Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby…

“Nothing wears me out so, body and soul, as anger, fruitless anger…” – Josephine Butler, September 1869

Nothing gets people crankier than sex.  They’re either not getting enough, or not getting it good enough, or telling others who they can and can’t have sex with.  People pretend sex is a personal matter; however those most coy about it seem to be the most interested in the sex lives of others.  Our holy men and our politicians have a long, well-deserved reputation for being nosey bastards when it comes to sex – entire legislative acts have been devoted to governing the sex lives of others out of the bizarre belief that people women will drag entire nations into moral disrepute and economic failure should they have sex without permission and/or with someone other than a socially sanctioned partner.  Honest discourse about sex has historically been curtailed by the protestations of upper middle class white men whose entire understanding of the female sex organs fell into two categories: our clitorises either made us whores or made us hysterical.  Both were moral and medical failures we could neither challenge nor confront without being told our very indignation was supporting evidence of us either being  whores or hysterical.  What’s a girl to do?
There was a Sister in the 19th century who refused to look at women’s bodies as crime scenes on legs, brazenly walking the streets waiting to lure innocent men into disease ridden traps.  Men had long been thought to be the innocent victims of prostitution, the wounded prey of their own uncontrollable desire coupled with a surplus of tarts on the loose.  My Sister shined there, getting behind the Moral Reform Union in 1884 which petitioned Parliament to criminalize the Johns as mercilessly as they did the tarts.  But it was her work against the Contagious Diseases Acts (passed in 1864, 1866 and 1869) that leads me to champion her as the Queen of Crank.   I speak of Josephine Butler, and she had sex on her mind.
The Contagious Diseases Acts were virulently anti-female and although there were many mumbles, even some of the most courageous feminists of the time were shy of attaching their names to this cause.  Doing so would not only destroy their own reputations, but that of their husbands also.  But Josephine got cranky and began demanding that her highfalutin feminine sisters wake the fuck up and begin to recognize that all women were victimized and abused by what only a few had to suffer.  (No vapours please).
So what were the Contagious Diseases Acts?  Here’s the rub: they began as a way of stamping out the rampant spread of STI’s in Army and Navy bases in Great Britain.  (That’s our fault, right?)  The law stated that any woman even suspected of being a prostitute in areas where the CDA was in force (mostly ports and towns near army bases) could be forcibly removed from the street (“But I was just going to buy apples!”) and taken to the nearest police station for a non-consensual and invasive intimate medical examination.  If she had an STI she was immediately committed to a “Lock Hospital” (name says it all) until such a time as she was deemed “clean”.  If she was not suffering an STI, she was given a shilling and sent on her way (“You keep being a good girl now!”).  Of course her hymen had been broken by the examination, she was bleeding and no longer thinking about apples, but at least the armed forces were safe.
It was working class women who bore the brunt of this, and my Cranky Sister Josephine exposed herself to unimaginable abuse as an upper class woman championing the rights of her lower class Sisters.  Josephine Butler argued, quite rightly, that if there were any unclean women on the streets they didn’t get that way all on their lonesome.  There was a dick involved.  So either arrest and punish both guilty parties or…neither.  In 1886 and CDA was finally repealed.  But it had been a 20 year battle for Josephine Butler.  She formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1869 and her anger kept her going until she saw success.  Not pity.  Not moral indignation.  Josephine was the ultimate Cranky Sister.
Josephine Butler died on December 30th 1906.  She was 78.  She outlived a husband she adored and predeceased sons who respected her.  Josephine formed many of the strategies still now used in feminist discourse and called a spade a spade at a time when euphemism threatened to cleverly cloak some of the darkest crimes against women in history.  Her triumph over the CDA has been overlooked, as has her anger.
And so I celebrate my Cranky Sister – Josephine Elizabeth Butler (nee Grey) – born 13th April 1828, died 30th December 1906.
If I were half the woman…

