Thursday, 19 July 2018

Call From Australia

This one’s a little political.

Actually, it’s almost completely political. If you have an interest in US politics, then read on…



That was an actual conversation I had with a voter in California from my living room in Melbourne 5 days before the recent California senate primary.

How is everyone? It’s been a while since my last entry, but some of you will know that I was on crutches for 9 weeks (my calf muscle was torn from my Achilles tendon). I was off work and feeling pretty down. Other than my rehab, I couldn’t really do anything active. Following the news and watching movies was pretty much it. With the Orange One in power, US politics has taken on a whole new significance. Watching The Young Turks, and following the Justice Democrats, I had donated money to all of their candidates, as they are principled and not corrupt, representing the only major cohort of candidates who might actually oppose him on policy (as opposed to being the outrage police), as they’re not owned by corporations. 

I got an email from one of the organisers from California saying that they couldn’t accept money from me as I’m not a US resident, but if I wanted to help, I could volunteer to help on the campaign. California is a little far from Australia for me to knock on doors, but they seemed very happy for me to be on their phone banking team. I thought to myself- well… I’ve got lots of free time… I’ve got hours of free international minutes that I never use.. why not? After all- there are only so many Seinfeld episodes you can watch before you start going stir crazy. [“NO SOUP FOR YOU!!!!” ]

I remember watching a Daily Show sketch about political slacktivism and thinking “you know, Victor- you’re actually as guilty of this as a lot of people”. Expressing outrage and posting memes on Facebook might make you feel better for a moment, but in effect, you’re only reinforcing the views of those who already agree with you, and further entrenching those who don’t. The invitation to phone bank was an opportunity to actually do something constructive, and elect someone who is principled enough to bring about real change to America and the world. It would beat fossilising in front of the TV, anyway. 

[Although- having said that, this one was just too good not to share; my sister was at the anti-Trump protests in London last weekend, and even despite the swearing, I have never been more proud to call London home:


The icing on the cake for me is the timekeeper in-between each chorus shouting "FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!!"]

Now, where was I...? Ah yes-

I met the candidate and her team on their web forums, and got straight into it. I would call for 2-3 hours each morning (evening their time), speaking to voters, encouraging and informing them to come out and vote for my candidate. To be honest- it was varied in terms of how receptive people were. Some people would hang up on you. Others were just not interested, and a minority were just plain rude, and it really affected some of the other members of the team. I didn’t let those episodes bother me, and sent the group some words of encouragement:




However, despite this, a lot of team members didn’t continue with the phone calls. On the other hand, some of the interactions were overwhelmingly positive. I spoke to the incumbents neighbour who couldn’t stand her, and we had a laugh and a joke about that, another voter spoke to me for about half an hour after reassuring me that he had my vote, which was great, but after a while I was thinking “umm… this is nice, but I’ve got about 3million other voters to try and call…!!”

Election day was June 5th. I was due to visit family in London the week after, but at the end of May, the team announced a celebration night on election day. Everyone on the team seemed really friendly and inclusive, so I moved my flight forward, stopping in LA that day, as it would be a great, and possibly the only, opportunity to meet the people that I’d been helping. Now, parties normally have music, so I reached out to Joe, one of the campaign staffers, to see if he would like me to perform that night, and I was pleasantly surprised that he accepted my offer. 

All of a sudden, I was on a plane to LA! I hadn’t been to LA since 2011, but I didn’t expect it to have changed very much, being an overwhelmingly Democratic state. I was still making phone calls to voters on the way to the airport, and told the guy at the car hire company about my candidate “Hey, she sounds like just the kind of person we need- sure, I’ll vote for her!” That was pretty gratifying :D

I drove to the venue before the party started, to set up the sound equipment, but what I saw on the way there was truly disturbing. There’s an area of Downtown LA called Tent City, which I had heard of before, but had never truly appreciated as a real place. It’s real. Very real. Hundreds and hundreds of homeless people living in tents in the middle of the city. I was in shock. I had never seen first world poverty like this. I couldn’t believe I was in the richest state in the richest country in the world. If ever there was a sign of massive wealth inequality, this was it. This is what this new breed of democrat is fighting against. 

