Reverend Fred Nile and Maya Newell

Someone once said something about books and covers. I think the same principle can be applied to films and titles. When I was asked to watch and review Maya Newell’s Growing up Gayby I died a little inside. Not because the subject matter isn’t incredibly relevant to my interests, but because the word “gayby” makes me shudder and break out in hives.

I find the idea of labelling children based on the configuration of their parents’ genitals more than a little creepy. Babies are babies, and those, like my own son, who are raised by same-sex parents, don’t deserve to be placed in some special subcategory by virtue of this fact. They deserve to forge their own identities, not have a crappy one thrust upon them by people who are unnaturally preoccupied with other people’s sexuality.

It’s safe to say that I came to this film with my hackles up, ready to be outraged.

But I wasn’t.

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Newell’s sincere, measured approach to investigating what it’s like to be raised by same sex parents was disarming, and incredibly engaging. She asks the kinds of questions that everyone seems to have about “gaybies” but takes the unique approach of actually asking the kids themselves. Are the children of same sex parents more likely to be gay themselves? Do they miss out on something by not having a parent of each gender? Are they damaged or disadvantaged by experiencing bullying and discrimination?

“Babies are babies, and those, like my own son, who are raised by same-sex parents, don’t deserve to be placed in some special subcategory by virtue of this fact.”

In the process of asking these questions, she also paints a series of portraits of everyday life for these families – the little conflicts, triumphs, and rites of passage that test their mettle and draw them together. You may or may not be surprised to discover that they look a lot like most other families.

This is more than an “aren’t gay families great” piece. In an act of courtesy rarely bestowed by conservative commentators and shock jocks, Newell approaches two of the queer community’s most verbose and visible critics, Janet Albrechtsen and Fred Nile, and asks them for their perspectives on the issue.

To me, this is where Newell’s real talent as a documentary filmmaker shines through. She elegantly allows them to present their own views in a way that makes them appear so transparently specious, bigoted and hateful, that they don’t even require rebuttal.

As the mother of my own “gayby” (nope, still can’t say it without a shudder), this film left me with a sense of quiet hope. Yes, Fred Nile still exists, and Janet Albrechtsen is still allowed to speak in public, but seeing how much has changed for queer families over the course of just one generation was incredibly encouraging. And seeing just how diverse, resilient, articulate, and sane these children and young people were, left me in no doubt that same-sex parents are raising amazing people.

Opening Shot: Growing Up Gayby airs Wednesday November 20 at 9:30pm on ABC2.

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As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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