Jenny Pausacker, “Waiting for the Publisher” (1989)
Let’s start with a moment of déjà vu. It’s 1987 and things are getting better for queers. Campaigns in the early 1970s by gay rights groups like the Homosexual Law Reform Society and Campaign Against Moral Persecution or CAMP have led to the repeal of laws criminalising male homosexuality in South Australia (1975), ACT (1976), Northern Territory (1978), Victoria (1980) and New South Wales (1984), although gay men are still waiting for the laws to change in Western Australia (1989), Queensland (1990) and Tasmania (1997). On another front, the Gay Liberation Movement’s emphasis on coming out is making it harder to stereotype, categorise or demonise queers, because the variety and prevalence of gay people is becoming visible – not only within individual families, social groups and workplaces but through public actions like demonstrations and kiss-ins and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, first held in 1978 to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which are generally regarded as the beginning of Gay Liberation. At the same time, a third and even more heart-wrenching campaign has also been changing the way Australia sees its queer population – the campaign to contain the spread of AIDS, funded by a new Labor government and implemented by the gay community. Australian historian Graham Willett says in the glbtq encyclopedia (2004),
By the end of the crisis period of AIDS, the gay community was in a stronger position vis-à-vis the state and opinion-makers than it had ever been. It had proved itself to be a responsible and well-organised part of the national community; it had saved thousands of lives, generated goodwill, and avoided social and political backlash. It could well be argued that for the last fifteen years, the Australian gay and lesbian movement has been reaping the benefit of this achievement.
However, while the legal and social position of queers is improving, there haven’t been as many changes in the ways queers are represented in Australian culture and education. In 1987 you can’t watch the Mardi Gras on TV. There are no recurring gay characters in series or sitcoms and it’s rare to see gay news items in the papers or on the six o’clock news. There’s a handful of new Australian adult fiction with lesbian or gay male main characters – Kerryn Higgs’s novel All That False Instruction (1975), for example, or Gary Dunne’s short story collection If Blood Should Stain the Lino (1983) – but if you can manage to find any children’s books with gay or lesbian characters, they’ll have been imported from America. On one hand, there are gay teacher activist groups like the Melbourne-based Gay Teachers and Students Group who produced the book Young, Gay and Proud; on the other hand, ‘poof’ and ‘leso’ are still routine insults in the playground and most school libraries don’t stock gay and lesbian fiction or non-fiction. So, although there’s more information available for queer or questioning kids than when I was at school in the 1960s, it’s still hard to come by, which means that finding an appropriate book or friend or mentor is still a matter of chance.
That was the historical context in which I published the first Australian young adult novel with a gay main character and that novel, What Are Ya?, also has its own history. While I was at university, I’d written a kids’ book called The Edwardian Set, in which a teenage girl makes her first real friend by joining a group of kids who dress up as Edwardians (something I’d done myself in my final year of school). Some years later, as a Gay Liberation Movement activist with an interest in gay and lesbian history, I looked back at The Edwardian Set and realised two things – firstly, that I’d been drawn to Edwardians like Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey long before I knew that they (and I) were queer and secondly, that a number of the people in my own Edwardian set had been gay, bisexual or, like me at the time, questioning. At that point, I decided that The Edwardian Set was actually a cryptolesbian account of falling in love with a girl and hanging out with other gay people and I started to rewrite it as a slangy, semi-humorous first person monologue, in the manner of an American young adult novel, although I was too busy with the rest of my activism to get past the opening chapters.
But the idea of a novel about a gay kid went on germinating. I was on the Women’s Liberation Centre’s speakers list, so I used to talk to school groups about feminism or Gay Liberation, which helped me find out what the next generation of kids did and didn’t know. When I compiled a list of countersexist books for children in 1975, my introduction included a section titled “Sex”, which started, “Everyone knows the way sex is dealt with in children’s books is dead hopeless, but no one is quite brave enough to do anything about it” and went on to say:
The nearest you’ll get to a book dealing with homosexual relationships in this booklist, apart from a lesbian version of Sleeping Beauty by some American feminists which sticks a bit too closely to the original, is The Getting of Wisdom with Laura’s feelings for Evelyn. This is not because we [the Women’s Movement Children’s Literature Co-operative] feel homosexuality to be antisocial or counterrevolutionary, but because I could find no books at all that dealt honestly with lesbianism, and only three that dealt with male homosexuality, all of which were terrible.
Even after the booklist was finished, I continued to watch out for any new American young adult novels with gay main characters and in 1981 I wrote an article about them called “Adolescent Homosexuality: a Novel Problem”, whose biographical note said, “Jenny Pausacker reads, writes and teaches children’s literature and really ought to get around to writing an adolescent novel about lesbians.” In the same year, I included a pair of lesbian mothers in the first draft of my novel Hunt the Witch for the Reading Rigby reading scheme, although when my editor said I’d either need to explain their lesbianism to my primary school audience or omit that incidental detail, I took it out, because an explanation would have unbalanced the narrative. (It didn’t occur to me at the time that, if the mothers of my main characters had remained a publicly lesbian couple, they would have become the first gay characters in an Australian kids’ book.)
Then, in the following year, having published two picture books and four novels for primary school readers, I decided I was ready to tackle something more ambitious and applied to the Literature Board for a grant to write a young adult novel. Right up to the last minute, I was still planning to rewrite The Edwardian Set, according to the standard pattern of American problem novels: kid realises she’s gay and has to deal with everyone else’s reactions. But halfway through the first sentence of the project description for the grant application, I said to myself, “Hang on, why do you want to position being gay as a problem?” I thought about the way my best friend from secondary school and I had gone on having remarkably similar life trajectories, except that I was lesbian and she was straight, which made our lives look completely different. And on the spot I decided to give my lesbian main character a straight best friend, who became the other main character of my novel.
I got the grant – which didn’t surprise me at the time, because I’d already gone through secondary school and three university degrees on a series of scholarships, although in retrospect I’m more impressed by the Literature Board’s decision – and settled down to spend the next six months writing the novel. (Well, more than six months. Most professional writers learn early on how to make six months funding last at least a year.) Kay Ronai, then a commissioning editor at Penguin, had contacted me when the grants were announced, asking to see the manuscript, so I sent it to her when it was completed: I describe the process of waiting for her response here. Eventually, the manuscript was returned to me, along with a reader’s report that admired my courage in tackling the taboo subject of lesbian love in a novel for teenagers but regretted the book’s lack of literary merit. The reader also felt that my novel would only reinforce young girls’ worries about being normal and that older teenagers, who might find the book helpful, would not read books written specifically for teenagers. When we met for lunch, Kay Ronai said something similar but with a shift of emphasis that literally changed my life.