I got to the party later that evening and mingled with the team. Despite the tension involved in waiting for the poll results to come in, it was a very warm atmosphere- everyone was again, very friendly and welcoming. But then, when you are all bound by the philosophy that society should provide fair and equal opportunity for everybody, that atmosphere should come as standard. Abby was the coordinator for the phone banking, and it was lovely to meet her, as well as Joe, who was still keen for me to play later on.

The candidates name was Alison Hartson. I’d seen her on TYT and was somewhat familiar with her. She was kind and attentive enough to introduce herself to me as I spoke with her staffers before continuing to do her rounds. Later on, her mother introduced herself to me, and we actually got on really, really well. After about an hour of conversation, I had to physically stop myself from saying “Wow! Your’e so cool- can you be MY mother??” [sorry, mother- no disrespect intended]
Alison joined us and I told her that I’d been making calls fro her from Australia using my american accent [I reenacted the conversation in the video above], which she was eager to hear, and impressed by. I told her that my brother and I learned acting and voices by acting out our favourite cartoons as kids- my californian accent is actually Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michaelangelo is actually my favourite, but his voice is a little too surfer-dude to be mainstream), my southern accent is Cleetus from the Simpsons, my scottish accent is Scrooge McDuck from Duck Tales, etc…

To date, I’ve only met 2 politicians. Alison Hartson and Tony Blair. I had a summer job in a government office in London as a student, and Tony Blair happened to be doing a tour as prime minister [he didn’t come to see me specifically- he would have needed an appointment for that…]. In a lot of ways, Tony Blair is pretty hip for a politician: he speaks french and plays guitar. However, even despite that, it’s very clear that he is part of an elite establishment, having gone to an expensive private school, then law school, then ascended the ranks within a political party that is supposed to represent ordinary working people. In fact, had I not spent 2 years in private school myself, I probably would have found him difficult to relate to. 
Alison was the polar opposite. While it’s clear that she’s educated (she’s an english teacher by profession), she’s very obviously a much more down to earth person that the regular voter can relate to. She’s only 37, has tattoos and a nose piercing. You simply wouldn’t place her as a politician, but then, maybe that’s exactly the reason why she should be in office: the people who are there already are largely failing on policy. And Alison has all the right policies. As part of Justice Democrats her main ethos is rejecting corporate money, enabling her to stand for policies that actually help people.

I told her that in England, I had never paid a medical bill, as we have universal healthcare, and that I never worry about getting shot, and that mainland Europe was even better, with programs like universal daycare and transparent financing of elections. America is suffering as a country, and the current administration was only going to make it worse. I couldn't believe I was telling americans how great life is outside of America.

Later in the night, as the results came in, it became clear that we weren’t going to win, and we were all disappointed, but still proud of the effort and organisation that we had made as a collective. It was a herculean task- the incumbent was deeply entrenched for over 40 years, and spent $8.5M compared to our $330K. My heart went out to Alison, as she had almost literally bankrupted herself in this effort, working 14hours a day every day for 7 months. You only do something like that if you really care about your cause. And she does. Speeches and presentations were made, and in the end, I never actually got to sing, but I didn’t mind, as I’d made some great new friends. 

I had a pretty chilled out time in LA for the next few days. Ordinarily I’d be hitting the salsa clubs every night, but that’s off limits right now. I jammed at a couple of open mic nights, playing my original songs to and with new people, which is always fun :D

I arrived in London to a family dinner with my siblings, niece and nephew. We always get on like house on fire, and it’s only a matter of minutes before the room is filled with laughter whenever we’re together.



