Tragedy plus time equals comedy: Benjamin Law and ‘Gaysia’.

Sunday afternoon I went to Capital M’s Literary Festival (where on multiple posters had been corrected to LiteraCy festival, and I’m still unsure if someone royally F’d up or if it’s just a big marketing ploy) and listened to a discussion from Australian writer Benjamin Law, a well known writer for popular magazine Frankie, among countless other publications, and author of two books one of which was the hot topic for the afternoon and was titled Gaysia (of course, more info below).


Starting a wee bit late into the regular scheduling Benjamin opened with a brief family history timeline for us to understand his angles of approach in regards to writing and subject matter, and to also receive a wonderfully insightful look into the world of an immigrant family (Hong Kong to Sydney) who then became a family with a solo parent (his Mum sounds like a champion). His first book is about these family affairs (The Family Law) and was said as being his first big project in personal reflection.


His second book to be published was the focus for the rest of the discussion, and was surmised as being a humorous travel book with a heavily aligned infusion of essays involving unique perspectives into the gay culture in various Asian countries. Focussing a lot towards countries in the South East Asian quadrant, with trips to northern China and Japan also noted, various tales of lady-boys in Thailand, yoga in India designed for ‘curing’ homosexuality, and the rampant AIDS virus causing destruction in Myanmar were brought to light in his book.


What I enjoyed most from this discussion was this phrase Benjamin said: tragedy plus time equals comedy. Benjamin Law often writes and projects himself with a comedic tone, a way of making anything and everything less harmful to the point where it can be considered funny. This is a delicate process to apply to writing (or indeed anything) when discussing such topics like homosexuality, which are still seeking a crucial global shift in serious understanding and acceptance. I asked him in a badly worded question (I should have written it down) to explain how he approaches the balance between using his comedic voice to allow such topics a broader platform, without misrepresenting the people already at the platform. He told me that during his research in (I believe) Burma, a place that was devastated by a natural cyclone/tsunami-esque disaster, that even though they were surrounded by such catastrophic destruction, they still found the time to joke about it. And that he felt he had to put these conversations in his book to reaffirm to people that comedy is not evil, it just takes some time to permit yourself to laugh at circumstances. I like how his answer aligned with the ideas of previous comedy writers I had listened too, and I hope to produce more works that are in this style of writing. I enjoy comedy a lot, and converse and joke about things that perhaps border the line of acceptability, but I feel that without people doing this we would lose all sense of hope and humour. He also acknowledged that writing is a very modest legacy to leave this world with, the mere act of spreading awareness will never be enough without the result of action being the follow-up. It was heartbreaking to hear of an interviewee asking at the end what he can do to help get antiretroviral medicine delivered, and Benjamin being too stunned and saddened by the negative answer he left them with.


Something else I noticed from the discussion was the constant technicality the effects of labels within the LGBTQIA (even the acronym supports my ensuing comment). Frequently there would be a re-affirmation of each subset of labels when discussing broadly applied issues, as if to think that the absence of a label would warrant the people to become somewhat lesser in value in the community. I fear that this constant focus towards the encyclopaedic volume of subset labels, and the fear of forgetting every single detail of every single person is going to be damaging if people don’t accept that sometimes labels are wrong simply because there are too many nuances and personalities inside a single person.


Anyway I have derailed my train of thought. Onward with comedy!






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