She said: “It isn’t the way I’d like things to be, but a book like this does have to be twice as good as the next book.”
At the time, I was a Gay Liberation and Women’s Liberation activist, who believed that the best way to deal with “young girls’ worries” was to provide full and accurate information about all the available options, including homosexuality, and I was in the process of becoming an equally dedicated advocate of young adult fiction – that is, novels specifically directed towards older teenagers, a concept that was unacceptable to the majority of Australian gatekeepers in the 1980s and 1990s, who wanted older teenagers to move straight from Enid Blyton to Jane Eyre or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. On one hand, I clearly wasn’t the right person to tackle the anonymous reader’s concerns about normality and teenage audiences but on the other hand, I was both intrigued and challenged by the idea of making my novel twice as good. So I settled down to rewrite What Are Ya?, cutting a bunch of characters, including a gay guy who’d helped my lesbian main character to sort herself out (he reappears in my short story “Off the Wall” here), and allowing the rest of the novel to expand into the space that I’d cleared. (Although even then my editor asked me to write a cast list for the published version, to help readers keep track of the characters. One of my recurring complaints about modern novels is that they deal with such small circles of people: I’m a semi-reclusive introvert but I have more friends and acquaintances than the gregarious extroverts in most of the novels I read, so my own novels tend to redress that balance.)
While I was expanding my main characters’ stories, I put some more thought into the question of writing about sex. One of the central questions that I’d asked when I was at school – and that I’d been asked by the kids I’d talked to since – was the basic, nitty-gritty “What do lesbians do?”, so I figured I’d better answer it at some point in my novel. That decision meant I was automatically committed to writing about heterosexual sex as well, because I was being scrupulously fair about maintaining the balance between Leith (who eventually decides she’s lesbian) and Barb (who eventually decides she’s straight). However, given that sex was banned from the novel for the whole of the nineteenth century and we’re still catching up, I had a lot of problems with language. I ruled out some ordinary words, because they’d been co-opted by porn writers (“thrust” would be a good example), but I didn’t want to lapse into euphemism (waves breaking, flowers opening) and I didn’t want to give an anatomy lesson using medical terminology (vulva, scrotum). So I read dozens of books, from Henry Miller to feminist erotica; I had dozens of discussions with readers about what worked for them; I workshopped sections of the novel and, with Susan Hawthorne, worked on an anthology of women writing about sex … all in order to write ten pages of a 146 page novel.
What Are Ya? has often been described – to me, not by me – as my lesbian novel but in fact, I counted the lines I allotted to Leith and Barb respectively and I would’ve counted the words if Spellcheck had been available then. Leith doesn’t even realise she’s lesbian until page 66, which, to my mind, clearly positions the novel as a meditation on sexual preference, rather than as an instruction manual for beginner lesbians and their friends, like a queer version of Judy Blume’s Forever. In fact, as I redrafted the novel, it turned into a grand narrative about choice in general, with Barb and Leith making choices about careers and families and partners, as well as about sexual preference, while a dozen or so minor characters offer their own variations on the theme. I packed in as much as I could, motivated by a pessimistic suspicion that it would be ten years before another young adult novel with a lesbian main character made it through the system. (And I was right: Sarah Walker’s The Year of Freaking Out arrived on schedule in 1997.) For the same reason, I consulted lots of people – from What Are Ya?, the group for young lesbians who let me share their name, through to youth workers, teachers and a bunch of my friends – and I used lots of their feedback. For instance, Leith has two girlfriends because, when I talked about the work in progress at Salon A-Muse, a young woman complained that the main characters in lesbian novels at that point always ended up in monogamous relationships and I promised to do something about it.
At the point in my life when I was working on What Are Ya?, I hadn’t read any young adult novels that matched my sense of how it felt to identify as queer and as a result, I had to start from scratch and dig a new channel, a process I put into words later on, saying:
One of my favourite metaphors for the act of writing fiction is the image of water flowing down a channel – the channel representing literary and social traditions, the water representing individual creativity. Writers who endorse the status quo can concentrate on flowing in attractive and interesting patterns but if you’re writing new constructions of gender or writing gay, you often find that you have to stop flowing and hop out to dig your channel further or deeper, before you can continue on.
Because I was digging a new channel, I wrote about a lot of things that were – and in some cases still are – outside the usual parameters of young adult fiction. Leith doesn’t instinctively “know” she’s gay: the reader meets her at a point where she still assumes she’s straight and travels with her through the process of recognising / deciding that she’s lesbian. She and her first girlfriend Swallow join a group for young lesbians, one of only three groups for young gays in Australian kids’ books to date and four years earlier than American writer Jesse Maguire’s Getting It Right (1991), described by Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins as “The first [American] YA novel to include a gay / lesbian support group.” My main characters’ sexual experiences, both lesbian and heterosexual, are described explicitly and in detail, which is still an unusual approach for young adult fiction. By the end of the novel, Leith has two girlfriends, making her what the 1980s called non-monogamous and what’s currently called polyamorous. In their separate ways, both her girlfriends give her a chance to start learning about close relationships but neither of them is presented as a perfect match: unlike Annie on My Mind, the best-known young adult novel with lesbian main characters to date, What Are Ya? isn’t the story of a lifetime love.
Similarly, while most young adult novels see homophobia as monolithic, What Are Ya? looks at three separate kinds of homophobia. Leith becomes a target for gossip instigated by Pam, an ex-friend who resents her for pashing on with a guy Pam fancied; she cops some verbal abuse from Con, who has already been identified as a boofhead; and she herself helps to perpetuate homophobia when she laughs along with Xenia, the girl she fancies, who is mocking a girl at their school who has invited another girl on a date. Because she’s presented with different aspects of homophobia, Leith reacts differently each time – she apologises for taking part in homophobic gossip, she’s upset by her ex-friend and she confronts the boofhead, after which the two of them form an odd-couple friendship. And last but not least, the parallel storylines of What Are Ya?, comparing and contrasting a main character who decides they’re straight and a main character who decides they’re gay, are still borderline unique, the only other examples I’ve come across being Australian writer Sue Hines’s Out of the Shadows (1998) and American writers John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010).
