12 Feb 2017

Growing up gaysian in Australia

From Sunday Morning, 10:40 am on 12 February 2017
Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law Photo: supplied

Australian writer Ben Law explores growing up growing up gay and Asian in coastal Queensland in the ‘90s in a new TV show.

The first episode of The Family Law – based on Law's memoir of the same name – clocked over 1 million views in the first 3 days.

Law says his family has been the defining force in his life.

“To write my own story, I can’t disentangle myself from my family… You get older and you realise ‘Yes, they are total freaks and they make for great material’.”

Law says that although his family “stuck out like a sore thumb” in the monocultural part of Australia where he grew up, the Chinese-Australian experience is just one aspect of the show.

“Race is as much the plot of The Family Law as being white is the plot of Friends or Seinfeld.”

One in four Australians is born overseas and one in ten have significant Asian heritage – but the media is a long way from reflecting this, Law says.

“I think that’s a story that we don’t tell ourselves enough as Australians, how diverse we are.”

While he grew up in a state that's often viewed as extremely regressive, Law says Queensland can be progressive in some ways – so far it’s the only state to elect two female premiers (female premiers in other Australian states have all become premieres after mid-term resignations.)

“We like extremes for some reason,” he says.

The question of how different life would be in another place always lingers in the background for children of migrants, he says.

“[Migrant parents] say ‘If you were born in China your life would be like this’ or ‘If you were born in Malaysia – where my mum as born - your life could be like this. And as a gay person you extend that question – What would my life have been like if I’d grown up gay in China or Malaysia or another Asian country?”

Ben Law is the author of The Family Law, Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East and co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say.

He is in New Zealand for Samesame but Different – NZ’s LGBTI Writers’ Festival.