By Mark McNease
I recently posted about the story collection BOLD, which is launching in just a few days on November 27. A treasure trove of personal stories and experiences revealing the lives of older LGBTI people, the book presents its subjects with intimacy, poignancy and vibrancy. We are alive, it says, and we matter.
“More than 50 older LGBTI people share their stories and images – of first love and family, of struggle and defiance and resistance and pride. They include prominent activists including Bob Brown, Sally Goldner and the Hon. Michael Kirby. Many of the stories are by ordinary and extraordinary people who may be Indigenous, born overseas, or live in cities or small towns across Australia, New Zealand, UK, US and Ireland.”
I had the opportunity to interview the book’s creator, story collector and driving force, David Hardy, for this ‘6 Questions’ feature. His extensive answers follow. You can also learn more about David and the Associate Editor for the book, Elizabeth Whiley, at the end of the interview.
MM: David, thanks for taking the time to answer ‘6 Questions.’ Let’s start with your background, which is extensive. You’re a storyteller, singer and performer in Brisbane’s Lesbian and Gay Choir, Doctorate of Philosophy in Indigenous Knowledges, and an ex-Diplomat. What does it mean to have a Doctorate of Philosophy in Indigenous Knowledges?
DH: My Mum’s family is English and Irish and my Dad’s side of the family is Wiradjuri, one of Australia’s Aboriginal nations located in the south of New South Wales. I didn’t grow up with language but I have a pride in my Aboriginal heritage that led me to undertaking my doctoral studies at a university that combines Indigenous or traditional knowledges with non-Indigenous knowledges. Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education has campuses in the Northern Territory and teaches at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels and it was one of my proudest moments to graduate and give the valedictory address.
I now live in Brisbane after travelling the world as an Australian diplomat. I sing with the Brisbane Lesbian and Gay Pride Choir and have toured with them to local and international LGBTI choral festivals, including Various Voices in Dublin, Ireland in 2014 and to the GALA festival in Denver, Colorado in 2012. I’m planning to return to Denver in early July 2016 for the next GALA festival and BOLD will be on sale in the festival store.
MM: You’re described as a storyteller, which leads into this new book, BOLD. What is your passion for storytelling about?
DH: I wanted to write since I was a kid. Then, like now, it was about the storytelling; the yearning to yarn. It was not just about living an imaginary life through the writing and working stuff out on the page. Back then, I needed to broadcast it, to say it out loud, to perform. And act I did until my world of storytelling faded after my undergraduate days. It took a backseat to career and to a hidden life until I came out as a gay man in my early 40s when I realised the stories I wanted to tell were about people like me – the real me, the real us. Now I can’t stop writing and helping others to tell their stories. My new book, BOLD celebrates the very fact that our lives matter.
MM: I see that you connected with Charlie Beale, Artistic Director for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, when he was in Australia. Can you describe how that encounter (and others, if you’d like) served as inspiration or catalyst for this collection?
DH: All the LGBTI choirs from Australia and New Zealand get together every few years to hold a little festival called Out and Loud, and in 2013 it was in Hobart, Tasmania as part of a much larger event called Festival of Voices. Charlie had been invited to lead the Out and Loud choral workshops and to prepare the 200 singers for two performances. I interviewed Charlie for an article I was writing for a literary magazine, The Lifted Brow about the history of queer choirs in Australia. Originally from London, Charlie was artistic director of the London Gay Men’s Chorus before moving to New York six or so years ago to lead the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. He’s a generous fella who told me about the New York Chorus and its loyal audience and the performances and outreach work they do, including sing-alongs at the SAGE Centre for older LGBTI folk. He also talked about the Nightingale Brigade, a group of volunteers who help out when somebody in the Choir needs some assistance. During that same festival I spoke to a number of singers from the various choirs about some of their outreach work, including with older LGBTI people. And it got me wondering.
Tasmania, like my home state of Queensland was often regarded as being a bit behind others – you probably have parallel states in the US where there is a reputation, earned or not, about being a bit backward. Indeed Tasmania was the very last in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality in 1997 (Queensland was the second last, in 1990). Rodney Croome spoke at our festival, telling us the story of being a local Tasmanian boy and the work he did to change the law in Tasmania to make homosexuality legal, a criminal offence at the time, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. He has gone on to lead the principal group pursuing marriage equality (still a way off in Australia), and from a virtual outlaw, he was honoured this year by being named ‘Tasmanian of the Year’.
Inspiration for BOLD came from this week of rehearsals and performances and hearing words from Sarah in the Sydney choir and Rodney’s queer history of Tasmania and the insights from Charlie about the outreach of his chorus. There are academic studies looking at older LGBTI lives and a number of small community projects but there wasn’t an Australian book documenting and celebrating and revealing the lives of older LGBTI people. Until BOLD.
MM: Once you committed to gathering and publishing the stories in BOLD, how did you find these storytellers? Part 2: I’m curious to hear about your interaction with the contributors. Do any encounters stand out? What was the process like?
DH: My initial step was to secure a book deal, to offer the certainty of a publication to those willing to tell their story. One of my doctoral supervisors, Professor Lynette Russell from Monash University in Melbourne had earlier suggested I submit my short stories to The Rag and Bone Man Press. A year later, I successfully pitched the idea of this book to this Melbourne publisher. They partnered me with associate editor, Elizabeth Whiley who widened the search through a call out, with Hannah Cartmel who edited the contributed stories and with Dan Bisley who created what I consider a masterwork of design by blending personal photos, images from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives and daring typography.
