Queerstories is a popular event where Australia’s best LGBTQI+ writers gather for some good, old-fashioned storytelling. The show began at the Late Night Library in Kings Cross, Sydney and has gone on to tour other states and towns. It makes sense that, because this all began in a library that people should be able to “buy the book.” And now you can, Queerstories is an anthology drawing together twenty-six diverse stories in one handy collection.
Maeve Marsden is the mastermind behind Queerstories; she created the event, and now curates and produces the show. These stories were all once told aloud and now this oral history has been written down and captured. Marsden also edits this collection and contributes one of the stories here. This writer, director, producer and performer draws upon some of her experiences from Gayby, where she described being raised by lesbians. As a queer woman, she encourages her contributors to tell stories outside the norm and ones that are not for the heterosexual gaze. She says that the stories don’t have to be about coming out or marriage equality, because these are the ones we so often see the media cover.
Benjamin Law is the exception to the rule here with his piece about coming out. It’s interesting to read about culture’s impact on experience, because Law told his grandmother years after he’d been out to his family and friends. In some ways, there were parallels between Law’s story and some of the anecdotes that Hannah Gadsby told in Nanette. The stories here are impossible to categorise into one neat, little box. The one common thread is that there are aspects in all of them that every reader should understand or relate to.
The late Candy Royale shares a personal story about returning to Lebanon, her parents’ birthplace. Along the way, she is derided over her butch appearance from some older folks with no filter. She also describes two inspiring and strong Lebanese queers who are raising an adopted child in a country that hasn’t even legalised homosexuality.
The stories range in topics and emotions. You get the feeling that some of these will resonate with certain readers more than others. Musician, Jen Cloher’s story about playing the Galaga arcade game while disguised as the boy “John” may mean more to those readers who had strict, Catholic upbringings, for instance. Others may prefer Simon Hunt AKA Pauline Pantsdown’s account of clubbing in Germany in the eighties and crossing the border between the east and west. The collection also includes stories by Peter Polites, Rebecca Shaw, Nayuka Gorrie and many more.
This book is easy to dip in and out of. It doesn’t matter what order you read the stories in. They’re all very readable and highly entertaining, and all contribute to a diverse chorus of rich voices. These contribute to stronger and more substantial conversations about community and experience. They will inform some readers and assist in developing empathy in others. The collected authors are candid in their accounts and one hopes that readers approach this collection with a similar sense of openness.
Queerstories is ultimately an intriguing and nuanced collection. The goal was to tell some great stories and it has managed to do this several times over. A warm and inviting anthology, Queerstories welcomes you in with open arms and draws you into a rich conversation with some fresh and entertaining LGBTQI+ writers. Let’s hope there are more volumes to come.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Queerstories is available now through Hachette Australia.
Not only a book, Queerstories is also a regular LGBTQI+ storytelling night and podcast with monthly events in Sydney and Melbourne, check out their Facebook for more information about their forthcoming events.