PrefaceIn 1997, psychologists Arthur and Elise Aron and their collaborators published a paper titled “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”. Their results demonstrated that by having pairs of people answer a series of increasingly revealing questions about themselves, they would feel measurably closer to each other. Since then, the questions from their study have found their way into the popular imagination, usually branded something like "the 36 questions that lead to love"
Even if it’s quite different from the Arons’ original experiment, over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to put my answers to these questions out into the world, as an exercise in openness, connection, vulnerability, and human-ness. I invite you to respond with your own answers too, to my "love letters to humanity".
|photo: Lina Kivaka|
Question 1: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?I originally answered this in a live video that you can watch here. I later extended my answer here.
I think of myself as having a really broad range of interests in the arts and sciences, and this question is not an easy one! It’s made harder because so many of the people I’d love as a dinner guest are no longer with us, and I interpret the question to mean people currently living.
So, after some deliberation, I would choose:
astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who flew on the first human expedition to the surface of the Moon, and who became the second human to actually walk on the Moon. Today, 50 years later, he is one of only four people still living (out of twelve) who have had that experience.
I have followed the accounts of the pioneering astronauts from the time I was a young child, and find the story of the moon landings to be an intoxicating mixture of technology and fancy. I believe that the Apollo program was our greatest technical achievement as a species and am saddened that no human has walked on the Moon since 1972. From their writings and interviews, I know that the people who flew to the moon or walked on its surface found the experience to be a profound one. And I would love to hear about it, personally, one-on-one from such a person.
Here’s something else about me.
In 2015, Aldrin, a life-long hero to me, made a rare visit to Australia on a speaking tour. My home city of Brisbane wasn’t on the itinerary, but he did visit Sydney.
And I didn’t go.
Why not? It was simply too hard for me to get there. You see, at the time, I had a fear of air travel that was so powerful that Sydney was inaccessible by air, and the road and rail options, plus accommodation, were too expensive in terms of both the time and the money available to me. A trip to Sydney and back would have been a three-day trip for me; ironically, the same amount of time it would take to fly one-way to the Moon.
Why was I so fearful of air travel? It’s not the flying; I love the flying! It’s the airport security checkpoints. I have a massive fear and mistrust of authority figures, and also regularly deal with body image issues.
How does body image impact on my ability to fly? I live with body dymorphia. One of the ways that manifests for me is that I am terrified of people whom I don’t trust really really well touching my body. Therefore, the possibility of being patted down at an airport is an extremely alarming thought.
With the help of my amazing psychologist, I have made enormous progress on this over the last year. But as recently as nine months ago, needing to travel internationally for work, I arrived at the airport with the “exit strategy” in mind that if someone I didn’t trust was requiring me to get patted down, I would simply turn around and leave the airport, and never mind forfeiting the airfare.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, and since then, I have made five more flights. My anxiety around this is now substantially reduced, but the thought of having my body touched by a stranger is still extremely stressful for me.
To this day, when I fly, I wear skin-tight clothes, typically a thin activewear top with no sleeves or back, and tights with large mesh panels in them. I wear only flip-flops on my feet and carry nothing onto the aircraft that I can’t carry openly in my hands. I make sure there’s no metal anywhere on my body, even my wedding ring.
|Ready to get on the plane!|
And then, because of the way fear works, I start to worry if my unconventional presentation itself might attract suspicion. And I very nearly didn’t post these details in this blog because I’m now worried about who might read it, and whether this might now get me flagged for special attention somehow.
So... let me step deeper into my fear and vulnerability and tell one more story.
I did nearly get patted down at an airport.
Wearing attire similar to what’s pictured, I was selected to walk through the X-ray machine at an international airport. The machine came up with an anomaly on my upper back, which would now require a patdown.
Fortunately, this is a scenario I had discussed at length with my psychologist. I had come prepared with a letter from her that explained my anxiety at being touched by strangers and that explained that although I might appear nervous, I was going to comply with what was required of me. Using a soft, calm voice, and deliberately non-threatening body language, I quietly agreed to the pat-down and requested two things I knew I could ask for in that jurisdiction: a private screening room, and a female officer to pat me down.
The situation remained calm and did not escalate, and before the security officer could arrange those things for me, a higher-ranking officer waved me through on the grounds that it was quite obvious there was nothing on my back, since it wasn’t even covered by clothing.
The experience of having managed that situation and remaining in control of my fear was profound, and vastly increased my confidence on subsequent flights.
I’m not sure that I’m confident enough yet to fly in heavier (and warmer!) clothing, or to wear my jewellery, or carry a bag onto the aircraft. But if Buzz Aldrin were speaking in Sydney again, I would definitely be on a flight down. Small steps...