The overall perspective of What Are Ya? is as unusual as its characters and situations. When I decided to divide the novel equally between Barb and Leith, I committed myself to writing about them in the same way. Since I’ve never read a novel whose author felt compelled to explain or justify heterosexuality before writing about a heterosexual relationship, I didn’t feel compelled to justify homosexuality or to ask my readers to sympathise with Leith on the basis that she belonged to a social minority – after all, Barb has problems of her own, despite belonging to a social majority. At the same time, I wouldn’t have considered taking the line widely promoted by reviewers in the Noughties who write approvingly about novels where the characters “just happen” to be LGBTQ. For me, the differences between Leith’s life and Barb’s life were (and still are) well worth exploring. One of my biggest challenges as a writer came when I noticed that I’d inadvertently given them the same storyline: my first impulse was to change a few episodes and conceal the similarities but luckily, I realised in time that my subconscious had been smarter than my conscious mind, so I highlighted the similarities instead. By the time I came to the end of the novel, I felt confident enough to let my two main characters say two incompatible things in the same conversation – that people’s sexual preference doesn’t matter … and that it does.
Barb looked obstinate. “But things, outside things, are different for us. Truly, Leith. Me and Paul will always be treated differently from you and Swallow. It has to have an effect.” (p 145 – 6)
Eventually I completed my second draft, which, back in 1987, meant that I then had to copytype it. Typing isn’t one of my best skills – after working full-time as a writer for over twenty years, I’m still a two-finger typist – and to give myself a deadline, I decided to enter it for the Angus and Robertson Junior Writers Fellowship. I didn’t even bother to fantasise about winning, because I’d been living in a communal household with Kerryn Higgs in 1973 at the point where she was having trouble with Angus and Robertson about her own novel with a lesbian main character, All That False Instruction. So I was completely bowled over when I got a phone call from Jenny Rowe, the children’s editor, telling me that What Are Ya? been awarded the fellowship. Jenny started by talking about the book’s literary merit: while she didn’t actually say it was twice as good as the runner up, Kay Ronai’s advice had clearly paid off. And after that, she went on to say that she was particularly pleased to be publishing What Are Ya?, because one of her friends from school had killed herself while they were at university and Jenny felt that, if there had been books like mine around, her friend might have found it easier to come to terms with being lesbian. Jenny Rowe was the ideal collaborator. Later on, I kept being asked to speak on panels about censorship, presumably because people assumed that What Are Ya? must have been censored somewhere along the line, but Jenny couldn’t have been less like a censor. She questioned the storyline once, pointing out that the Barb / Paul sex scene was slightly shorter than the Leith / Swallow sex scene – I measured the paragraphs with my ruler, agreed she was right and elicited some more heterosexual detail from my memory – but apart from that, her edit focused on my writing, not on my subject matter. I was aware at the time that I’d been lucky but I didn’t realise quite how lucky I was, until I read Kate Walker’s account of finding a publisher for her young adult novel Peter in 1991, four years after What Are Ya? was published. Peter is about a teenage boy who starts to question his sexual preference without coming to a final decision in the course of the novel, which might make it sound more acceptable to the zeitgeist than What Are Ya?, but in fact, Walker’s book met with a more negative and sometimes actively hostile reception. She says on her website:
‘Peter’ was first published in 1991 and at that time there were very few books about gay issues for teenagers. In fact I had a lot of trouble trying to get it published. The first five publishers I approached said flatly, ‘No thanks!’ They didn’t even read it. Another two read it and said, ‘Sorry, but we don’t want to take the risk.’ They were concerned about public response and possible backlash from both public and private school systems. But one brave publisher – Omnibus Books – said yes, and I’m forever in their debt that they were prepared to back me and the story. ‘Peter’ was considered pretty confronting in those days.
As well as revising What Are Ya? under Jenny Rowe’s expert direction, there was one more piece of writing I needed to do. My biographical note for the flyleaf of the hardback edition read:
What Are Ya?, winner of the Angus & Robertson Writers Fellowship, was written for many reasons – one for every page, Jenny says.
By the time I wrote that description of myself, I’d read a lot of gay writers’ biographies and autobiographies and I knew that the writers who started by concealing their sexual preference found it progressively harder to come out, because the weight of their readers’ expectations grew progressively heavier, so I decided to make it clear from the start that I was lesbian. In retrospect, I can see how this might be considered brave but at the time it just seemed sensible: an economy of effort. What Are Ya? was launched at the Fitzroy Library by its librarian Laurie James, who had been one of my first gay role models. (Some people found Laurie’s old-school camp style disconcerting at first but by the end of the launch he had a whole new batch of admirers.) Even after publication, my run of luck continued. What Are Ya? was well and widely reviewed, shortlisted for the children’s sections of the South Australian Festival Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and taken up by publishers in Germany and the UK. (Although not in America: in the early nineties, another of my editors sent a copy to her opposite numbers in the States, who said that they were impressed, both by the novel and by the absence of any backlash within Australia, but that they wouldn’t dare publish anything like that themselves.) The unofficial response seemed equally open-minded: a Melbourne reviewer who asked me later how much hate mail I’d received looked startled when I said, “None”. The nearest I came to a negative comment was some feedback from people who felt What Are Ya? would have been more effective if I’d shown Leith and Swallow being expelled, beaten up or brought to the point of considering suicide: I always explained to them that, while I knew things like that happened, I was more interested in evoking the smaller but equally significant ways in which absolutely everything, from walking into a classroom to conducting a relationship, is that bit harder for Leith than for Barb.
