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

The Book of Mistakes by Corrina Luyken

Published: 18th April 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dial Books
Illustrator: Corrina Luyken
Pages: 56
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

One eye was bigger than the other. That was a mistake.
The weird frog-cat-cow thing? It made an excellent bush.
And the inky smudges… they look as if they were always meant to be leaves floating gently across the sky.

As one artist incorporates accidental splotches, spots, and misshapen things into her art, she transforms her piece in quirky and unexpected ways, taking readers on a journey through her process. Told in minimal, playful text, this story shows readers that even the biggest “mistakes” can be the source of the brightest ideas — and that, at the end of the day, we are all works in progress, too.

For a story with very few words, there is a wonderful profound nature and beauty to it. Luyken shows how small mistakes can become different yet beautiful things and can help create new intentional things.

The illustrations are very bare, the ink pictures the obvious focus of the story, but they are stunning and seeing the creativity and the imagination stem from those small mistakes are divine.

As each little mistake progresses you see the illustrator’s mind work and see the changes that happen because of unintentional things, one eye too big, one leg too long. It doesn’t dismiss the mistakes, it offers a chance to make something unique because of it.

The illustrations aren’t all black and white ink drawings, there are speckles of colour which stand out against the vast white pages. I love this story because it is a wonderful concept, but it is also a celebration of imperfection which I adore and shows that one mistake doesn’t have to ruin anything magical or beautiful.

You can purchase The Book of Mistakes via the following

Book DepositoryDymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

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

Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers by Melanie Walsh

Published: 22nd March 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Illustrator: Melanie Walsh
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Isaac may look like everyone else, but he actually has superpowers that make him different from his brother and his classmates. Even though he’s not really a superhero — he has Asperger syndrome, which means his brain works a little differently.

Straightforward and engaging, Isaac’s first-person narrative will help kids see the world through the eyes of a child with the high-cognitive type of autism spectrum disorder commonly known as Asperger syndrome.

This is a book that celebrates the great talents and explains the challenges that a child with Asperger’s might face. It turns Isaac’s differences into his own superpowers. His boundless energy lets him play for hours on the trampoline, and he is always thinking of things therefore he might forget to say hello to someone.

The narrative explains some of the downsides too like being sensitive to noises and not wanting to look people in the eye, but Isaac remains positive and includes some handy tips he knows to help. Isaac is very positive about his superpowers, he sees them as an advantage to his day to day life and I think this is a great way to approach it. While there may be difficulties having a child with Asperger’s, or interacting with one, it is good to know that it doesn’t have to be a constantly negative thing or become a huge issue if you understand where the child is coming from.

The illustrations are simple but big and there is a lot of focus on what the text is saying. The colours are bright and bold but they are a good representation of what is being described and add a clear visual of the story.

Walsh has created a great book for helping kids understand someone they may know who has Asperger’s or even help a child understand themselves a bit better. The first person narrative lets reader’s see things through Isaac’s eyes and enables them to relate on a better level. It’s a good beginner’s guide to understanding Asperger’s in an enjoyable story format.

You can purchase Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

A Day at the Show by Gwyn Perkins

 

Published: 31st July 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Affirm Press
Illustrator: Gwyn Perkins
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Doreen the hen has laid another perfect egg! Little Iggy and Grandad think she deserves to win a prize.

What follows is a family trip to the colourful chaos of the Show, filled with spinning tea cups, merry-g-rounds, lots of animals and some healthy competition.

Here is a story about family adventures, the magic of the show, and the joy of running one tiny car into another.

From Perkins’ first book A Walk in the Bush I’ve slowly grown quite attached to these stories. I love Grandad and Iggy and I love the little conversations he has with the cat and how he helps him have adventures and appreciate the world around him.

This time round Iggy and Grandad go to the show because of how proud Grandad is of Doreen and her egg laying ability. He wants to show off her skills and while they’re there have a great day at the show.

The simple conversations are quite profound and somehow Perkin’s makes a regular thing like going to the show seem even more fabulous and adventurous. The illustrations are bright and colourful and a little more cartoony considering many livestock are riding the merry-go-round and buying show bags. But the enthusiasm from grandad and Iggy’s silence is adorable and endearing and I love their little adventures.

I love how the animals are not only being judged but also are the ones enjoying the show. Grandad and Iggy explore everything that makes these shows fun – the woodchop, the show bags, the animal judging. It reminds me of the many times I’ve been to the Royal Easter Show and it’s something many people can relate to even if it is only a local fete or carnival.

I look forward to the many other adventures I hope this pair will have. It is a great exploration of Australian culture and yet is timeless and could be anywhere at all. It’s a simple story but it is filled with heart too.

You can purchase A Day at the Show via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 FishpondAmazon Aust

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