This post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

No Man is a Manus Island…

Do Not Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls…
Like many others I have been deeply affected by the murder of Reza Berati (23) on Manus Island.  I have had my feelings about this death challenged by those who support the Border-Protection-Operational-Matter-Secrecy-Bullshit-Act which came into place one day when I blinked.  “He’s an illegal”; “A queue jumper”; “A rioter”; “A criminal”; “One less to have to fucking throw back” – I’ve heard it all.  And I’ve experienced the rage against me for having a different opinion.  And rage almost always is the construct of fear.
It’s not difficult to trace the origin of the fear.  Fear disguised as protection is a psychological tool that has been used by governments everywhere and throughout time.  I was living in the USA during 9/11.  I say “during” because it was not a one day event.  There was, of course, the devastating event itself – I dropped eggs on the kitchen floor and cried.  Breakfast wasn’t cooked that day.  But then there was the after, when every airport looked like a bad day in Beirut.  There were more machine guns than passengers at LAX and this was for our protection.  It was terrifying window dressing that worked a treat.  We were in imminent danger and the government was protecting us.  No one questioned.  No one asked for detailed intelligence.  And every American citizen who had dark skin, wore ethnic clothing, or was not Christian, was in danger of disappearing under the auspices of the Patriot Act.  I noticed that every time there was some questioning of procedure the little alert ladder would shoot from Green to Blue, or Blue to Orange, or Orange to Red, and we were all again convinced – we have to give up some freedoms to protect ourselves.  Or give up someone else’s.  Don’t we?
In the same way the Abbott government has demonized “Boat People”.  Boat People – the description itself dehumanizes them.  They’re not real people…they’re just “Boat People”.  And we must fear them.  Why?  They’re terrorists, and extremists, and illegals, and worse than all of that, just cheeky queue jumping money hungry bastards.  Of course they’re none of these things at all.  But fear works.  We argue against the treatment of live sheep exports more passionately than we argue about the treatment of “Boat People”.
People believe that their fear protects them.  But fear is freedom destroying when the fear itself is irrational and governmentally self-serving.  Governments that use the illusion of fear in order to control a population are diabolically self-serving: creating a fear in order to bolster ones own power and authority may be short term affective, but it is ethically heinous when people are assaulted, injured and murdered in our care.
The UN has sanctioned us.  We have made every major news outlet – including the New York Times – as a result of our scandalous treatment of people who came to us for help.  A fear mongering government is a Fascist government.  A government who designs an external threat as a unifying force for voters is very clever, and almost always short-term successful.  The problem is out there people.  Except it’s not.

The View Through Concrete…

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.  – Henry Moore  (1898 – 1986)

Having a predisposition toward over-analysis and self-flagellating internal monologues I generally avoid the siren call of reflecting upon the year that has been.  Having a personality that is hard-wired for more ups and downs than a hooker at a blowjob convention, I tend to like to leave the past in the past and run like buggary from it.   However I am going to break all my own rules (because I don’t like rules, even my own) and have a wee look back because it’s been a good year.
October 2012 saw the publication of my first novel Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press 2012), whilst 2013 saw it Shortlisted in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, Older Reader’s Category.   Well, that’s good news!  No problem having a look back at that.  It received (mostly) good reviews and came out in audio format thanks to the Association for the Blind.  It was also listed in Australian Book Review “Books of the Year”.  A lot of people were involved in bringing Creepy & Maud into being, and they took more risks than I did (I just had to write it).  Extraordinarily, they’re all still talking to me, too!
I got to talk to lots of nice people.  From my very first “Author Talk” at Christchurch Grammar School (mouth so dry tongue kept sticking to roof of mouth) all the way through to breaking into ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ in a session at the Kimberley Writers Festival, I’ve met a slew of gorgeous people and made some really good new friends.  That’s worth dragging this year into the next.
And income.  Coming from a place of excitement and gratitude for the opportunity alone, my response to my first royalty cheque was an email to my publicist which read: “I forgot this shit pays!”  And pay it did.  2013 was the first year ever I was able to nonchalantly take one of my babies to the vet without checking my bank balance first.  And for those of you who consider it gauche for me to talk about money – I am gauche.
I also received an unparalleled amount of support at my day job, a job I will never leave because I love the construction industry.  I just love it.  It fulfills me.  (She’s probably reading this).  I have taken a lot of time off this year for appearances and festivals.  This would have been impossible without my employer, Jacqui Croon-Hargrave, being as excited as I was.  You don’t take that for granted.
So thank you, all of you, who made 2013 nice to look back on.  You know who you are.  Now give me a moment to recover my cynical, moody center before the schmaltz police turn up.  And watch this space for some BIG news January 2014.
Post Script: A special shout out to my best friend, Joscelyn Evans, who once booked a hotel room for the weekend just to read one of my manuscripts.  She who has believed in me since the dawn of time must be acknowledged.

