QWS Podcast S2E3 – Luke Rutledge
QWS Podcast S2E3 – To listen to the podcast click on this link from Words and Nerds here or here.
In this episode Rob chats with Luke Rutledge, about the gay apps (basically Grindr), that marriage plebiscite, and his debut book, A Man and his Pride.
Full interview transcript below. Jo from Blarney Books and Art , reviews State of Origin by David Owen Kelly.
Luke Rutledge links
Luke Rutledge’s Shout outs
When You Call My Name, by Tucker Shaw
Other mentions in this episode
Modern Marriage, by Filip Vukašin
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
QWS Podcast S2E3 – Luke Rutledge interview transcript
Please note: this interview transcript has been modified for ease of reading.
Rob: Luke Rutledge has worked as a communications specialist since 2014. He studied journalism and professional writing, editing and publishing at the Queensland University of Technology. Before that, he studied music at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, where he majored in classical flute. He lives in Brisbane with his fiancé and their West Highland terrier, Rufus. A Man and his Pride is his debut novel.
Welcome to the show, Luke.
Luke: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Rob: Ah, absolute pleasure and congratulations on your book I absolutely loved it. So I’ll be asking you some questions about that in a little bit. But first Luke, we have an opening question, which we ask all our guests, which is, “How has your work influenced your identity?”
Luke: So I knew you were going to ask me this question, and I have to say I was initially a bit stumped by it because I’ve only ever really thought about how my identity influences my writing. It’s quite obvious, really. I’ve written a story about a gay man, but I guess the two things are quite interchangeable, really, when you think about it. You know, I think after I came out in my early twenties and eventually I met my now partner and settled down into life a little bit more, I guess you could say. That’s when I got the itch to start writing again. And for a few years I was writing about the experiences that I had gone through, I suppose, with coming out. So I was writing quite a few coming out stories.
And I guess now that I look back at it, it was me processing that mental space that I was in during all those years of being in denial and then eventually, getting to the point where I was able to come out. So I guess, by writing coming out stories, I was essentially making sense of my own experiences and trying to understand what I’d gone through. And so I think all of that probably does have an impact on your identity in some way.
For me, writing is a form of therapy. It’s a way of making sense of the world and, you know, it’s a way of working out what you actually think about certain things. So there’s just something freeing and therapeutic about fictionalizing your own personal experiences or things that you’ve heard or seen. I think that it feels like you’re getting something off your chest and it helps clarify certain things in your head. So I’m not sure if I’ve really answered your question, but…
Rob: That’s a wonderful. Yes, thank you. And yeah, there is that thing with when you also writing novel and you get to whatever it is — 70,000 or 80,000 —words where you, because you’re obviously tapping into your subconscious, that you get all these patterns or things that you hadn’t really realized that was what you were writing. Did you have that experience, with A Man and his Pride?
Luke: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I set out to write a story that would be about a man who was on a journey defining his pride. But as you say, it’s not till you get to the end of that first draft, hopefully, that you can then look back and see what it is that you’ve actually produced. So up until that point, you are kind of flailing around in the dark and just trusting the process and hoping that it all works out.
Yes, and as I mentioned before, I absolutely love A Man and his Pride, and I’m going to read the blurb for our listeners.
“Sometimes life can be hard – until the right person shows you the way.
‘Coming out’ has been the central focus of the books we read and the movies we watch over and over – but what comes after the coming out? In this novel, Rutledge addresses this idea of how internalised homophobia continues well into adulthood and how shame can manifest long after you come out.
Set in Brisbane during Australia’s 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite, A Man and His Pride is an exuberant and deeply moving story that celebrates some of the many ways to be gay, and shows that finding your pride is a journey – one you cannot take alone.”
Sean’s job as an online troll moderator is testing his mental health, his best friend and former girlfriend still resents him for coming out, his mother seems to blame him for a tragedy that tore their family apart, and his relationship with an 87-year-old nursing home resident pushes his identity crisis to the brink… all until he meets William. An unlikely friendship blossoms and Sean sets out on a path toward forgiveness, self-discovery, self-love and pride.”
It’s just such a great read. And, uh, I loved all the representations of all the gays of our lives.
Luke: <laugh>, I like that, gays of our lives.
Rob: <laugh>. Yeah, no, it’s just wonderful. And it’s that thing, I think when you read a book where you see yourself and your community reflected, you realise how much you don’t see that. And I just love the characters. It’s funny, it’s moving. I also found it, I felt like you were being subversive with the reader’s expectation, because we start off, and no spoilers, but we start off with a relationship ending and it feels familiar, the story almost like a comedy in a way, but you are subverting that, and I love that. So I guess, where did the idea come from for you, for these characters and the storyline?
