I am slowly crawling my way out from under the semester of hell.
Hellish because I had booked myself in to teach fourteen hours per week at two different campuses. This doesn’t sound like much, except if you factor in that each face to face hour requires and additional two hours of admin/prep, and that chronic pain has prevented me from working full time for most of my life, so that a forty hour week felt like a sixty hour week would for most people.
Hellish because I started the semester feeling exhausted and in desperate need of a holiday.
Hellish because capitalism seems to be failing with centrelink, payroll and even parcel postage all coming unstuck.
Hellish because Melbourne has a 9 month cloudy winter, with only a few fleeting days of spring.
And I think I broke half way through the semester. Got sick. Used up my sick leave, swapped seminars with the other sessional tutor. Still felt sick. Dragged myself between campuses and spent my spare time lying around the flat. Thank dog the flat is warm. thank dog I discovered supermarket delivery and dial a doctor home visits. It has been a phlegmatic lacrymose season. I’ve done a lot of weeping, on buses, on trains, on trams, in front of netflix and DVDs and in my bed. Not much howling, just the wet eye stuff.
Today was sunny, and fortunately the flat owner upstairs decided to hold off on the wall demolishing that has consumed the mornings in this building lately. I spent the morning reading and writing my way through my Winnecotian demons of attachment and detachment theory before strolling down to La Playa in order to address my Vitamin D deficiency for a few hours. For a person of pallor, this involves slowly peeling back layers of loose black clothing after 4pm in order to gingerly expose parts of my legs, arms and torso to the sunlight. I keep my face and neck covered so they don’t get any more wrinkled than they are.
A gaggle of gay boys – twinkie aged and shaped gathered not too far from me, sipping pink champagne and making impromptu snapchat videos. I cackled aloud at their antics – that silly bitchy playfulness – mixed with a suburban boy loucheness as they flirted and flaunted and posed in the sand, hiding their puppy fat. I couldn’t tell how they read me – older single lady…. middle aged lady…. middle aged weirdo lady….. couldn’t tell if there was a was a ‘some old dyke’ apparent – or if my sunhat and beach basket obscured my queerness. I wonder this a lot, as I wander through the world as a single middle aged female person. I wonder as I wander, how my identity is read. I don’t think I’m doing my gender right, and I’m increasingly self conscious about not doing my class right, or my age right.
It came to me in week 11 of semester – when on a rare sunny day, I felt compelled to lie on a lawn waiting for my friend (another middle aged gaylady) to come and join me in the sun. I overheard some students walking past, loudly speculating if I had fallen out of a window – and I realised that my behaviour was unusual. It may seem unusual that I would be self conscious about my eccentricity – but I am, and I am increasingly conscious of this as I visibly age.
I have moved to a suburb where there are a lot of older single people, living in flats and not driving, but even then, the age gap between myself and who I see on public transport still feels apparent. It felt far more apparent commuting out to the suburban university where I was teaching. I think I saw only one academic on the express bus from the train station, and they were at least a decade younger than me. Times like theses it feels that catching public transport is not doing my class or my age correctly apparently, and my imaginary world of being convinced that I am ageing disgracefully in a Cosmopolis of ageing commuters like New York or Paris comes unstuck.
I read an article by a single straight woman saying that 40% of women between the ages of 25-64 are single. This probably explains why I feel surrounded by many amazing interesting single female friends. She didn’t quote the statistics for single men, but I also know a few single men too. Becoming a single person doesn’t feel as isolating as I feared it would. Possibly because i felt so isolated in my marriage. I do miss hugs, and being made breakfast in the morning. I could probably find ways to obtain both through an iphone app, or serviceseeker.com so I try not to worry too much. I really cannot see the point of dating, and enduring pointless conversations in the vague hope that they might spoon me all night and bring me breakfast in bed.If I was a few decades younger I may feel compelled to come out as ‘asexual’, but I’ve read too much Foucault, and studied too many languages (‘estar’ is not ‘es’) to feel comfortable with conflating a sensation or a preference with ontology.
However I do feel invisibly queer. And I wonder about the invisibility of single queer women. There has been so much talk of gay marriage, that the dominant stereotype of gays is as gay couples (or nubile glitterclad creatures dancing in the night). I am not genderqueer, or butch, and even though that gives me lady privileges of not being chased out of women’s toilets ladies also get merged into the sexless figure of stolid ageing femininity. I am not a femme, and don’t wish to become one, and yet my own version of androgyneity – without the firm edges of butchness gets squashed down into ladyhood. I get hailed as ‘lady’ on a regular basis: this sexless, nice, pliant, middle class and middle aged bulwark of feminine respectability. The precarity, the anxiety, the rage and the constant urge to be silly and queer don’t quite fit into this mix.
There are so many things wrong with homonormativity that this is another one to add to the list. The reduction of queerness to an additional tick box option on the mandatory capitalist lifestyle of coupledom, kids and consumerism has more shades of shit than the rainbow flag has colours.
A likely future of poverty does terrify me. although I am vaguely comforted by considering that i will not be alone. The attacks on aged welfare (increased pension surveillance and the privatisation of aged care) have hit and hurt single women the hardest. The generation of second wave feminists are being strip-mined of their homes and superannuation as I write. I’ve heard anecdotes about older women, killing themselves rather than face decades of penury and humiliation in aged care. And part of me feels drawn to this – hoping that I don’t have to live more than two more decades. Another part of me hopes that I can travel again, and have time to paint, and to live near the ground again and have a decent compost system, and to write a lot more, and to have more time to see my friends. I think I just want to be 30 again. Or maybe not. I seemed to have more dramas in my life then.
Learning how to live is hard. Part of getting older seems to be in developing the ability to tolerate more bullshit without screaming uncontrollably. I’m not sure if this is an ability I cherish. Maybe some screaming would be a good change from my lady poker face.