Many men shy away from conversations about toxic masculinity, but Samuel Leighton-Dore is not one of them.
The multidisciplinary artist (pictured above) appeared at the Brisbane Writers Festival to discuss his contribution to Benjamin Law’s book Growing Up Queer in Australia.
He told the audience of his fascination with masculinity and the expectations placed on young boys in society.
Samuel said the bullying he received in school was in response to a learned masculinity.
“I think the bullying started well before I was aware I was gay, and before other’s really understood what being gay meant,” he said.
“I realised it had stemmed from being a different kind of boy and not presenting masculin[ity] in the way others were raised to expect.”
Samuel also said since completing high school, he has had a number of fellow pupils apologise for the torment.
“I’ve probably had one or two men each yeah reach out to me… and apologise,” he said.
“It’s nice to know some of these people have grown into reflective, kind men.”
But Samuel said the apologies had sparked an interest in ideals surrounding masculinity. He told the audience the dynamic between boys in schools and societal expectations fascinate him.
“The egging on of each other, the one-upping,” he said.
“The idea they’re probably all scared of something and having trouble communicating difficult emotions.
“[They] come out in fear and [are] taken out on the nearest gay kid… or someone who looks different.”
Samuel enjoys talking about the hard stuff and provoking reflection in his audiences.
“I love the idea of planting seeds for people to then reflect on in their own time,” he said.
Diverse experiences in Growing Up Queer in Australia
Filmmaker and intersex activist Phoebe Hart, and Brisbane based writer Nathan Mills also joined Samuel Leighton-Dore on stage at the Writers Festival event.
Journalist and editor of the anthology, Benjamin Law moderated the event, facilitating discussions around queer identities in Australia.
Law’s book Growing Up Queer in Australia was released last month and contains stories from diverse members of the Australian LGBTIQ community.
He said it was important to release the book now as being queer holds a unique perspective in Australian culture.
“There’s no single way of growing up queer,” Benjamin told the audience.
“Say you come from a racial, religious, or ethnic minority, at the end of the day you [can] come home… to families who can affirm your identity.
“For queer folks, it’s often quite different in that you might not have anyone like you in your home environment,” he said.
‘Knowing earlier would’ve really helped me’
That statement rings true for Phoebe Hart who told the audience she had little knowledge about her intersex status.
“I was born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome…but that was something that was never really known to me,” she said.
Phoebe said growing up she spent a lot of time wondering about her body. She admitted knowing about her intersex status earlier would have been beneficial for her.
“It was something that came out as a little nugget of information when I was eleven,” she said.
“There was about six years of me trying to figure it out on my own. Then finally when I was seventeen, I got the full information.
“I could have used that info much earlier. It would have really helped me frame my identity.”
Struggles with identity
Nathan Mills said growing up in a Catholic family, he too struggled with his queer identity.
The recent UQ graduate said he knew from a young age he was gay but he had been taught to keep it hidden.
Like Samuel Leighton-Dore, Nathan has a bone to pick with ideals surrounding masculinity.
He made comparisons between the isolation felt by gay men, and the pressure society places on heterosexual men.
He said heterosexual men struggle more to push away ideals of masculinity than their gay counterparts.
“They don’t really have a reckoning with it in the same way that I did as a gay person,” he said.
Growing up queer in Australia has its challenges but Samuel likes to find the humourous side of things.
“If I had one thing to say to my younger self… it would be, ‘Don’t wear speedos to the aquatic centre’,” he joked.
Benjamin Law’s Growing Up Queer in Australia is out now.
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