Seth Malacari on looking for the creative spaces that exist somewhere between the binaries of mainstream queer representation
This book was edited and published on stolen Whadjuk Noongar Boodja. Genocide, land theft, systematic racism and ongoing colonisation have erased and repressed much of the gender and sexual diversity amongst First Nations people. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional owners of this land. Sovereignty was never ceded. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
Gay and lesbian youth, particularly white ones, can find multiple examples of themselves in literature today. These stories are important. Gay and lesbian teens deserve to see themselves in literature. But what about everyone else? In early 2022 an Instagram post went viral that listed all the Australian YA books with a trans or gender diverse main character. There were only seven of them. Five were by Alison Evans. We love Alison Evans, but it is completely unreasonable for one person to carry the weight of representing all gender diverse experiences. So where are all the trans stories? Where is the rest of the LGBTQIA+ representation?
This anthology was born out of the pure rage of not seeing the stories I wanted to read being published. I don’t mind the odd contemporary, but I grew up on monster stories, problematic classic sci-fi and feminist fantasy. Give me sentient robot clones and Earthsea wizards over meet-cutes any day. I wanted stories about all that juicy middle ground of the queer experience. I wanted stories of friendship, family and finding yourself (but with magic and ghosts and stuff). I wanted stories by people who have been denied a voice for too long.
That is why this anthology contains only emerging writers, those who have not had a full-length novel traditionally published before. Eighteen (nineteen including myself) new queer voices who have now been given a chance to be heard, to be recognised and to push the boundaries of what Queer YA in Australia is. Many of them are under thirty. There wasn’t an age restriction, but it has been incredible to see so much young talent emerging.
This book features many trans and gender diverse voices, asexual, aromantic, bisexual and unapologetically queer voices. The history of trans representation in the media has largely been that of trans women: trans women as jokes, trans women as objects of disgust, trans women as victims, or trans women as criminal men in drag. That was the extent of my knowledge of the trans experience as a kid. Trans men were rarely portrayed, though the few examples in mainstream (American) film or television, such as Brandon Teena, Max Sweeney or Viola/Sebastian Hastings reinforced the same ideas: to be trans is to be hated, feared, or laughed at.
There was no such thing as trans joy on our screens or in our books, and there were certainly very few trans people who were given the platform to suggest otherwise. Couple this with the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s that wiped out a generation of trans and queer voices – people who today should be elders and mentors, people who should be in positions of power in publishing houses, on the boards of arts organisations or sitting in government – and what we are left with is a void. Trans representation in so-called Australia is simply not good enough. This is part of the reason I failed to recognise myself as trans until well into adulthood. What would my life have been like if positive, nuanced and diverse trans characters existed in mainstream media as I was
Queer YA fiction in Australia has come a long way in the last decade. There are more queer books being published than ever before, some of those books win awards, and a rare few get made into movies and TV shows. What is ‘queer’ though? When we say queer we mean the whole LGBTQIA+ spectrum and all the intersectionalities of that. When we look at the queer YA books being published, one thing becomes obvious: Australia still has a diversity problem. Contemporary gay and lesbian stories are more abundant than ever (though nowhere near the numbers of heterosexual YA being pumped out every day), and many even have happy endings.
The writers are as diverse as their stories. We are intersectional. We use pronouns how we want to. We challenge stereotypes. We write weird stuff. The stories range across genres but mostly fall into the SFF categories. Some are funny, some are bittersweet, some are shocking, some are hopeful. And yet, we haven’t covered it all. Not every queer identity is here. Not every intersection is explored. I hope this book leads to greater opportunities for queer writers in mainstream publishing so that eventually all queer people can find multiple examples of themselves in literature. If you are a queer person reading this, I hope you find a hint of yourself amongst these pages. For everyone else, take note: the queer experience is more than just rainbows, ‘equal love’ and death. The queer experience is every minute of every day for us. It is the mundane and the magical. The inbetween. The unexpected.
Trans lives matter. Queer lives matter.
Seth Malacari (he/they)