The week in London flew by, especially with the World Cup being played- my 9 year old nephew Nathan loves football, and is actually really good at it. I took him to pick up his player of the season award for his club :D





I actually didn’t realise that one of my schoolfriends works as a doctor in Orange County, so I stopped over in LA again on the way back to see him. Hiren and I both did physics, chemistry and biology together before going to medical school, but we hadn’t seen each other in over ten years. He’s married with 4 kids, living in an amazing house in the OC- life is good for him, but he appreciates that for most people in the US, it isn’t. 50% of people make $30,000 per year or less, and 44% of homeless people have a job. It’s the land of the free. If you’re rich. I hardly saw any homeless people when I was working Bavaria last year. And the few that I did see were blatant scammers from overseas [I’m sorry- if you’re wearing nicer clothes than me, you’re not homeless…]



Of course we reminisced about all the craziness we got upto in class, and how surprised we were to have graduated given all the joking we did. We laughed so much, I think we irritated his wife a bit (sorry!). My eyes are puffy in the photo because I spent half the night wiping the tears ways from them- and we didn’t even make it on to the Simpsons quotes… 

In essence, we’re still seventeen. A part of me will always be seventeen. Actually, screw it- most of me will always be seventeen, but I think I can be serious when it’s necessary.



[but only when necessary]

June 26th saw another primary election in New York in which another Justice Democrat , Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was taking on an establishment giant, rightly known as Corrupt Joe Crowley. Alison had the idea that her team in California help out Alexandrias team in New York, and again I agreed to make calls for her. I still wasn’t able to work, as I had only just come off crutches, and was limping quite badly, so it once again made sense to use my time productively. I spent another week churning through phone numbers from my living room in Australia, again enjoying getting americans to believe that I was also american ;) New York was a little tougher, as East Coast people are nothing like as laid back as people in California- at least nobody in California swore at me “I AIN’T VOTIN’ IN NO F@#KIN’ ELECTION!!!!”. Yikes….
Again, I was on the phones for 2-3 hours a day. Abby thanked me for making so many calls, and I explained to her that I don’t see hard work as an obstacle- in fact, in a way, hard work is actually the easiest thing in the world: you have a pile of work in front of you; you do it; it’s done. There’s nothing really to figure out. What is technically difficult is strategising and figuring out a path to success- that’s what the organisers do, and I don’t envy it. I was more than happy to be a foot soldier.

Watching the poll results come in online was nerve-wracking, as it was with Alison, but Alexandria started out with a narrow lead and this grew and grew as the polls closed, and in the end, she won by 15%, which is massive. This sent shock waves through the political landscape, as she had just come from nowhere to knock out the 4th most powerful democrat in the house. This represents real change, and I was thrilled to have been a part of it. Anyone who’s played football with me at school would know that when I celebrate, I don’t hold anything back (if you thought I was running quickly BEFORE scoring the goal….), so naturally the Tardelli celebration had to be done…


[It's the most famous celebration in football]

Alexandria will probably never know that I was on her team, but to be honest, I don’t really care. I just care about progress and having principled people in power who can effect positive change both domestically and globally. I’m hoping that this is just the first step in a long line of progressive victories.

Until the next time.


Victor.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Greetings From London [And Batman]


Now, mixing politics and music can be risky- it cost John Lennon his life. However....  





How is everyone?

A few things about that- you'll probably know that I work in emergency, and the important part of that is actually caring about people, so I followed the Obamacare debate very closely, and was hugely relieved when the healthcare bill was saved. Also, what you might not know about me is that as a kid, I was a huge batfan, and still am [obviously]. One of my acting demos is of me portraying Jack Nicholsons 'Joker' from the original Michael Keaton movie, which is my favourite. You can find it on YouTube. The villains are such important parts of each movie, and give them so much character, hence why I love portraying them. At the supermarket, I got every strange looks from the woman at the next checkout counter recently, as she overheard me practising my Bane impersonation. I just kept calm and acted like it didn't happen.  

I've been in Europe for the last 2 months, both for work and to visit family. I have one brother and two sisters, and they all live in London, as do my mum and dad. I spent most of the time at my sisters place, as mum and dad were hassling me too much about not being married, and I just couldn't handle it anymore. Normally it takes about 48hours for that lecturing to begin, but this time it took just 12. I had to get out of there. No such dramas with my siblings- we all get on famously, and love each other dearly. I took my brother to the Wimbledon ladies final to watch Venus Williams, and helped my sister look after her 2 children, Nathan and Livia. As part of that help, I thought it my responsibility to teach them my favourite Bane quote, and they did pretty well:






I also had a month in Germany, doing a placement in anaesthetics. 2 of my best friends are orthopaedic surgeons in Bavaria, and so I spent some time working with them in their operating theatre. It was a great opportunity to catch up with them and do more anaesthesia. I love mainland Europe, as it's so full of history and culture, and different languages. It was quite funny- I'd introduce myself to the other members of staff, and start talking business, and then a few minutes in, they'd ask me "Wait- how come you're speaking german???". "Oh- I just studied it myself". I'd respond.

