Changes The Podcast

All episodes available for streaming on

 View All  

Changes: Deborah Frances-White

The audio version of this episode is available here.

Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes. It's Annie here, great to have you with us. And this week we are celebrating International Women's Day. We thought no better international woman to get involved on Changes than Deborah Frances White. Deborah is a bestselling author, screenwriter, comedian, and host of the hugely successful and award winning podcast The Guilty Feminist. Growing up in Australia as part of a restrictive Jehovah's Witness community, Deborah describes her teenage years as being controlled by a male cult. This experience steered her towards comedy and feminism, and ultimately led her to establish The Guilty Feminist, a community of women fighting for change. Deborah, you are our kind of ultimate guest to have on Changes. Thanks so much for being here. 

Deborah [00:00:51] That's incredibly kind, given you've had Idris Elba *Annie laughs* and I- I love hearing I'm more ultimate that Idris, and that's only fitting during International Women's Day week- 

Annie [00:01:02] Well! 

Deborah [00:01:02] Month. Well, it's really not a day anymore is it? It's a day, week, month now. 

Annie [00:01:06] I was going to ask you about that. What are your feelings on International Women's Day? I wish you could see Deborah's face by the way, when I said that *Deborah laughs*, *laughing* it was great! 

Deborah [00:01:16] It's lovely to have a day, but I get rather exhausted because I- because I'm known for The Guilty Feminist and so I'm known for sort of feminism, comedy, It's like feminist Christmas, I have to be everywhere at once *Annie laughs*, and I have to do about ten events on the same day- 

Annie [00:01:28] So you are feminist santa? 

Deborah [00:01:28] Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm sure there's lots of feminist santas *Annie laughs* much the way there are lots of Christmas santas. 

Annie [00:01:33] Yes. 

Deborah [00:01:33] I'm a shopping centre feminist santa, erm but I don't know how men cope with having all the other days, to be honest with you, because it's very tiring *Annie laughs* just having one. I mean, I guess on the average Wednesday, men have to get up and have to to a book- a book launch about how difficult it is to be a *Annie laughs* man and men's issues and men's this and men's that. They must be exhausted, is all I can say, because one day is enough for me. 

Annie [00:01:58] *Laughs* Can I ask you for those who are new to the concept of guilty feminism, what is it? What is a guilty feminist? 

Deborah [00:02:06] Erm well, I was so in admiration of all the feminists in my eyeline, in the public eye, but they all seemed so sure! And so strident and excellent at it. And I thought, well, I really, definitely want to be part of this. I feel this very strongly, the inequality and- but I thought, I'm not sure I'm very good at this! And I think I just realised that feminism *laughs* had become another thing to feel guilty about. So I thought, what if I said 'I'm a feminist but-' and confessed. And so the opening is- it's a bit like a sort of feminist confessional where we do these one liners and we have to confess something true. So one of my earliest ones, which is a sort of classic, is 'I'm a feminist but, one time I was on a women's rights march and I popped into a department store to use the loo, and I got distracted trying out face cream, and when I came out the march was gone' *Annie laughs*. So I confess this thinking, oh my God, I'm getting kicked out of the feminist club, and so many women got in touch to go, 'oh my God, I've left a march'. 'We stopped into the pub to have a quick, quick drink and we were absolutely going to go back out and we never did'. And I think so many people are like, oh my God, thank God someone else has said it. Because many, many, many people went, 'oh my God, I also have those feelings'. That I planned to read the book about the suffragettes and in fact, watched four hours of Say Yes To The Dress *Annie laughs*. And it's really helped me, I think, over the years become a much better feminist because I set out to learn, not to be good. And I've just come to the conclusion you don't have to be perfect to be a force for meaningful change. And that's a good thing, because none of us are perfect. 

Annie [00:03:39] Exactly. And it's so inclusive immediately, it just makes everyone feel at ease. Since you started Guilty Feminist, how do you think feminism has changed? 

Deborah [00:03:50] It's changed so enormously in the time that I started it, and it was such a short time ago. So it started December 2015. So it really kind of took off in 2016, 2017. Well, that was all before the MeToo movement. The head of steam that came about in 2018, and the shifts in the public perception about what feminism is and who's entitled to a piece, and then again, the more recent backlash with the kind of Andrew Tate of it all, of you know, you know, you're taking something from us and the polarisation that's happened since, it's quite a different landscape from the one I started it in. 

Annie [00:04:27] And is it a landscape that you think is encouraging or less encouraging than when you started? 

