A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

Queerstories 2020 | Resilience | Zoya Gill and Mark du Potiers

Queerstories 2020 is a special series of the Queerstories podcast recorded during the lockdown months of 2020, featuring LGBTQI+ storytellers reflecting on the events of the year.

Stories about the experiences queers have that can equip us to deal with the challenges thrown at us, our strength and resilience, how we navigate communication and manage our relationships in different ways.

Zoya Gill grew up in London but lived sitting across worlds. In a sentence, they’re a mixed-race, trans non-binary East African Indian, who spent chunks of their life in Kenya, and moved to Melbourne in their early 20s. A former high school teacher, they are now a public servant and a host of Tuesday Breakfast on 3CR Community Radio.

Mark du Potiers is a sculptor who is Meanjin / Brisbane born, raised, and based; he also happens to be an Australian with Hongkonger and Chinese heritage. Mark’s experiences and anxieties of being a person of colour feature in the outcomes of his practice, as well as explorations of the additional complexities from identifying as queer. He often uses his artwork as a conversation starter to speak about mental health challenges, as he is aware of how important visibility and diverse representation can be – both for himself and for others. Not satisfied with art’s lucrative dividends, Mark pays the bills through moonlighting in the world of public health.


Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories 2020, a collection of stories commissioned, written and recorded during the lockdown months last year.

Today’s stories are themed around resilience, around the experiences queers have that can equip us to deal with the challenges thrown at us, how we navigate communication and manage our relationships in different ways.

First up, Zoya Gill grew up in London but lived sitting across worlds. They’re a mixed-race, trans non-binary East African Indian, who spent chunks of their life in Kenya, and moved to Melbourne in their early 20s. A former high school teacher, they are now a public servant and a host of Tuesday Breakfast on 3CR Community Radio.


You could say I’ve been preparing for lockdown my whole life. I’ve always been separated or isolated in some way. Whether it was yearning for my family in Kenya while growing up in the UK, or feeling trapped as a teenager during the long summer holidays in Nairobi where there was nothing to do all day except play endless rounds of cards with my Indian relatives. Loneliness seemed to define my childhood in the same way that separation has defined my adulthood.

When I was 20 I moved to Melbourne. I was under strict instructions from my mother ‘not to fall in love with an Australian boy’. And, good kid that I was, I didn’t; I fell in love with a girl and decided to stay, even after that relationship ended. Got to love those heteronormative loopholes.

Falling in love with a place and a person on the other side of the world means navigating constant separation. Separation from my family while I’m here, separation from my home and my life while I’m back there.

So, out of necessity, my relationships have always been mediated by technology. From shouting down crackled phone lines to overseas relatives as a small child, through to teaching my 91 year old cockney grandmother how to use Zoom this year.

The trick is to be on the phone while you guide her through the first 5 minutes of the video chat, like a sort of personal IT support. Gently persuading her that no, once she hangs up the phone, the video call won’t also end. And trying to yank her attention away from her own image in the corner of the screen.

We’re getting there. Slowly.

And really, this isn’t even my first – or my most difficult – lockdown. My first lockdown was Canberra: 2016 to 2018. I left a busy life and a close community of friends to follow my then partner. And I was so optimistic about it. I’d built a whole life in Melbourne, so of course I could do it in Canberra. But nothing – nothing – prepared me for the endless sea of straight, cis, white public servants.

This is the kind of place that has ONE gay bar. The sort of city where a person on a work call will say ‘you have this cryptic thing in your signature block where it say ‘pronouns: they/them’. I’ve asked around the office and no one knows what that means’.

I’m sure Canberra has a vibrant queer subculture. Somewhere. But for me, it was a place devoid of queer people, of brown people, of people who saw the world like I did. Back then, I was allowed to leave the house, I could be around friends. But I was constantly trapped. Unable to live my culture, my politics, my gender. Not even in my own home.

I’d been teetering around the edges of realising I wasn’t a woman for quite a few years, and one day I just woke up and knew I was non-binary. There was no earth shattering moment, no grand revelation. Just a deep awareness. Almost like a side of myself that had been there all along had finally decided to let me in on this amazing secret.

But this realisation wasn’t great for everyone involved.

I met my ex while still presenting as a woman and had been slowly, almost imperceptibly, changing in front of her over the course of 6 years. Until finally it – and all the problems in our relationship – became far too obvious to ignore.

