Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
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

Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories edited by Michael Earp

Published: 1st June 2019Goodreads badge
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/ Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

I love the titles of Anthologies because it is fascinating to see how a theme or concept is explored through so many different voices and narrative styles. For this one, not only are there queer stories, but these stories embody everything that kindred means and stands for.

These stories are not about finding love, or coming out, they are about finding someone who is like you, who knows you and understands you, if there is romance in there, great. But there are many wonderful stories about kids finding another person who understands them, and someone who, whether they know it consciously or not, are supporting them.

Not all characters in this are teens, a couple characters are in their 30s that I can best estimate, others aren’t specified, but their stories are still valid. There are a range of genres and each author has put up a story that encapsulates the theme. Kindred can mean so many things and seeing how each writer has interpreted this is wonderful.

While these are queer stories, they are also #LoveOzYA as well which showcases the great talent our LGBTQIA YA authors have. There are household names and there are new talents I didn’t know and getting some new names added to my #LoveOzYA repertoire is always a bonus. Some of these stories found their own place with me and I particularly loved Waiting by Jen Wilde. I saw myself in that story and it is proof that these stories are for everyone to enjoy.

The range of genres and representation was incredible. There’s representation from so many different cultures and voices and shows why representation matters. The tone across the stories were so different, form light hearted to dystopian, with a few futuristic and fantastic thrown in. There are some tough subjects and harsh realities but I found it refreshing because these authors don’t shy away from the realities of the world but they also treat it with a powerful care and respect.

It was a great decision to include Benjamin Law’s story at the end because while it is a story, it also acts like an essay and it is a thought provoking one that (hopefully) makes people question the things that they may do or say around LGBTQIA people.

With any anthology I am always so in awe of how one theme could be interpreted by so many different genres and approaches. It is a fantastic reminder that no matter what circumstance, no matter what reality, there is a commonality between people and the emotions and desires are universal.

You can purchase Kindred: 12 #LoveOzYA Stories via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
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

Book Event: The ‘Gay’ Book with Will Kostakis and Benjamin Law

P1200565Last night I attended a book event at Kinokuniya bookstore with Will Kostakis and Benjamin Law discussing The ‘Gay’ Book. Benjamin Law, according to his Twitter bio, is a writer, raconteur, and local homosexual. In 2012 he published Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East as well as The Family Law, the latter of which was made into a TV series for SBS. He is currently writing its second season. Will wrote his first novel aged 19, called Loathing Lola which, I discovered, is very hard to track down and basically out of print. He was the 2005 Young Writer of the Year, he published his second novel The First Third three years ago, and has recently published The Sidekicks.

It was quite a turn out to hear the two speak; chairs were packed in with a few people opting to stand at the back. From the start it was humorous with jokes abound, Benjamin telling us it was the gay wedding of the year and we were divided into the groom side and the groom/bride side. The pair interviewed each other, asking questions back and forth, ribbing off one another, and hilarious discussions and confessions were told such as Ben seeing Will in a Speedo (which we were never provided context or explanation for), and Will wanting to be like Benjamin when he grew up.

P1200570Will spoke about how the controversy around The Sidekicks and his experience coming out was unexpected but something he couldn’t ignore. He was thrust into being ‘the gay writer’ overnight which was a shock. He made the decision to respond himself to the school and publically (names omitted) because if he responded in the dark, it would keep happening. He never expected it to spread as it had, saying the international response was disbelief that it had happened, while the Australian reaction recognised it as an ongoing problem. I love though that none of this has stopped people not only loving the book, but finding out ways to discuss it in places where it cannot be discussed, and Will told us some great stories of his experiences in schools.

Even though I’ve heard Will speak before about his work and his experiences, it’s always different and new. He told us he got into writing because he was reading books that felt like the author was holding back. His books try to be honest, something that comes across well according to his agent so that’s a good thing.