Deborah [00:04:36] umm... I think it's both more and less *Annie humms*. Of course Roe vs Wade was overturned in America, which means that there is no automatic right to an abortion and in some states it is in fact illegal. Do you know what I think? I think that's the empire striking back because we're making moves, because the rebellion is working *Annie laughs*. And when the rebellion is working, the empire always strikes back so it's a good sign. When they're just happy with the status quo, you know you're not making any progress. On the other hand, the empire is striking back with a force, there are rabbit holes on the internet down which people can be radicalised very, very quickly and I fear that that is that is happening. And we need more conversations- I'm writing a book at the moment called Six Conversations We're Scared To Have, that will be out in spring next year now, but it's about polarisation, about conversations we can't have, about ways forward, ways that I think we're being manipulated on the internet to break apart. This kind of convergent thinking where we all have to think the same thing, and if we don't think exactly the same thing we tell on each other or we harass each other- of course there are hard lines for everybody but there are lots of things within that where we have lost the art of plurality and divergent thinking. And I think I am very aware of that because when I was younger, I was in a cult. And so this is partly what the the book is about. 

Annie [00:06:03] So you've witnessed firsthand how people can kind of homogenise an ideology or a way of thinking and follow each other. Let's get into change then, so you mentioned you're in a cult and you talked about this as your big childhood change, how old were you when this happened? 

Deborah [00:06:22] 14. 

Annie [00:06:23] What changed for you upon joining the Jehovah's Witness, upon your family joining them, how did you have to adapt? 

Deborah [00:06:30] Well, in every conceivable way. So I had a pretty, you know, quote unquote standard, whatever that means, childhood growing up in Australia. And the cult, the Jehovah's Witnesses, I think a good definition of a cult is any group that won't let you leave with your dignity intact. And they won't. It's a very, very, very patriarchal religion, to the point that a woman has never made a decision in the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses, not once. Not even when your local Kingdom Hall is cleaned, is decided by a woman. 

Annie [00:07:04] Wow. 

Deborah [00:07:04] Not even a secretarial duties. Nothing. Nothing. It's worse than, you know, being in Edwardian England. That narrative means that women can't advance in any way in the religion and are always being told you're a second class citizen, and you're very controlled by- very controlled by men. I was 14, you know, I just missed out on all my developmental years. I didn't sexually develop, I didn't come into my own, you know, like I- when I left school I got very brainwashed by it very quickly and I was a really good student, so I got into the university of my choice but I was told on the evening of my baptism- I was 16 when I got baptised, I was a minor, that I wouldn't be allowed to go to university. So although I got in, I couldn't go. 

Annie [00:07:49] And how did that make you feel at the time? 

Deborah [00:07:51] Oh, I was devastated, and I argued and argued and argued that I should go. It wasn't technically against the rules, but it was strongly advised against. And then the eldest would come round and basically strong arm you. And then they'd say, yes, it's not against the rules, but it's inadvisable and therefore you're not being obedient to the elders. But then you've got a bad attitude and so you could be marked or publicly reproved or disfellowshipped, which is- then you lose everyone you know and everyone has to cut you off. 

Annie [00:08:19] So you're cast out from the community? 

Deborah [00:08:22] Yeah, and the problem is because you have to cut off all your friends when you join, you're not allowed to keep your old friends because they're wordly. 

Annie [00:08:26] Oh, really?! Were you still in school, like your normal school, or did you have to leave?

Deborah [00:08:30] I was. Yeah, I could talk to my friends at school, but, like, you're not meant to be socialising with friends after school or anything like that. And it was a sort of slow development for me because you don't- on day one, you don't do all that but they- they're socialising you in and making it seem better than it is and then, of course slowly, slowly, slowly you become more indoctrinated and advised that, you know, worldly people were going to rub off on you. But if someone gets disfellowshipped and it's publicly announced that Sister Annie Macmanus can no longer call herself one of Jehovah's Witnesses, if I then- say we'd been best buddies, we sat together every day at the meetings, we shared a flat, from that day forward that you've got disfellowshipped, not only could you not share my flat, if I saw you in a coffee shop I'd have to pretend I couldn't see you. I'd have to totally ghost you in person. I'd cross the road to avoid you. I couldn't say even a greeting, much less have a meal with. You're now the enemy, much more than a normal, worldly person. You've got to be shunned. Multi problems with this, people get cut off from their whole families. Families are very much encouraged to cut you right out. 

Annie [00:09:31] So you're living always with this fear underpinning all of your actions and behaviour, that you will lose everything and everyone. 

Deborah [00:09:38] Yes. 

