• Maria Katsonis (R) and Rebecca Starford address the strain in their familial relationships after coming out in new book 'Rebellious Daughters'. (SUPPLIED)Source: SUPPLIED
The 'Rebellious Daughters' contributors spoke to SBS about coming out, family expectations, and the younger generation of LGBTQIA+ kids.
By
Stephen A Russell

4 Aug 2016 - 2:27 PM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2016 - 2:27 PM

The build-up to coming out is often a stressful time for LGBTQIA+ people, even when they're met with the dream scenario - instantaneous loving acceptance from those around them. When things don’t pan out quite as positively, it can be a crushing experience, especially when parents turn their back on their own kids.

Marina Katsonis, co-editor of and contributor to Rebellious Daughters - a new anthology of some of Australia’s finest female writers - always knew that coming out wouldn’t be easy, but she wasn’t about to back down. “I have a very resolute sense of my identity because I had to fight hard for it,” she says.

A Beyond Blue ambassador and senior executive in the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Katsonis is the author of Ventura Press’ The Good Greek Girl, relaying her spirited push back against her Greek immigrant father’s strict ideals, as well as her struggles with mental health.

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“It was the early '80s and my mother and father came from Greece in that classic 1950s wave of post-war migration, bringing with them a set of customs and traditions but also expectations," she says. "They came to Australia for my brother and myself, to give us the kind of opportunities that weren’t going to be available in post-war Greece, which was also experiencing civil war".

Those expectations were frozen in time as they departed the motherland, with Katsonis expected to live at home until she was married. When she instead decided to move out in her twenties while at university, it sparked furious screaming matches with her parents hurling abuse like resili (disgrace) and poutana (prostitute).  

Coming out after a six-month estrangement was the last straw. “[My father] responded with violence and it was quite brutal,” Katsonis says. “That shattered my relationship with [him], and for me it became quite a defining incident. If that’s the price I had to pay, then so be it, and I did have a choice not to tell him, but for me it was about being authentic to my identity.”

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A riveting compilation, there’s a rich spread of diversity amongst Rebellious Daughters - 17 unique voices, including Jane Caro, Michelle Law and Rochelle Siemienowicz. Katsonis chapter, ‘A Spoonful of Sugar (or not)’ paints the clash between her bohemian university life, where Katsonis solidified her queer identity, and a stifling home life stuck in the middle of last century, sharing some DNA with Loaded and The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas. It also pinpoints a fledgling moment of her rebellion.

One day, aged 12, Katsonis’ father, or ‘Baba,’ taught her how to make his beloved kafe metreo, coffee with sugar, rewarding her perfect first try with a generous five dollar note. At first, his daily calls of "Maria, kafe!" saw her spring into action bursting with pride, but soon it became an onerous chore rejected in a humorous fashion best left for the book. “It was about the beginning of challenging my father, not conforming with his expectations,” Katsonis says.

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Back then, Katsonis had no concept of her sexuality, with school friends insisting her lack of interest in the blokes she hung around with and crushes on girls were just a phase. It wasn’t until she stumbled upon the word ’homosexual’ in a book at the Malvern library that she could put a name to what she felt innately.

“Now you look at a teenagers who might be questioning their orientation and they’re well supported by information, resources and groups like Minus18,” she says. “And yet parents don’t necessarily raise their children expecting them to be gay. There’s that kind of heteronormative conception that we have and it sometimes still permeates through the family home. I think that’s particularly the case in multicultural and multi-faith backgrounds.”

Fellow contributor Rebecca Starford, co-founder of Kill Your Darlings and author of confronting memoir Bad Behaviour, also has a fraught relationship with her parents since coming out, entirely estranged from her mother and only tentatively in contact with her father.

‘Who Owns My Story?’ muses on the aftermath of writing Bad Behaviour, which tackled her experience of being bullied and also bullying while at private school. She had hoped her memoir might have created bridges with her family, but says that’s still a work in progress. “There’s no way of talking positively about these estrangements, because they are what they are and you just you live with them on a daily basis. You keep trying to forge these reconnections and you just have to be patient.”

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She has no idea if they’ve read Bad Behaviour or not, but as Starford elaborates in Rebellious Daughters, it’s a story she felt compelled to tell and one that’s had a profound effect on her self-confidence. “I feel so grounded and strong now. Even though it was a destabilising process, it was really necessary for me because I’m charting this whole evolution of shame, all kinds of shame and the biggest has been around my sexuality, so the feeling of casting that off has been really liberating and transformative.”

Starford worries that the current debate surrounding same-sex marriage and the upcoming plebiscite will have a very negative effect on the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly younger people. “The whole conversation is really destructive and it angers but also saddens me. We have a government who undermines and erodes the legitimacy of our relationships at every opportunity and I think for kids at the moment it would be hugely confusing at what’s already a confusing time. I just don’t understand why we’re still stuck in this position, but we’re very retrograde as a country and can’t manage to push forward on many issues of import, so it’s not really that surprising.”

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Her chapter also touches on troubling statistics when it comes to the cultural legitimacy of women writers in Australia with their work continually under-represented in literary review space, prizes and in school curriculums. In this way, the publication of Rebellious Daughters is a vital step of redress.

“I think it’s a really great consolidation of the strength of women’s literature in this country when, as an industry, we’re really pushing for that recognition,” she says. “That’s why an initiative like the Stella Prize, not only awarding it but collecting author data and keeping the industry accountable, is important. It’s a long-term project, these sort of systemic changes, so it will take maybe another generation for us to see really big moves towards more equitable representation.”

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Rebellious Daughters is a small part of that progress, she says. “This is an anthology that brings together so many experiences that many, many readers can come to it and find a point of reference to their lives. For young women in school and at university, if they are reading books by women, even by osmosis, we’re building that confidence.”

Rebellious Daughters is published by Ventura Press and you can order a copy here. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to Women’s Legal Service Victoria.