A review of Out Here: an anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa
This is a book I was hesitant about reviewing. It sat on my bedside table and every few days I would pick it up, read a few lines, put it back and then mull them over. It is a book with a clear and present need: to celebrate LGBTQIA+ writers and broaden the spectrum of voices speaking about gender and sexuality issues in Aotearoa. It is one that should absolutely be spoken about and promoted within university circles. However, reviewing such a collection comes with a lot of responsibility: to handle things honestly, to read new, intersectional perspectives with an open mind, but also to acknowledge my limits in what I could comment on. Put simply, I was scared. I didn’t want to be confronted by what I was about to read, and I didn’t want to get it wrong.
Opening and reading Out Here was like opening the door to a vibrant world that previous generations of the LGBTQIA+ community could only have dreamed of. I wish I hadn’t hesitated in starting it for many reasons. First, it is an achievement not just for rainbow voices, but for literature in Aotearoa. The pieces are beautifully and delicately woven and have been compiled with the utmost care and consideration. An anthology is inherently disjointed and diverse. Despite this, editors Chris Tse and Emma Barnes have managed to create a sense of community and shared purpose amongst the contributors. This is a particularly notable achievement given the aim of the book: to expand our understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community. Tse and Barnes managed to do this, while still preserving the threads that bind the community together and the threads that have helped lead us to a point where this anthology was possible.
The second reason why I wish I had started this anthology sooner is that it is a serious collection. Anger and despair shine through the pieces. While powerful ways to grip a reader, these are not pieces to be binged. This is not a book to rush so you can finish your GoodReads reading challenge or hurriedly quote it in an essay. True appreciation of this collection is only possible if you read it across multiple sittings and can let the pieces sit with you. The final reason I wish I had started this book sooner is that enough time has gone by without a collection of stories from the LGBTQIA+ community in Aotearoa. Not from the US, not from the UK, but from Aotearoa. From home. It is a collection of stories where everyone can find something to relate to, but also can find another piece where they learn something new. Delays are unnecessary: start this book now.
Once I did pick up the book it was like joining a community where I could talk with friends and learn from elders. Reading this book was like sitting with friends and sharing stories of love and loss, community and courage, heartbreak and home, and pain and pleasure. I chatted with pioneering lesbian writer Heather McPherson about how companionship is like art: bursting with colours and textures that are entirely unique and up to you. I watched as Jessica Niurangi Mary Maclean reflected on how takatāpui in te ao Māori challenges the binaries that divide white society. I listened (and laughed) as Ray Shipley outwardly mocked gender and those who work so hard to enforce it. This book both teaches people about the LGBTQIA+ community and provides a space for members of the community to sympathise with each other.
Once you do pick up this book, it will last a lifetime. Not because savouring each piece will take that long, but because it will command your attention and you will come back to it again. And again. Until another edition is released with new stories and perspectives and the process starts again. And perhaps that edition will include your voice too.