Couples counselling didn’t help. Imagine my surprise that our therapist, a middle aged white woman in beige clothes, surrounded by even beiger furnishings, wasn’t able to understand the complexities of being in an interracial, sort of poly relationship where one of the partners is transitioning into something that the other partner has absolutely no physical attraction to.

This is a therapist who took the phrase ‘sometimes I feel like I’m dating a teenage boy’ to mean I should ‘try to think of ways to dress where you can express your gender but in a feminine way. So that she can still be attracted to you. Relationships are all about compromise’.

So every day I would stare at my clothes, and I would stare at my body, and I would try to work out how to recreate myself to be acceptable to the person I loved and to the world I was trying to live in for her.

And slowly, bit by bit, I locked away this incredible part of me that I had just discovered. The part that made me feel truly free. Until one night I was out with a group of friends and I totally disconnected from my body. Anyone who has ever dissociated will know what this feels like. I was in this sea of people and I couldn’t connect with any of it.

To use an analogy that everyone is now familiar with – its like when you’re on a video chat and the connection gets really shit. You’re trying so hard to see and talk to the person on the other end but all you hear is the echo of your own voice. And even though you know its Tony Abbot’s fault because he decided to screw up the NBN, for some reason you get really pissed off at the person you’re talking to.

But imagine this going on for months, and with every interaction you have, until you decide to just give up trying to connect with anyone.

Finally I returned to Melbourne, to my chosen family and to people who saw me for who I was. I rebuilt a community by sharing food, laughter, and stories with all my queer brown and black friends. Through activism and art and anger. And through intimacy, in all its forms, with the wonderful, gentle, weird, endlessly loving humans who now make up my life.

So really, I’ve been through all this before.

But that isn’t to say I didn’t flip the fuck out when lockdown was announced. I mean, I responded to it like any good queer: I got drunk, I shaved my head and I got a tattoo.

Getting friends to shave my head and give me a stick and poke before we were shut away in our houses was probably the best decision I ever made. They are such physically intimate activities. In those days leading up to the first lockdown it felt like we were all trying to squeeze out that last bit of connection to our communities before it got disrupted.

I still have vivid memories of the slight part of my best friend’s lip and the brush of her breath against my face as she concentrated carefully on shaving a clean line around my ears. And I can still feel my mate’s body curved around mine as she found just the right angle to tattoo my thigh while we were lying on my bed and listening to Fleetwood Mac on repeat. It was painful, but gentle, and one of the last times I felt intertwined with another person. I cherish those moments dearly.

These past few months have made me realise how much we need other people’s bodies to be able to feel and see our own.

My mum took a very long time to start using my pronouns. And she’s still not consistent. I don’t think my dad even knows that I changed them. She’s told me time and time again that it’s because I’m not around her. She doesn’t get to see the shifts in my body language, in my clothes, in my way of being in the world. She just has my voice and my face and the memories of me as a child. Because of that she can’t see me as anything other than her daughter, and I can’t do anything to change that. And it is so hard and so painful for both of us. We love each other deeply. We feel such a strong connection but that connection isn’t physical. We’re separated in so many ways and it hurts so much.

So when friends and colleagues started misgendering me once we moved to video chats I wasn’t surprised. And each time it happens, it’s like that shitty internet connection again. I suddenly feel so alone, and so unseen. I’m sitting there in my kitchen, panicking that maybe I didn’t dress right that day, or perhaps my body language is too female.

How many times do you find yourself looking at your video instead of the person on the screen? I am so guilty of that. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I love it. If the light is just right, or I’ve done something excellent with my hair I’ll be like ‘ooh look at you, you did well today’.

But every time someone calls me ‘she’ my eyes snap down to that little image in the corner and I watch my body instinctively curl inwards. I focus really hard on changing the set of my jaw, or the placement of my arms on the chair and hope desperately that the person on the other end will realise their mistake.

I’ve gone back to staring at my clothes, and staring at my body. But this time trying to work out how to make myself as noticeable as possible. How to connect my image to my identity as much as I can. Because all we have now are our voices and our images separated by a screen.

I yearn for the warm safety of entwining myself with other queer people. Of feeling and experiencing the range of bodies that make up our community. Of knowing my body through others and feeling truly connected to myself.

This is the first time since Canberra that I’ve felt so separated from the bodily experience of my gender, and of my queerness. I should be used to this feeling. I’ve been separated from the bodily experience of my culture for most of my adult life. And somehow living through this disconnection from all the other parts of my life has finally made me realise how much I’ve lost.