No-one cared who I was until I put on the mask....


I remember backpacking around Germany years ago, and I was having lunch in my youth hostel, talking to a girl from Switzerland, and she said to me "Your german's pretty good- where are you from?" "I'm from England" I said. "Well, in that case, it's AMAZING!!" English people are notoriously terrible at languages, so completely understood where she was coming from.  

The town in Bavaria -Erlangen, has an annual ball to celebrate the founding of its university, which is quite a big outdoor dress affair. My friend Lutz asked me if I had a suit, which I didn't, so he directed me to where I could hire one. I called and asked what colours they had. They said black and grey. "Hmm...." I thought. "You wouldn't happen to have purple, would you...?". As it happened, they did, in the form of a pirate outfit, which they modified for me, and everyone at the ball loved it- I was having my picture taken with lots of random people throughout the night. It was still a suit- just the coolest suit in the place.  

Always dress just a little cooler than everyone else....


In the middle of my placement, there was a work conference in Berlin, and I stayed with my friends parents for the week, and as a thank you, I performed a house concert for them, which they loved. I stayed with them ten years ago, and at the time, I'd never even had a guitar lesson, so for them it was a huge surprise. I love small concerts because you get to sit close to the audience, and people listen very attentively. As you know, each of my songs is a story from diary, and I get to share that with people. It's a much more fulfilling experience than playing a large venue when you're far from the audience, and you can't get much closer to someone than being in their living room.

Heading back from Berlin, I remembered that one of my old salsa friends from Wellington, NZ now lives in Germany with his wife who lured him back there. Ramnish and I would always have a great time on the dance floor at many salsa congresses, and we hadn't seen each other for 7 years. What was even stranger was that we'd never spoken german to each other until that point, but it was awesome to catch up again. He and his wife run a salsa school in a small town [Braunschweig] not far from Berlin, and we had a fun night out dancing with his students and other friends :D

Wellington salsa never dies :D


At the end of my placement, I got a random message from my old housemate from Manly, James, who is on a 2 year world trip, and happened to be in Europe at the time, so we decided to meet up in Italy- Venice, to be exact. It was actually the worst time of year to be there, as we found that the summers are perilously hot, but it was still great to catch up with a good friend in a spectacularly beautiful city.

The tour guide called this statue her 'boyfriend'. Concerning....?



Getting back to London, it was a heartwarming surprise to hear how much my niece and nephew loved my last CD. In particular, they love the title track 'This Game':



 I'm back at work now, but look forward to writing and recording my next album at the end of the year, if you'd like to join me on the journey.



Until the next time.  

Victor.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Trump vs Refugees


I don't know about you, but it's only been 6 days, and I'm exhausted. Keeping up with the chilling actions of the new US administration is both tiring and frightening. Journalists in jail, finding cut for womens health, cuts to the violence against women program, contraception defunded, banning immigrants from muslim countries, scientific researches banned from publishing anything that doesn't fit the governments agenda [read: climate change, effects of marijuhana, effects of guns on violence....], recommencing of building oil pipelines through sacred native american land, cuts to the civil rights division, and the list goes on and on......

As well as every possible civil liberty being threatened, here, one thing really struck a chord with me, and that was the complete suspension of the taking in of refugees. Those of you who've been following me for a while will know that when I first started singing for money in 2011, I nominated the UNHCR, United Nations Humanitarian Commission for Refugees as my official charity, and that any money I made from music, I'd give to them, as I was moved by the work that they do particularly in Rwanda, but also worldwide.

