next dole payment dribbles through. This is a good thing, though, mostly. Some of the residual crazy is still in my system, and it would be best to get it out before putting my tail between my legs and limping home.
In this peculiar between-state, the world is not quite real. Mostly, this is gentle and pleasant. Meals don’t really happen. Hours melt. A cup of coffee with a friend becomes an all-night conversation. Alcohol is redundant, as time staggers around drunkenly without it.
Other aspects are less benign, although more thrilling. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with going to Myer and trying on the ugliest, most expensive dresses I can find. The more closely I resemble my hero Divine, the more delighted I am with the result. I then take phone photos of myself in these hideous sartorial abominations and send them to friends. (‘You look like you’re wearing gay bandages’ is still my favourite response.)
I have spent hours entertaining myself in this manner. Cowed by the crazed giggling emanating from my cubicle, the make up-encrusted creatures in charge of overpriced tulle nightmares leave me alone to get on with it. As long as no one gets hurt, they let me do what I want.
In the last week or so, however, the charge I get from Divine dress-ups in Myer has started to wear off. Last Wednesday, I put on a $500 green dress that made me look like a hormonally-enhanced hydrogen bomb. I added an orange wrap. I looked at the resulting monstrosity in the mirror and just felt bored.
I needed a new free activity to both amuse and provoke. And so, I decided to take creative gender play one step further and try the one free thing I’ve never attempted or even considered – heterosexuality.
‘Heterosexuality’ is not the same thing as ‘sex and love with men’. Or, I should say, ‘desire and love with men’. To be honest – I’m not the first to say this and I hope I’m not the last – I don’t think sex has a lot to do with sexual preference. You can sleep with pretty much anyone of an amiable disposition of either sex and have a perfectly pleasant time. It’s whom you desire, and with whom you are capable of falling in love, that makes you what you are.
So, desire and love with the fine fellows of the species is one thing; heterosexuality is another thing altogether. Although I have slept with men, loved men, and even on one occasion been wretchedly ill with gastroenteritis while the naked man in my bed mopped my brow and hopefully suggested that giving him a head job might make me feel better, this is something I’ve simply never done before. There is a whole code there, a way of men and women relating to each other, that is unknown to me.
At my cousin’s wedding recently, my sister-in-law pointed out how extremely gendered the younger guests were compared to our generation – girls in puffy dresses, guys in suits and clutching beers.
‘Don’t you think?’ she asked.
It struck me that I had no idea. I’d assumed this was normal. I had absolutely nothing to compare it to.
‘This isn’t my world,’ I had to confess through a haze of champagne – a somewhat confusing and melodramatic response to someone not privy to my line of thought. I must have sounded like an alien conspiracy theorist.
Perhaps this experience is what piqued my interest. How did this world really work? I’ve always stood on the edge of it, watching friends flirt and date and love in a nuanced dance. I’ve watched women with martial arts training and engineering degrees suddenly turn into Bettie Boop to attract a mate, and men who cried in ‘Say Anything’ pretending they have the emotional range of a cryogenically frozen geography teacher to avoid being hurt. I’ve watched with anthropological curiosity the sweet, ancient games courting couples play to initiate touch – ‘comparing hand sizes’ is particularly loaded with erotic potential, one person’s hand pressed coyly against the other’s, electricity crackling at the contact.
I have also observed the darker, more painful side of heterosexual relations. Bisexuality means you are the ear of choice for people with relationship problems. Perhaps the assumption is that a bisexual person is somehow out of the loop, and is therefore neutral in these gender wars – I suppose in a way we are.
Hurt women rage like castrating viragos for hours about what worthless bastards men are (I confess to having done this myself in grand Maria Callas fashion, but not because my man went drinking with his mates and came home the next day with a drum kit and a puppy). Men cheerfully relate peculiarly misogynistic tales of sexual conquest, gloating over the opportunistic degradation of strangers. Perhaps this is in the misguided belief that bisexuality indicates a degree of sympathetic masculinity. These stories have, in fact, turned my stomach and left me seething with a nameless anger. I do not understand the need to dehumanize a person in order to sleep with them. This, too, is not my world.
I have come to the conclusion that, basically, as groups, straight men and women are scared shitless of each other.
