Jenny Nicholls reviews 30 Queer Lives for the Waiheke Weekender


Jenny Nicholls has reviewed Matt McEvoy’s book 30 Queer Lives: Conversations with LGBTQIA+ New Zealanders for the Waiheke Weekender:

‘I loved this collection of first person accounts on queer life in Aotearoa — in case you are wondering, the LGBTQIA+ of the sub stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, A for ally or asexual (depending on who you are talking to); and a plus sign for anyone else not included, who should be.

Interviewees range from household names like Grant Robertson, Gareth Farr and Chlöe Swarbrick to soldiers, farmers, sports people, chefs, doctors, academics, businesspeople, artists, writers and fa‘afafine who live from Hokianga to Invercargill. These are painful, surprising, witty, revealing, and/or triumphant life stories, and every trajectory here is different. One contributor describes renovating a historic German train station, others life on the streets. The activist Shaneel Shavneel Lal compares being queer in Fiji and in New Zealand, and the devastating effects of colonisation; Charlotte Goodyear talks about walking the runway as a trans model in Ōtepoti Dunedin; Edward Cowley writes about his Samoan heritage, fa‘afafine — “If you have a fa‘afafine in your family you know things are going to run smoothly” — and his alter ego, the drag queen Buckwheat — “Being a drag queen made dating difficult. People would like either Edward or Buckwheat, but not both of us.”

Grant Robertson recounts going to a party uninvited as a 16-year-old still coming to terms with his sexuality. On the front door was a sign reading “No Fags”. As head boy at Kings he was still taking girls to formal balls — “I probably should have come out to my parents then, but I didn’t because I was just so embarrassed about the whole thing. The rest of that year was a struggle with worrying about who knew and who didn’t . . .”

Auckland MP Chlöe Swarbrick talks about her desire for children, and the tension between “wanting to be open, and being wary of the backlash. But I do feel a responsibility to young people to be visible.”

The reader is left with a sense of awe at the achievements of every one of these contributors.

“As a gay Kiwi kid growing up through Auckland Catholic schools,” writes the author Matt McEvoy, “books about All Black, Sir Edmund Hillary or wealthy businessmen were ubiquitous in the school library or bookshops, while stories about other New Zealanders were rarely, if ever, seen . . . Some of the older people interviewed for this book told me that they’ve been astonished to see the progress that’s been achieved over their lifetimes . . . But for all there is to celebrate, there remains much to fight for.”

Blooming brilliant.’