Author Archives: gem

About gem

Born in London, lived in the Philippines, current Melbourne-based writer.

blood and tunes and fruits not always of wombs

zine: Fruits of My Labour #3 ‘bloody oath (available from Junky Comics, Brisbane)

drink: blood orange gose (orange ale) (4.2% ABV, 355mL can) by Anderson Valley Brewing Company (California, USA)

music: Wet Lips (2017) by Wet Lips

It turns out after reading through all the possible choices of yesterday’s zine, there was an option to go perv at potential bookshops, some cool supernatural action, and kebabs after drinking and dancing despite dinner beforehand.

I’m also trying to get through my Shazam queue which is hours of songs long. It feels like forever since I got to listen to music that isn’t in my car CD player or designed to help me settle into sleep (Hildegarde von Bingen and Grouper, I’m looking at you babes). Tonight was either going to be The Slits’ Cut, but I went with Wet Lips to keep the blood/bleeding theme consistent *wink*.

Anyone that has ever menstruated has most likely experienced the following: shame, stains, not having sanitary products at hand, cramps, dejection, more shame (particularly because Catholics love that shit and think all pubescent females are dirty), and more misery.*

The flies and/or ants really have it bad for my beers: they keep flying into my bloody full glasses, grrrr. Screw it – I’m not tipping my beer this time (hoping the ABV will save me), but if I get sick then you know why. Goses (singular: gose, pronounced go-suh) are supposed to be fairly low in alcohol content but this one’s fairly hefty. And yeah, it’s sour, not really that salty and there’s a healthy presence of blood orange, in a pulp and cloudy fruit juice kind of way.

Coincidentally, Wet Lips’ first song on their self-titled album is called ‘Shame’. There’s also one called ‘Hysteria’, and one called ‘Period’. The album is over almost as fast as I can down my fly-attacked beer.

Bloody oath‘ begins with the reminder that not every woman menstruates, or has a uterus, and this is important. As also explained in my lengthy endnote below, some people will experience shame and trauma around the good ol’ Auntie Flo (who actually has an aunt Flo?!).

There’s lots of colourful illustrations, and the zine begins with a piece about how periods are portrayed in (seemingly) predominantly feminist films (Clueless, The Hot Chick, Ten Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and Juno). It does finish by mentioning that the series Broad City deliberately does not use periods to shame or as an opportunity to belittle or make fun of those who have periods. That’s kinda the show that Broad City is though, yeah? Who doesn’t want a bond like the one Abbi and Ilana have?!

Then there’s a great piece about using sponges for convenience from the viewpoint of a sex worker, but consider my mind blown! Possibly TMI but if you have PMDD, overnight pads and super tampons can only absorb so much. You will fuck up your sheets. You will be grumpy about it in the morning even if you’ve woken up every 2-3 hours to change your chosen products.

It almost makes me miss the times my body (I assume – it is a side effect, but not many people talk about it) has just stopped having periods for months, or having them sporadically because of fairly regular ECT. From experience, it’s taken about a 9-12 months for some sort of cycle regularity to return. I have also noticed that PMDD symptoms only really became obvious in the last four or so years? Not that I would’ve noticed before: too busy being chronically depressed, hehehe SIGH. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a healthy supply of self-hatred, but the way PMDD morphs my sense of self and sense of what my body is…it makes me hate being born with female reproductive parts so, so much. I start to get fantasies about ripping out my ovaries with bare hands and about how cool that would be (that is not cool – I’m just explaining how…intense the body dysmorphia can get). I don’t want biological kids, so it seems pretty bloody unfair that you can’t just up and go to your GP and beg for a hysterectomy.

The hormone drop post-birth would probably be too much for my depression. I don’t ever want to entertain the notion of not being able to care for a baby while having to convince myself to hide just how much I want to die.

No, it’s not an easy thought to sit with, but a lot of what mood disorders are are very lonely and isolating. And there are times when you’ll burn out even the most empathetic, understanding mate, lover, or family member if you voice any of these concerns. I’ve had people tell me my depression is nothing compared to the loss suffered by an acquaintance having an ectopic pregnancy. Society values reproductive-related health more over mood disorders – provided you’re reproducing, or wanting to.