Annie [00:09:38] So it's a culture of fear. 

Deborah [00:09:40] Yes. And the punishment is shunning. So that means you've got nobody because you've cut off all your friends, or if you were raised in it you don't have any friends outside, and the punishment for contravening is shunning so now you're totally alone in the world. When I first left, I didn't see anyone, like, socially all week. 

Annie [00:09:59] What was the trigger for you leaving? 

Deborah [00:10:01] I had a lot of bad experiences in the organisation, so I got accused of sleeping with a married elder *laughs* I hadn't even kissed a boy, like I hadn't- or a girl *laughs*. I didn't know what sexual urges were. I didn't know what an erection was at this point. 

Annie [00:10:15] So you're really cloistered, like in terms of what you're allowed to consume, read. Yeah.

Deborah [00:10:20] I mean, I didn't know penises got erect until I saw one in real life. 

Annie [00:10:24] God, that must have been quite the fucking shock. 

Deborah [00:10:26] It was certainly not what I was expecting. It was really upside down. I was like, ahhhh, this makes sense. Because I was thought before, how could you get it in? Because it looked to me like you'd have to be shoving a marshmallow through a postbox. 

Annie [00:10:38] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:10:38] But it turns out it goes hard. 

Annie [00:10:40] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:10:40] I didn't know- I just didn't know- maybe I'd heard 'hard on' and things, but I just didn't- I didn't get it. I didn't- I couldn't fully imagine it or I didn't understand it. So this is how innocent I was and naive I was. And I was accused of sleeping with a married elder who I had nothing to do with! Like we were from the same town and we'd both moved to Sydney. 

Annie [00:10:59] And how old were you? 

Deborah [00:11:00] This is still gap year age, you know. Not that we were allowed gap years, but you know, that age. And I was so shocked because he was like, ten years older than me, and he was friendly to me but we never ever saw each other alone or, it was never flirtatious, there was no sexual tension between us. I got once accused of having a coffee with a worldly person, and I was actually, I was working in a shop at the time and I was having coffee with my boss. So we were chatting about, you know, stock or something, and they said well be very careful, you can't be socialising with wordly people, because someone had seen me and turned me in. You know, it's this kind of -- type. But, women were allowed to do these plays. There was a meeting each week where we were having to rehearse going and knocking on doors, and we'd stand up on the stage and then I'd, I'd like, *knocking table* pretend to knock like that or something. And then you'd open the door and I'd say, 'um hello, I was just in the area today and I was wondering if you ever wonder- worry about the future?'. And then you, Annie, would say 'do you know, I do worry about the future' *Annie laughs*, and I'd say 'd'you know, I'd love to show you some scriptures from the Bible' and you'd say 'why don't you come in?'. This never happened in real life *Annie laughs*. Never. But it was always perfect on stage, 'oh, I'm so interested that. Show me more'. 'Great, would you like this copy of The Watchtower that explains more?' 'I'd love that, come back next week'. I had been funny at school, and I'd done debating, and I had gotten a lot of kudos from being funny and also being funny in drama, this is all before I was baptised and, you know, weaning myself off real life and all the things I was good at. So I knew I was funny and there was nothing for me in this. And so I thought, wow, these little plays, I thought, I reckon I can make this funny. I can make the next one funny. And so, I developed a sort of way of doing these little plays, and I discovered that nothing is funnier to Jehovah's Witnesses than taking the piss out of the born again Christians. So usually I only got two little plays a year *laughs* well Annie,  *Annie laughs* those people were amateurs. I figured out lots of sisters. 

Annie [00:13:04] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:13:04] Would get stage fright, didn't want to do it, so they'd pretend they were sick on the night. So what I would do, is I said to the theocratic ministry school overseer, if anyone's sick and you need an understudy, I'll jump in at the last second, any time, just tell me on the night. I'll go into the backroom, I'll quickly write a talk, I'll grab a sister, I'll give her the notes to read. And so I ended up with like ten of these little plays a year, this is- this is the way a performer will find a way! 

Annie [00:13:31] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:13:31] That's how I learned how to do stand up comedy. 

Annie [00:13:34] Wow. So you were known as this person within the community, then the accusation of sleeping with your elder happens. 

Deborah [00:13:42] Because I was high profile, I think I'd piss people off. 

Annie [00:13:45] Right! Yeah. 

Deborah [00:13:45] Because you're popular then because you're the funny one. 

Annie [00:13:47] Yeah, course. 

Deborah [00:13:48] And you make a very boring meeting a bit entertaining, and people go 'we loved what you did today!'. Someone else gets jealous and they make trouble for you because it's so small, it's so closed, you know. 