In the same way that I ache for other queer bodies, I feel so far away from my family.

I desperately want to watch my grandmother – my Amma’s – hands as she rolls out rotis and teaches me in panjabi how to make them. Which is an experience, because I can’t speak panjabi any more.

I miss the sound of multiple languages being shouted at each other over the din of frying chillies. And the smell of my mum’s cooking. I miss dancing and joking and fighting with my sister and our cousins. I miss the sheer intensity of life in my family. They all seem to live perpetually on the edge of tears, or laughter, or both.

And for the past ten years, when I go home to it, I’ve found it so exhausting. I’ve become used to quiet houses and gentle communication. There are times when I’m around them that I feel that same sense of being outside of myself, of not truly being seen. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider in my family, and being the only queer one hasn’t helped with that.

But now, now all I want is to collapse into them. To let the exhaustion and the intensity fill me up until my body gives into it and I become one of them again. I want panjabi and Swahili words for objects and people to come to me easily. I want to be able to shout over my relatives until my voice is heard. Because being the loudest is the only way to have your story listened to. I want to feel as safe and warm doing that as I do curling my legs around my friend and quietly letting her mark my skin in a way that connects me to her, and to my physical sense of self.

And I can’t do that. Because they’re on the other side of the world. And I don’t know when I’ll be able to lose myself, and find myself, in them again.

Over the past weeks and months of lockdown I’ve worked hard to find a connection to my immediate community. I can escape into absurdity with my queer Dungeons and Dragons group, or pretend I’m at my local by winning trivia night over Zoom.

Not long before the second lockdown a close friend and I spent a sunny afternoon in the park dancing to 90s tunes while her dog ran around looking, I am certain of it, deeply embarrassed that he was with us.

We took our shoes off to feel the grass, pulled our masks down for just a moment, and spun round and round in circles to the music, knowing that we were just 2 meters away from each other, experiencing the same joy and escape. The same feeling of being lost in ourselves. No screens, no shitty internet connection, just the cool, damp ground and our bodies moving in time.

It’s harder with my family, of course. The time difference doesn’t help. Living through family crises and knowing I can’t hug my parents or help look after my grandparents is heartbreaking. But somehow we make do.

My mum has got me to learn her favourite songs and sing them to her over FaceTime, while both my grandmothers have started telling me stories about their childhoods, gentle, evocative anecdotes about being a teenager in London or playing in the field in Panjab. And having weekly video chats with my cousins where we shout over each other, share memories, gossip about family, cry, bicker, and joke across three different continents helps me remember that our love for each other will never go away.

One evening, just recently, my housemate and I made rotis. We spent the time sharing stories of how his dad taught him, and of how my Amma taught me. I found myself instinctively helping the rotis puff up by using a damp cloth to gently press on the dough as they cooked. Slowly remembering just when to pull back, and when to flip them. Doing it by hand, my fingers covered in flour to protect them from the hot surface.

As the increasingly successful results of our efforts piled up on the plate it felt like Amma was there with me in the kitchen. Not separated by a screen, but right next to me, gently guiding my hands with hers. Making me feel safe and warm. Making it feel like home.


Our next story is by Mark du Potiers, a sculptor born, raised, and based in Meanjin / Brisbane. He also happens to have Hongkonger and Chinese heritage. Not satisfied with the lucrative dividends of being a working artist, Mark pays the bills through moonlighting in the world of public health.


I fear the night. And especially so, when the cover of darkness doesn’t hide the bogeymen I meet in the silence. The night is the best time to reckon with my anxiety, I’ve found. I tend to stay up until odd hours of the early morning, in attempts to face my fears, avoiding and fighting sleep like a grizzly toddler. With the husband tucked safely away in bed – he left for Dreamland eons ago – and our furry cat snoozing next to me on the couch, all is quiet and I vanish into my own world…

The relevance of time and space melts away as I go through my rituals – there’s lots of checking: checking emails, checking the news, checking the weather, checking for pop-culture updates, checking apps, checking social media… I’m compelled to do all this seemingly smaller stuff first before I feel ready to tackle the Big Task. I carry out these performances, because, yes, they are all modes of procrastination, but it is also the way I’ve learned to conduct each match… Here’s me, yet again putting on my armour and preparing for battle. It’s always a fight against myself – against perfectionism, against doubt, against stagnation – only to find I get stuck preparing for a fight that never comes.

