Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Inc
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Compiled by celebrated author and journalist Benjamin Law, Growing Up Queer in Australia assembles voices from across the spectrum of LGBTIQA+ identity. Spanning diverse places, eras, genders, ethnicities and experiences, these are the stories of growing up queer in Australia.

For better or worse, sooner or later, life conspires to reveal you to yourself, and this is growing up.

With contributions from David Marr, Fiona Wright, Nayuka Gorrie, Steve Dow, Holly Throsby, Sally Rugg, Tony Ayres, Nic Holas, Rebecca Shaw, Kerryn Phelps and many more.

Growing Up Queer is filled with voices of all aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community with stories about gay relationships, being intersex, having first loves, lost loves, and those who were important to the lives of all these authors, demonstrating the crucial roles some of them had to play in them finding who they are. The introduction is a good place to start because it includes the content warnings and apologies if the content upsets anyone. The stories are filled with discrimination, family rejection, suicide mention and violence. It is important to warn readers but these are crucial moments because these are stories about growing up queer in Australia, these are real stories and real experiences and knowing that these are hardships that these authors have had to deal with is part of the understanding.

There are stories that show the complex relationships with parents around cultural boundaries, about religion, as well as the struggles and the wins about coming out to family and friends. It isn’t only recent coming out stories either, many previous decades are covered from the 70s to the 90s and 2000s. There is even a story from the 50s that covers hiding your true self until an older age. I wasn’t keeping a real record about when each story was set, nor do all the stories really identify when they take place, but it felt like there were a lot more from the last thirty years than earlier. Not that the last thirty years isn’t a large amount of time for society to change it’s opinions, but I would have loved to hear more stories about the earlier years a well.

There were a lot of stories connected to the marriage equality survey and how the results affected people and their families. Some stories were wonderful, while others were a little heartbreaking. The authors talk about the impact it had on their relationships, their feeling of inclusion, not to mention their anger that it was being debated at all and how it changed how they saw some of their friends and family. Obviously this was a huge change to people’s lives and it was interesting to see their opinions and perspectives.

The “growing up” aspect of the title I was expecting their childhood or young adult experience, and many stories explore that time with recollections from moments in time that were important or crucial to them understanding or embracing . But there were also stories of being older, in their twenties, or an older adult. One author wrote that the growing up part of their queer life was when they were more comfortable in their queerness, not necessarily when they were young which I thought was an interesting approach.

I found myself writing down some brilliant insights and quotes that I think encapsulate what it means to be queer, what society thinks they should be and say, and how those critical and offensive towards them feel they are privileged to say and do. These essays are written by people who are masters with words and I found it helps explain just how different their experiences are from other people and how they are also not the alien figures people think they are. These are just some of my favourites:

“Try as they might, our subversive bodies will always tell us the truth…What censorship is really designed to achieve is the sort of silence that turns what our bodies tell us into shame. This calls for more than censorship of books and films. It also needs the censorship of learning.” – David Marr

“If you can’t be yourself in your own way then god help you when you die with a wallet full of fake IDs.” – Tim Sinclair

“All identities, queer or not, are fictional stories. The important of queer storytellers is not in how they prove their truth, but in how they prove it is necessary to tell our stories in a way that makes us comfortable.” – Oliver Reeson

The anthology is made of essays, but some were more essay like, some were memoirs that told of a certain moment, and some felt like wonderful fictional stories they were so beautifully told. I found myself getting quite caught up in some of these tales, drawn in by their way with words and their fascinating lives about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the experiences they had had. While there were stories of trauma and trouble, there isn’t a huge focus on it. Many contributors wrote about how amazing it is nowadays that sexuality is spoken about more openly than ever before, but it’s acknowledged that fear is still there.

I was expecting more stories that talked about the struggles of discrimination, especially in the earlier decades about fighting to decriminalise homosexuality or other discrimination. I completely understand though that hiding who you were was the best defence you could ever have and embracing your queerness by celebrating the good moments is better than focusing on the bad. Initially I thought these types of stories needed to be included because the history is important and acknowledging the past is important even if it hurts. But it is also important to tell stories of happiness and hope, and there are mentions of the violence some people experienced, it isn’t focused on a lot but it isn’t omitted either.

This is a wonderful collection that could help people understand who they are, and it is a wonderful way to understand he lives of others, the struggles they have faced and makes you realise that as wonderful as things have become, there is still a way to go.

You can purchase Growing Up Queer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Pimped by Samantha Owens

Published: 21 March 2019 (print)/21 March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
John Blake/Bonnier Books UK
Pages: 272/6 hrs and 55 mins
Narrator: Emma Swan
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When your new best friend has pimped you out to older men and is making money from your abuse, who will come to your rescue?

By the age of thirteen, vulnerable Sheffield teenager Samantha Owens had fallen through the cracks in the care system. Bounced around numerous foster carers after her home life became too chaotic, Samantha thought she had found a friend in the streetwise Amanda Spencer. The older girl bought her clothes, styled her hair and found her places to stay. Samantha’s welfare was the last thing on Spencer’s mind, however, as in reality she was grooming the young girl for exploitation of the worst possible kind.

Over the course of the next few months, Samantha was plied with alcohol and drugs and pimped out to over fifty men for Spencer’s gain. Raped, abused, and with no chance of escape, Samantha was at the mercy of the calculating, ruthless and intimidating Spencer. It took a police investigation of two years to bring her and a small gang of cohorts to justice and, in 2014, Spencer was jailed for twelve years. With her abusers in jail, and Samantha bravely rebuilding her life, her shocking story is a stark warning to those who believe child sexual abuse follows any set pattern.