Annie [00:13:59] And then you moved across to the other side of the world? That's a change. 

Deborah [00:14:04] I did. Well, I got so sick of these kangaroo courts and stuff, feeling like I wasn't- whatever I did wasn't enough. I was already knocking on doors 90 hours a week. 

Annie [00:14:12] 90-?! 

Deborah [00:14:13] Sorry. A month, not a week *laughs*. 

Annie [00:14:15] 90- okay, so 90 hours a month, right.

Deborah [00:14:16] It's all volunteer work, but you have to work two days a week in a shop to support yourself or hotel or something. I worked in a ho- a hotel concierge, because I spoke Japanese from high school. There was lots of Japanese tourists so I could get that kind of work, which was quite well paid. So I did that. And then there were deaf people in my congregation, so I learnt to sign language to translate the- interpret the meetings. And so then I got interpreting work in colleges in Sydney and stuff. So, you know, I was finding my ways!

Annie [00:14:45] Interesting that you're finding- you're finding all your own ways of learning without being in third level education. You're kind of- you're just squirrelling away learning what you can. 

Deborah [00:14:53] Exactly, exactly. And then- because some other witnesses went to London, I didn't know them but I heard of them, and they were saying, oh, we're pioneering- pioneering is when you do the full time door knocking, because most people just door knock on the weekends or, you know, once a week or something. 

Annie [00:15:09] Pioneering. It's such a noble word for that, isn't it? I love it. 

Deborah [00:15:13] It really is. So I was a pioneer. So these other young women went over and said we're pioneering in London because they need help. Well, this is the get out- you're not really meant to travel, like, for pleasure and take time out, and it's worldly and everything, but if you're going where the need is greater, that's your get out of jail free card. Now, I had wanted to live in London since I could read, and I could read when I was four because my mother used to read to me every day. And all the books seemed to be set in this magical world called London, so for me it was like Narnia. Like I was like, you know but you can go there! So I desperately wanted to live in London. I was either being very devout or I was- this was my other side. This was my, you know, the guilty side to my- the guilty Jehovah's Witness *Annie laughs*. So clearly I was the guilty Jehovah's Witness, so I was like, ohhh, I can go where the need is greater! 

Annie [00:15:58] Sure! 

Deborah [00:15:59] The one thing I'll say for being in a cult is it's got a real social network *laughs*. It's like *laughs* you know, wherever you go, they have to take you in. You have to like whoever's in your congregation. You have to look after each other until you don't, until you can't and then you *clicks fingers* cut them off. So it's very condi- highly conditional, love. 

Annie [00:16:15] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:16:16] But they were my age and I was another fun young Australian coming over, and they were living in a bed sit in and needed help with the rent. So they were like, yeah, sure. There were three of us in one room and two of us in another room upstairs, and we were all women. Obviously, you can't be sharing a shower with men. By this time, I was so worn down, I was really ready to have some fun and live my truth. But of course, you don't just wake up one day and go, I'm not in the cult anymore. It's not how it works. It has to wear off. And you have to put yourself in a series of worldly situations- this is why they say don't do it, because it's you'll- it'll wear off and it does. It does wear off *laughs* they're not wrong! So I started out with these young women who- our main focus was not- we went to the meetings, but it wasn't, that's not our focus, our focus was seeing London and having a good time and going to the West End to see if we get 10 pound tickets or- Then I ended up as a nanny in New York. 

Annie [00:17:10] Hmm! 

Deborah [00:17:10] And when you're living with a family who aren't Jehovah's Witnesses, you wake up. It's really hard to 'other' people when you're looking after their children, and you're living with them and you're seeing they're happy, they're living good moral lives. And by moral I'm not talking about, you know, artificial morality, I'm talking about they're good people, they're doing their best in the world. They're, they're not hurting anybody else. At the same time, I got mixed up with some Jehovah's Witnesses in New York who were into self-help and they were a bit edgier because they were a bit more cosmopolitan New Yorkers, and they were talking about doing- not going to the meetings out of guilt. I started to get into that. When I came back to London to nanny, I thought hmm... I thought, I'm never going to go to the meeting again out of guilt. Never went again Annie! Never went again! 

Annie [00:17:53] Woooooow. 

Deborah [00:17:54] Never went again. Yeah. And I woke up. 

Annie [00:17:56] And you woke up. And then upon waking up, what did you learn? Even now, looking back, talking through it, thinking about it, processing it, what have you learned about yourself in terms of how you got through that and came out the other side? 