During the early 1980s, the reviewers of adult novels in gay magazines had often pointed out that there was more to being gay than coming out, so, having written a coming out novel, I looked for other ways of writing gay. Whenever I was asked to contribute to anthologies of short stories for kids, I tended to focus on queer issues – a gay guy helping the main character to accept that she’s gay and explaining that apparently homophobic kids are often gay themselves (“Off the Wall”, 1991); a girl who insists that her family helps her with the process of coming out, by telling their other relatives (“About Zan”, 1994); a guy who is sure of his own homosexuality but falls for a guy who’s less sure (“Crossed Wires”, 1995); a girl who realises she’s lesbian when she starts imagining a lesbian relationship between the lead characters in a TV cop show (“Playing with Fire”, 1996); a group of gay friends, guys and girls (“‘A Date for Dillon”, 1996); two straight girls who organise a campaign supporting a gay guy (“Niemoller, Yeah”, 2003); and a guy who falls for a guy who wants to have kids (“The Size of the Sky”, 2003). My teen romances featured a lesbian mother (Rebecca, 1991), a gay male best friend (It’s Not Over Till You’re Over It, 1999), a lesbian friend who comes out in the course of the novel (Love or Money, 1990) and an established lesbian couple, two uni students with spiky hair who had previously started a group called GAYS (Gays At Your School) at the main character’s school and invite her to a women’s dance (First Impressions, 1988): I also commented on the homophobic nature of gossip (I’ve Got a Secret, 1988) and the way people assume that non-traditional girls must be lesbian (Looking after Lacy, 1990). My Blake Mysteries included a gay man who’d been the childhood friend of Blake’s mother and his Aboriginal boyfriend, as well as a young gay guy living in a seaside town who considers suicide after sustained bullying (Down and Out and Truth or Dare, 1999). And in my literary novels, I wrote about a young guy coming to terms with his gay best friend (Mr Enigmatic, 1994), a lesbian couple who are friends of the main character’s family (Getting Somewhere, 1995), a group of misfits that includes a gay guy (Sundogs, 2001) and a developing romance between two young women who are the main character’s co-workers (Dancing on Knives, 2004.)
None of the twenty editors of these books and stories and none of their reviewers ever questioned their LGBQ content and as a result, for the first ten years after What Are Ya? was published, I was convinced that the rest of the Australian children’s book world took LGBQ characters and writers for granted, just as I did. This mindset allowed me to continue working on the project that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick described as keeping promises to queer children –
I think many adults (and I am among them) are trying, in our work, to keep faith with vividly remembered promises made to ourselves in childhood: promises to make invisible possibilities and desires visible; to make the tacit things explicit; to smuggle queer representation in where it must be smuggled and, with the relative freedom of adulthood, to challenge queer-eradicating impulses frontally where they are to be so challenged.
In the conference talks I gave during those years, I often described What Are Ya? as my thank you letter to Henry Handel Richardson. I’d first read Richardson’s novel The Getting of Wisdom at a time when I, like her main character Laura Ramsbotham, was a square peg in a round hole at a Melbourne private girls’ school. The whole book, but especially Laura’s passionate friendship with Evelyn, was my first clue that there was a wider world in which, as Richardson says, “even for the squarest peg, the right hole may ultimately be found; seeming unfitness prove to be only another aspect of a peculiar and special fitness.” Richardson had helped me to make it through some hard times and I wanted to pass on an updated version of that reassurance to another generation of readers. On the whole, that project seemed to be going pretty well.
So far, so good – but now it’s time to situate What Are Ya? in a broader historical context. As Nicole Moore says in The Censor’s Library, “Australia has a history of prohibiting material freely available in the rest of the world.” For the greater part of the twentieth century, literary censorship was an accepted part of Australian life: when I was studying English Literature at Melbourne University in the late 1960s, for instance, lecturers and tutors would proudly show us their brown-paper-covered copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was then banned in Australia. More than fifteen government agencies were involved in the censorship process, from the Customs Office to the Book Censorship Board, and Nicole Moore identifies homosexuality as one of their main targets, saying, “From the earliest moments of government censorship in Australia, and increasingly as an explicit priority, the erasure of homosexual meaning from as many public fora and discourses as possible was achieved to a significant degree.”
In the early 1970s the Whitlam government brought about what Moore calls “the effective end of literary censorship in Australia” but the present is inevitably constructed by the past and when I published What Are Ya? in the mid-80s, I was entering an area that had been explicitly forbidden to Australian writers and readers within living memory. By 1987, I had more or less forgotten about those brown-paper-covered books on my university lecturers’ shelves but I was about to discover that a lot of Australians still remembered the project of erasing homosexual meaning from public forums and discourses and that the project was still operative.
The first sign of What Are Ya?’s imminent erasure was that, while the hardback edition sold out straight away, the paperback edition sat in the warehouse until it was remaindered in 1992, with my next editor commenting, “It’s a pity that What Are Ya? was before its time.” (I bought up the paperbacks and distributed them myself, then got What Are Ya? back into print in 1995 as the first novel in my Central quartet.) The difference in the reception of the two editions puzzled me at first, especially since paperbacks usually sell better than hardbacks, but over time it became clear that What Are Ya? had been bought by individual readers and public libraries but, in general, not by school libraries.
Unlike the majority of children’s writers, I didn’t spend a lot of time talking to school groups. My version of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that characterised the nineties (officially instituted for gay men and women serving in the US military in 1994) was that, while I never censored what I said on public platforms, I didn’t impose my beliefs on captive audiences. In practical terms, this meant that, rather than signing up with any of the agencies that organised school visits, I only went to schools that specifically invited me, which meant that, as a general rule, I only talked to classes run by gay-friendly teachers. This was fine by me, because I preferred to earn my living by writing, not by talking about writing: as I said earlier, I’m a semi-reclusive introvert and performing takes energy that I’d rather spend on writing itself. I suspect I also felt I’d already paid my dues by going into schools as a young lesbian feminist activist, which meant I was now entitled to focus on my own work.
As a result, I wasn’t often confronted by overt homophobia. One of the rare examples took place while I was travelling round country Victoria on the Women Writers’ Train in 1991, talking to school and community groups. At one school a teacher objected to the presence of a publicly gay writer but her objection was overridden, both by the school and our organiser, and I spoke to several primary school classes, in one of which a girl put up her hand at question time and said, “You live with a woman.” When I reminded her that I’d already said I lived on my own, she said triumphantly, “Yes, and you’re a woman, so you live with a woman!”, at which point her teacher and I exchanged companionable glances, ruefully acknowledging the way kids always manage to pick up on what’s happening around them. Afterwards, I checked to find out which teacher had disapproved of me (something I’d chosen not to know beforehand) and it turned out that I’d shared a moment of mutual understanding with the woman who’d wanted to ban me: so, not the worst experience of homophobia that anyone’s ever had.
