Seeing Difference

RMIT University, Building 80, Level 10 – Room 80.09.11

Please Like Me: Queering happiness in suburban Melbourne

Whitney Monaghan, Monash University

In her critique of happiness, queer and feminist theorist Sara Ahmed links ideas of happiness to those of heteronormativity. As Ahmed notes, queer lives have often been culturally constructed as unhappy lives. A queer life is “a life without the ‘things’ that make you happy, or as a life that is depressed as it lacks certain things” (Ahmed, 93). Building on Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness, this paper considers how happiness is represented through the popular television series Please Like Me (2013-). Created by and starring queer comedian Josh Thomas, Please Like Me screens on ABC television in Australia and the Pivot Network in the US. It is internationally renowned for its representation of queer life in Australia, having been nominated for International Emmy Awards, GLAAD Media Awards, Logies and several AACTA awards.

Filmed throughout Melbourne, Please Like Me presents its protagonist Josh (Josh Thomas) as a suburban twenty-something who comes to terms with his sexuality and tries to “make sense of his friends, family, and cast of intriguing characters including John the caboodle” (ABC}. The series is unique for the way that it deals with issues of sexuality, identity and relationships alongside a sustained focus on mental health and questions of happiness. Reading this series through Ahmed’s critique of normativity and Frederick Dhaenens strategies of queer resistance, this paper argues that Please Like Me opens its image of suburban Melbourne to a range of queer possibilities, representing Josh’s relationships (both romantic and familial) as a model of queer happiness.

Whitney Monaghan is an Assistant Lecturer in Film and Screen Studies at Monash University. Her background is in screen, media and cultural studies and her research examines the representation of gender, queer and youth identities, digital culture, and new forms of screen media. She is the author of Queer Girls, Temporality and Screen Media: Not ‘Just a Phase’ (Palgrave, 2016).


A point of difference: bisexual identity and sexual fluidity in Sophie O’Connor’s Submerge (2012)

Chloe Benson, Federation University

Filmic images of bisexuals are often marked by a degree of enigma and ambiguity. As a consequence, expressions of a bisexual character’s desires may be conflated or rendered indistinguishable from other forms of sexual experimentation or fluidity on-screen. In some instances, this ambiguity renders bisexual identities invisible. In others it fosters a number of problematic misconceptions regarding bisexuality – that it is a phase, for instance, or a mark of immaturity. Disrupting this trend, Sophie O’Connor’s film Submerge (2012) presents a nuanced exploration of sexual behaviour and desires that exist beyond the constraints of monosexism. Set in Melbourne, the film accentuates the liberal sexual politics and diversity of its urban setting, establishing a background against which sexual possibilities can be explored without restraint. Emphasizing the fluidity rather than the fixity of erotic desires, Submerge depicts a number of attractions and relationships that transgress the tendency to categorise sexuality explicitly along gender lines. Yet it manages to do this without discounting difference altogether. O’Connor’s film is significant in that it represents bisexual behaviour as a product of bisexual identities as well as an outcome of more ambiguous desires or sexual exploration. Using the film as a case study, this paper explores the ways that queer cinema can screen sexual fluidity in a manner that is conducive to both the consolidation and critique of identity discourses. Through close reading of the film, it will be argued that Submerge is successful and relatively unique in its representation of bisexual desires and behaviour. Moreover, it will be demonstrated that this success can be attributed in large part to the film’s setting and characterization.

Chloe Benson is currently undertaking her PhD at Federation University. Her doctoral research examines the complex interplay between sites of exhibition, official entryway paratexts and contemporary representations of bisexuality. This research stems from her wider interest in bisexual and queer cinema, paratextual theory and film festival studies.


Reenacting Suburban Trauma: Dirk de Bruyn’s Conversations with my Mother (1990)

Glenn D’Cruz & Dirk de Bruyn, Deakin University

Experimental filmmaker, Dirk de Bruyn, was a ‘New Australian.’ An immigrant from Holland, de Bruyn arrived in Australia as an eight-year-old child with his mother and father in 1958, and his autobiographical film, Conversations with my Mother (1990) wanders through the suburban spaces that Robin Boyd famously described as the Australian Ugliness.

For many people, especially those immigrants from war ravaged Europe, these peripheral places provided sanctuary from a traumatic past. Moreover, many ‘New Australians’ — especially those accustomed to the confines of European domestic spaces — viewed the wide Australian streetscapes, with houses built on quarter-acre blocks, with something approaching wonder, even though initially only afforded, shared rooms, shared bathrooms and converted garages in this terrain. Here was an apparently young country, familiar in some ways, but absolutely disorienting in others. The Australian suburbs, as de Bruyn’s film intimates, are uncanny in the Freudian sense — spaces of dread haunted by a myriad of ghosts. In psychoanalysis, the uncanny experience is marked by a sense of anguish and foreboding. People, places and things become strange, or, conversely, unfamiliar locations may contain traces of the familiar. Either way, the uncanny is perhaps best described as a kind of unsettling affect, a disquieting structure of feeling.

This paper revisits this film’s key locations with filmmaker de Bruyn in order to further explore the uncanny in Melbourne’s now gentrified Western Suburbs, in the wake of the recent death of his mother. The presentation involves both a live and screen component.

Glenn D’Cruz teaches drama and cultural studies at Deakin University, Australia. He is the author of Midnight’s Orphans: Anglo-Indians in Post/Colonial Literature (Peter Lang, 2006) and the editor of Class Act: Melbourne Workers Theatre 1987-2007 (Vulgar Press, 2007). He has published widely in national and international journals in the areas of literary studies, performance studies and cultural studies.