Deborah [00:18:13] I'm a totally different person. Like the fundamental me that was me- 

Annie [00:18:18] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:18:19] Has always fought through those circumstances. And listen, there's a lot of people in a lot worse circumstances than being in a patriarchal religious cult in Australia and then London, you know, like it's not- but, the meanness of me had to emerge. I think of myself sometimes like a time traveller because I had the understanding of a Victorian mindset *Annie laughs* but I'm trying to live in the modern world and recalibrate so you can't just jump forward, you have to find yourself and find out what do I think about everything? They decide it, what you think about everything. There's a party line and everything. So you have to figure out what do I think about vote- I mean, you're not allowed to vote. You're not allowed to have any political opinions. Well, you know, what do I think about- what's my politics? 

Annie [00:19:08] So you have to- you have to kind of get- get to know yourself? Not even that, figure out who you are in that landscape of modern society. 

Deborah [00:19:16] 100%. You're not even allowed like a- to sponsor an otter. 

Annie [00:19:20] How did comedy help and aid you in processing all of this stuff and figuring out who you were? 

Deborah [00:19:30] It's funny you ask that, because I don't think I understood until I did psychedelics how it helped me, but it became remarkably clear. 

Annie [00:19:51] So you have cited psychedelics as one of your big adult changes. Please tell me everything.  

Deborah [00:19:59] Well, I never thought I would do it, and to be clear, I have only done it legally in countries where it is legal with a shaman and a therapist on hand, and I've done it very, very carefully. I'm very nervous about my- messing with my brain. 

Annie [00:20:13] Fair. 

Deborah [00:20:14] Which I- it turns out I have ADHD, so I didn't ever want to do anything like that. They say with ayahuasca, you kind of get the call. Now, I've never been this kind of person, I was so- since I left the religion, I became so atheist and rational stuff, but if you don't feel the call, if you don't feel like this is for me, I would recommend you don't do it. If you do feel the call, if you think I think this is for me, you have to do so much research and you have to really know where you're going and you have to do it so safely with such, you know, legal place with- and I would recommend with a proper shaman and somewhere where you're massively supported. 

Annie [00:20:51] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:20:52] And you have to know this is, you know, this is for you. There's lots of research going on in London and all over the world at centres and universities about the healing properties and the potential abilities to- for healing trauma, addiction, PTSD, you know, so many different things- depression. So it's, it's a really powerful thing and I don't- it's not to be diminished or sniffed at or this is for hippies, but there is masses of proper scientific research about what it does and it's, it's very impressive stuff. But it's not to be trifled with either. So that's my public service announcement. 

Annie [00:21:27] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:21:28] Within that context, I went up a mountain. I had, you know, read the books and tried to do the therapy and really push past with positive thinking. But any time I spiralled or had a downer, I would always come back to this negative spiral - it's because I was in this cult, this cult took years of my life, it took me years to get over it. Trauma, trauma, trauma. It's that- it's that thing's fault and my life would be sooo much better without it, and if it hadn't happened, and if I could turn back time, and if I hadn't fallen for it, why was I so stupid? And I know I was only 14. If only I'd. If only I'd. If only I'd. Most of the time I'm an optimistic person and I'm lucky I don't suffer with depression, but when I would go down, it was always this same negative spiral and I couldn't get past that. I'd think I was past it, I think I passed it now look, look at me go, and then something happened, *clicks fingers* back down. And it was lockdown and I started to have some therapy really for the first time properly, and at one point I got so upset I said to my therapist, I started crying, and I said 'I'm broken, I'm broken'. A friend called me and said, told me her ayahuasca experience and said, I really think you need to do it, and I just got this strong feeling I had to call you. But she said, not, not now, not now. You'll get the call. You'll get the call. And I said, I think this is the call, babe. You've just called me *Annie laughs*. And she went, no, no, no, a more spiritual call. She said, it'll just appear to you and you'll know you have to do it. And you know, it did because I googled it *Annie laughs*. So I ended up, up this mountain and I was like, well, I've looked into the neurology of it because I was so sceptical about the sort of more spiritual side of it. But what they said was, you know, you just have to say to Mother Earth or Mother Ayahuasca, you're going to drink this- I don't know what is but Peruvian tea, but it's got psychedelic qualities. So you're gonna have an experience where you're gonna go inside yourself but you're also going to, you know, potentially have visions and have- you can have a conversation with Mother Earth, potentially. Many people see a kind of female character and they have a conversation with Mother Ayahuasca or Mother Earth. So I went in and I thought, right. They said have an intention, so I imagined myself as a broken vase. And I just said, Mother Earth, can you fill the cracks with gold? So we're all lying on mattresses and you all, you know, take it from the shaman and set your intention and drink. And they blow the candles out and it's completely black, completely dark. And at first I got this really blissful feeling, and then I started to see all the happy things in my childhood and they say let ayahuasca guide you. She's your dance partner. You're not a sack of potatoes, but you're engaged, but let her lead you. So I could see there was sadness and things in my childhood but she's like, we're not going behind those doors. We're looking only at the happy things in your childhood. And at one point, just coming out of it a bit and thinking, oooh, erm how will I tell people about this later? How will I tell this as a story later? Like the storyteller in me started to think how can I explain this? And immediately I was like, stop doing that. Just be here. Just be here. What do you have to think about it like a story, it's not a story! Just think about- just be here, just be here, why do you have to be a storryteller?! This Mother Earth character, she just said to me, erm no, the storyteller is part of you, she can come. And it was the most lovely feeling. Anyway, then we went on and I could hear- because people throw up, people purge, they call it purging. 