During the decade that spanned the publication of What Are Ya? in 1987 and the publication of my anthology Hide and Seek: stories about being young and gay / lesbian in 1996, there were a few more minor incidents that, in hindsight, look like straws that could have shown me which way the wind was blowing. I noticed, for instance, that although I’d become a reasonably high profile children’s writer who made regular appearances at writers’ festivals, I was never asked to do “all about the author” interviews by newspaper, magazine or radio journalists, even after I became a regular newspaper reviewer, nor was I included in the collections of interviews with children’s writers edited by some of my friends in the children’s book world – presumably because interviewing me would have involved asking not only about my books but about my (publicly gay) life. Another friend, who was on the judging panel for the prestigious CBC awards in 1996 when Getting Somewhere was shortlisted, took it for granted that I would understand why my novel couldn’t possibly have won: in later years I often wished I’d asked her to explain. And while my novels continued to be well-reviewed, to win or be shortlisted for awards and to come fairly high on the list of Public Lending Rights payments, I never saw the sizeable royalty cheques, batches of letters from school kids and appearances on school syllabuses that other writers talked about. On the other hand, I was earning my living by doing exactly what I would’ve done if I hadn’t needed to earn a living, so, to begin with, I basically wasn’t bothered.
Over the next decade or so, however, the straws that charted the direction of the wind started to come thicker and faster. The first straw was a closer encounter with the Australian school system. In 1995 Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, then the Youth Literature Officer for Victoria, talked to a couple of publishers about the possibility of an anthology of short stories about being young and gay/lesbian, along the lines of American children’s writer Marion Dane Bauer’s anthology Am I Blue? (1994). When Maryann Ballantyne at Reed asked me whether I’d be interested in editing the anthology, I decided it could be my selfless good deed for the year: on the basis of my experience with What Are Ya? I anticipated some low-key publicity, modest sales through gay bookshops and to particularly brave librarians and a chance to reach some kids who really needed the book. I contacted writers who had already written about LGBQ experience at some point, because I figured they would’ve already thought through the basic issues and be ready to tackle something more complex. (As indeed they were: I said at the start of Hide and Seek that
The main purpose of this introduction is to give me a chance to confess that the subtitle of this anthology – ‘stories about being young and gay / lesbian’ – is a bit misleading. Yes, there are stories about being young and gay / lesbian here. However, there are also stories about being young and confused, curious, undecided, attracted to both sexes or wondering how to react to people who are (or may be) gay – but try fitting all of that into a subtitle.)
Meanwhile, Agnes had also talked to Mark Macleod at Random House, who also asked me to edit an anthology for him. On hearing that Reed had got there first, he hesitated for five seconds and then said, “All right then, will you write a story for my anthology?”, which I did. We consulted each other all through the editing process, arranged for the two anthologies to be distributed in a shared dump bin, launched them together and did a shared publicity tour, then waited to see whether people would say, “Ah, come off it. The world doesn’t need two anthologies about being young and queer.” To our relief, everyone loved the idea of two multinational publishers co-operating, rather than competing. The anthologies were jointly reviewed in 25 publications, from major newspapers to children’s book review journals and gay magazines and, with the obligatory one exception, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.
SL in Reading Time said, “I felt quite unsure when I realised I was being asked to review books about being different. With trepidation, I commenced reading, only to find that these stories are not about differences, but about similarities: they are exploring the issues each one of us must address as we reach the age of choosing and needing close companionship.” Moira Robinson in Magpies said, “If there is parental outrage, it will be the secondary school librarian who cops it, so the important question is whether these two books are worth it. The answer is yes.” Pam Macintyre in The Age said, “Books about street kids proliferate and the subjects of death, dying and sex are commonplace. Suicide, incest, rape, sexual abuse, drug-taking and stories about dysfunctional families also abound. Yet there has been little exploration of homosexual and lesbian experience in Australian young adult fiction … For their subject matter alone, then, these complementary collections are welcome, breaking down one of the last taboos in fiction for young adults.”
As it turned out, the taboos were still largely intact. A year after their publication in 1996, Mark’s anthology Ready or Not, subtitled “stories of young adult sexuality”, had sold approximately 4000 copies and my anthology Hide and Seek, subtitled “stories about being young and gay / lesbian”, had sold approximately 2000 copies. Once again, as with What Are Ya?, it was clear that the anthologies hadn’t been bought by school libraries: it was also clear that a book with the words “gay” or “lesbian” on the cover was twice as likely to be withheld from the kids for whom it was intended. This time, however, I had a better understanding of the schools’ reaction, because Mark and I had heard from lots of teachers on our publicity tour.
There was the teacher who had set Agnes Nieuwenhizen’s anthology Family as a class text, without reading all of it, and been disconcerted to find that the last two stories were about gay kids and their families, then surprised and pleased to find that his class was both interested and involved. There was the teacher who said, honestly and undefensively, that he already had too much on his plate to take on any gay texts, because he didn’t have time to deal with potential flak from parents. There was the teacher in whose class not one but two kids had killed themselves, with issues concerning sexual preference involved, which had sent her on an urgent but largely unsuccessful quest for books that would help the rest of the class come to terms with their schoolmates’ suicides. “Collections of short stories were exactly what I was looking for,” she told us. “The kids needed a whole range of different approaches, so they could find something outside themselves that they could use as a reference point for their own experience.”
All these three teachers were demonstrably on side – they had, for instance, all used some of their free time to come to a discussion of stories about being young and gay – but the only one who could be guaranteed to fight for the inclusion of gay texts was the teacher who had personally witnessed gay-related suicides and, as I said at the time, “We hardly want to wait until every teacher in Australia has had this kind of experience.” I went on puzzling about this situation and at the 1997 conference of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English I asked a roomful of teachers whether the possibility that one or more parents might complain was really so forbidding. Everyone answered at once, half of them saying, “Of course it is” and half saying, “Of course it isn’t”, and over the next half hour we found ourselves working out a comprehensive strategy for change, ranging from the need for training courses to educate teachers in ways of responding to complaints to a visiting academic’s story about how in the Canadian school system parents were asked to fill in a formal complaint form, which had cut down on the number of complaints. I wrote afterwards in an article for English in Australia,
It seemed so simple and practical. I wanted to give up my day job on the spot and enroll in a teaching course, so that I could go out into the school system and put our plan into action. But then I thought about the twenty three year old reviewer of the anthologies who said, “What I remember wanting when I was younger was stories.” It’s my job to write and prompt more writing of stories about being young and gay or lesbian. It’s your job [i.e. the job of teachers and school librarians] to give those stories a chance to reach the kids they’re written for.
I returned to my writing desk but in the following year the winds of change blew another bunch of straws past me. After Mark Macleod published four of my teen romances, he passed on some feedback from the Random House sales reps, who said that a significant number of booksellers in Sydney had taken one look at my name on the cover and, without bothering to read the blurbs or open the books, said, “Oh, the lesbian. No, thanks.” I’d been philosophical about What Are Ya?’s publishing history, because it was the first of its kind, which made it a trial run for Australian readers and their gatekeepers. But the anthology experience had made me start to wonder whether the Australian culture industry was as liberal as I’d assumed and the bookseller experience confirmed my worst fears.
