Reviews: ‘under/Limelight’ and ‘Kindred: 12 Queer Stories’, by Jess Rae

Reading has been a tricky task for many during isolation. We think that because we have way more free time we should use it on all the things that keep getting put off, like exercising, or learning new recipes, or (god forbid) writing. Within this reading slump I’ve found anthologies to be a great pathway into reading because short stories keep my attention and they’re easy to finish. Recently it was Pride month and I had the pleasure of being sent an anthology by a self-published author about experiences of gay men during the time of the plebiscite, as well as another Pride-themed anthology featuring 12 stories from various authors of different genders, sexualities and ethnicities.

under/Limelight is a collection written by Tanner Muller exploring seven different perspectives around the Australian plebiscite for gay marriage. They are told from the point of view of gay men, some in the closet, some out of the closet, some young, some old, and one is from the perspective of a mother with a closeted gay son. What I enjoyed about this anthology is that not every story was told from the perspective of a “good” character. These characters aren’t typical golden-boys with great hero complexes doing everything and anything for their community; rather they make risky choices, they’re honest about their preferences, and you can tell that there is some internalised homophobia at play. So even though the stories were short, the broad experiences and personalities of each character made them feel very 3-dimensional. I also enjoyed that the stories and characters all wove together; it was fun to see the same dating-app handles being used in multiple stories. For me it was like finding little Easter eggs, and it also gave the feeling of Australia being a small country (which it is).

For me, one of the highlights of this anthology was Validation, a story about a young man feeling validated by Australia’s decision, to the point of potential downfall in losing his innocence before he’s ready. I also enjoyed But, you’re hurt, a short story about the mother of one of the previous characters learning about the risky behaviour her son is engaged with. I felt the voice was authentic in her reactions to finding certain explicit content on her son’s phone. For a debut self-published collection, I thought this was a really fresh piece of work with a very new perspective (seven of them, in fact).

I would have liked to have seen some other stories of other people in the LGBTQ+ community within the anthology to get a fully-rounded perspective of the events around the plebiscite. I know as someone who identifies as queer being in a human rights class at the time, where every class turned into a two-hour debate about the merits of gay marriage, it was incredibly disheartening and I couldn’t begin to imagine the feelings of those who have been far more marginalised then I. So I would’ve liked to have seen more stories from those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, perhaps even an ally or two, to round out the collection.

Kindred: 12 Queer Stories features stories from various authors of different genders, sexualities and ethnicities. While some of the names in this anthology are recognisable from their online presence, for many of them this is their first printed piece. Unlike in under/Limelight, Kindred features many different perspectives within the LGBTQ+ community, which I really enjoyed. My favourite stories include Sweet by Claire G Coleman, I Like Your Rotation by Jax Jacki Brown, and Questions to Ask Straight Relatives by Benjamin Law.

Sweet is a story about a world where gender doesn’t exist and to be gendered is to be shunned. Roxy goes to meet their group of friends and receives an ominous text from their friend Sweet. The piece is a very interesting exploration of gender and commentary on our obsession with putting people in boxes.

I Like Your Rotation is about Jem, a disabled lesbian trying to educate herself on both communities she is a part of: the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the disabled one. She does this with the help of another girl, Drew, who is very similar to her. While it doesn’t have a happy ending, I think the conversation about the need to educate yourself on your community and the troubles others have faced before you is incredibly important.

Finally, Questions to Ask Your Straight Relatives is about the challenges one faces navigating complex family dynamics while being part of the LGBTQ+ community. It explores who’s asking questions to get a rise out of you, who is actually an ally, and who you really need to cut off to protect yourself. This piece was one of the more comical pieces in this anthology and was a nice way for it to end.

Both of these anthologies explore some voices that I’m glad to start reading more of. As part of the queer community it feels validating to see these pieces of work being published more frequently. I’ll be excited to see more of these voices in the future, and maybe even see some of these authors release a full-length work.

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