Growing Up Queer in Australia
ed. Benjamin Law
Black Inc Books
Growing up Queer in Australia argues a case for owning rather than fearing or postponing growing up othered, weaving what could be a cacophony of gender and sexuality diverse voices into a timely manifesto.
Editor Benjamin Law throws the term queer into the rainbow-sphere as a more fluid and fitting catchall for LGBTIQA+ and corrals a raft of Q&As, coming of [r]age stories and works of fiction that stress-test the anthology’s resonances, ambiguities and utility in the service of resilience, reclamation and affirmation. Law’s editorial voice and choices parlay his cultural currency as national broadcaster sanctioned gay and POC gadabout – which allows him killer contacts but often positions him as madly quipping but politely homonormative – into writerly social justice worrier cum tribal historian.
The drily politicised tone of his 2017 Quarterly Essay “Moral Panic 101”, which skewered the Safe Schools debate, is Law’s default mode and pervades the Q&As included here. Interviews with the likes of William Yang, Christos Tsiolkas, Sally Rugg and Kate McCartney speak eloquently to the L, G, B and T and are also arguably the kind of widely known voices that draw in a broad audience. These pieces initially seem slightly out of step with the tone of the rest of the material and oddly positioned mid-way through the text, but ultimately prove central to Law’s project of assigning a positive value to queer difference.
The comments from Rugg, in particular – director of change.org and key-player in the Yes campaign during the marriage equality postal survey – deconstruct the mainstream perception that the yes result was an endgame rather than one less front on which equality needs to be fought for.
Rugg also describes coming out to herself as haltingly realising that “… there was a thing inside me, I didn’t choose it, I couldn’t get rid of it…” The pivot from fear and questioning to agency speaks as much to using a voice as finding one in Rugg’s case, given her public work and advocacy, but also colours many of the disparate narratives here.
The voices Law gives free reign to unite around a sense that storytelling builds community and feeds into identity and its evolution; the constraints and attempts at erasure enacted by the state and church, as well as by family and language, are the other overarching and reflective connection.
Beau Kondos’ Faggot is one of many pieces that run at this task head on. The titular reference to Larry Kramer’s ground-breaking satirical 1978 novel is both a knowing nod to a queer forebear and a tipoff to the kind of marginalised resource that baby queers often have to find their own way to and that this text now helps to propagate. Kondos drills down into his own experience of making peace with labels and stigmatisation in language that’s angry, funny, sweaty and true. He teases out the power of the term faggot in a relatably suburban sorta-biography that separates pride from assimilation and centres difference, in part by taking the teasing out of the term. He notes that “In hindsight, the word was a gift when inflicted upon me because now I use it to heal”.
This cultural and self-preservation is the through-line that binds the collected voices, and the variations on these themes feel enjoyable and, more importantly, participatory. Growing up Queer in Australia reads as a deliberate proof of uncensored queer lives, a living document and act of ownership that underlines how representation and language matter and can affect change and as a promise that points ever forward.