While the call out to writers was effective, including through lgbtSr that brought forth contributions in the US, most of the early submissions came from tips from friends of my sister, Sandy or mine. Sandy is the other same sex attracted person in my immediate family. It was important to have a strong geographic reach across Australia and not just from urban centres, so some targeting of individuals I knew or knew about was necessary. A large number of the 56 stories in this collection come from my home State of Queensland, with four stories from my growing-up city of Townsville in our tropical north. I also wanted to make sure there were Indigenous stories and migrant stories, like the story of Aunty Dawn Daylight – Aunty is used as a term of respect for Aboriginal elders. Aunty Dawn leads the Indig Lez group in Brisbane and has been a great supporter of younger Indigenous women struggling with family and identity. Garth Wong is also from Brisbane and his story chronicles growing up as a secretly gay man in a prominent Chinese family in Papua New Guinea.
A visit with my choir to Ireland in mid 2014 provided the opportunity for my first two interviews, with additional impetus for this collection from two early supporters, former Senator and leader of the Australian Greens, Dr Bob Brown and the Hon. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia (who has been with his partner, Johan for 46 years).
I wrote 13 of the stories, based on interviews as some people were either uncomfortable about writing their stories or did not have sufficient time. I interviewed several couples, including three in Townsville in north Queensland. One couple, Erica and Joan have been married 55 years. They married when Erica was still Eric and it would be many years later that Erica would finally emerge. For this interview, like many others, it was an intimate exchange, as couples remind each other of stories from the past – and there are usually lots of laughs and the occasional tear as well. I feel immensely proud to help bring forth these stories.
In this collection you will find poets and politicians, elders and the elderly, actors and academics, conductors and counselors, singers and social workers, publicans and preachers, magistrates and migration agents, dancers and drag performers, and artists and anglers. Most are memoirs or biographies, but there are also essays, poetry and even one song – all revealing who we are.
MM: Have you found common threads, sentiments or experiences in the storytellers in the book? If so, what are a few of the most notable?
DH: There are 56 stories in this collection, covering more than 70 people. Half are by women, half by men and they are not only stories from lesbians and gay men but by those who identify as trans, bisexual and intersex. Most are from Australia, from every State and including regional and rural centres, with four stories from New Zealand, three from the US, and one each from UK and Ireland. The US stories include ‘Outliving myself’ by New Yorker, Robert Levithan, ‘The incredibly true adventure of Queer Girl and Tumor Boy’ and ‘They will know her by her shoes’, both by Linda Englert Kennedy of Columbus, Ohio and ‘The one red egg’ by Timorell.
There are many, many stories chronicling activism and discrimination and while the nature of the resistance is similar the timing is dissimilar. In Sydney and Melbourne, by the 1970s gay liberation was active and alive whereas gay struggle and resistance in Townsville in North Queensland occurred two decades later. The coming out story is a universal one, and the approval or disapproval of parents and siblings and small town community and cultural group and religion are common features. There are those who have always been out, others who were finding a way to be their true self, and yet others who are still struggling for recognition or acceptance. Many reference the injustice that comes with heteronormativity, and others talk about their current fight to determine their own future and those of their partner. Marriage equality, which is still some time off in Australia, is referenced several times. The stories are enhanced through wonderful photography and other art work, e.g. two paintings from Belfast artist Roisin O’Hagan, sometimes family photos and other times archived material from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne. Many of these images are of older people, older couples, sending a message that as we age we continue to desire and to be desirable.
MM: Congratulations on getting so many stories collected, it’s quite something. What are your hopes for the book, its readers and the people whose stories are told here?
DH: Our lives matter. This is a book about ordinary and extraordinary people who have, at different levels and in different ways, helped change the world in which we live. The last piece is titled ‘Lives lived with purpose’, by historian Graham Willett. He writes: ‘If we want to live lives of purpose, knowing the past is as important as knowing the present.’
This book builds on the efforts of earlier writers to unsilence silenced lives, particularly those living in areas where even today it can be difficult to ‘come out’. One of the stories in the book is by Darryl Butler who lives in a tiny, largely Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. He came out at 54 and began to dance in his 60s. He talked about growing up with a clear metascript that started with ‘boy meets girl’ but he couldn’t find a non-heterosexual metascript that described his feelings, his life trajectory as a gay man. He pointed to the power of books like this providing such a metascript in this still straight, straight world to those who are still struggling with their identity. If this book helps one person, that is wonderful. A second, even better…
The response from those I interviewed and contributing writers has been one of excitement. They are proud to share their stories and, for many, to have their life stories in print for the first time.
I do hope BOLD travels well and travels far, reaching all audiences, as this book is for our community, all of us.
About David Hardy
David Hardy is a storyteller from Queensland, with a love for singing and performing in Brisbane’s Lesbian and Gay Pride Choir. In 2014, he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Indigenous Knowledges at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. His practice-led research was titled ‘Coming Out: Wagga to Warsaw to Wiradjuri – Journeys of Indigenous Identity and Queer Identity’, for which he received the Higher Degrees Award by the Northern Territory Department of Education in 2015.
Beyond exploring the diversity of expressions of his Indigenous and queer identity, David’s writing also draws on his career as a diplomat in Poland, Indonesia, The Philippines and Samoa. He is currently working on a drama for television, VC, based on the life of a young consular officer.
About Associate Editor Elizabeth Whiley
Elizabeth Whiley is a passionate writer and editor from Melbourne who has worked across the publishing industry in a variety of roles, including project management, proofreading and public relations. She recently managed the Australian business book list for the US publisher Wiley, and was responsible for print and digital productions at CSIRO.
Elizabeth’s experience with bugs, bats and business has set the scene for a veritably creative freelance career. She is a proud volunteer for The Rag and Bone Man Press, and amidst cross-legged wine drinking while her girlfriend strums guitar, she hopes to continue her work with quality community projects. She recently delved back into student life to complete a Masters of Communication in which nonprofit publishing projects are a key focus.
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