A kaleidoscope of perspective and identity, Natalya Newman
January 18, 2022
Published in 2021 by Auckland University Press, Out Here is an anthology of work by Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ writers from Aotearoa. It’s a collection of short stories, poems, comics, and plays; of literature in its many forms viewed through a spectrum of colour. This book is edited by Chris Tse and Emma Barnes, and I knew even before opening the first page that this would be unlike anything I have ever read before.
The cover is one that draws attention, as it shows many colours being mixed and creating new shades. This represents the diversity and change reflection both in this novel and the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole. I love that the colours are not cut off by the white in a straight line, and instead show the overflowing beauty of imperfection and proof that the mixing colours are creating something incredible. The fact that not the entire cover is taken up by colours shows that there is always room to discover and witness more change, which well represents both the ever-evolving nature of today’s society and the way the LGBTQIA+ community is influenced by it.
While many anthologies strive to present the diversity of literature, I have often experienced them as writers giving readers their own lens to add to their telescope. They look to show readers what the world looks like through their own eyes, their own experiences. What I love about this book is that the idea of a telescope is not enough. Instead, all of the stories, ideas, and emotions twist and weave together to form a kaleidoscope of colours, showing different views and hues depending on how you look at them.
Looking at each story in relation to other pieces changes the way readers see them. This idea really grabbed my attention to the point that I would read one story, then immediately wonder how it would influence the way I saw one that I read many pages before. Because of this, it felt like the stories changed and evolved, creating something new at every turn. I think that this really emphasises the beautiful fluidity and ever-changing nature of identity.
The way that this anthology is organised is appealing. The introduction states the pieces could have been categorised by labels, but there were overlaps and differences, so it made far more sense to put the authors in alphabetical order. I think that this decision highlights the range of diversity in the LGBTQIA+ community and the sense of belonging that can be found within it despite our differences.
This concept of unity found in diversity is what makes this anthology stand out, and even better, it stands out by blending in. Readers do not only see themselves in these stories but rather feel themselves and feel those around them in every word and letter. Out Here does not simply tell stories, displaying sentences and paragraphs for readers to absorb. Instead, it draws readers in and pulls us close enough to feel warmth, pain, heartbreak, joy, and an entire spectrum of emotions that is not achievable through observation on its own.
A message that is clearly stated in the introduction of Out Here is one of branching out, rather than having the main focus be of love. Love is not the only story LGBTQIA+ and Takatāpui writers tell, and this collection aims to show an amalgamation of the big and little things in people’s lives and to give a perspective on moments and happenings that are not often shown through the lens of the LGBTQIA+ community.
If you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I hope that you will find a sense of belonging when reading Out Here. I hope that you will find parts of yourself in this book that are not shown often enough in literature. If you do not identify with any parts of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, I hope that by reading this book you will understand and empathise more with the struggles that are faced, and appreciate what some people take for granted.
This book is one I find myself sinking into, being guided by gentle hands through complex layers of identity. What I find enthrals me most of all is that this anthology makes me feel as though I am diving into the depths of the ocean and finding I can breathe. Reading this is both thrilling, comforting, and humbling, as the diversity and complexity within its pages is something many can only dream of. I see myself in many pages, and yet in many others, I find that I can only imagine their reality. In this aspect, Out Here has really outshone my expectations.
Some anthologies try to make readers relate to everything they contain, but this one really presents itself as something else. It tells readers that we are all different and that sometimes the best thing to do is to respect those differences rather than forcing yourself into the shoes of another. Those shoes may not be in the same size as yours, they may have platforms when you are used to flats, they may be open when you expect them to be closed – either way, your understanding and experience of wearing those shoes will be completely different to the truth of them. The message that this book shows me is that you should take those unfamiliar shoes off, give them back, and sit with their wearer. Listen and understand if they want you to. Out Here takes readers through time and space, grief and joy, youth and age, on a journey that they might not have realised they longed to take.
I would recommend this book to those who have enjoyed All Out and Out Now, edited by Saundra Mitchell, which are both collections of Queer stories and experiences beautifully written by a multitude of authors. I would highly recommend Out Here if the delicate and enthralling process of weaving a diverse collection of stories together is something that gives to you a distinct sense of awe, as it does for me. Each of these anthologies uses the diversity of human experience found in the LGBTQIA+ community to present a breathtaking spectrum and sense of belonging.
- Natalya Newman lives in Whangārei.