So what the hell did people do before menstrual cups, synthetic sponges and Thinx underpants?! Cloth pads/rags! The next essay is about what to not do when using, preparing or laundering reusable cloth pads. God, how did people cope back then, honestly. And how ace would it be if free bleeding were socially acceptable. I get nosebleeds all the time and when they have happened in public (common), people have been freaked out and worried (I find it intensely embarrassing), but if you get period on your clothes (which admittedly leaves me mortified), it’s somehow seen as gross, or dirty.

Because this zine is Brisbane-based, there’s some info about the Brisbane Period Project and there is also one for Melbourne too! They donate products to the homeless and those who can’t afford sanitary products, and are trans-friendly. Anyone who needs their service is welcome. Also a timely reminder that thank goodness sanitary products aren’t subject to tax anymore in Australia! What the hell took so long?!

Natural, plant-based remedies were also used back before modern pharmaceutical privileges were available, and there’s a page about some of these options for pain relief, anxiety, generally encouraging the related muscles to relax the fuck down. It sounds like most of these were used as tea/infusions or as essential oils.

Last three contribs I’ll mention: there’s some great info on why folks can miss their periods (obvs, if you’re concerned about irregular or missed periods, please see a doc you trust) and are pretty certain they’re not expecting (ovarian cysts), an excellent playlist (fuck yeah!!!) for ‘music to bleed to’ (I’d like to add The Slits’ Cut and Wet Lips’ self-titled to that!), and an excerpt that acknowledges that some Indigenous and Eastern spiritual traditions treat fertility, womanhood and puberty with a sacredness and reverence we’re not exposed to today.

Bodies are amazing. They could get so many things wrong, but for the most part do a loooooooot of things well. But aliens are still not going to visit us, our minds and sense of consciousness is far too daft for them to want anything from us.

Thanks soooo much Junky Comics for recommending this as a zine to pick up/take home. Apologies to regular readers – I apparently have a lot of feelings (to lovingly borrow the line from the girl with a heavy flow and wide-set vagina in Mean Girls).


*In case you’re wondering, I wrote ‘Stain, guilt‘ about this very phenomenon. Becoming part of the menstrual clan, no matter what particular cishet white non-intersectional feminists tell you, is not a cause of celebration for some folks. Since my diagnosis with PMDD, and my cycle being made irregular post-ECT, it’s made menstruation a consistently more miserable bodily experience. I joke that it’s a pretty goregrind experience (it’s not normal to use up a months’ worth of sanitary products in a week). The only thing I’ve ever been lucky with in this regard is a high pain threshold (when I do get cramping), like go me. It’s more painful on the bra-caged boobs when they go all ‘go-go Gadget enlarge/swell’.

brexistential gothic in brunswick

I grew up in Melbourne, so you’d think I’d know not to rely on weather forecasts that are more than three days old.

Sadly, some of us are amusingly slow to get the memo, or perhaps just unusually optismistic about the wrong things. I’m catsitting for a mate, and wondering why I’m sweating buckets and why my laundry is dry as soon as it comes out of the washing machine. It’s 39 C. I’m thirty-nine. And still an idiot.

zine: Riz Ahmed Eldritch Erotica by Black Book Shoppe

drink: Australian Gothic dry hopped apricot farmhouse ale with wormwood (5.4% ABV, 355mL can) by Sailors Grave Brewing (Orbost, VIC)

music: Merrie Land (2018) by The Good, The Bad & The Queen (squee!)

There’s this series of zines called ‘Eldritch Erotica’ and they’re dedicated to men I embarrassingly hadn’t heard of till semi-recently. Actually, I had heard of Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame (thanks Shang Lun for singing the soundtrack back in good ol’ ADB days!), and recently learnt that Jason Momoa is a jerk but only seen pics of Riz Ahmed (phwoar, dishy…). Because he’s born in the UK, this zine is set in London (my birth city: its weather also being somewhat…infamous).

