New theatre piece Let Me Know When You Get Home, a play about growing up queer in Sydney, will premiere at Launchpad on 18-20 March. The play is presented by Riverside Theatre’s National Theatre of Parramatta, in association with CuriousWorks.
The play’s writer, Miranda Aguilar, says that they wrote the play for their 17-year-old self. Set against the backdrop of Mardi Gras during the stage in life when one’s schooling is completed but the realities of working life are yet to begin in earnest, Let Me Know When You Get Home celebrates queer friendship, community, and radical optimism through the life of a 17-year-old Filipino Val, who is anxious to leave her traditional home in Fairfield and start their life in the city as a queer adult. Aguilar says;
In this weird purgatory period, she makes a break and goes into the city to join a Mardi Gras group. In the meantime, her childhood best friend remains behind in their Bible study group. So the play is about these two friends growing up and trying to find their place in the world, and also trying to see if they can still be friends, even when it seems like they’re going down two different paths.
Though the show is set in Western Sydney, it investigates the familiar path any lonely LGBTI+ person must take. In order to be accepted, it is often necessary to leave one’s hometown and venture into the big city, whether Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, or some other supposed LGBTQI+ utopia.
When asked if the play is autobiographical, Aguilar says;
It’s not based on real life experiences, but it is based on a lot of the common feelings of suburban isolation and what it feels like to be a queer person when you can’t wait to be an adult and finally find other people who are like you. Similarly, a lot of the feelings I had when I started growing up and trying to find places where I fit, and then found that a lot of places that were very progressive racially didn’t have a lot of queer people, so I would feel like I was the only one in the room – all those feelings are reflected in the play. It’s the feeling of trying to figure out where exactly your community is.
Aguilar notes that there is still a good deal of overt racism in the LGBTQI community in Australia. They has particularly heard gay Asian men reflect on their experiences with racism on Grindr and in other venues. They note that the issue is generally one of a lack of understanding about cultural diversity, or perhaps a lack of willingness to go the extra mile to make the community more interesting. “We can’t deny that we live in a country that’s been shattered by colonialism,” they observe. “That is definitely a factor. I have met white people in the LGBTQ community who think that because they’re queer, they’re incapable of racism, which is just not true. But I think it’s usually simply a problem of not knowing enough people of colour and of different cultures.”
According to Aguilar, growing up queer in Western Sydney generated a strong sense of isolation. “It’s partly the area itself,” they explain, “because there aren’t a lot of opportunities to meet other queer people, and you’re told that if you want to meet other queer people, you have to go into the city. And it’s a very large, multicultural community. People often have the preconceived idea that because there are so many culturally diverse communities there, there must also be a lot of homophobia. And while there is some homophobia in Western Sydney, its actually everywhere. Growing up in Western Sydney, you don’t see yourself much, you don’t see that, oh, there are queer people just living their lives around here, and you don’t see a history of beautiful, gender diverse people or different sexualities. You think, why is there no one like me? I must be the only one who exists.”
Elaborating on the experience of young people in the LBGTQI+ community who live in conservative neighbourhoods, Aguilar notes that there are community groups that are more welcoming and queer friendly, “but you don’t hear about them,” they said. “I honestly think it’s getting better, but even so, when the opportunity comes, before going to the city, most will think, “I’ve got to get home.’”
In Let Me Know When You Get Home, Aguilar hopes to extend to young LGBTQI people a message of universal love and acceptance, and that is OK to ask for more. “You shouldn’t have to just ask for tolerance,” they say;
You should be given love and acceptance. More than just feeling worthwhile, you should feel like you’re a wonderful, fabulous addition to this world.
Of equal importance, if not more, is Aguilar’s message to the communities these young people live in. “What are you doing to make the young people in your life feel safe?” they ask. “What are you doing to make the places they go safe, so they can feel accepted and truly welcome in any place where you have power?” Aguilar has a good deal of experience working with young people and working with community arts. In their experience, there are key questions that should be asked of any community where young LGBTQI people live.
When asked what they would say to young queer people of colour who are feeling isolated, Aguilar doesn’t miss a beat. “First I would say, I know what you’re going through,” they assure. “I’ve been there. It’s terrible. I’m right there with you, and I can tell you it gets better. I know that’s not super helpful, because it sucks right now. I’m here for you, and I understand that. I want you to know I’m sitting by your side. I would also say that it’s important to try to find the people in your life who really are your community. They might not always be the people you think they’ll be. But they’re out there. It’s hard to find them, but it will become easier with time.”
Let Me Know When You Get Home is Miranda Aguilar’s first full-length play. Because the play was developed in Western Sydney, CuriousWorks is collaborating with local youth organisations to invite young people who can’t afford theatre tickets. They aim to raise donations to send 25 young people from the area to watch their first play.
Let Me Know When You Get Home premieres alongside The Sorry Mum Project as a part of the Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta’s Launchpad, a double bill of new work from Western Sydney.
For tickets visit Riverside Theatre Parramatta