I hadn’t enjoyed my own school years and I basically see schools as factories for the production of social conformity, so I wasn’t entirely surprised that schools didn’t like my books. However, I had always loved and valued bookshops, so their rejection hit me where it hurt. What’s more, the booksellers were showing me that censorship could be taken even further than I thought, because they weren’t simply refusing to stock kids’ books about queers. “Oh, the lesbian. No, thanks” meant they were refusing to stock kids’ books by queers – and since, at the time, I would have said that I lived to write, those words sounded uncomfortably like a death threat.
A few years later my editors and publishers did indeed start sending my manuscripts back for rewrites and / or rejecting them outright. Only one editor referenced my queerness in any way – and only by telling me that the lesbian subplot in Dancing on Knives lacked the element of surprise, because anyone who knew my work would be expecting those two girls to end up together – but even so, there were times when I seemed to hear a background echo of the booksellers saying, “Oh, the lesbian? No thanks.” On a conscious level I remained committed to writing for younger readers but I can see in retrospect that I was starting to plan my exit strategy – notably, by falling in love, moving to the UK and spending a lot of my writing time on a project designed for an adult audience. I was still trying to decide whether I wanted to make an irrevocable, permanent break with a readership and a field of writing that had meant a lot to me, when another round of changes in the publishing industry made all my considerations redundant.
The old-school model of publishing, where a stable editorial staff established a house style and encouraged the development of specific literary trends, was already a thing of the past. (Diana Athill gives it an elegant eulogy in her memoir Stet.) Now, as the twenty first century began, further developments in digital technology were making it possible to monitor sales more closely, while at the same time the unparalleled (and unrepeatable) success of the Harry Potter series, in part due to its internet fandom, was providing a new kind of benchmark for publishing executives. As the goals of publishing shifted inexorably from cultural to commercial, editors had to cull their lists, keeping best sellers and promising newcomers but discarding the midlist writers. By the time my last novel Crime Seen was named one of The Age’s three best children’s books of 2007, the emphasis had shifted from writing well to selling well and I knew I was unlikely ever to be published on an Australian children’s or young adult list again. Back in 1987, at the beginning of my career, I had been happy to go along with the requirement to be twice as good for half the reward but in 2007, the year before I turned sixty (the retirement age for women during most of my working life), I wasn’t equally inspired by the idea of learning how to sell myself twice as well as the next writer, so I accepted the marketing departments’ verdict.
As a result, the next set of changes in the way I saw myself as a children’s writer revolved around the question of how I would be remembered. I first saw one of those straws blowing in the wind in 2007, when I was visiting Melbourne and met American writer and editor David Levithan at a book launch. He recognised straight away that I was the Australian equivalent of John Donovan and / or Nancy Garden and we had a brief, compressed conversation, which crystallised his concerns about what he’d seen in Australia and caused him to ditch the talk he’d prepared and talk instead about the importance of teachers, librarians and writers uniting against homophobia, telling his audience that “Books can help. But books can only help if you get them to the kids.” (You can read a transcript of his talk here.) The response from the Australian blogosphere focused on the need for more books with LGBTQ characters and the need to list the books that had already been written but, although Levithan had namechecked me in his talk, no one contacted me, then or since, to ask for my input. In retrospect, this strikes me as an early warning that the information age tends to bypass any information that isn’t readily available online but at the time I was busy saying goodbye to my Melbourne friends and returning home to Bristol, so I didn’t pay it much attention.
Six years later I moved back to Australia, where, as I say in “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, a series of snubs from the gatekeepers and, even more conclusively, from other writers demonstrated that I was no longer part of the Australian children’s book world. Unlike Groucho Marx, I’ve never wanted to belong to a club that wouldn’t have me as a member, so I decided to archive my out-of-print novels and some relevant articles and move on. As part of that project, I googled myself for the first time and, in the process, discovered that the current generation of Australian children’s writers and gatekeepers had no idea that I’d ever existed. They also assumed that any Australian kids’ books with LGBQ characters written in the 1980s and 1990s must have been issue-centred problem novels with a focus on coming out, which didn’t match my memory of the times. So, as part of my farewell to the field of Australian children’s literature, I took a nine month detour and documented the 133 Australian kids’ books with LGBQ characters published between 1985 and 2015. (You can see the results here.)
My background reading for the booklist confirmed that by 2015 the erasure of What Are Ya? was almost complete. In internet terms, it appears on the list of “Oz GLBT YA books (updated)” on Justine Larbalestier’s blog in 2007 but not on later lists by Australian young adult writers Michelle Cooper (2011) or Erin Gough (2015), although it does reappear on the tumblr blog #AusQueerYA (2015), which reproduces the covers of books with LGBTI characters and gives publishing details, and it was an unexpected flagship in Emily O’Beirne’s guest post on the blog LGBTQ Reads, “Ways to Fill a Gap: LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA”, ten days before this website was launched.
Academic articles on children’s literature follow a similar pattern, without the last minute reprieve. What Are Ya?’s existence is recorded in Maurice Saxby’s comprehensive history The Proof of the Puddin’: Australian Children’s Literature 1970 – 1990, published in 1993, and John Stephens published an article on it in the same year but after that there are only two brief, albeit positive, mentions in academic articles by Americans Robert Bittner and Kenneth Kidd, neither of whom identify it as the first Australian kids’ book with a gay main character, although Bittner does say, “As with many generalisations about literature, there are exceptions, such as Australian author Jenny Pausacker’s What Are Ya? (1987), which explores lesbian sexuality without the negativity that surrounds many other queer YA texts from the 1980s and 1990s.”
What Are Ya? is even disappearing from the history of Australian LGBQ writing. In 1996 Michael Hurley’s A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Writing included a separate entry on What Are Ya?, as well as an entry on my work in general. By 2007, however, the chapter on “Australian gay and lesbian writing” in A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900 (which references Hurley) lists the firsts in adult fiction – “the first Australian homosexual novel”, “the first homosexual narrator” – but, when it comes to children’s literature, says only that “Many writers, including [Dorothy] Porter, also turned to teen fiction; among these, Jenny Pausacker, also writing as Francis Jaye [sic], has been the most prominent”.
