Journalist Amelia Abraham tells Carrie Lyell how her first book came to be
BY CARRIE LYELL, IMAGE BY LILY ROSE THOMAS
I’ve been an avid reader of journalist Amelia Abraham’s articles for a while now. Her pieces in Vice, Refinery29, the Guardian and others often focus on LGBTQI issues in an in depth yet accessible way that I don’t often see in mainstream publications, so when I received a copy of her first book – Queer Intentions – in the post earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. But how did it come about?
Amelia Abraham: I was reaching a moment in my career as a journalist where quite a few people I knew were starting to write books, and I was also reaching a point in my life where some time was going to opening up, potentially for a bigger project. I just thought to myself, ‘If I were to write a book, what would it be?’ And it shaped up in my head pretty close to what Queer Intentions is immediately.
How different was the process of writing a book to the process of writing in your day job?
There’s quite a lot of continuity with the work I’ve been doing over the last five years. Some of these stories were things that I’ve looked at before. So a couple of bits in the book are actually adapted from articles I’ve written. For instance, when I remember going to one of the first same-sex marriages in the UK, that was an article I wrote for Vice. I’d written about transgender models for Refinery29, so that was related. I’ve written lots about Pride and how it’s changed. So it wasn’t that different. The main difference was, of course, trying to write something that made sense as an overall piece that’s 100,000 words long. The book isn’t stand-alone essays. It is a story, there’s – hopefully! – a narrative arc, and I’m a kind of narrator that pops up more or less so in different chapters. Sometimes it’s quite personal, sometimes I take a step back and act as a vessel through which the reader travels, or a person the reader travels with. But I think that was the hardest part, trying to connect the dots and make it make sense as a whole, especially when it’s not a neat story, with a clear answer or a happy – or sad – ending.
I really enjoyed some of those more personal chapters. How does it feel writing in such an exposing way?
It was something that I wasn’t as used to – I don’t write about myself loads – but it felt like an important way to open the book, with the story of that break up, for a few reasons. One, it was truth, [and] what pushed me to think, ‘Right, I’m actually going to write this book’. Two, because I was about to go on a journey where I asked a lot of other people about their personal lives, and if I was going to write all this exposing stuff that they kindly offered up to me, then it felt important to do the same. The third reason is that I would love it if this was a book that was read by LGBTQ+ people and straight people, and I think talking about your personal experience really allows people to see their own experience in it. I hope that opening with something as universal as a horrific heartbreak, anyone could pick up the book and think. ‘I’ve felt like that’. Maybe you suck them in that way, and then 200 pages later they’re reading about LGBT rights in Serbia which they didn’t know they cared about. That was the goal. Point number four is because I genuinely feel like there aren’t enough lesbian stories out there in the world. You can only ever have more, so it felt really important to commit mine to print.
I also loved the breadth of viewpoints in the book. How easy was it to find people willing to talk about their experiences?
I was completely overwhelmed by the support of strangers when I didn’t have a contact. I felt like, explaining to LGBT people, ‘Oh, I’m writing this book, this is why I’m doing it, this is what it’s about’, people got really, really on board with it. In Serbia in particular. No one is talking about the situation for LGBT people there, so they were so surprised that somebody wanted to write about it. All these people that I’d never met just completely stepped up and helped me, and I’m so, so grateful.
What do you hope readers might take away from Queer Intentions?
A friend of mine, Juno Roche, who’s a brilliant transgender writer, said, ‘Well, I feel like I’ve been on this great big journey across the world and had loads of fun and I didn’t have to leave my sofa’. So I hope that’s what people take. I also hope that if you’re young and you’re LGBTQ+, and you don’t know what you might grow up to be or what your life could look like, you read this book and get to meet 30 different LGBTQ people in different countries across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and you might see yourself somewhere in one of them. Or you might live in a place that’s isolated and you don’t know that many LGBTQ people, so this is an opportunity to meet a lot of people and hear about their experiences. I hope it does that. That would be very nice.
You talk in the book about questioning your own assumptions, or – as you put it – “decolonising the room” in your brain. You’ve said there are no neat conclusions to these conversations, but what do you think you’ve taken away from the process, or learnt about yourself on this journey?
The main thing is that it is a journey. Everywhere I went, I learnt something new. Every single person I met had a completely different experience with their queerness. It was like witnessing intersectionality in action. I really do feel at the end of writing it like I belonged to some kind of community, which was really nice. That in a time when there are so many different life options for LGBT people – in the West at least – and different ways of being, there is some kind sense of family, still. That in a time when many in the West would argue that being LGBT no longer has to define you, one thing the book taught me is that if you want it to, it still can, and there’s a lot to be gained from that. You can immerse yourself in the culture because it is still there. Meet other LGBT people and hang out with other LGBT people and you’ll get a lot from it. I really did. It was a beautiful experience.
Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture is available now.
This interview first appeared in the June 2019 issue of DIVA – you can grab your digital copy here!
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