My claim to queerstory started at conception. I was lucky enough to be raised by lesbian mothers so my childhood was spent surrounded by LGBTQI culture. Curating Late Night Library’s Kings Cross season this year, I knew I wanted the chance to share that culture with Sydney audiences in one of my favourite ways – through storytelling. Queerstories was – and will continue to be – a chance to bring together a truly diverse set of voices in order to share stories, and what better place to do so than a library.
Storytelling has always been at the heart of the queer community. We have been sharing stories for centuries, creating our own histories, disrupting and reinventing conventional ideas about narrative, family, love and community in a world that, until recently, silenced or camouflaged our lived experiences. To this day, much of queer culture is whitewashed or, as I like to call it, gaystreamed: cleaned up, made palatable and normalised for a heterosexual audience.
Through Queerstories I hope to share the things I love most about my community: the resilience, creativity, courage, generosity, humour, love and smarts that I witnessed first through my parents, but now enjoy as a queer woman myself. Queerstories will continue in 2016, inviting more Australian trailblazers to share their reflections on lives well lived and battles fought, pride, prejudice, love and humour, just metres from the site of Sydney’s first Mardi Gras.
For our inaugural event, I chose speakers by seeking recommendations from my own LGBTQI networks, as well as people I have met through the arts, family, friendship and social media. I asked them to share a story from their lives that they thought audiences might want to hear. It could be about their sexuality or gender identity but it didn’t need to be. It was important to me to allow the speakers to choose their own stories. So often marginalised people are squeezed into the narratives mainstream society wants from them: the coming out, the transition, the conception.
What might we hear from our community if we threw the door wide open and said to them ‘what do you want to say?’
I was blown away by the time, energy and thought our performers put into their work. There was a real sense of curiosity and engagement in the room. Perhaps that focus was inspired by the library itself, a place for quiet and reflection; or perhaps it was respect for the diversity of experience represented by our speakers, ranging in age from twenty-five to eighty-one, an academic, an athlete, a minister, a student, an artist, a comedian.
I’ll introduce their stories here as I did on the night, with a little about them and a little about how I found them. Enjoy their tales and be sure to follow Late Night Library and Lady Sings it Better for future events.
Zoe Coombs Marr is an artist, writer, theatre-maker and comedian. She grew up in Grafton where she and her best friend wrote and staged a musical instead of going to Schoolies week. Her play ‘Is This Thing On?’ recently premiered at Belvoir. Her solo works include: And That Was The Summer That Changed My Life (2011) Gone Off (2012) and Dave (2013), She is one third of the performance company post, a regular on ABC2s Dirty Laundry Live, and in 2006 won the National Poetry Slam Championships under dubious circumstances.
I don’t know if I have ever laughed as hard as I did watching her stand up show, ‘Dave’. I loved it so much I awkwardly and drunkenly fangirled her at the Adelaide Fringe artist bar last year, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have her share her story, Ode to Gay Bars, at Late Night Library.
Oscar Monaghan is a Murri man from Far North Queensland and I booked him for Queerstories on a very enthusiastic friend’s recommendation. He also holds the distinction of submitting my favourite performer bio, possibly ever. Oscar is a queer law student, who has been an active organiser on campus and in Sydney, centring his work on community-building endeavours and consciousness building. He enjoys bringing up, and organising around, decolonisation, feminism, race, and other forms of structural oppression. When not pretending to study, he is most likely to be found in a dance class, trying to coax affection from cats on the street, or occasionally standing in as a tennis partner for his boyfriend.
His story is called Kids These Days.
The Reverend Dorothy McRae-McMahon is a retired Uniting Church minister, human rights activist and author of seventeen books. She was a former minister of the Pitt Street Sydney Church, which was renowned for its work in human rights and local activism. She received recognition for her work with the award of the Australian Government Peace Medal in 1987 and in 1988 with the Australian Human Rights Medal. In 1997, she came out as a lesbian at the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Perth and resigned from her position later in the year, citing the focus on her sexuality, which she felt was affecting the church. She became a leader in the successful campaign to have homosexual ministers formally accepted within the Uniting Church. She was the first woman to be Moderator of the World Council of Churches Worship Committee and has been awarded the Jubilee Medal for work with women in NSW (1977), Australian Government Peace Award (1986), The Australian Human Rights Medal (1988), and holds an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Macquarie University (1992).
A long list of distinctions! I was not raised in a religious family but I remember going to Dorothy’s church as a child. My mother, Teresa, recently reconnected with her when she interviewed her for 55Upitty, an oral histories project that celebrates older LGBTQI women.
She shares her story on Unutterable Experience.
Georgia Cranko’s passion for challenging society’s definition of equality and ability has led her to some interesting places, in the fields of both performing arts and in disability advocacy. In 2010, Georgia received an Accessible Arts grant to devise and perform a solo piece, ‘Living Within Context’, which explored the little challenges and triumphs of life with a physical disability. Since then, Georgia has shared her love of creating art in many different and unique ways, from participating in art installations, modelling in photo exhibitions, dancing wherever she can and performing at local poetry slams. She is also a passionate advocate for people who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). In 2014, she was one of the Wom*n’s Officers for the SRC at Sydney University, where she facilitated honest and pragmatic discussions about feminist politics. From July to September, 2015, Georgia was based in San Francisco working as an intern for Sins Invalid, a performance-activist organisation.
I’ve known of Georgia’s work for a few years but the decision to book her for Queerstories came in the gayest way ever. First, her ex-girlfriend recommended her, then she was recommended by the ex-girlfriend of the drummer in my band. How could I say no? Here's her take with LGBTIQ +.
Raewyn Connell is Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney, a Life Member of the NTEU, and one of Australia's leading social scientists. Her most recent books are Southern Theory (2007), about social thought in the postcolonial world; Confronting Equality (2011), about social science and politics; and Gender: In World Perspective (3rd edn, with Rebecc a Pearse, 2015). Her other books include Masculinities, Schools and Social Justice, Ruling Class Ruling Culture, Gender and Power, and Making the Difference. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages.
However, all of these achievements pale in comparison to the fact that I had my first kiss with her daughter Kylie in their front lounge room in Year Nine. I didn’t tell Raewyn I would introduce her like that but she didn’t seem too bothered – she definitely wasn’t as mad as she was when she found our pot stash in Year Ten.
Here she is In Costa Rica.
Matthew Mitcham OAM was Australia's first male diving Olympic gold medallist in nearly a century, and the only diver in Olympic history, to produce a perfect 10 point score from all judges – winning the 2008 Beijing Olympics 10m platform title. Matthew has won medals, appeared on Dancing with the Stars, published an autobiography entitled Twists and Turns and THEN transformed that autobiography into a cabaret show of the same name.
Those who know me understand that sports and I are not the best bedfellows so, unsurprisingly I met Matt not at the pool, but at Oxford Street’s Slide Lounge, where we both regularly perform cabaret. We bonded over ukuleles and harmony and I now consider Matt one of my favourite fellows. Check his videos in Habits.