Growing up both gay and from a migrant family has provided Ben Law with plenty of material as a writer. He shares some insights with Sabine Brix.
Sh*t Asian Mothers Say is Law’s latest book, and if his previous two are anything to go by, the third will also have readers tearing through pages with a smile on their face.
A guest at the upcoming Sydney Writers’ Festival, Law will chair a number of panels including a session with his sister Michelle, the book’s co-author.
The concept for Sh*t Asian Mothers Say was born out of the popular Shit Girls Say phenomenon on YouTube, which later led to the hilarious Shit Asian Mums and Shit Asian Dads Say. If you haven’t watched these, stop reading and Google now.
Law’s publisher initially suggested he pen a book based on this subject matter.
“First my publisher just approached me, and I was like I think I could write a book like that but it would be with my sister because she’s hilarious,” Law says.
Liaising between Sydney and Brisbane – home to his sister Michelle, also an author and screenwriter – the siblings exchanged memories of their mother via email and sourced material by engaging potential subjects via social media.
“We sent out surveys online to other Australian/Asian people via Twitter, ( a lot of them were strangers) saying what are the most embarrassing things your Asian mother has ever done in your life?”
And of course these questions were met with the kind of hilarious responses set to elicit plenty of sniggering laughter.
One participant relayed an embarrassing situation whereby their mother decided to dress head to toe in animal print upon visiting the zoo, while another’s decision to force her children to run through international custmoms carrying illicit dried herbs and vegetables almost resulted in arrest.
Law’s own upbringing has enabled him to identify with others who were raised in ethnic families.
“When you grow up as the child of a migrant, your parents aren’t like everyone else’s. Your family’s culture is your home culture and it doesn’t feel unusual to you but as soon as you step out the door you realise maybe everyone else sees that your parents are different.”
Law developed an interest in journalism at a young age – some might say he was precocious – by subscribing to and reading a myriad of magazines. He recounts his attempts to become a published author.
“I lived at the newsagency across the road in coastal Queensland, basically. I was just one of those annoying teenagers who was like ‘yeah, I’ll email the editor of Rolling Stone on my dial-up modem in response to whatever I think is going well and poorly in their magazine at the time.’”
Ben Law with his sister Michelle
Law’s approach paid off after his writing was published and his email declared ‘letter of the month.’
“They sent me a stereo and I thought, ‘wow, writing’s cool, writing’s well paid as well.’”
Roughly around the same time he started writing, Law also came out as gay, which influenced the way he wrote about himself.
“When I started writing at the age of 17 I was writing about myself as a queer person,” he recalls.
“I always joke with my friends that the year after you come out, it’s like everyone’s always super gay or super queer because you’ve been repressing it for so long. You suddenly become really political; it’s all you can talk about, you only go to gay clubs and gay venues.
“That was my first couple of years as well so that was probably all I really wrote about, looking back.”
A columnist, novelist and screenwriter (his first book The Family Law is being adapted for television) Law writes across a variety of topics, but being gay is no longer the focal point of his work.
“Nowadays I don’t think it’s the only thing I write about,” he says. “But now I think my sensibilities as a writer are framed by that, just as I think heterosexual people are framed by hetero sensibility.
“And I do write from a queer perspective as well and that’s not always the subject matter but I think you can’t forget the fact that I happen to be queer.”
Sh*t Asian Mother’s Say is out now.
First published on gay news network on 22 May 2014