Annie [00:24:56] Yes, yes. 

Deborah [00:24:56] And I started doing like stand up comedy jokes, you know, like little jokes in my head *Annie laughs*. And I was like, stop doing that! Stop doing that it's not funny! Why do you have to be a comedian?! And then she went, no, no, she's fun. She can come. She said, all of you is welcome here. The storytellers welcome, the comedians welcome. All of you is welcome here. And it was the greatest moment of self-acceptance. It was just like- she was like, why are you trying to- it's the ego trying to go, 'you're not doing it right!'. 'This is what spirituality is, just be in the moment!'. She was like, that's a way of being in the moment. Just part of you wants to make jokes and that's part of you. Why are you shushing her? And it was just really lovely but it also- she wasn't judgemental of me shushing. She was just going, she's welcome. You're all welcome.

Annie [00:25:37] Yeah yeah. The she, are you seeing her or is she just a presence in amongst your visual? 

Deborah [00:25:43] She was just a presence. 

Annie [00:25:44] Got you. 

Deborah [00:25:45] We got to the point in my teenage years where I became a Jehovah's Witness, but she didn't show me any of that. She showed me everything I had done outside of that to survive and thrive. So she showed me how I had actually, like, escaped when I was a pioneer to go and engage with this improv, and I got very involved in that community, like on the down low until the elders found out and banned it. But I was like, I was in the theatre and I'd forgotten how involved in that community I had become. And she showed me everything I'd done. So actually, Annie, she showed me what you said, which is you found your ways to learn. You found your ways to perform. You found your words. 

Annie [00:26:30] Mmmm, yeah. 

Deborah [00:26:30] I think you're a bit like Mother Earth. 

Annie [00:26:34] *Laughs* That's the goal. 

Deborah [00:26:35] Yeah, because you observed that. But she showed me everything I'd done other than the cult. We didn't look at any of that. Then I came out the other side of the cult and she said to me, you asked me to pour gold in the cracks but you haven't left me anything to do. She said every time a crack started to form, you poured gold in right away. And I went ohh- and I- it was like a dolly shot where I pulled back and I saw my vase, the vase of me, and I could see all this gold in the vase and I- To be fair, there was a lot of gold there. It was- it wasn't just like one crack with a bit of gold. It was mostly gold *Annie laughs loudly*. *Laughing* It was mostly cracks of gold but she was right. And I saw it, and I was like, oh, I'm not broken. I fixed as I went. And then she said, when you were asked what would it have been like, what this time, this time have been like, she said, you couldn't say. You could only say what other people had had. And I thought, oh my God, that's so true. And, she said, would you like to go to the University of Queensland- where I was meant to go, would you like to go to University of Queensland at the age of 17 now, here? And I said yes. She said, well, you can. Go to university now at 17. And I went to university and I had this extraordinary time. 

Annie [00:27:57] What?!!

Deborah [00:27:57] And it was like- it was a bit like a film and then a montage and then a- so it was like time passing, but I was amazed at how much of it was about doing plays and doing debating and going to philosophy lectures and- and I met a boy. 

Annie [00:28:10] Yeah, yeah. 

