Nathan Scolaro on Maya Newell
My idea of family used to be quite specific. A mum, a dad, one or more kids, all living together in a house. They’d have some pets maybe, a car or two, a TV room and a dining table. And there was this defining experience, mostly for the children, of growing up together, of “being raised,” to the point where the children were then old enough to create the same foundation for children of their own. Binding these relationships and experiences together was the ever-present, never-questioned ingredient of love. And I found that incredibly comforting— still do today—to have that certainty of love from family members.
But it was this thinking, this view of family, and the joy and comfort attached to this view of family, that made coming out as a gay man quite difficult for me— and difficult for some of my family members to understand. Not because they or I felt shame or had any prejudices against gay people, but because it meant, in all our ignorance, my end of the family line. We had no exposure to gay people with children, no understanding. It wasn’t familial love as we knew it.
My family’s views have fortunately shifted since then. But it’s taken a while. And it wasn’t until I had this conversation with filmmaker Maya Newell that I came to appreciate why. Maya is the child of same-sex parents, and has spent a good part of her early 20s immersing herself in the lives of families like hers to throw light on the experience of growing up a “gayby”—an experience we hear so little about in mainstream culture.
She never set out to make a political documentary. She merely wanted to capture the humanity of same-sex families, to colour in the picture, and to show us there’s joy and love and heartbreak and screaming there much like there is in every other family. It’s an important message, not just for the gay rights movement, but for any family that struggles with having to fulfil a particular norm. Because, as Maya reminds us, there is no norm when it comes to family. Each unit is different, and that is something to be celebrated.
We at Dumbo Feather first learnt about the film Gayby Baby, which is set for release in mid-2015, through Good Pitch2 Australia. It’s Maya’s first feature documentary, produced by friend Charlotte Mars—an impressive feat for two women in their mid-20s—and has an exciting outreach program in the works that will give teachers around Australia tools and knowledge to better educate young people about same-sex families.
When I speak with Maya on Skype she is in the Northern Territory making films with Aboriginal communities. I am compelled by her vibrancy and warmth, and it’s immediately clear this is someone who lives and tells stories with heart. Throughout the chat I find myself smiling often, shoulders dropping with relief. I realise we’ve entered a new era as Maya crystallises the reality for gay people today—that we too can love and build families of our own. And we too can raise kids to be extraordinary.