Over the years, I’d been getting progressively more alarmed by the straws that showed which way the wind was blowing and the critical response to my work was the last straw – the straw that, metaphorically speaking, breaks the camel’s back. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I turned out to have been consoling myself with the belief that, although my commitment to making queerness visible had brought about my eventual exclusion from the children’s book world, it had also secured me a place in a quiet corner of literary history. But while American pioneers like John Donovan and Nancy Garden continue to be remembered after their deaths (in 1992 and 2014 respectively), I realised I would have to accept that my own pioneering work in Australia had been forgotten while I was still alive.
Now for some more context. At the point where my career as a publicly gay children’s writer was coming to an end, the range of terms that gay activists had used in 1987 (discrimination against gays, gay oppression, gay rights, equality for gays, gay pride) were being subsumed into the single term ‘diversity’, which is now employed by everyone from social justice activists to corporate trainers. Rebecca Ciezarek, writing about diversity in Australian young adult fiction, says it “can include (but is not limited to) the experiences of the LGBTQI community, gender diversity, people of colour, indigenous cultures, disability (physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, addiction, and mental illnesses) and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
Where the fight for gay rights focused on changing the status quo, the celebration of diversity focuses on encouraging the participation or representation of so-called minorities within the status quo. Thus, gay marriage is currently the liberal cause of choice, one of the touchstones by which politicians and other public figures can be judged. Conversely, discrimination against LGBTQI+ people doesn’t seem to register, either with the general public or with activist organisations like All Out, until it reaches the levels of hate speech and threatened or actual physical violence: when the deliberately non-pejorative term ‘gay’, pioneered by Gay Liberation in the 1970s, became a routine playground insult – as, for instance, “Your pencil case is so gay” – it was defended by some liberals and social justice advocates, on the basis that it didn’t explicitly refer to sexual preference.
The situation is further complicated by a growing tendency to talk as if science has definitively identified a gene for gayness. In fact, Simon Le Vay, the publicly gay neurobiologist who has published two surveys of the research on sexual preference, as well as his own game-changing study of differences between heterosexual and homosexual men’s brains, has explicitly stated, “I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work.” But, although the scientific jury isn’t in yet, the liberal / social justice end of the public opinion spectrum has already invested heavily in the belief that we’re all born gay or straight and, therefore, can’t be held accountable for our sexual preference.
From where I stand, both the ‘born gay’ hypothesis and the use of ‘gay’ as an all-purpose insult suggest that things haven’t changed as much for young queers as for queer adults. The current construction of the word ‘gay’ strikes me as even worse than the playground insults of my own childhood (‘poof’, ‘leso’, ‘queer’), which on a good day could be countered and on a bad day were, at least, obviously intended as bullying: I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt if the word for my nascent sexual preference had also been used to describe everything my classmates despised, hated, feared, disapproved of or just considered tacky. At the same time, the ‘born gay’ hypothesis reinforces one of the main forms of discrimination against young queers – the obligation to ‘prove’ that you’re ‘really’ gay before you can get on with your life.
On the basis of the queer kids I encountered in the 1990s, I would’ve have expected kids in the Noughties to take it for granted that the way to figure out your sexual preference is, in the words of graphic novelist John Allison, to “kiss both kinds of face” but sadly, we haven’t got there yet. Back in 1997, I called an early draft of this article “The more things change”, from the French proverb, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same – and twenty years later, the prospects for LGBQ kids in Australia still look much the same to me.
So how to end this story? Those three dots stand for the three months in which I had to step away from the whole website project, because I couldn’t work out how to sum up my career as a publicly gay Australian children’s writer. Should I look on the bright side and talk about how (to borrow a term from Diana Wynne Jones) I moved the world ayewards by telling a generation of young people who were wondering whether they were queer that they weren’t the only ones? As this article comes to a close, should I be thinking about the young lesbian who wrote to me from Singapore through the late eighties and early nineties – or the young gay man who once watched from a distance while I had my hair cut at the salon where he was an apprentice, because my anthology Hide and Seek was one of the things that had kept him going while he was growing up in a country town – or my new friend Sabdha Charlton, who asked in her article here, “How would I find words to tell [Jenny] how her books sustained me as a lonely teenager, and soothed me through my angsty twenties?”
On a more general level, should I be congratulating myself on having dug some important channels for writing gay in Australian kids’ books? After all, even though my novels have been forgotten, the Australian novels with LGBQ characters listed in my article “So Gay” continue to flow along some of the channels I dug, taking lesbian main characters and a broad range of LGBQ experience for granted, just as American kids’ books continue to reflect the initial input of writers like John Donovan and Sandra Scopettone. Should I be remembering that some of the editors I worked with are still active in Australian publishing, working with new writers and passing on the knowledge that it’s possible to publish publicly gay writers for kids and include LGBT characters in kids’ books without major repercussions – knowledge that has also been transmitted, to a greater or lesser degree, by all the editors, reviewers and other gatekeepers who dealt with me and / or my novels over the years?
Or should I instead be acknowledging the irony inherent in the fact that my career as a publicly gay kids’ writer was brought to an end, not by direct and violent discrimination but through the smaller but equally significant ways in which absolutely everything is that bit harder for queers than for straights – that is, the precise kind of homophobia that I opted to focus on in What Are Ya? No editor in the early Noughties would have said (or, I’m sure, even thought) that they were rejecting my new manuscripts or dropping my published books from their backlists because I was queer. Their problem with me was that my sales were too low (because some booksellers wouldn’t sell books by a publicly gay writer and some schools wouldn’t buy books with the word ‘gay’ on the cover) and that I didn’t have a strong personal profile (because I’d been publicly gay during the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” years) or an easily identifiable fan base (because young readers who are questioning their sexuality aren’t necessarily prepared to admit to it at the time – and because, since my books weren’t actually burnt in the streets, like Nancy Garden’s Annie on my Mind, I didn’t have LGBTQ or social justice activists monitoring the response to my work).
Should I be warning the next generation to watch out for this kind of passive homophobia? Or should I downplay the ways in which it undermined or curtailed me, in case I discourage younger writers or alienate friendly gatekeepers? What’s the protocol for nominating yourself as a victim / survivor of homophobia, anyway? Is it something you’re allowed to do off your own bat or do you have to be nominated by someone else, like a (dis)Order of Australia? And can I even say for sure that there’s a connection between my lesbianism and my disappearance from publishers’ lists, when other award-winning Australian children’s writers who weren’t publicly gay also disappeared during the cull of the mid-list writers? Should I be reminding myself that the attrition rate for culture workers has always been high – and that I compounded that problem by being one of the world’s worst self-publicists?