 In the lead-up to the US election last year, I heard a republican senator say that the USA shouldn't take refugees from Syria because of what they 'might be scared of'. "WHAT?????" I thought to myself. 200,000 people have died, and he said that they 'might be scared'.  This inhumanity absolutely made my blood boil. In response, I made this:  
I'm sure you're outraged by Trump, not only for being the person that he is, but also that these regressive policies are certain to harm so many people, including refugees. However, refugees aren't fed or sheltered by outrage. Only aid can do that. And aid can only be brought to them by people who are prepared to take action. As stated in the video, the action I'm asking you to take is to buy this CD, as the proceeds will be going to help those same refugees that Trump and his cronies are abandoning.

For us, it's not a lot of money, but each CD sale can give a weeks food for one person, or vaccinate an entire class of children. You can get yours here: www.victorsteele.com/v-factor I don't usually mention this charity when I talk about my music, as I don't want to seem too coercive in trying to get people to buy it. However, I don't think our generation has seen times like this before, and so I think it vital that I make it an issue and ask you to take some action for the benefit of those less fortunate than ourselves, while getting 6 great songs for your own enjoyment.  

As a great man once said: you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you didn't know.  

Thanks,  

Victor.  


The link, again, is here: www.victorsteele.com/v-factor

Melbourne

Melbourne

India

India

Monday, 29 February 2016

Exams

Fourth year med school.
OSCE [objective structured  clinical examination].

Max and I were practising one of the many role play scenarios that could come up in the exam. This one was post-natal depression. He was playing the doctor. I was playing the patient.

Him: do you ever worry that you might harm your child?

Me: I don't know.... it just won't stop crying, and sometimes I just don't know what to do...

Him: do you have any hobbies or interests that can take your mind off it for a while?

Me: well.... I used to love playing tennis, but I just don't feel like it anymore....

Him: what about your intimate relationship with your partner? Is that OK?

Me: well... My husband and I used to be quite active, but I just don't feel the desire anymore. And besides- I've just given birth. I probably shouldn't be having sex, anyway....

Him:

[looks at me quizzically]

[shrugs his shoulders]





He suggested an alternative.



Now, I won't say what that alternative was, but I'm pretty sure you can guess. Needless to say, I was laughing so much I could no longer continue with the study session.

To be fair to Max, we had done so many practise sessions that we were both starting to get a bit delirious. But even so, I wasn't ready for that.

Max, man- you kill me. You take out a knife and kill me.

That was a tough year for the two of us, but through our extensive preparation, we actually bonded very strongly, and it's one of the main reasons we're as good friends as we are today. My approach to exams has always been very structured and methodical. I really don't like taking risks with exams. My ethos has always been: there's a syllabus. So learn the syllabus. At age 15 for my GCSEs, I came up with a revision timetable for myself. It took 2 weeks to make, and detailed my intended subject matter every day for the 4 months leading upto the exams. My good friend and bandmate, Munawar did something similar, and we collaborated to make timetables for the other boys in the year, selling them for 5pounds each. Almost none of them actually used them. But we did. And we got straight As.

Max was more than happy to come with me on my journey, and to the table, he brought a wealth of exam experience, having already qualified as a dentist, and then doing a medical degree en route to becoming a maxillo-facial surgeon. The symbiosis worked very well. We passed the exam with ease.

Within the constraints of getting the work done, I'm very serious. But when there's room, my inner child comes shining through, and to be honest, my inner child isn't very inner. He runs very close to the surface, and sometimes it takes a lot of conscious effort to keep him under control. However, it's because of that that during the lead up to those exams, Max and I laughed more than we'd laughed in a long time. It's something I've noticed repeatedly among a lot of my close friends. Max knows that around me, he can act like a child and still look like an adult in comparison. He knows I won't judge him. Which is why he can make jokes like the one above. Nobody else believes me when I tell them, though.

Being a kid is important. No matter how old you get, or how serious life becomes, don't ever stop being a kid.



How is everyone?