And yet, regardless of sexual preference, men and women need each other. And we are drawn to each other. And unless something is very wrong with a person, to the degree that they think sex is more important than love, men and women who are so inclined will always fall in love with each other. We are stuck with each other, as frightening as it all is.
And so it was with a sense of curiosity, and some trepidation, that I embarked on my new experiment.
I had no idea where to start. Should I go to a pub somewhere, sit on a barstool, giggle and ask what the vodka did? The nearest pub to me is habituated by FIFOs on down time; the last time a woman walked in there, a tumbleweed came rolling in after her. That was out. How else did men and women meet each other? All the options I could think of involved demeaning activities such as hiking. No experiment was worth taking up hiking.
Finally, I did the most heterosexual thing I could think of. I set up an internet dating profile on RSVP, sat back and waited for destiny to find me.
Once upon a time, before absolutely everyone had a profile and it was still considered a bit desperate to meet people online, dating sites had to resort to TV advertising. First, a smug brunette told her eager blonde friend all about a hot guy she was seeing. Next, the blonde was at her computer with a glass of wine, smiling with excitement as she typed her way to domestic bliss. The message seemed to be: If these charmless morons can find someone, anyone can.
Taking a leaf out of the blonde’s book, I made a cup of tea (budget not allowing for wine), sat down at my computer and tried to decide what to write.
‘Large woman seeks sex with someone who isn’t totally repulsive’?
A little harsh, if to the point.
A photo, an arrow, and a caption that said, ‘Look! Tits!’?
Effective, but perhaps likely to attract the wrong sort of respondent.
I had a look through the ads of other women. Overall, these profiles struck me as hopeful, sweet and perhaps too honest about the writers’ vulnerable emotional and sexual states: ‘Predators, apply within’ was the subtext. These women seemed to trust men where even good men don’t trust themselves.
This is an exercise in marketing, I thought to myself. You must show no weakness. You must sell your vulnerable points as an asset. I remembered that marvelous acronym, the most ingenious marketing ploy since bottled water: BBW. When I first heard this I’d thought it was a make of car, but it turned out that it stood for ‘Big Beautiful Woman’. Cringeworthy, but useful. Pure spin.
And so I wrote: ‘BBW seeks . . .’
. . . What?
A professor in something or other recently conducted experiments trying to see how people fell in love. He and his team got pairs of volunteers – strangers – to spend a few hours together telling each other intimate secrets. Then, the couples were instructed to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes for about half an hour.
The couples later reported feeling extreme closeness to each other. Some went on to get married, and are no doubt to this day gazing battily at each other over kitchen tables from Ikea.
But if that is all there is to it, wouldn’t it work for gay men and their female friends? Wouldn’t lesbians the world over be falling madly in love with barmen?
Wouldn’t we all fall in love with people who fell in love with us back?
Outside of an experiment, apart from the examples given above, you’re only likely to behave like this with someone you’re already attracted to anyway. The results are interesting, and the experiment demonstrates part of the terrible and simple chemistry that sparks the painful, euphoric, overwhelming, insanity-inducing addictive high we call love. But only one part.
No. You simply cannot manufacture anything that potent and psychotropic and beautiful and weird. It has to come at random from nature. Love is not a choice. If it was, it would make people happy. We all think it will – and sometimes it does, in bursts – but ‘passion’ translates to ‘suffering’ for a reason. In between periods of elation, we suffer horribly for the people we’re in love with. When being in love with someone settles into just loving someone, we can be happy in a normal way again.
I am not seeking love. I do not believe you can.
‘BBW seeks uncomplicated sex and recreational companionship with nice bloke,’ I wrote. Then I looked at it.
In my world, whatever that is, this sort of message is fine. if I were to go on Pink Sofa, or another site lesbians and bisexual women use, and write the same-sex equivalent of that – or indeed put a unisex equivalent on a site that included out bisexual men – no one would be confused. It is honest, everyone knows exactly what they are getting, and people who don’t fit the bill or aren’t interested would simply look elsewhere.