Luckily, just as I was about to get trapped in these ever-decreasing circles, I remembered that I’d already come up against a similar problem. While I was working on my LGBQ booklist “So Gay”, I’d briefly considered annotating my own novels and then realised that I hadn’t reached that level of Zen detachment – and if I couldn’t make a detached assessment of my individual novels, I definitely wasn’t equipped to assess the overall effect of my intervention into Australian children’s literature. That realisation initially came as a relief, because it solved the problem of how to sum up my achievements. But when I returned to this article, I found it hadn’t solved all my problems, because it still left me wondering why I’d started to tell a story that I didn’t seem to know how to finish.
When something’s hard to explain, it’s great to find someone who can say it for you. While I was still procrastinating, I read a blog post by British sf writer Liz Williams, who describes herself as becoming unpublishable due to “the demise of the mid-list” but says, “I feel lucky to have had such a long run, writing the rather obscure and rather odd stuff that I have. And I’m surprised that it went on for as long as it did. My work is simply not commercial enough.” Then she adds:
Why am I telling you all this? Partly because writers don’t normally do this; they just fade away. I’m having to make the best of a bad job and sometimes you need to know that someone else has pulled the plug, and that pulling the plug is actually viable. Having a career fail is by no means the worst thing that can happen to you and you need not to be afraid of it.
Not long after that, I read The Queer Art of Failure by American academic Judith Halberstam, who says:
Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world. Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well: for queers failure can be a style, to cite Quentin Crisp, or a way of life, to cite Foucault, and it can stand in contrast to the grim scenarios that depend upon “trying and trying again.”
Between them, Williams and Halberstam convinced me that I had (temporarily) bought into the current obsession with being a winner in statistical terms – that is, with being popular – when actually my writing practice has always followed Samuel Beckett’s advice, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The fact is, I didn’t become a publicly gay kids’ writer because I thought people would be impressed or grateful. I did it because I couldn’t help it – that is, because I’m so deeply opposed to keeping secrets that I couldn’t handle the idea of being closeted in any way. No question about it, I would’ve preferred to live in a world where I could’ve spent all my writing time thinking about the best way to represent my view of reality, instead of having to change the world before I could get started, but … oh well, there weren’t many precedents for writing gay in kids’ books during the 1980s, so I had to spend a lot of time digging channels.
And how does it feel to have worked so hard and so long on a job that I knew – and even hoped – would eventually make me redundant? To answer that question, I’ll close with another quote, this time from the final lines of feminist sf writer Joanna Russ’s novel The Female Man, where she addresses the book she has just written, saying:
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Williams, L. “Schrodinger’s Writer”. http://www.sarah-ash.com/fantasy-and-science-fiction/1307/schrodingers-writer-liz-williams/
Williams, Z. “It’s All Over for Homophobia.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/mar/14/comment.society
Williams, Z. “This Po-faced Rectitude.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/mar/12/equality.gayrights
Williams, Z. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/may/01/boris.livingstonet
Williams, Z. “To ban Chris Moyles from saying ‘gay’ can only add to his fizz.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/mar/25/chris-moyles-homophobia
Williams, Z. “Gay rights: a world of inequality.” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/13/gay-rights-world-of-inequality
Williams, Z. “Why insults are a political issue.” http://www.theguardian.com/law/2012/may/16/why-insults-are-political-issue
Wilkinson, L. (2012) Love-shy. Melbourne: Allen & Unwin.
 You can find more information about it at http://dehanz.net.au/entries/young-gay-proud-1978/
 This quote comes from a paper I gave at the English Teachers Association conference in 1999, called ‘Gender Construction, Teenagers, Sexual Identity and a Girl Called Blake’, which you can find here.
 The other two being Sarah Walker’s The Year of Freaking Out (1997) and Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It (2012), although there are also Gay / Straight Alliances in Bernie Monagle’s Hot Hits; the Remix (2003), Aimee Said’s Little Sister (2011) and Lili Wilkinson’s Love-shy (2012).
 For instance, Diana Hodge’s review ‘Gay? Jewish? Neither? A manual to help you challenge the rules.’ http://theconversation.com/gay-jewish-neither-a-manual-to-help-you-challenge-the-rules-29027 or Luise Toma’s “The Last of the Brave.” m/c reviews: culture and the media http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3429
 For a detailed account of censorship in Australian school libraries up to 1993, see Claire Williams’s and Ken Dillon’s Brought to Book, where they argue that censorship in school libraries was widespread, mainly undocumented and not necessarily identified as censorship, because it often took the form of self-censorship.
 Interestingly, Livewire dropped Get a Life, the British edition of What Are Ya?, later in the nineties because a new editor thought it was behind the times, citing the page where a young Italian-Australian girl expresses some reservations about living with her boyfriend, on the basis that her parents would disapprove.
 Yes, I know that’s unusual, especially for a professional writer, but one of my professional disadvantages, in contemporary terms, is that I’m not very interested in how other people see me.
 #AusQueerYA also annotates some novels but at the time of writing What Are Ya? wasn’t one of them.
 In fact, I wrote as Jaye Francis.
 I interpret this variously as 2007, when my last book for younger readers was published, and 2013, when I discovered that I was no longer regarded as a member of the children’s literature community – so, somewhere between 2007 and 2013.
 For a detailed critique of diversity, I’d recommend Walter Benn Michaels’ The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality and Jane Ward’s Respectably Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations.
 Guardian journalist Zoe Williams wrote a couple of articles arguing that the Noughties use of ‘gay’ turns it into a new word, which has no relation to gay people, but she also writes in support of gay marriage and parenting, criticizes Boris Johnson’s attitude towards homosexuality and in 2015 said, “I understand free speech and how great it is, but I cannot help remarking that people who make it their business to defend insults are generally defending the hegemony against the outlier – or, if you prefer, the strong against the weak”. And if you google the word ‘ghey’, you’ll find a range of people from gay-friendly sectors of the blogosphere arguing that the pejorative term ‘gay’ or ‘ghey’ is a different word from the descriptive term ‘gay’.
 For instance, Jane Ward says on the Social (In)Queery blog, in a post titled “No One is Born Gay (or Straight): Here are 5 Reasons Why”, that the Human Rights Campaign, one of America’s peak gay and lesbian organisations, actively promotes the view that sexual preference is genetic, because “implying that homosexuality is a choice gives unwarranted credence to roundly disproven practices such as ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy.”