Gay Sydney: A Memoir

20 Feb

We often make statements that follow this formula: ‘So-and-So made History by doing Such-and-Such’. (It’s indicative of the naïve inadequacy of such a formula that So-and-So is often a cricketer and the Such-and-Such is the scoring of a century.)

But history is made in the telling; or more precisely, it is the telling. And someone needs to do it. Someone needs to tell us what happened and how it all strings together. In regard to gay experience in this city, William Yang is in the perfect position to make history: he was there, and he took beautiful pictures.

In Gay Sydney: A Memoir, with his stunning photographs and his gentle wise voice, Yang creates a story that is both deeply moving and deeply inspiring. It doesn’t feel like a performance, but rather a generous sharing.

With personal anecdote and eye witness authority, Yang speaks of events from 1969, when he first came to Sydney, to the present day: the birth of Mardi Gras, the flowering of the Darlinghurst “gay ghetto”, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, the success of the marriage equality movement…

Such histories are invaluable because they give voice to queer stories. But histories also matter because intrinsic to them is the concept of change. A trend we currently suffer is the privileging of ways of seeing the world that unconsciously deny change. These ways of seeing, theories if you like, recognise injustice but offer little insight into the processes by which it might be overcome. (An example of a theory unconsciously wedded to the status quo might be one that asserts an individual’s life experience, and their understanding of that experience, is determined solely by demographic factors: race, sexuality, age….) One cure to the childlike infatuation with this sort of disheartening theory is a good dose of actual history – which Yang provides. (Though he wastes no time on philosophical nonsense, as I do.)

Accompanied by evocative music created and performed by Timothy Fairless, Yang’s memoir is simple, powerful, and most of all, uplifting –  a wonderful celebration of a way forward.

Paul Gilchrist

Gay Sydney: A Memoir by William Yang

at Seymour Centre until Feb 23

presented by Seymour Centre in association with World Pride

Image by William Yang

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