In the heterosexual word, however, the rules are different. Two hundred thousand years of men and women negotiating lives together have left a quite arbitrary set of rules of engagement that no one is entirely happy with. Even on a swingers’ site like Adult Matchmaker, the ‘recreational companionship’ bit of the headline would be forgotten. A ‘nice bloke’ was exactly the kind of man who would not respond to an ad like this. ‘Dickheads Only’ was more the spirit of the thing.
The problem was the word ‘sex’, I decided. I had to omit it. I felt bad about lying, but seeing as though I’d already changed ‘sardonic fat bitch’ to ‘BBW’ it would be a small lie.
So I wrote:
‘BBW for dating, fun and friendship,’ and, after giving it some thought, put a smiley at the end: ‘:)’
There remained a rather long form to fill in giving my age, date of birth, appearance and dietary preferences. The site seemed to place a strange emphasis on your star sign, which is calculated automatically. It is then highlighted in blue, and goes into your headline in the browser: ‘Single Capricorn female Olivia75’, mine read. (Reluctant to give my real name on the internet, I’d named myself ‘Olivia’ after a box of Aldi tampons.) My star sign came before my name.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. As a little quirky novelty that served a small-talk role – ‘Oh! you’re a Gemini? My mum’s a Gemini!’, that sort of thing – fine. As the deciding factor of whether you were going to roll around naked on a bed with someone or not – not fine. Were the majority of straight people really that thick? Did I want to get down and dirty with anyone stupid enough to base life decisions on what time of year they had come screaming into being?
This, too, was not part of my world.
Another problem here was that, assuming that the majority of straight people are indeed that stupid, my star sign is not one of the lovable ones. Through no fault of my own, I am a Capricorn. Crazy people who make decisions based on horoscopes have a passionate loathing for Capricorns. I don’t know why this is – it seems to be taking the game of ‘Let’s Pretend’ a little too far – but I do know that insane people (mostly girls) have yelled at me, refused to talk to me, told me awful things about my personality hitherto unknown to either them or me, and on one occasion even refused to serve me on finding out my star sign. What some evil Capricorn has done to them, I don’t know. Told them they’re full of shit, probably.
Whatever the reason was, my star sign – that odd piece of taxonomic fiction designed to be ‘just a bit of fun’ for everyone in the horoscope except Capricorns – was bound to work against me. I deliberated over what to do, sipping at my now stone-cold cup of tea. Should I change my birth date to something more attractive? More lying.
I ended up keeping it, to serve as a deterrent to the kind of moron to whom it would matter.
Next there was a long, labourious pop-psychology personality test to fill in, which got everything about me spectacularly wrong. That completed, I had only to select a photo of myself and launch myself onto the men of Perth.
The only photos I have of myself show me wearing sunglasses and pulling a peculiar face that makes me look like Shrek. I scoured my computer looking for something that didn’t make me look like a dangerous freak who lives in a swamp. I found photos of me dressed up as a zombie in a fright wig, covered in blood; pictures of me in a corset that turned my tits into footballs; a whole selection of pictures of me looking like a Fellini whore from my days in student films. Nothing suitable for a dating site.
Then, I remembered. The ugly dresses!
I chose a pic of me modelling a black dress with white spots. This outfit had caused much excitement in my heart when I first found it, as it looked exactly like the dress Kathleen Turner wears in ‘Serial Mom’.
Olivia75 was live and kicking.
I logged into the site the next day, eager to take my experiment to the next stage. Perhaps, I thought, some nice, normal guy – the kind of guy who likes his boring job and owns a dog and has barbeques and hangs out with a dumb mate from school sometimes, even though he doesn’t like him very much – will have left a message. Perhaps I would go with him on a nice, normal date for the first time in my life, not drink too much, and not have sex afterwards. He would call me the next day and go on another date, and then another one, and then if we both hadn’t died of boredom we’d finally have awkward unsatisfactory sex after the fourth date, during which we were both too embarrassed to ask for what we really wanted, and either never see each other again or end up married. Either way, at least I’d finally be able to have a drink.
There was a message that simply read:
‘What are you into?’
I checked the guy’s profile. Normal looking – not terribly attractive, not unattractive. He seemed nice enough in his bio. ‘Just looking for a girl to have fun with, no dramas’, he’d written. Not a psycho, in any case.