P1200571Having never heard Benjamin speak it was interesting to hear his story. Doing his PhD in Creative Writing he had to write everything, from stories, to memoirs, the journalistic pieces. In doing so he discovered he enjoyed writing memoir, it felt natural doing so. Like Will, Benjamin didn’t position himself as the gay writer, but he said you tend to identify with what separates you, in his case being gay and Asian; he joked he was basically a turducken of minorities. It was an interesting discussion because it was something I hadn’t thought much about. Benjamin told us that you really can’t disentangle yourself from those parts of you, and while he hoped his generation would be the last to be persecuted for being different, he was sad to see it hasn’t changed.

Benjamin spoke about growing up in a family of five and dealing with family issues such as his mother suddenly becoming a single parent. He said everything is about perspective, quoting one of my favourite sayings by Mel Brooks, ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die’. Will asked him whether there was any hesitation in writing memoir, because while fiction can be filled with the writer, there is a barrier there. Benjamin said when you write a story you become the custodian of the story and you tell your story. He said readers should be smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be an expose or revenge letter, and know that it’d be a different story if his mum wrote it or his sister. As Will pointed out Benjamin’s books are great ‘what ifs’, what would have happened if his family had stayed in Asia, what his life would be like and what anyone’s would have been if they grew up somewhere else.

Will asked Benjamin about his show, The Family Law, and asked whether he was different now and whether it influenced the characters he writes. Benjamin made a great point about how characters and people are complex and flawed, no one is a villain. His character isn’t put on a pedestal nor is he perfect, Benjamin didn’t set out to make an Asian role model, he needed grit to them.

Amidst the humour and personal stories there were some brilliant points made about representation and how things like homosexuality is presented in books and the media. Will brought the ‘gayness’ forward in The Sidekicks because even in The First Third the gay character was trivialised in his opinion. Benjamin pointed out that we don’t talk about white heterosexual stuff like we do gay stuff. One of the important things that Will mentioned was that when people write a ‘gay’ book, they are not trying to convert people, they are just trying to show how other people live. And not only that, just because there is a gay character does not mean it is a ‘gay’ book. This was something that was also brought up by a brilliant audience question who asked why people can read about M/F kissing, but somehow if there is a M/M kiss somehow it becomes hypersexual and an issue.


Another question from the audience was asking the first place the boys came across a queer character and both gave quite different answers. Will’s was in year 9, reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, a sonnet where the author’s beloved is compared to both a man’s and a woman’s, raising question over the author’s sexuality. Will was afraid of being out and a successful author but he realised if Shakespeare could do it, then so could he. Such is the power of representation. Benjamin’s on the other hand was Melrose Place, no less profound than Shakespeare’s of course, but slightly different. The character in the show was barely a character, a sidekick of a sidekick, but it was something.

It was a fantastic evening and getting to listen to Benjamin and Will discussing their experiences, their work, and laughing at the ongoing witty and hilarious banter made it so enjoyable. Benjamin had filled us with his greeting card wisdom and both Will and Benjamin told us about the support they’d gotten from their families as well as cheeky anecdotes about them. It was wonderful because between the two of them they talked about some important and serious issues but they didn’t stand on a soap box, they used their experience and their own stories to open the conversation about what matters, what’s relevant right now, and why representation is important.

I got my copy of Loathing Lola signed by Will which was exciting. I had been chatting with him on Twitter that afternoon about the book and then via direct message and it was a fascinating discussion about where Loathing Lola came from, where is began, and a few surprises about his new book The Sidekicks and how it connected with his first book. If you can track down a copy it’s a pretty great read. Overall it was a brilliant bookish night out and I can’t wait for the next one!

I’ve included some links below if you want to find out more about Will and Benjamin and their work.


All Your Bits and Pieces Needs

Benjamin’s Twitter

Benjamin’s Instagram

Benjamin’s Website

Will Twitter

Will’s Facebook

Will’s Website