Deborah [00:28:11] And we fell in love and we were lying under the stars in the quad. And then he broke up with me and I didn't know why and I went round, I was banging on the door of his dorm and I was quite immature and, you know, teenage about it, but I couldn't understand why he wouldn't talk to me and had my heart broken. And there was a sort of top note of heartbreak, but a base note of joy that I was living it. I was getting it, I was living it, I was having it. And then I went and travelled. I went to Japan because that's what I would have done, because I was partly studying Japanese. And I had another romance there, and I went off- anyway, I ended up in London. The two timelines converged of this alternative timeline and the reality, and they met. And I met my now husband as I did. And then I sort of sped through my 30s and I hit my 40s. And so I thought, oh wow, now I get to start The Guilty Feminist, right? And I was so full and whole. I was in my total power and I went to start The Guilty Feminist, and I had nothing to say. I didn't understand why some women needed feminism. I didn't understand why all women needed feminism, I didn't understand why some women were more marginalised than others. Like everything had gone right for me. And I didn't really have anything to say because my life had been so straightforward and easy and successful and- 

Annie [00:29:36] Yeah, by the book. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Deborah [00:29:39] I hadn't had any obstacles and I looked back and I realised that the cracks in my vase were the substance of my work, but the gold was the way that I had found I'm funny, I can do comedy, I can make this work within this cult. Story and comedy were my saviours. I had survived through story and comedy. That was my secret outlet. And that's why I built the craft, which is the gold. So when we come to this point of The Guilty Feminist, the cracks are the trauma but the the way I've got to, you know, deliver that is comedy and story in ways that are palatable and fun and entertaining and draw people in. And I went, oh this is the only way it could have been. And then I just went, it's healed. 

Annie [00:30:23] Wow. 

Deborah [00:30:24] And I knew it was healed forever. A year later, someone said, oh I heard you had a good ayahuasca story, can you tell me? And I started off by going, well, I just said to my therapist, I'm broken and I laughed because a year later it seemed risible to me. I was like, why would I have ever felt that? And it was almost like- I was like, that's almost like someone else. And then I went, oh my God, this is the very first thing ever in my life where my brain is rewiring a positive message. You're not broken. You're a whole vase. The gold is, you know, is that you learnt these things in a crisis point of your life. You didn't learn comedy trying to be funny and trying to get a gig because you wanted to be famous, you learned it to survive. You learned it to- to- to breathe. The only way I can describe it, Annie, is all my life, everything else I've tried, it's like I'm trying to get up a hill and self-develop and get away from, you know, trauma. And we've all got trauma. You know, if it's not a cult, it's a divorce or an alcoholic parent or, you know, we've all got something ain't we.  I was trying to get up the mountain, but it was like a magnet was pulling me back. So if I took my if the ball, stopped doing all the things, you know, getting up and meditating or going to yoga whatever, I'd find- I'd turn around and I'd just suddenly be like ahh I've slipped back down the mountain. Didn't keep it up. 

Annie [00:31:41] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:31:43] It was like somebody had put the magnet at the top of the mountain. 

Annie [00:31:49] Woooooow. 

Deborah [00:31:49] So when someone said, oh, I heard- can you tell me your ayahuasca story? I turned around and went, yeah, I said I was brok- and then I went, oh my God, I'm so much further up the mountain than I thought. Look at the view from up here! And so you can't just do ayahuasca and then sit down on the mountain, you still got to keep walking up. But instead of the magnet drawing you back, in my case, on this instance, and I really think it's important people hear that it's not going to fix every single thing, it's not a silver bullet, it's a silver invitation. But I was being pulled up and I think that's how it should be! If you're putting the work in, it's quite nice to be pulled up, rather pulled back. 

Annie [00:32:24] Of course, of course. 

Deborah [00:32:26] And I've had other ones where it's been more like, here's something you didn't know about yourself, are you prepared to do this work? And I have not done the work and it has not changed my life, but it has still mulled a bit, changed it a bit, and then maybe I've gone back and done it again and I've talked to her again and I've had another epiphany and another change and, you know, lots of stuff about my adoption that I thought was not at all traumatising, but of course, any baby has relinquished and, you know, there's stuff going on neurologically. So I've, you know, I've held myself as a newborn baby and taught my newborn self to, to breathe- 

Annie [00:33:02] *Whispers* oh my God, Deborah. 

Deborah [00:33:02] Like we've breathed together until we've become one, like extraordinary things. And that has to have, you know, an extraordinary impact on you. So, for me, it has been *emphasis* life changing. It was the thing that- when you said, interesting question that you asked, how did comedy change it? I didn't know until I did that and then I went, ohhh, comedy was the diamond in the coal mine. It was the thing that I- the thing that I grasp for that I knew that I could do or was good at under pressure. 

