Comedian Hannah Gadsby has accepted an honorary doctorate from the University of Tasmania, and delivered yet another thought-provoking speech to a home state crowd.
Dr Gadsby grew up in north-west Tasmania, and a few years back her subversive stand-up special Nanette made her a global star.
Last month the University of Tasmania awarded her the doctorate in recognition of her role as an ambassador for LGBTIQ+ people worldwide and her “profound impact on contemporary popular culture”.
She accepted it and addressed the crowd at the university’s 2021 Hobart Winter Graduation.
“I’m autistic and as such, anxiety is only ever going to be my constant companion,” she began.
“But honestly, I don’t know how it’s possible to not be anxious in this world and in this moment.”
Dr Gadbsy shared a simple question her “spouse lady Jenney” asks her whenever she sees Hannah struggling in “a whirly gig of anxiety”.
Jenney’s question is, “Don’t panic, who do you want to be?”
“That is the wisdom I want to share with you today. A question and it’s not even mine, you’re welcome,” she said.
The comedian shared that she now knows who she wanted to be, and that was a kind person.
“It’s actually more difficult than you’d imagine,” she said.
“Ten years ago I did not have the luxury of setting those goals.
“Trauma takes that privilege away from a person. It holds you to each and every moment as a life and death struggle.
“Trauma takes away your capacity to understand that there is more to life than just fighting against nothing.”
‘Homophobia was a political weapon’ in 1990s Tasmania
Dr Hannah Gadsby went on to reflect on her home state of Tasmania’s “devastatingly brutal” Colonial settlement.
“Change the date,” she said.
She also recalled Tasmania’s years-long campaign to legalise homosexuality in Tasmania, as she was growing up on the state’s north-west coast.
“Tasmania only decriminalized homosexuality in 1997. It didn’t happen without a decade-long fight,” she said.
“[Leaders did] very little to dignify the discourse.
“Too often those who use the most violent language were given a much bigger platform than they deserved.
“That’s how homophobia was politicised and weaponised in Tasmania, particularly on the north-west coast.”
She said opponents used the “trick” of “harvesting hate” from “a depressed low socio-economic demographic”.
“[The community was] already struggling against intergenerational poverty welfare dependency and a criminally low literacy level,” she said.
“Instead of making legitimate investments in the north-west, what was whipped up was a vulnerable community into a frenzy against a marginalised community.”
As a result, her community manufactured an “artificial identity of proud homophobia”.
“That’s where I grew up, and that traumatised me,” she said.
“I stand here before you happy to say I am proud of being from the North-West Coast.
“And I know they are proud of me too, so that backfired.”
‘Destructive patterns are repeating right now’
However she warned, “I can see these destructive patterns repeating themselves right now, all over the world, again and again.
“The Black Lives Matter movement and trans bodies are being criminalised and demonised as a threat.
“All they are asking for is the ability to be control who they want to be. It’s not much to ask.
“When people use the terms the ‘gay agenda’ or ‘playing the race card’, what they are doing is projecting their own ideals and tactics onto communities they wish to oppress in the same breath.
“The LGBTIQ community simply want to be able to exist as full and productive citizens, visibly and safely.”
Dr Gadsby said true leaders stood for all people and not against some.
“So I ask you, who do you want to be? Do you want to be a leader motivated by acts of inclusion or defined by measures of exclusion?” she said.
“Be somebody and try your best to be someone you want to be.”
Hannah Gadsby is touring new stand-up show
After Nanette and her Emmy-winning follow-up Douglas, Dr Hannah Gadsby is touring her new show Body of Work.
She’s performing it in Western Australia this week, before bringing it to Brisbane later this year.
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