I’ve also saved my first listen of The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s new album (holy fuck! it’s been a bloody decade since their debut?!) Merrie Land for a proper listen. My fave community radio station had said that the album had been described as a product/example of ‘Brexistentialism’ (if you don’t know wtf is going on in the UK re. Brexit then you’re just deliberately ignoring the news) – a contrast to the debut which came out when England was all about expanding and being more connected to the north.

Of course I managed to muck up pouring the bloody beer into a glass, which I’ve had (and looooooved) before. The wormwood this time around isn’t as pronounced (to be fair, it’s been in a fridge for a fair few months) and has more of the slight sourness expected from a farmhouse ale. The first time I had it, it was a bit more floral and fragrant…which I guess was the wormwood (yep, the stuff that used to be in absinthe and made a fair few French 19th-century artists very, very unwell…).

I’m not really paying much attention to the lyrics on the album because it sounds like they’re using recorders or a recorder synth sound and it’s giving me British primary school flashbacks (in case you were wondering, they expected more from their students on the recorder than they did here in Australia. It was only really an aurally painful experience here). They also use the Welsh Male Choir in a lot of the tracks – it’s sad in a childhood flashback kind of way. I keep expecting Aled Jones to break everyone’s hearts with his ‘Walking In The Air‘ (seriously: how is The Snowman a happy Christmas experience?!?! It’s beautiful but it’s really bloody hauntingly sad – sorry, that was a long aside).

The zine. Like the Lin-Manuel one, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure and begins in London. The person you’re pretending to be is nice and awkward, and starts off with hot drinks, and autumn before progressing to tumbling in fallen leaves (I usually die or get to a dead end on the first go of these zines). The reason I love autumn in Melbourne so much is reminds me of England. It’s not too cold, it’s much easier for anyone to feign some sartorial competence, and the colours…

And it looks like I’ve spoken too soon: after an extended bout of affectionate shenanigans, Riz just vanishes?! Should I have fed the ducks in Hyde Park? Checked out the old building? I didn’t want to go shopping in the city, that’s boooooooring! Unless it’s for books…? Or clubbing, I’d just make a fool of my myself on the dancefloor, sob. I can already hear an uncle making fun of me for wearing ‘dem tum-byoy tups an’ dem dawk marten beutsss’* (I’m not taking the piss: that’s is exactly what he said to me the last time I was in England. I still have those boots, probably the longest long-term relationship I’ve ever had if you don’t count the one I have with my shrink).

Usually once I reach my second dead-end or read-through, I read all of the pages from start to finish, but the album I’m listening to is on its last track, and my beer is very, very patiently waiting for me to scarf it down.

*translation: them tomboy tops and them Doc Marten boots

massive porky pies for humankind

So many updates! Check out ‘Syntax & Salt’ for their poetry issue, because I was a guest editor; Rae White’s ‘Milk Teeth’ has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier Literary Awards 2019 (mega grats Rae! I’m saving your book to read over this holiday period!); I no longer write for Froth so not sure what I’ll tell those kiddos at work about how often adults actually want to drink alcohol…

So I apparently only binge-watch audio-visual media when I’m starting to feel 5-6/10 depressed which also means: lots of sleeping; lots of avoiding food; missing practising musical instruments regularly; not listening to music; limbs entangled around cat/s; not reading…anything. It’s really difficult to deal with that last one because even when I’m down, I still feel like I’m getting things done if I’m getting through reading material. Reading online doesn’t count, unless it’s submissions for Syntax & Salt.

Despite how consistently miserable I’ve felt the last couple of months, I’ve really, really been enjoying my not-really-new-anymore job. A couple of weeks ago, I…agreed…with a group of kids I work with regularly that adults do not drink much alcohol because we all know how bad it is for our health and relationships. I am an appalling liar: if needed, I’ll say things along the line of preferring to be quiet rather than lie (stony faces/glares work well for this kind of thing). In what I call the biggest white lie I have ever told in the potential protection of future adults, I told this same group of kids that I only drink beer twelve times a year, when reviewing beer for Froth. Yeah, yeah, big deal…IT IS, ACTUALLY.** I hate lying, because it’s easier to keep track of the truth.