Annie [00:33:34] I, I'm just trying to get my head around this idea of you being the Jehovah's Witness and being told constantly what you can't do and what you shouldn't be, and finding all your little ways of staking your claim on yourself and who you really are and of being Deborah. And then that being paralleled *laughing* with Guilty Feminist, which is the exact same thing! It's, it's all just fed in. That whole experience has fed into how you have decided to conduct your career. So is there a sense of peace now? 

Deborah [00:34:08] Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. Much more at peace. But I would say I've been invited into the next stage of growth and trauma recovery because I finally got over that hill. So now there's other things to explore. 

Annie [00:34:21] Yeah. 

Deborah [00:34:23] I think it will never be done. It will never be done. 

[00:34:26] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:34:37] This brings me on really nicely to what you said about how you would like to change moving forwards. Your answer was so beautiful, can I read it out to you? 

Deborah [00:34:45] Oh yes! 

Annie [00:34:45] You said 'I want to accept that change will always be a part of my life. Instead of wanting to complete it all, I want to find a way to see changes to be made as a sign of life and not something that should be done by now. I want change to be the name of the game for me. Not a sign of inadequacy'. 

Deborah [00:35:03] Yes, because I was like, what's the next thing that I want to do? And I was like, getting my head around that if I look out the window, I see spring coming, but spring doesn't go 'spring's the best, completed' *Annie laughs*. And nor does summer go 'now it's summer, I'm done. Finished'. *Annie laughs* The seasons aren't like that, it's like completed 'ahhh, God, I'm such a failure I've sucked back to winter! Why?! Every time. Every year I find myself back in winter! and I really thought I'd cracked summer now'. It's just not how nature is. We're ageing and as tragic as that news feels, especially for women who are coded, you know, or constantly conditioned, that's the worst crime you can commit. Changing is- changing is where the magic happens, changing is where the growth happens. And it's- and that's the reason we're so scared of it. We love the status quo. We're like stick here because we know it and we'd rather be in a- almost rather be sometimes in a familiar, miserable place than in a scary place that might be better, but it might not be, and we might not know how to grow into it or care about it. 

Annie [00:36:13] So it's the, it's the idea of accepting that change isn't something that you must make on the horizon. It's something that's there every day, all the time. And it's part of your life, and it's part of who you are, and it's part of how you live your life. And it's something to be embraced. 

Deborah [00:36:31] And it shows you're still alive. Like, sometimes I sort of think-

Annie [00:36:34] Yess, yes. 

Deborah [00:36:34] I think the one of the big problems with our society is we say to people, okay, now you've retired, you've completed it, now you just get to rest and consume what young people are doing in their changes. You get to watch TV and you get to, you know, but read things of your own age group, stay with things that made you feel safe when you were 30, you know? And actually, why can't you keep changing and growing and learning and updating and connecting, forever? I don't understand why our society has set it up that way. To be learning and growing in your own right, and your own pace with things that interest you, that will keep people so much younger and more connected. I want to keep working as long as I can, and I hope I have an epiphany on the way out that makes me go, oh, that's what it was all about *Annie laughs*. I hope I'm learning right to the end. I hope I'm learning right to the end. I don't want to ever stop engaging, connecting, writing, creating, learning, listening, being changed by what's said to me, being changed by experiences. I never want to think I failed because here's another autumn. 

Annie [00:37:53] Yeah. Deborah Francis White, thank you so much. 

Deborah [00:37:57] Thank you. 

Annie [00:37:59] Of course, Deborah Francis White is the woman behind the Guilty Feminist podcast. Go and get that now. Go and listen to it. There's a million episodes up there. You also need to check out this book, The Guilty Feminist, which came out a good few years ago now, was it 2018, I think? But it is amazing and worth buying for all of your friends. Men, I would do it for them too. 

Deborah [00:38:21] Well, thank you very much. And we do live shows a lot in London and sometimes around the UK, and we're touring Australia so if listeners want to come along live, go to and- 

Annie [00:38:31] Perfect. 

Deborah [00:38:32] See our show dates, listen to the podcast. The podcast is free. Download it wherever you are. The book is not, please buy it. 

Annie [00:38:39] *Laughs* thank you so much. If you enjoy Changes, please do rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Share it with your friends and family. Go on social media. Tell everyone about it. Tag me Annie Macmanus, I always love to see how you react to these episodes, and it's just so helpful to be seen and to be shared by you lot so thank you so much if you do. There's a whole catalogue of episodes to listen to, if you have missed any at all go back and check them out and we'll be back next week. Changes is produced by Louise Mason with assistant production from Anna de Wolff Evans. See you next time!