BENJAMIN Law’s coming out stories are legendary.
Documented by Law himself in his work over the years — notably in his acclaimed memoir (and soon-to-be TV adaptation) The Family Law — the writer has often recounted his Chinese-Australian family’s unusual reactions to the news.
“I’m lucky in that my mum is exceptionally open-minded… she’s pretty much an outlier when it comes to Chinese-Australian women,” Law said.
“If she was the same age as me she’d be hitting every gay nightclub within striking distance.”
While it wasn’t quite as easy with his father, Law counts himself fortunate for having a loving, accepting family.
“My dad’s far more traditional Chinese, but I think over the years he’s worked with a lot of gay and lesbian people that he really respects,” he said.
“So when I came out to him, which was much later than my mum and much later than my siblings, I think I chose a point in his life where he had had more exposure to gay people, and I was confident that he would be okay with me in the long run.”
Despite his high profile in Australia as a gay writer, Law said there are still parts of his life where he isn’t completely out, for example with older, non-English speaking relatives, many of whom live overseas.
“I’m not necessarily going to hide the fact or disguise the fact by saying that I’m straight or I’m something that I’m not, but if they ask me, do I have a girlfriend, I’ll say no,” he said.
“Sometimes I’ll say, look, that’s not something I’m interested in, which is true as well, but I think because I don’t have an especially close relationship with some of them, I already know they’re going to not feel comfortable having that conversation because it’s not something that’s even within their world.
“When you come from a family with different cultural levels of understanding, you can be out in some ways but not all ways.”
Although discussions about the nature and importance of coming out are common within Australia’s LGBTI communities, Law argued they are often not placed within the diverse cultural contexts that exist in this country. The gulf between, for example, an Anglo-Australian and a Chinese-Australian’s experiences of coming out might be enormous.
“This whole thing of personal responsibility of coming out to your family et cetera, that’s really hard if you’re a young gay guy in Sydney,” he said.
“Many people would think, what’s so hard about that, Sydney being so tolerant of queer people, but if you’re a young Arab queer guy, you might very well be closeted to your family for the rest of your life.
“I don’t think that necessarily indicates weakness in yourself, I think it’s about feeling cultural and familial realities that other people who aren’t from that culture don’t necessarily have to deal with or necessarily think about.”
**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.