A little while ago we came across a very special book. One of our contributors, Lexi Keelan (you will recognise her artwork all over our site), was approached to illustrate a biography. It wasn’t your typical biography however; it was a collection of stories and experiences liberally peppered with fun illustrations. This book, Anecdotes of a Disabled Gay by Wayne Herbert, as Wayne himself describes it, is ‘a collection of shit people say’.
We wanted to find out more about Wayne, his book and his experience being a gay man with a disability. We started off by asking Wayne to tell us everything about himself to which he replied:
‘I think what you will discover is that I am quite boring!’
‘I could introduce myself in two different ways. First I can tell you about my job. Which is quite exciting really. I work as a senior leader in Disability Employment Services. Every day I get to work in a sector that is promoting the rights and opportunities of people with a disability to move to well paid employment. I think employment provides a sense of freedom, opportunity, and choice, which every one has a right to experience. Working with people with disabilities is very important to me.
‘So that’s what I do by day. But by night, I am an aspiring drag queen, I am a failed beauty queen, I do a lot of public speaking and education and awareness raising about disabilities, diversity, sexuality with employers, businesses.’
‘I grew up in the country and I think a lot of people are shocked by that given who I am. I grew up in Grafton. It wasn’t always a great experience but there are positives and negatives in everything. I had a very supportive family and a small group of very close friends. When I first moved to Canberra in 2009, I was like “oh my god, it’s like New York City! There are three lanes of traffic, there are traffic lights.” Now having been to New York I know its nothing like New York.’
‘When I moved here and saw this focus on government I thought this could be a really lucrative career move for me. I mean, I’m gay, I’m disabled, I’m an aspiring drag queen, and I’m left handed. I thought I could be in high demand for the politically correct or diversified work places. Often I think of myself as one big diversity box.’
‘I am often confronted with a lot of the negative language that surround how we as a society and community identify or describe other sectors of our society. Often when we talk about people with disabilities we use quite negative language to describe people’s disability, their limitation, their deficit or impairment. Often I think people perceive people with a disability or people who are gay differently to how those people perceive themselves. I am always confronted by that. I think “that’s not how I perceive myself.” I think I am talented, skilled, fabulous, could be a little prettier.’
‘I wanted to write a book that re-framed that. That looked at the things that people say to me as a gay person, as a person with a disability, and explore what that says about the way we as a society value diversity and our citizens. I explore the attitudes and perceptions of me but also the highlights, lowlights, difficulties and triumphs against the sense of isolation and alienation that I’ve felt in my life.’
‘That’s how I came to write the book. I think you can change the way that people perceive things like disability and sexuality if you give them permission to laugh. I like to think I’m quite funny although my friends and family might tell you otherwise. I wanted to give people a look at parts of my life, not all of my life, but parts that I have experienced both personally and professionally that have shaped me in some way. I want people to have a chance to explore the attitudes I’ve faced and how we might be able to change them for the better.’
‘Writing the book wasn’t a journey as such. I thought to myself “what if I write down all the funny things people have said to me.” There have been a lot of funny things and some hurtful things. It’s given me a lot of insight into how people interact and what they assume about others.’
‘A lot of the time people won’t make the connection of me being both gay and disabled. I forget about it a lot of the time myself. It’s not at the forefront of my mind. I wanted a book that encapsulated both of those things. I hope the book highlights that in fact, I’m not different. What I do is the same as everyone else. I have a job. I’m not exceptional. But I do everything and seek everything that everyone else does. We don’t necessarily recognise that people with disability are just like everyone else.’
‘The book probably took me about 6 months to write. Once I started remembering all the things people had said, it flowed quite quickly. I then decided that it should be illustrated to bring it to life visually. I found Lexi [digital artist and Leiden contributor] though much effort, really. I had pitched ideas to illustrators in Sydney and Melbourne but decided that I needed someone nearer to me so that we could talk it through, make changes. I googled around and found her.’
‘I certainly had ideas and concepts of what I wanted from the illustrations, I had a picture in my head. But I can’t draw, I’m not an artist. It’s not for me to tell the artist what to draw. So I sent Lexi through some content which was a bit strange at times because sometimes it was about a blow job, a hand job or sex. I wanted to have input but not so much input that Lexi couldn’t feel like she should stay true to herself as an artist.’
‘I set out deliberately to write and present the book in this way. I wanted people to be able to pick it up and put it down. You don’t have to read it cover to cover in one sitting. You can read it with champagne or an espresso martini and maybe it will start a conversation. I wanted to offer a snapshot into the attitudes and perceptions people who are gay or have a disability may experience and to hopefully help others want understand that.’
‘I now call the book my own personal gay handbook. It’s a collection of shit people say. And it’s pretty.’