CW: sexual abuse, drugs

I can’t quite say what made me pick this up but it was an interesting story and one that is filled with sadness that these events could happen and no one ever notice or care. From a neglected childhood Sam is befriended by an older girl and from there her innocence and naivety is taken advantage of as the girl she looks up to leads her on the path of danger and destruction.

Samantha keeps referring to Amanda has her best friend but she clearly isn’t. But from Sam’s perspective she is the closest and only friend she has had, and once you know her childhood situation and her school life you can easily see how she held onto the belief that Amanda was her best friend.

Some parts describe the day to day before skipping parts of time and in this way we get to see a lot of the intimate moments of Sam’s life and get to see how long this went on and how it changed her life. It isn’t just her life on the streets with Amanda, her childhood has its own traumas and honestly, seeing her resilience through that as a child herself is something to be proud of. To see that be taken advantage of is hard and to see those around her fail her is even harder.

As Samantha got older and tells of her life on her own it was harder to track her timeline because she seems to change her mind a lot and her opinion flips often. This may have been over days or weeks but in the telling of the story it happens in a few sentences. This easily works as her being indecisive, but listening to it it happens fairly quickly. I didn’t mind this, but I was unclear of the time period and whether this was instant or over a few days or longer. Not that is has any real bearing on the story, but it was a moment of confusion.

Samantha doesn’t get away scot free and there are moments of unjustness but also of deserved consequences. Throughout her story though there are moments of despondency because you see Sam’s struggles and the circumstances she finds herself in and how she was behind from the start. It was sad to see how she often tried her hardest but the situation she was in and the lack of support she got often resulted in her falling back into bad habits. It is easy to see how it happened though as she explains that the pressure was too much and the need for money or comfort was what puts her over the edge no matter how much she hated it.

The is definitely a story about falling through the cracks of the system and seeing Samantha’s life from childhood to adulthood with neglect and abuse with only a few people to care about her was hard to hear about but one I think is important too. It is a powerful story to tell and having the courage to do so, and do so in a way where she doesn’t paint herself entirely as a victim, is incredibly brave.

You can purchase Pimped via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Published: 1st May 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Dog Books
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult/Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

This has been on my TBR list for ever and I am glad I got to pick it up because I read it in one sitting. I was taken on a fascinating and insightful journey and I am glad Nevo told their story because I think the reflection, the uncertainty, the changes and the messages in the book are something that everyone should read. Some experiences are universal but some are beautifully unique and allow us a brief, edited, yet honest glance at the lives of others.

I did not expect to be crying like a baby at the end of it but that is where I found myself. Even though I have not gone on the exact same journey as Nevo I still felt and related to a lot of what they had experienced and those final pages (no spoilers), but they hit hard and they hit deep which I was well unprepared for.

Nevo’s story isn’t here to be a guide or instruction manual; it is an emotional and thoughtful reflection on their life and at the time being only twenty years old it is a life where a lot has happened. No doubt their experiences have helped make this book one that provides great insight about what finding yourself means, and that you are constantly evolving and changing as you grow and have new experiences.

I don’t think you can read Nevo’s story and see their journey as a definitive one size fits all example of the non-binary queer, Nevo themselves acknowledges they have taken an unexpected path and had many labels attributed to them and identified with. I love that their approach boils down to ‘I am just me’. I think everyone needs to read this and realise that everyone has a different journey and that is ok, and still being uncertain about yourself and what you want is ok too.

I can certainly understand how some of the people in Nevo’s life may feel but not only is it none of their business, but I think you also see their love for Nevo and how their journey is also one everyone around them has gone on too which leave marks. People are only human but I’m glad Nevo has good people around them and as they continue to grow and change however they see fit, that there is a support network.

There is a lot of power in Nevo’s voice as it covers a range of controversial and important topics like religion, gender labels and discrimination, transitioning, the safe-schools program, family, misogyny, not to mention anxiety and mental health. Over their twenty years Nevo has lived a life and now in this autobiography we get to understand the pain, struggles, and passion that makes Nevo’s voice such a powerful one today.

You can purchase Finding Nevo via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

Published: 2002Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction/Biography
★   ★   ★  ★  ★  – 5 Stars

1427408The inside story of the one of the most successful British stand-up comedians, as told by the person best qualified to reveal all about the man behind the comic, his wife of over 20 years – Pamela Stephenson. Once in a lifetime, there strides upon the stage someone who can truly be called a legend. Such a person is the inimitable, timeless genius who is Billy Connolly. His effortlessly wicked whimsy has entranced, enthralled – and split the sides of – thousands upon thousands of adoring audiences.

He’s the man who needs no introduction, and yet he is the ultimate enigma. From a troubled and desperately poor childhood in the docklands of Glasgow he is now the intimate of household names the world over. How did this happen, who is the real Billy Connolly? Only one person can answer that question: his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Pamela’s writing combines the very personal with a frank objectivity that makes for a compelling, moving and hugely entertaining biography. This is the real Billy Connolly.

This is a great biography of the best comedian by the most suitable person. Who better than Billy’s own wife to write a well deserved and respectful biography.

When I read this it was before I really got into Billy Connolly. I had seen a few bits and pieces and loved what I saw but I didn’t have access to see anything else. Reading this book gave me so many more insights into his life and work and made me respect him all the more.

Billy’s life was not perfect by any means and he had a rough upbringing. The stories and memories Stephenson explores break your heart, make you laugh and actually don’t make you close the book pitying Billy at all. You see where he has taken this pain and what he has done with it and you applaud him for pressing on and pushing through it.

There are so many sides of Billy explored in this, from his childhood to his music and comedian days as well as his life with Stephenson. This book is filled with jokes and humorous anecdotes that soften the darker aspects but a true biography is never all smiles and laughter. A brilliant book and an engaging, emotional and entertaining read.

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