Writer and “full-time homosexual” Benjamin Law is helping to bring much-needed visibility around sexuality and Asian-Australians to the small screen. Matthew Wade caught up with him and his mother Jenny to find out more.
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Growing up in Queensland – the last mainland state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality – isn’t easy when you’re young and haven’t yet acknowledged your same-sex attraction.
For Benjamin Law, there was a stark difference between knowing, acknowledging, and then ultimately coming out as gay.
“I didn’t even meet an openly gay or queer person until I left home… I mean, by the end of high school dial-up was a thing, so we weren’t connected the way we are now,” he says.
“I tried to suppress it and deny it. I just saw [being gay] as the worst thing you could possibly be.”
Entangled with his burgeoning sexuality was his Asian-Australian cultural identity, something he says played a role in his hesitancy to come out as well.
Conversations around sexuality and relationships were rare among most of his family members.
“Dad is much more traditionally Chinese, so we didn’t really talk about relationships with him, and that’s the reason I didn’t come out to my grandmother until last year,” he says, “because she doesn’t speak English and comes from a very different cultural background as well.”
“But mum’s the complete opposite – she’s frank with sex and relationships, and is fine talking about those things.
“Though we still didn’t really have conversations about sexuality when I was growing up.”
Law’s mother and collaborator on the sex and relationship advice book Law School, Jenny Phang, says she had no idea her son was gay before he came out to her at 17.
Rather, she thought he had a girlfriend.
“He used to have this best friend called Rebecca, and in year twelve she came to my house to give Ben a birthday present,” she says.
“So I thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I had no idea.”
She adds that in many Asian-Australian communities and depending on your family, same-sex attraction is something often kept tight-lipped.
“I have a friend who can’t even talk about her sex life with her mum,” she says.
“When your family is religious, or old fashioned, or conservative, you have to keep your lips sealed. You can’t talk or discuss anything like that with them.”
When Law finally sat his mother down to come out to her, Phang thought he may have gotten Rebecca pregnant or become addicted to drugs.
But she was fine once he revealed that he was gay, casually stating at the time that “something must have gone wrong in the womb”.
“I don’t know why people have problems with gay or lesbian or bisexual people,” she says.
“Everybody’s different. Even if you’re not gay, you’re all different.”
The third season of The Family Law, the Australian comedy series based on Law’s memoir of the same name, is currently gearing to be released on SBS in 2019.
The series is told from the perspective of Law growing up in suburban Queensland with his family, and Law says the third season will focus more prominently on protagonist Ben’s queer sexuality.
“It’s not like we go into the writers room and think, how can we break ground,” he says.
“But hopefully one of the side effects of the show is that there’s some basic representation that’s been missing out there, about a young non-Anglo teenager coming to terms with his sexuality.
“And in a way that’s really funny – it doesn’t have to be morose. Being gay isn’t a depressing thing, homophobia is.
“I wish I’d seen something like that growing up.”
Law adds that audiences can expect a whole new show when the third season of The Family Law airs next year.
“You can expect deranged costumes, and there may be a scene that involves minors unknowingly wearing fetish gear, because that’s just where we’re going to take it,” he says.
“If we can make people laugh and take them on a trip, I’d be pretty stoked.
“Mum and all the family make cameo appearances every season, and I’ve been pretty lucky – no-one’s taken any legal action yet.”
While Law has had immense support as an Asian-Australian gay man from people like his mother, he’s aware not every young LGBTI person has the same kind of nurturing environment.
He encourages young people questioning their sexual identity to try and find accepting people to come out to first.
“Tell family members who you suspect will be okay with it first, rather than going straight to the boss, your parents,” he says.
“If your parents are the scary ones, that will make coming out later much easier, knowing you have the support of others.”
When it comes to the parents of same-sex attracted young people, Phang has simple and straightforward advice.
“As a parent you should love your children unconditionally, otherwise you shouldn’t choose to be a parent,” she says.
Season three of The Family Law will air on SBS in 2019.