Aside from the fact that the thought of physically birthing humans is real-life horror film stuff, a major motivating factor for (me personally) not having kids is that adults do have to be epic jerks and lie to them at some stage about all sorts of things. Then there’s times where being honest can break them. Then there’s times when kids aren’t as clueless as adults think we are, then there’s the genuine consideration that some of us are as mature as Alfie Wickers* even on our ‘best’ days…

Seriously, how do conscientiously procreating humans process this?! Anyway: enough freaking out. A zine review, and you bet there’s a damn beer to go with it.

zine: Rabbits & Relics by Rae White

drink: Salted Caramel Shake salted caramel milkshake IPA (6% ABV, 375mL can) by 3 Ravens (Thornbury, Melb.). Worth checking out the beer description and can design on their specialty range page.

This beer is pretty much everything excellent about being a legal-age member of society: it’s good if: you’re thirsty; you’re feeling down; you’re craving sweet things; you can’t be arsed making fancy desserts; you don’t have clean glassware; you’re not a purist about your beer styles (and shame on you if you are, but oh well, more for us plebs to enjoy!); your wife has left you; your wife won’t leave you; you have no wife; you made carbonara for the first time out of the stalest but not rotten ingredients ever because you’re poor and too lazy to get groceries…you get the idea, yeah?

I’ve lost count of how many tinnies of this 3 Ravens tipple I’ve bought, guzzled and lusted after once my supply ran dry. I deliberately left one in my fridge to match up to a zine for this series.  It’s probably best to come clean about the fact that I do not in fact imbibe alcoholic beverages on a maximum of twelve occasions per calendar year.

The beer: it’s like drinking this ever-so-slightly alcoholic, slightly bitter chocolate-vanilla drink that feels like drinking a silky cold (but made hot) chocolate beverage. It smells like an enticing candy that won’t make you feel sick because you’ve gorged on it.

I chose Rae’s zine because in just over a week, I’m mega-excited to get to participate in a poetry reading where they’ll be reading too. You might remember that Rae had a poem in the zine I reviewed in the post before this one: I got R&R at that same QPF zine fair. This zine is about ĹŚkunoshima (Rabbit Island) in Japan, an island that’s part of Hiroshima Prefecture and has live rabbits running about amidst reminders of World War II history.

As someone with mixed Asian heritage, Japan has always struck me as a culture of ‘paradox’ – within Asia, and because of its similarities to (dominant) Western attitudes. A loooong time ago, I thought my life might mean I’d end up living in Japan. Having mixed-heritage children, for instance, would have been considered a ‘pollution’ to his family line. My ex’s family liked the idea of me, but always at a distance, and as an ‘other’. He also said that deliberate cultural blindspots are accepted when it comes to WWII history and the related war atrocities in an attempt not to deal with it emotionally.

I mention this because Rae says on the first page of their zine that it exists to make sense of how confronting and striking having loads of live bunnies hopping about in a site of significance to WWII (ĹŚkunoshima’s poison gas factory which was responsible for producing what waged chemical warfare in China) oddly does make sense to my head. Not a good sense, but a sense in that the Japanese can adore cats, nature, can have better physical health that their Western counterparts…yet can be deeply misogynistic or homophobic, or ignorant of emotional well-being. What is it about neglecting emotions to a degree where it affects mental health that is common enough to be shared across several cultures (no, really, if you have answers, tell me!)?

This post turned out more somber (sober?) than expected. It’s the first one I’ve edited down to not blab on about personal history. The cricket highlights: beer is delicious especially when made to taste like sweet things even if this is a contradiction, rabbits are scarier than they initially appear, and Japan embodies this metaphorically and otherwise…

* * * * *

*okay, no one could be that immature in real life and have to be responsible for that number of minors, but the problem with having a brain is there will be many times where you will feel like this is your unintentional peak

**also told another kid that my Haiku Society membership would be revoked because I let them write haiku with three lines/6-8-6 syllables instead of the usual 5-7-5.