A few editions ago, I made reference to a written exam I had just done, and was waiting for results for. This was the written component of the fellowship of emergency medicine, which entitles you to become a consultant. I actually took 6 months off full time work, and was doing brief contracts to stay afloat financially, as well as keep in touch with clinical medicine while studying. It was a tough time leading up to it, as in emergency medicine, you see literally everything, and there's no limit to how much detail you can go into any one particular area. It took a lot of self discipline to study each subspecialty to a depth that I thought was reasonable before moving on to the next one.

There was a pre-set timetable of mock exams organised by the college in the build-up [NSW Fellowship Course], which I attended, and actually caught up with some former colleagues from a previous hospital. Most peoples performance was highly variable, with emotions soaring and plummeting at high frequency. Some of my former colleagues had been doing that same exam twice a year since I started advanced training four years before. And they still hadn't passed it. These are smart people. I looked at them and thought "Victor- people smarter than you fail this exam. What hope do you have?". Which didn't do anything for my confidence at all. However, by the same logic, I could reasonably argue that people less smart than me pass the exam. Clearly there's more to this than being good at medicine.

I just kept plugging away, trying not to get too phased if any one particular exam or question didn't go too well. The strange thing was, though, that the study wasn't the hardest thing about it all. This was the first exam since the age of 22 that I've done while being single. The loneliness was crippling. I hated it. I really hated it. I went to Wellington in NZ for a couple of days for the salsa congress where I saw a lot of my old friends. They're like a family to me. On the final night I was almost tearful, as I knew I'd have to get back to studying again.

The thing I tell myself to keep myself going during prolonged study periods is 'It's not forever, and it's not for nothing'. If either of those were to change, then I simply wouldn't do it.

Exam day came, and I wasn't actually that nervous. I'd done all I could reasonably do. It was just a case of getting through the day. Two 3-hour papers with lunch break in between. The morning paper was free response, and the afternoon paper was MCQs. The first was incredibly pressured, with a great need to answer as quickly as possible, as running out of time was a very real danger. Maintaining that level of concentration for 3 hours straight was really draining, and it took all the endurance I had.
There were thirty questions in total, and for 3 of them, I specifically remember turning the page and thinking

"What....

the....

[expletive]????"

I have never heard of this thing in my entire life.

OK.

Keep it together. Think logically, act sensibly. Do what a reasonable person would do in this scenario and move on to the next question. Don't let it affect the rest of the exam.

Afterwards, I spoke to the other candidates and asked them "Had you even heard of that????" Thankfully almost none of them had, which made me feel a lot less like a sheep. Retrospectively, though, work life in emergency is like that: you can get presented with the most random things. You can't know everything, and you definitely can't have experienced everything. You need to be dynamic and flexible, and handle unfamiliar situations with a sensible approach. I guess this is what they were testing here. Not so much the medical science. They wanted to see who would keep it together, and who would crumble. Some people do crumble. Thankfully, I didn't. But whether or not that would affect the outcome, I would have no idea.

The afternoon MCQs were much less pressured time wise, and even if they weren't I've done so many for my US exams and MRCP [UK] that I think I would have handled them reasonably well, anyway. The questions were very broad, and I found myself thinking right back to medical school to answer some of them. I came out of that one feeling nothing like as traumatised as the morning exam.

My brain was fried by the end of the day. I took the ferry back to Manly and took a friend out to dinner to have a very quiet celebration of  it all being over.

It was a 6 week wait for the results, but I wasn't going to stress about it. It wouldn't make any difference. It takes a couple of weeks at least to recover from these exams, so I was just focussing on getting as much rest as possible.

The announcement would come  via an emailed link to the colleges website with a list of candidate numbers. They were 2 days late with it, which made everyone quite anxious. It was a Wednesday morning. I was on duty in the intensive care unit in Wollongong [the greatest job in medicine, by the way], but got permission to sneak back to the doctors residence to check on my computer, as the site is not mobile friendly.

I clicked the link. It took me to a page titled "The following candidates have successfully completed the written component of the fellowship examination 2015.2:".

Then there was a list of numbers in single file.

I scrolled down.

My heart was pounding.

They appeared to be in numerical order [which was nice of them].

My eyes started watering, which didn't help.

I saw my number.


I lost it.

I was literally out of control. I completely lost it- I was jumping up and down and screaming and shouting. I made that scene from When Harry Met Sally look like a minor disturbance. I just went mental.

I couldn't believe it.

I cried.

You may have seen the Facebook status:


I ran into the intensive care unit with my arms in the air, and my colleagues gave me very warm congratulations- they all expected me to pass, although I wasn't quite so sure. 

Anyway- that ugliness is behind me forever. I will never do another written exam as long as I live. However, it's not quite over yet. There's still the matter of the practical exam [OSCE] this May. I can't prepare for this by myself, though- I need a practise partner. 

Now, where's Max...?



Victor.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Lesbians

I was home visiting family during the Olympics in London, and had an incredible time doing so. My parents were up in Cambridge at the time, and all my siblings and I were there with them on Super Saturday. My sister, Hilda, brought along her 2 kids. After the athletics, there was the commentary on the womens football. The 2 commentators were clearly 2 women in a same-sex relationship.

My 4 year old nephew, Nathan, pointed to one of them and asked "Mummy- why does that woman have hair like a man?"

I smiled, and patted him on the head and said "That's because she's a lesbia-"

"VICTOR!!!!!!" my sister screamed.

"What?? He's 4 years old! He'll have to learn at some point!"

In truth, I knew it was completely inappropriate [but not altogether harmful], which is why I said it. My sister shouldn't have been that surprised. I did tell him when he was 2 that his daycare teacher were bastards....
Later that night I was playing him some songs on my guitar. My sister poked her head through the door and asked "You're not telling him about lesbians or anything, are you??!!??"
"No- just playing him some of my music..."
"Good!" She said. She turned away, and as she was walking, I heard her mutter "Bloody clueless...!!"

How is everyone?

I remember as a teenager being really scared of lesbians because I thought that all lesbians hated men. I'm really not sure where this belief came from. Part of it must have been my single sex education, and being a relative academic recluse, meaning that I didn't know many girls at all, let alone girls who were gay. The weird thing is, with life and experience, and subsequently growing a brain, I actually found that, far from having anything to fear, if anything, I actually tend to get on better with gay women than straight ones. Particularly when you talk about relationships. They have an insight into aspects of life as a straight male that straight women don't, and a very vocal minority refuse to even try to understand, or even acknowledge. They get it.

If you remember one of my entries from a few years ago, I was on a date with 'Gillian', when she told me that a man who was afraid to approach a woman was probably really weak, and a poor partner, and that she'd have no problem approaching a man she was interested in, despite never having done it.  I asked her to approach a man at a nearby table. She nearly cried. I didn't mean to crush her like that, but her ignorance and lack of insight were really getting to me. I've never had such crazy logic come from a lesbian. Lesbians know, from first hand experience, that if everyone sits around doing nothing, nothing happens. And that if you want to have relationships with women, you'll generally have to do something.

They get it.

They know that the process of getting a woman to go out with you isn't the social equivalent of taking a can of beans off the shelf at the supermarket. One of my capoeira teammates came into my ED one day having hurt her elbow. She's a very attractive girl. I had previously asked her out, but she politely declined. One of the nurses said to me "She's hot- why don't you go out with her?" I looked at her and replied "Um.... because she has free will....?".
Lesbians know that the process of taking a woman from being a complete stranger to someone willing to give up several hours of their free time to spend with you in a romantic context is horrendously complex and fraught with obstacles, because they have to do it.

They get it.

Remember my story and song 'Beautiful Thing'? It's about meeting 'Freda' in Melbourne, and finding that we both lived near each other in Sydney. As well as one of the most beautiful women I've ever met, she was also one of the smartest, and nicest, and most suited to me. If she didn't have to leave the country for study, I'm pretty sure we'd be married by now. I got a phone call recently from a senior female doctor near me who found the story and proceeded to lecture me on how badly I treated that woman, and that my mother would be ashamed of me, and that this was exactly the kind of sexist behaviour that she wants to eradicate from the country, and that no woman in the world would employ me if they read it.

I saw a woman I admired. I said hello. We got on well. We formed a relationship. That makes me sexist.

Wow.

It's not the first time I've had a straight woman tell me that admiring a woman constitutes a form of disrespect, but it was the fiercest and most involved. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I've never had such craziness come from a lesbian. Lesbians know that admiration between individuals [whoever you happen to be attracted to] is normal. It's natural. It's part of who we are as human beings. Lesbians admire women- it's not disrespectful. How you act towards that woman may be disrespectful if you choose it to be, but if you're a socially balanced person, and treat people the way you would like to be treated, then it usually won't be.

They get it.

I have 2 good lesbian friends. One come over with her girlfriend for dinner recently, and we shared stories about online dating, and had a raucous time- they loved my stories. Including the Tinder story that I won't publish.

Ever.

Ever.

At the end of our story-sharing, she looked at me and said "Women are crazy". As a blanket statement, I don't think she meant it absolutely, - she and her girlfriend are very much in love, and we both have wonderful straight female friends who are far from crazy. However, experience shows that you never have to look for crazy women. They will find you. And with no undue delay. Lesbians get that.

Go lesbians.

You rock.


On a complete tangent, I'm sad to say that  friend of mine died recently. She is one of my salsa friends from Wellington in NZ, and it was so saddening to hear that she's gone now. She had complications from surgery. It might surprise you to know that, as one of my regular dance partners, she's actually in her late 70s. Rae was the first person I danced with in Wellington. I met her the same night that I met Rachel at Latinos when my rugby team went to play a 7s tournament in Wellington. It was February 4th 2005. My team mates went out drinking, and I went out to dance. Latinos Bar was pretty quiet early in the night. They had DJ music playing before the band came on later on. I noticed an older lady doing the basic step by herself, and thought 'hang on- she looks like she can dance...'. I asked her to dance, and she gladly accepted, and despite being 45 years older than me, she moved really well, and I didn't have to tone it down at all. We were the only people dancing at the time, so we had several dances. However, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a table of younger people [I assume just at the venue to drink] looking at me and laughing, presumably because I was dancing with a woman 3 times my age. I didn't say anything to them, but I pitied them greatly for their ignorance and thought to myself "You sad, sad idiots. You clearly don't get this."

Myself, Adrian, Sonia and Rae at NZ Salsa Congress 2015


I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain to people that salsa isn't about getting your rocks off with the person you're dancing with. Like all dances, it's about musical interpretation and expression, and connecting socially through that. I dance with my sister and my mother the same way I would dance with any other woman. The current world champions are brother and sister. I'm pretty sure they're not getting their rocks off together behind the scenes...

There's a lot of physical contact involved in salsa, but it's through that that you learn a lot of social skills that you cannot learn from solo dances. Or drinking. Firstly, touch need not, and usually is not sexual in its intention. As a male, you learn how and where to touch a woman in a respectful fashion that doesn't overstep boundaries or creep her out. As a female, you learn how to set boundaries as to the kind of physical contact you are prepared to accept, and know that you always have the option to walk away from a situation that you are not comfortable with. Also, as a male, you learn how to lead an interaction with a woman without controlling her or being domineering. You propose a step, and it's her choice as to whether or not she accepts. But if you're nice about it, she usually will. I think these are very valuable life skills, and when I go out in non-salsa environments, I frequently see that a lot of people don't have these.

In the 11 years since we met, I've seen Rae at every salsa congress in Australia and New Zealand that I've been to. We dance every single time, and she puts a lot of younger women to shame. Next year will be the first time I'll be at a congress without her, and I'll miss her terribly, as will the rest of our salsa family.

Salsa kept Rae smiling right to the end. There's an energy and positivity about it, to the point where, in a salsa club, it's often very difficult to tell how old people are because we're all so joyful.

When I was working at the trauma hospital, about 3 weeks into my time there, one of the domestic staff came upto me and said "You're not like the other doctors here."
"What do you mean...?" I asked.
"You smile a lot" He replied.

I do. No matter what happens in medicine. I will always have this, and I will always do this. It's just in my blood now. The title song on my new CD is a salsa track. The video tells the story.



Until the next time.

Victor.