Monday, 25 August 2014

Fresh-faced woman

We rarely go to Russian restaurants, so it was a special occasion. Large quantities of the spacious interior were adorned with red, and as we sat there, slowly savouring the atmosphere, a band started to set up. The lead singer was a female, with shoulder-length dark brown hair and absolutely no make-up on. I remember admiring her natural skin tone, the dull shine of her eyelids, the faint pink of her lips.

"No cheating," I noted with approval. She dared to be proud of what was hers naturally. And she went on to sing one of my favourite songs, Hero by Mariah Carey. I felt a bond. I wanted to be like her. To glow in whatever ways I will under the lights, not be enhanced by artificial gloss. To have the lines on my face not be exaggerated but make whatever shapes they will. I felt like I was enough, somehow. That I didn't need to lather on lipstick to feel confident when I moved my mouth, that I didn't need three different products on my eyes to hold someone's gaze and arrest them with it.

Many's the time I've admired a made-up woman's beauty, but nothing can replace the beauty that comes about when we are bold enough to be seen as we really are. It's easy to hide behind a socially approved facade. It's the woman that dares to different that manages to promote your face, as it is, back to you, offering a sea of respite in the ocean of uniformity.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Confinement & Emancipation

"I want to capture a sense of confinement," she said, proudly surveying her work. "The veiled woman's hand is in sight, and on her fourth finger is the ring that speaks of her despair." The painting was delicate, refined and had taken much attention to detail. A quote by Baudelaire in gold accompanied the image of the woman covered in a burqa, her multi-coloured eyes pleading with the audience. Elegant arches made up the backdrop.

A decade later, she extends her hand to me. I give a cursory nod at her large diamond ring, and her gaze drifts to some point in the distance. "I can't say this doesn't mean much to me," she murmurs, and I wonder at what point she started to change into someone I couldn't relate to. Her gaze has a world-weary cruelty I haven't wanted to acknowledge for years. I can see it better now that it's not directed at me. I don't want to spend time in her company, but I feel I must.

She has become the woman in the picture - languishing in her finery, trapped by her expensive taste. She coos at and pampers a man she doesn't love. Worse, they are so mismatched that she has to pretend to return his affections at considerable strain. She intends to take a lover.

All of my friends tell me that marrying for money is just what some women do. I was given a warning that this is how things would play out when she daydreamed of a rich husband and the passionate affairs - her version of having her cake and eating it too. I assumed it was one of her darker moments. But if it was, it would swallow her up and not let go.

I couldn't stop singing, mainly because I didn't want to talk to her. Eventually I couldn't handle it anymore, and told her as much. But I couldn't let her go. I couldn't say goodbye to the person she had been, the person I made her out to be for the longest time, and the person I still wanted her to be, despite everything. The time has come to admit that I can't bring back the past. It's time to see her as she is, not in an idealised light. It's time to take ownership of the fact that, no matter how normative some might say it is, I can't reconcile lying and cheating to my code of ethics. It's time to admit that her absence has changed my life for the better, even though I sometimes miss some aspects of her personality. It's time to reward myself for speaking out against love crimes, against Stockholm syndrome, against gender norms. It's time to celebrate the identities I've created for myself as a person now that I no longer have someone trying to bend me to their unimaginative will. It's time to celebrate my freedom.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Reflections on ten years of being 'Epiphanie Bloom'

a) For better or worse, I am conspicuously named. This can lead to warm responses from the favourably inclined, distrust from those more enmeshed in the Tall Poppy societal pattern, or bemusement from those whose education didn't include the word epiphany. Either way, I rarely inspire indifference when asked to introduce myself.

b) One change demands another - at least, in theory. I would like the freedom to change my name again, and many times more - however the registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages has set a limit on this deed, and so I am forced to think very carefully about how to proceed. Earlier this year I fancied calling myself Leyla Summers, and even changed my Facebook URL accordingly. But after asking several friends to call me Leyla, I realised that I had become very attached to having an extraordinary name, and decided to leave things as they are for the time being. There is something attractively gender-neutral about Epiphanie Bloom. It's a bit camp, a bit hippy. I like it.

c) There do come days when I would give anything to not have to explain my name. I wish, at those times, I could just rattle off a common name (much like Maria was) and move on to another topic. Because introducing myself is an Event. It reveals something about me, and fills up my first impressions. Thankfully, I don't usually feel like this. Usually I'm up for demonstrating my self-determination, nonconformism and free-spirited personality. But no-one's perfect.

Why I no longer believe in astrology

When I was younger I would read about the twelve zodiac signs with great interest. I identified strongly as a Scorpio, but sometimes wished I had been born an Aquarius. However, I had Aquarius as my moon sign, which, I reasoned, was why I was so influenced by its energy. But why was it that I liked Leos so much? Weren't we supposed to be extremely incompatible?

In the end I realised that I was using these archetypes to put people in boxes, and the less I thought of people in terms of fixed personality types, the more free I was to appreciate them. I had been trying to make people less complex in our overly complex world. Once I realised this I started resisting the temptation to do natal chart for every new person in my life, and suddenly found a lot more opportunities to relate to people who would have previously been seen as 'difficult to deal with'.

Even though I never claimed to have an absolute belief in astrology, I found that its lens was a limitation I could safely do without. It turns out that I can deal with a much more complex reality than I gave myself credit for. When I stopped categorising people I gave them more freedom to move, and this resulted in improved relationships.

There are people in my life who continue to believe in astrology, and I respect their intelligence and even the kind of spiritual awareness that can lead to an interest in it, but I know that I'm happy with the new and improved me, and there's no way I'm going back.

My closest friend right now is a Leo, but I didn't even ask her about her star sign until fairly late in the relationship. And although there was a tiny part of me that was tempted to say 'Ah, I've always been drawn to Leos', I decided to leave it behind. I wasn't friends with an archetype. I was friends with a person. Where I would have once seen it as slightly problematic that she was a Leo, now I focus on the ways that the communicate effectively and help each other navigate the urban jungle of Sydney. There isn't a cosmic barrier to frown over anymore. Astrology is a social construct - a fascinating one with the potential for lots of complexity, but a social construct nevertheless. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

As feminist as it gets

Just as it's a health risk to conform to gender norms and stereotypes, it's also a health risk to be too opposed to them. In order to make a difference, I have to be engaged with society in such a way that I drink some of its poison. Otherwise they find me irrelevant.

I am not the perfect feminist. I struggle to hold on to my ideals on the best of days. It sometimes feels like my community is conspiring to keep me from being the best feminist I can be. Because I am dependent on societal texts on topics that diverge from feminism, and can't always be hyper-vigilant, I re-appropriate some of the narratives I'm at other times actively trying to find a replacement for. I need to have a place in society for the sake of safety. So I have to play the game, even if it doesn't look like I'm playing much of anything from the pov of more conservative folks. It all adds up to a lot of pressure.

I am pining for a trip to Scandinavia at the moment, but it will have to wait. I want to go back there so I can learn from "the pros" of gender equality, and bring that knowledge back with me to my not so feminist nation. I'm also aware that I'm lucky to live in a nation which ranks in the top 30 in the world for gender equality. It could be a lot worse. But even as I'm aware of my luckiness, I can't help but wish I had more access to the Nordics.

Sunday, 3 August 2014


In moving west
I have discarded the notion
That I'm much obliged
To somebody or something

I've picked up all these new mutations
Some are scary, others to my liking