Being Naked

“She’s not wearing makeup so her face just looks like skin.” 
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke 

Due to an unanticipated complication to recent illness I haven’t been able to wear makeup for over a week.  I’m like most women of a certain age – I don’t wear a lot, but I have a look, a finish, a mask.  And I was surprised and intrigued by my own, and others, reaction to the lack of makeup.
I like makeup.  I can hide things, enhance things, and was very excited when my son first introduced me to primer.  I had to ask what it was.  He told me to think of it as polyfiller.   Done!  So when you are accustomed to having an identifiable physical face that you present to the world the consequences of leaving it behind when you leave the house can be quite extraordinary.
From inside my head I still feel like the same person, obviously.  However my reality check first hit me when I stopped for fuel on the way to work.  The console operator, whom I see several times a week, asked me if I was unwell.   I said no.  Then I remembered what I looked like.  And became immediately self-conscious about presenting my natural face in public.  I began explaining that I had no makeup on, and then why.  Even as I was doing this I became irritated.  Not at her.  But at my need to explain.
I felt naked.  I felt unfinished.  I felt…ugly.  The feelings continued throughout the days as people asked me:  Have you been crying?  Are you sick?  What’s wrong with your face?
Like most girls, I grew up believing I was ugly.  We do, you know.  We are bombarded with air-brushed, digitally enhanced bullshit from the moment we open a magazine.  Our acceptance as women in this society is diabolically tied to our being suitably coiffed, waxed, manicured, pedicured, made-up and thin.  And we buy into this not realizing at the time that we have accepted a bill of goods that does not exist within reality.
It’s like being naked in public.  People are uncomfortable.   Here’s the sadness – I’m uncomfortable too.  Every morning I look at myself in the mirror and plan how I will hide my face.
Truth is, I’m not ugly.  I was just sold a bill of goods.

Cankles And The Single Girl…

“The really frightening thing about middle age is that you know you’ll grow out of it.” – Doris Day
I’ve never had a problem with middle age.  I like it.  There’s the grey hair that has forced me blonde, the increasing girth, the hormonal chin hair that you never seem to notice until it’s flapping in the breeze threatening to take someone’s eye out, the deteriorating eyesight, and those sudden internal temperature fluctuations that I’m told are to be expected but which I firmly believe are symptomatic of burgeoning Spontaneous Human Combustion.
I’ve resigned myself to having my hips replaced, and to having to sleep with a mask on because I disturb the neighbours…on Rottnest.   I’m OK with going out for a social drink and feeling it’s been a late night…at 7.30.  I’m OK with my favourite perfume suddenly giving me a rash and no longer recognizing the back of my own hands.
None of this matters in comparison to the wonderful sense of settling into your own self, finally gaining the perspective years of dumb choices has given you, and the pleasure of having your response to the world with the odd “fuck you” accepted as eccentric and somewhat charming.   No amount of peculiar physical changes can compete with the lovely peace you find in your own company, the pride in the achievements of, and friendship with, adult children, and the sense that you’ve earned a right to be here.
However, I was not prepared for…cankles.
Not at this age!  And you know why I have cankles?  Because my arthritis medication causes fluid retention! My feet look and feel like foreign bodies.  I occasionally poke them just to watch the dimple created refill with fluid.  I feel like an Oliver Saks patient.  “These feet are not mine…”
So I’m prescribed diuretics.  They give diuretics to someone who already has to wee twice after a cup of tea.  Not to mention the failing pelvic floor muscles.  I’m going to either wet the bed or turn into June Allyson.
Keep your legs elevated as much as possible, the medical professionals tell me.  The last time someone said that to me I was wearing stilettos and a spray of perfume (the same one now giving me a rash).
I’ve never had a problem with middle age…

When Gatekeepers Meet

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen – Tommy Smothers

For those of you who follow my goings on, you will remember a post I wrote about being censored at a literary festival in 2013.  You can read that post here.  Having been a Gatekeeper myself, and wanting above all to promote and encourage communication between authors, their readers, and the people who decide what our readers can and can’t read in the YA industry, I gave the following interview to Danielle Binks about my experience…

…and what I’ve learned is:

Gatekeepers are ordinary, sensitive human beings with people to answer to.  Having been a bookseller with the keys to the kingdom and a dodgy lock before me, I know first hand that reflexive antipathy is bred in the buyer (and seller) who fears and anticipates repercussions.

I cannot write with repercussions in mind.  They don’t even occur to me.  I follow the voices in my head, who are real people to me, and my goal is to treat them, and my readers, with respect.  That’s all I can do.

I have been in communication with the festival organizer who made that decision to have my attendance at the festival dependent upon not presenting Creepy & Maud.  I like her and I respect her.  Mistakes were made , fear and indignation met, but the outcome has been a conversation that I would not otherwise have had.  I am grateful for that conversation.

The link to my interview with Danielle is below: