By Neen Chapman
I don’t really have role models. By definition, a “role model” is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. Throughout my 50 years living, I’ve always had to find my own way in the world.
Though, yes, I do admit, there was a time in the ’80s when I did try the Madonna look, oh, and a goth look for a short time, then Tank Girl, steam punk, Pretty in Pink girlie girl. In the ’90’s there was Biker girl, corsets, Marlene Dietrich suited and styled, Lipstick Lesbian. Oh dear. In the 2000s, I was mashing all different looks and styles: Betty Boop, tailored suits, more corsets, jeans and check shirts, feminine suits, masculine suits, 50s rockabilly and teeny cardis, and more. In the 2010s I wore an absolute mish-mash of style, of life, of clothing, of thinking. Eventually this wound its way into the always comfy, sharp-styled, great-haired, mostly body-proud, tattooed, curvy, gender fluid human I am today.
I’ve worn so many roles, personas, identities, and characters over the years just to fit in my own skin. To discover who I am. To test the waters of living with dissociative identity disorder and being genderfluid, bisexual+/pansexual in a world which values boy/girl, man/woman heteronormative bloody everything.
Now, I know that role models aren’t necessarily about clothes and looks, but you gotta admit the outside visual often reflects the inside thinking.
I don’t go for celebrities as in, “Wow, I wanna be like you.” I don’t even go for bisexual and pansexual, LGBTIQ activists and writers. Every single human has their own road, and their own life to traverse with all the minutiae of their life experience and their circumstance which molds them into the human they are. I can’t be them. I’m me.
The beautiful humans whom I have looked to for support, strength, and inspiration are the beautiful humans I have loved. They saw me, heard me, and were and are with me for as long as they were/are in my life. I say were because two of those beautiful humans who have influenced, loved, supported me are no longer living. I think of Mardi and Wayne every day.
Mardi Blee: we met in a shop in 1991. We worked together. We were THE tightest of friends, Girlfriends, Kismets, Soul 2 Soul (1990s band and song). We would finish each other’s sentences. Mardi knew who I was. I knew who she was. At the tiny age of 21, we saw each other and fell instantly and forever in love. Caring for each other with bonds that remain to this day, 30 years later. Well, for me anyway.
The cruelty of time. Twenty-two months, that is all we had. Mardi healed some excruciating scars and wounds, kept me laughing, was her true self with me, and I was my true self with her. We cradled each other through every day’s highs and lows and terrors and joy. You might be thinking, “What, actually, really happens in a 21/22-year-old’s life?” A lot and nothing, just life, just suddenly becoming an adult. We did it all together. We faced the world together. The self-confidence and strength Mardi Blee gave me one of the purest and most stunning gifts another human being can give.
The truth—even for everything Mardi and I had—was that she also loved a wonderful boy, and I thought I loved and ended up marrying, as it turned out, a not-so-lovely man. On the day of my wedding (yes, Mardi was my bridesmaid) on the way back from the hairdressers, I fled the car, crossed a busy four-lane highway, and sat on a park bench. My veil lightly caught the breeze, my gorgeous (fake) deep red hair was in a stunning chignon, perfect in every way. Mardi raced after me. Sat on the bench, grabbed my hands and said, “You don’t have to do this. You. Do. Not. Have. To. Do. This. We can go on the honeymoon together.”
That’s the stuff movies are made of these days in 2021.
No, we didn’t go on my honeymoon. Yes, I did get married. Thirteen weeks later on December 3rd, 1992, Mardi died of leukemia. Seven weeks from go to woe. Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia six weeks after the wedding. The chemotherapy ravaged her beautiful body until she just closed her eyes and didn’t wake up.
I have few regrets at 50, but not going on my honeymoon with Mardi is number one. I stopped speaking for over six months. “Complex grief” it would be called today. Heartbroken is what I called it then and still call it.
How are the tissues going out there?…and everyone, breathe… .Every day since then, when I’m good, when I’m sad, when I’m stressed, when I’m chilled, I think of that 22 months and attempt to live as well, as truly and as beautifully as I can, for me and for Mardi Blee.
Fast forward to 2001, yes, to Betty Boop, tailored suits, more corsets, jeans and check shirts, feminine suits, masculine suits, 50’s rockabilly and teeny cardis. Post diagnosis for Disassociative Identity Disorder, midway through seven years of therapy, at University and really needing to sort my career out. I started a new job with a computer solutions company as their state facilities and real estate manager. I’m being shown around the office, as one does, and within an hour I meet a striking man. Well dressed, a bum you could bounce a 20-cent piece off, a smile that is both seductive and cheeky. Wayne Kenny. He was walking in the door to the office; I was walking out.
Later in the day we were introduced. He said something about restyling his desk, and I said something like, “Sure silk curtains and cushions, my #1 priority.” Flashed a smile, flipped my black Betty Boop hair and, from that moment on, Wayne Kenny and I were joined at the hip.
I have never met anyone like Wayne. Arrogant, sophisticated, cheeky, gentle, soft, flawed, funny, full of pain, full of depth, full of life, and full of hope. We matched. Perfectly. Inseparable. At work, after work, socially. Wherever I went, he went; wherever he went, I went. Wayne introduced me to the LGBTIQ scene in Brisbane, Sydney, and all over the world. We had the most magnificent life. We loved each other fiercely. We protected each other; we inspired each other; we challenged each other; we supported each other; and we left each other.
Thirteen magnificent, incredible years. Some of which we were a together—in a loving relationship. Other years we were with other people and in other relationships as well as our own. It was tough on other people because we came as a pair. Wayne and I experienced and experimented with our lives together, tried recreational drugs together, introduced each other to polyamorous relationships, widened our kink together, talked about every aspect of feelings, thoughts, lives, decisions. Everything.
We were safe together. We loved each other. We supported, inspired, and taught each other. F*&k, how he taught me. He’s responsible for my move to Sydney. On the 27th of April 2004, he bought my ticket to Sydney and I’ve been here ever since. No matter where we were in the world, we were together.
Until we weren’t.
A shocking period of depression for me followed, my world falling apart, a period when Wayne was more in his own world than in ours. I was dying inside, and my everything partner was nowhere to be found. For three years I went it alone. On my own. It was good. It was evolving. Every day though, I felt like a part of me was missing. Another part of me.
We sent birthday cards, wrote notes, sent flowers. Pretended we’d be okay again. In 2017, I was told Wayne was ill. HIV. From August of that year I called; I wrote; I sent flowers…in the end I waited across the road from his apartment. (Stalker much?) We looked at each other as he drove out of the garage. I raised a hand. Tears ran down my face. He blew me a kiss and drove away.
That was nine months before my beautiful, exceptional, troubled, intense other half took his own life. We had talked on the phone, over text, in the odd card, and with flowers. Blue irises for him and tulips for me. We were to have dinner the weekend he acted on his depression. We talked the day before, arranging a time and place for the next Saturday.
And then he was gone.
Wayne and I talked openly, for all those years, about suicide, depression, our pain, our tools, and our lives. We were exactly ourselves with each other. The exceptional, the good, the bad, the ugly, the tears, the joys, the mania, the hangovers, the Eccy Tuesdays, the trauma, our families. Amongst it all was trust and love.
He is the beautiful human who taught me how to love and how to trust. Two years and five months from that life-altering, shattering moment when I learned of his decision, I have our model for living. It wasn’t perfect but by everything that I, we, hold sacred, it was bloody good.
Big “role models,” hey? Well, except the dying bit. Lives are too short. Inspiring because of that? I’m unsure. I try not to focus on the dying but on our living. Grief is my constant companion. Has been for 28 years, and even more so now, but that is, in its way, ok.
I do more. I am more. I am me. All for having those two beautiful humans, Mardi and Wayne, in my life.
Neen Chapman is Bi+ Pan and out in all aspects of life and work, 50 (how did that happen?), silver-haired, and loving being the Vice President of Sydney Bi+ Network, Founder of BOLDER, mental health awareness speaker, activist, maid to lovely kitty cats, and deeply into history, reading, geology, documentaries, art, painting, poetry, music, equality, Bi+ activism, politics, and kink.