LGBTI lives unsilenced

By Heath Chamerski | 02 Dec 15

Bold | Edited by David Hardy with Elizabeth Whiley | The Rag & Bone Man Press

It seems difficult to imagine a book that packs more substance and as many voices into 258 pages than Bold does; it is an absorbing, incredibly moving and, at times, heart-wrenching collection that relates the stories of more than 50 LGBTI contributors, mostly from Australia but also from other parts of the world.

While these are stories of love, acceptance and courage, one of the strongest emotions the reader takes away from this collection is sadness. Most of the contributing authors have experienced more than their share of pain, tragedy and heartache in their lifetime, more often than not because of their sexual preferences.

But that is not to say that Bold is a depressing experience – it is quite the opposite. The beautiful ways in which the writers convey their fight for equal rights and acceptance is truly inspiring. The cumulative effect of these narratives is one of hope, perseverance and of being and living life the way you choose, no matter who might oppose it.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Bold is despite the contributors often telling of similar experiences growing up, no two pieces feel the same.

Highlights of Bold range from a wonderful portrait by Steve Jebb and Peter Haines about the surprising warmth and support their gay pub in Townsville has received over the years and a stirring piece by Jill Livestre about what it means to be a lesbian feminist in the 21st-century, to a wry, heartfelt piece by Michael Young who explains how his own sexual awakening in the ’70s coincided with his discovery of two lifelong passions – ABBA and Doctor Who.

While many of the narratives are the authors’ stories of their formative years and often expand on a vignette or important memory from their past, there are distinct contributions in the form of poems and songs, the latter of which include Mary Jane Carpenter’s Lesbian Love Song.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Bold is despite the contributors often telling of similar experiences growing up, no two pieces feel the same. Each offer a unique viewpoint as to what it means to be gay in one’s fledgling years and one’s older years.

Former senator Bob Brown contributes two pieces to the book. In the first one, he discusses his time as a young man in ‘70s Tasmania, where homosexuality was considered a crime until 1997. Later in the book, we flash forward to Brown’s early political days in 1987, where a desire to make a sexual offence bill gender neutral almost led to the introduction of a law deeming it illegal to be a lesbian, with help coming from the most unlikely of political allies.

However, the standout piece of the entire book is arguably by Rev. Dr Leigh Neighbour, an openly-gay pastor whose Brisbane church has become a haven for the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Neighbour is truly an unsung hero who has enriched the lives of so many.

Bold is superb in showcasing stories such as this one, which actively work to break down stereotypes. Given the anthology focuses on older people, most of the stories contained are about growing up or centred on significant events in the ’70s, which paints a vivid portrait of this decade from many different viewpoints. A fascinating era in which to examine gay rights, the focus on the ’70s allows us to truly see how far society has come in the four intervening decades.

While the spectre of HIV and AIDS sadly looms large over many of these stories, you cannot help but feel invigorated by the combined voices of Bold, whose positive, life-affirming message comes through loud and clear on every page.

Bold is now available from The Rag & Bone Man Press.

Heath Chamerski has worked in the publishing industry for the past 15 years and has written film and television reviews for publications such as The Age, The Canberra Times, the MX, The New Zealand Herald and The South China Morning Post.