* * * * *

This story isn’t really about me. But it sort of is. I like to think of it as more of a story about my dad. I’m still trying to work things out about the mysteries of the self, and in this awkward dance of trying to untangle myself from me, I’m always learning new tidbits about the enigma of a man I know as my father – and in turn, about me. Though I’ve thought of our individual selves as disparate entities, I’m realising we’re more connected and similar than ever.

My troubles seem to be more focussed these days. Gone is the bullshit of my twenties when I wasn’t really sure which problem needed to be addressed first. I have spent many nights throughout my short life lying awake in the dark thinking about the issues of the world, how they intersect with my own obstacles, and what I can do to fix them all. Perhaps it’s progress: in my thirties, I am so much more resolved about the different parts to who I am. Paired with a shrug, I can list them here in no particular order – 1. my sexuality (yep, I’m gay); 2. my cultural identity (I’m an Australian guy who happens to have Asian heritage – Hongkonger and Chinese, for those playing at home); also, 3. my direction in life (yes, I’m a sculptor – after so many years spent running away from art, it’s somewhat of a relief to find myself actively running towards it); and, of course, 4. my challenges (I get really blue sometimes, alongside experiencing incredible urges to be neat and tidy and to put things in order…). O.K. But one thing I can’t quite seem to come to terms with, even after all these years, is 5. the anxiety.

Hmm, maybe my father felt like he was getting on top of things in his thirties too. I’m not sure as I’m still hesitant to ask. I’ve never really understood my father, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t and doesn’t get me – he’s equally evasive as I am resistant. I remember my healthy childhood diet of copious amounts of television; daytime and night-time musings followed – time wasted spent wishing he could be more like those mirages of cookie-cutter perfect T.V. fathers. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself comfortable enough to explore my odd relationship to him through my art practice. I catch myself writing about Dad time and time again, equal parts intrigued and irked that I’ve become yet another guy/gay with daddy issues. Look, it’s not all doom and gloom. Though I spend much of my life resisting and learning to live with my self-destructive behaviours – they don’t define me. But I talk about them often, because the best way to fight darkness is to shine a light onto it.

* * * * *

Many-a-time, I will lose a battle, after spending hours of my life not doing the task I’ve been putting off all day, all week, all month, even. I end up crawling into bed at some godforsaken hour, relishing the warmth of my partner radiating from over his side of the bed, my wide-awake eyes peering over the covers into the darkness. As I try to clear my mind of self-inflicted torture – the indulgent depressive thoughts; the irrational guilt; and self-imposed shame, I temporarily relieve my stress with the promise that I will wake up early and live to fight another day. Tomorrow – well it is already tomorrow, so today, rather – today will be different, I lie to myself as I close my sad, stupid eyes… The cat, who followed me in, starts to snore, and I soon reciprocate, drifting off to a place where I probably won’t dream about how writing is such a roadblock for me. Writing always makes me fall into a heap, but when I’m sleeping, I’m free.

* * * * *

I came out at twenty. I had guessed by then that my dad is – and has always been – an anxious person and had passed on this not-so-desirable trait to his son. My feelings had already manifested as irrational behaviours when I was a young child and crystallised with the onset of puberty. An event from that part of my life caused some of these anxieties to really ramp up at the time. A few months had passed since the Truth (of my sexual identity) was divulged to him. One night while I was doing the washing up, Dad interjected and insisted I separate my dirty laundry from the rest of the family’s. He believed I was at risk of being diseased. In his haste and his panic, Dad feared I could possibly infect everyone else in the house with illness just by virtue of (now) being gay. Though I protested, I came home after work the next evening to find all my clothes soaking in a bucket of strong antiseptic, sparking off a whole array of obsessive compulsions when it comes to washing. Many of these still affect me today. It has taken a long time to forgive him for acting this way out of erroneous fear, but this wasn’t the only occasion he did so.

You’ve probably already come to the opinion that my father has had many ideas of how my life should turn out. His son identifying as queer (and creative) was not a part of whatever was in his head. Dad was sent to White Australia as a young teenager in the 1950s. He was separated from his own parents and much of his immediate family. The experiences of his formative years produced a man with a history of self-reliance and conservatism. Dad’s story foreshadows a whole range of generation and culture gaps to overcome – in search of some sort of common ground – especially with me, his second-born. He has always kept his cards close to his chest. Because of this, I learned early on that it was not in my best interests to vie for his approval, but it didn’t stop me trying.

