Just as disability and race are not exclusively personal issues but also political and social ones, weighted and shaped by entrenched discrimination and exclusion, these stories give insight to the diverse and sometimes intersectional experiences that come under the somewhat controversial umbrella term of “queerness”. Yet as several contributors explore, education and awareness can lead to personal empowerment. In many instances, they paint a hopeful roadmap to redemption and absolution from internalised prejudice, hatred, and shame, and ultimately a promise of happiness and release. A common theme pervades the collection, some heartfelt accounts revealing eventual transformation and liberation, of survivorship rooted in often unacknowledged strength and resilience.
It will be a revelation for some to gain insight to the self-preservation and the depths of adaptive thinking and modification of behaviours enacted, even by the younger generations, in a country so often touted as liberal and progressive. However, it will likely be reassuring for those wrestling with their own conceptualisations of sexuality, identity, and other forms of non-normativity or diversity, to realise that their tactics and strategies are not uncommon, shadowed in shared fears, and importantly they do not face this alone. Many of the authors share their vulnerabilities of sitting in the complexity of being “born this way” yet “trying not to be this way” or “wishing they were ‘normal’” (a fraught concept that is arguably so damaging in its imposition upon the youth of our past and future, and is artfully dismantled subtly within this collection).
Interestingly, one of the dangers acknowledged recurrently is that oversimplified narratives, particularly of ‘The Other’, are dangerous because they can serve to erase aspects of people and dehumanise communities. Yet, an anthology of short texts such as this, must necessarily tread a careful balance of simplifying narratives in order to reveal something of a personal experience in a digestible format. It will not always be palatable. Benjamin Law has thoughtfully edited this collection to bring a breadth of diverse stories from the queer community. Notably there are no overtly ace/asexual/aromantic stories included and a degree of preponderance of White and gay male stories but this could be a function more of who volunteered to participate than of editorial preference. he sequence works to create a cohesive thread that never entirely overwhelms the reader with pain or emotional rawness or a dearth of hopefulness.
Ultimately, it is an interesting title for this collection. Despite the diversity in the ages of the authors, many reveal a level of suppression of this aspect of themselves. Thom Mitchell offers the challenge to the title, echoed by many contributors, “Few people grow up queer in Australia: we’re not allowed to.” In a country where a 2017 postal survey was conducted to assess the appetite of the country to grant equal rights to marry and the effects of the campaign continue to have an arguably unquantifiable impact, and allegations of police brutality against queer individuals exist as recently as the year of this anthology’s publication, it is largely agreed to be ‘easier’ to grow up queer now. This is a valuable and ultimately heartening read in shedding light on how there is a trend towards progress, acceptance, equality, and nuanced understanding that diversity is worthy of celebration and valuation.
It will be uplifting and nurturing for those who suspect that their own lives ahead of them may be laden with unspoken truths about themselves and those who have trod similar pathways will likely be validated to see themselves in many of these pages. Others will see friends and loved ones in this and gain valuable insights. Just as writing evidently served as sense-making for many contributors, the product, in its generosity of vulnerability, will reveal a lot to those who are curious. Not all of the texts are written with equivalent artistry, which maintains a strong sense of personal ownership and voice. Indeed, this is a strength of this series by Black Inc. Some pieces will appeal more to some readers for the content, some for the poetry, some for the provocation of thought.
As a whole, this collection does a lot to contribute awareness-building and conversation seeds where we have previously seen a lack of representation, an almost utter absence of queerness in mainstream culture save problematic vilifying portrayals. As many authors reveal, often in their ultimately happy endings, a feature of contemporary society that is particularly observable in non-normative communities such as the LGBTIQA+ one, is that of creating ‘chosen family’ and identifying heroes that mainstream culture did not readily deify to inspire and draw strength from.
Benjamin Law, who has a history of admitting to and thankfully models learning from his foibles and is himself a favoured literary hero for many, has brought together a potential family in words: of parents, siblings, allies, friends, champions, artists, agitators, activists, lost loves, lovers, teachers, crushes, and perhaps, even heroes. Unlike the experience of many of the contributors, this anthology is inclusive and permissive and you won’t need to be “one of us” to value the reading of it.
Benjamin Law, Ed. Growing up queer in Australia. Carlton, Victoria: Black Inc, 2019.
Adele Tan, a Teochew woman living in Australia on Noongar Boodjar, is currently completing a Master of Human Rights and has worked internationally with extensive experience in not-for-profit community services and arts sectors, whilst advocating for diversity and inclusivity informed by lived experience of disability, chronic illness, and complex trauma.
This review was provided in collaboration with the Centre for Stories in Perth. (https://centreforstories.com/)