So I wrote:
‘Reading, writing, seeing friends, having fun. You?’ (I decided against mentioning ugly dresses, carousing, wenching, angry outbursts on public transport and vodka-fuelled Ethel Merman impersonations.)
‘I mean, what are you into sexually?’ he wrote.
Oh. Well, fair enough. Maybe our worlds were not that different.
I sent off a perfunctory shopping list.
‘Fuck that’s hot. I just came,’ he replied, never to be heard from again. The internet, I’d discovered, is populated by people who are satisfied with erotic dot points.
Slightly disheartened, I went onto the next message. This chap hadn’t even bothered to enter into an exchange with me, but had decided instead to regale me with a masturbatory fantasy about our first meeting. This culminated in a steamy session in which he did something unsavoury to my ‘erect hipples’:
‘We organize meeting place, nice quiet bar, in corner where we can chat and play together. You walk in, I give you a smile and wave, you come over and introduce ourselves, i look into your eyes, you can tell by my eyes my lust for you is enormous.I kiss you to introduce ourselves, you feel my soft lips caress your lips.We sit down and start to drink and chat, after a while, I can feel and smell your juices starting to flow, i then put my hand on your leg, slowly working my way up and down, getting closer to your pussy each time, now my hand rubbing your pussy, I can feel the warmth come from your pussy, your juices start to flow, I lean over and kiss you passionately, caressing your nipples as I rub your pussy, I can feel we all need to go some where private.We start to walk to carpark, on the way my hand is running over your ass, Im whispering in your ear how much I want to see the look in your eyes when you orgasm the first time.I ask if you would like to come with me. We start to drive, while doing this Im looking at you and telling you how horny i am to eat your pussy.My hand reaches over, starting to caress your tits, we pull up at lights, i lean over and kiss you passionately,you are now really hot to get home. We arrive at my place, we go in side and pour a drink, we sit on your couch, my bulge in my pants is obvious, I want to fuck you really badly, I ask if I can take you for a shower, then we proceed to bathroom. we get into shower, I wrap my arms around you and start to rub my hard cock against you while kissing you passionately, I slowly kiss you down you neck,gently biting and softly kissing till i arrive at your erect hipples, I caress and suck one while my hand caresses the other, I then slowly kiss you down past your belly button, You can feel my warm breath getting really close to your pussy. I stand you up, bend you down in front of me, with water running over both of us,I start to tongue your pussy from behind, licking and sucking your pussy, my nose presses up against your ass while my tongue explores the inside and out of your sweet pussy.I can feel you getting close, i start to suck your clit gently,while running my tongue all over your pussy. You orgasm in while my tongue is inside your pussy, I taste your juices, I then come up and passionately kiss you, you can taste yourself,We then get out of shower, I start to dry you off with my tongue, exploring all parts till you cant take it any more. We then hed to bedroom for some real hot steamy fun’
Appalled by the American spelling and bad sex writing in this missive (this guy definitely would have benefited from Deakin’s Bachelor of Arts: Professional Writing), not to mention the dangerously cavalier attitudes towards road safety, I replied:
‘Goodness. All this at “hello”?’
I haven’t heard back from him, either.
Unable to resist sharing, I sent this masterpiece to some friends for feedback:
‘The use of the word “pussy” is too repetitive and is “hed” to the bedroom meant to be “hedonisitic”? Two out of ten,’ replied my mate Newton.
‘Nothing like a late night loonie in the online world. I once had an email from a guy who said he would treat me like his favourite cow and call me Buttercup,’ replied a good female friend, a lovely straight girl blessed with a sense of the absurd.
Another dear friend (the author of the ‘gay bandages’ comment) cut straight to the heart of the thing:
‘. . . I love it when people just need to get out a reeeeaaallly dull “sexy” scenario to a stranger to jerk off to. I used to get people that added more sexy to it like this: i lick yr pussy…u get wet…mmmm…u cum so hard….u cum again…mmmmmm….yr gagging for it…you shout enter me!…n i enter u….mmmmmm…i fuk u so hard…mmmm…yr so hot for it. And so I like to pretend Prince spends all his time on dating sites sending people messages.’
Perhaps he does . . .