My partner and I have been together for more than eleven years now. With the patience and grace of a crystal ornament cleaner, I’ve – we’ve, rather – worked delicately to create a good impression of my significant other. It hasn’t been easy. We had been going out for two years – some time ago – and I remember asking my dad over dinner if he wanted to meet Him. Dad’s response was, “No – I don’t want him in the house”. I’d purposefully kept both parties from meeting previously, but in moving so delicately, I’d created no way for any relationship to begin. The glass I had been handling with such fragile care suddenly felt shattered, sharp and jagged, painful to the touch.

* * * * *

Another night wasted. Another day wasted. Yet again, I didn’t do anything except listen to sad music and drink beer, surf the web, and masturbate numerous times to relieve my stress. Nothing worked – the anxiety abates momentarily, only to lick around the edges, and then the tide comes in again. I was and am and should be supposed to be writing, but I find myself paralysed. Look, I’m not a victim – nor would I like you to view me as one; I do feel empowered I have privilege and agency to be able to dissect my problems – but it is also difficult to be perpetually and frustratingly frozen.

Sometimes I take a shower to shock the system, and it is here that I ruminate over why writing stops me from functioning, why I repeat the same avoidant behaviours over and over… and over and over… Maybe I cotton wool myself so much to protect from hurt; the physical pain of paralysis often feels preferable to the pain of facing myself. I think the act of writing has become an embodiment of Judgement for me. Like the Tarot card, I’m not sure which way I should face – whether I truly believe in my heart of hearts that I am enough. Night falls upon another day, and the tide comes in again. I have to be enough. I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. And in the end it’s gotta hurt a little. It’s gunna hurt a lot. And I have to be okay with that.

* * * * *

Many nights and days have passed since Dad refused to meet my boyfriend all that time ago. In the intervening years, my father did meet him and has subsequently become quite fond of my partner. Though I like to think that he’s mellowing out as he ages, I must admit I feel pangs of bitterness over my younger self being robbed of this new and more relaxed persona. I’ve learned that time can change things: sometimes for the better, and sometimes worse.

Dad was taken to the hospital in an ambulance earlier this year, at the height of COVID anxiety and Lockdown. He needed emergency surgery and the whole family was there while doctors figured out what was causing my father so much pain. I surprised myself with my own confidence. I felt calm. I felt like I stepped up to the plate. I supported my father; I comforted my brother; I translated medical terminology for Mum; I kept my partner and my sister-in-law in the loop; I asked the right questions, and gave the right answers. Everyone else was in a haze, but I felt in control.

Somehow I came to be steering our family’s ship that afternoon and into the night. It was empowering. It was strange. I’ve spent much of my life grappling with whether I am worthy, but here it all fell away. It truly didn’t matter the trials I endure in reality – or the ones I run through my head – about the colour of my skin, my identity, nor whether I fit in. How masculine I might be or how I may be perceived didn’t matter. My sexuality didn’t matter. What I do for a living or what I do in my spare time weren’t a factor. It wasn’t an issue that some days and some nights I find it difficult to get out of bed or get out that front door. I was present and that was all that was needed of me, and I met that challenge. I did that.

My father ended up having to stay in hospital for a week and I visited Dad every night after work. He had had his surgery and was on the mend, albeit drugged up on morphine to quell his residual pain. I made small talk and headed home for a late dinner one of these nights, getting to bed at my usual strange hour. In a blink, I get woken up by my partner with a frantic Dad on the phone. It’s 2 a.m. In a haze of painkillers, my dad was in a nightmare state, truly believing he was in mortal peril and none of the midnight hospital staff could save him from this imagined danger.

The person he called to save him was my husband; it wasn’t Mum, my brother, my sister-in-law, nor myself. In the months since, I think this challenging week changed something in Dad with regard to his opinion of me and my partner. Maybe that’s changed how I look at myself too. I know I can be just as anxious, and eccentric, and guarded as my father. But I can also lead, I can be responsible, and I am just as fallible, like him as well. Perhaps we reached an understanding that week: As we get older, we can learn to understand each other. We are the same, after all. Someone Dad has had to learn to trust indeed picked up the phone for him in his moment of need. And in that there’s something there about putting the armour down. And so there is hope.


Thanks for listening.

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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.