Luke: I think setting out to write this story I knew that I wanted to write a story about a man who was gay and for it to revolve around his sexuality in some way. But I didn’t want to write another coming out story. I feel like there are a lot of coming out stories out there today, particularly for young adult readers, which is wonderful. It’s a great thing, but I felt like I didn’t really have anything more to add to that. So then I sort of thought about, well, you know, what comes next? What happens after the coming out? Which I think is something that isn’t explored as much in books and movies and TV shows. But of course, coming out is not just a single one-off event that happens in isolation.
It’s a whole journey that queer people go on. And it’s a journey to find your pride essentially. And I think it’s at that point where you do start to process and untangle some of the shame that you may have internalized, particularly if you’ve spent a period of your life living in the closet. So, you know, I was interested in exploring this gray area between being in the closet and being out and proud. And it’s that sort of messy middle point where I think a lot of the growth actually happens. But in terms of also the story itself and the characters, well, one thing that did actually happen that made its way into the book, not to me, but to my partner, I heard a story from one of his friends who told me that when he was in his early twenties, his boyfriend at the time did arrive at his apartment with a hickey on his neck.
And it wasn’t his, he didn’t make that hickey. So that was his way of breaking up with him, which is just so brutal. And for anyone who’s read the book, well, that’s how the story opens. Sean’s boyfriend of three months rocks up at home with a fresh hickey on his neck and breaks up with him. And when I heard that had happened to my partner, I mean, initially I was just like, oh, my heart went out to him because it’s such a horrible thing. But then I thought, “Oh, that’d make interesting <laugh> book and I’m going to take that. So that’s kind of where the story came from.
Rob: The writer in you took over and sort of thought, oh yeah, squirrel that away. I loved how, there’s the app and gay men’s relationship, for want of a better word, with commitment — some gay men. I think you, you kept it all that beautifully and it was, it’s such a part of our world as well. And I think what I liked is it felt really authentic and honest of gay life.
Luke: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess I wanted to portray the gay dating scene in a more realistic, maybe less sanitized way than we are used to seeing, particularly in the mainstream movies and stuff. Because of course, you know, it’s not all rainbows and partying and dancing and having a good time. It can be those things and often it is. But there is another side to it. And because of course, you know, when you are talking about a community that is made up of people who have gone through their own traumas and in many cases rejection, I think that that does find its way into the culture of a community. So, for example, I think there’s a lot of emphasis on body image in the gay community. This obsession with what you look like and having that all important body, which is very much shown throughout much of this book.
Sean, he’s quite superficial. I think there’s a lot of toxic masculinity in the gay community. I’ve met gay men who don’t want to have anything to do with you if you sound flamboyant or effeminate or whatever, you know, cause that taps into their own shame, doesn’t it? And then of course, you know, there is this more promiscuous maybe nature of, you know, specifically the Grindr scene. And look, I’m not here to cast any judgements. I think Grindr has its place and it’s a very important tool for gay men to be able to make those connections if they want to and explore themselves. But I think like any tool, it can be abused. And if that’s the only way that you are meeting people and making connections in this very sort of fleeting way, then perhaps that is not the healthiest thing. So, I wanted to explore some of those things. There was nothing in particular about all that that I was trying to say. I just wanted to show a more realistic portrayal of all of that in the story.
Rob: Absolutely. And that’s definitely how it comes across. So dear listeners, please read the book, it is really enjoyable the way that you’ve done it. There’s certainly no preaching, nothing like that. It’s just an honest kind of user experience of what it’s like for us gay men using those apps. And I say, within that you’ve got some of the body obsession, you know, there’s racism, there’s all kinds of things going on that app. And also this… I guess search for intimacy where, for some gay men, it is trying to find that, but then, you know, the other person is actually looking for sex. And, you know, we’re obviously sex positive, but you kind of got this mismatch of intentions and all of that going on. And I think the way that you capture it, and obviously with beautiful William, his putting his heart out there and you’re just thinking, oh, no Grindr.
Luke: And I hope it’s enjoyable as well. Like I set up a story that would be entertaining more than anything. I mean, it does address some serious issues around internalized shame, in particular, and trauma. But I didn’t want it to be a heavy read. I mean, I sort of thought a lot about, with gay literature these days, there seems to be a lot for young adult readers, which tend to be often very affirming and positive, which is wonderful. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you have these more literary novels that tend to be quite heavy and, you know, often can leave you feeling quite depressed.
One of my favorite novels is, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is, you know, just a gorgeous novel, but God, it leaves you feeling, it just breaks you. like I’m so depressed after that book. And so there’s not a lot, particularly in the Australian market, for the middle, for that more kind of mainstream commercial space. I think we’re seeing more of that internationally, this up-lit queer for adults, I did sort of quite deliberately set out to write something that would, I guess, appeal to not just gay readers, but everybody else as well. Because I think it’s so important to get those stories into the mainstream.
Rob: I could not agree more. And it’s refreshing and it’s super enjoyable. I like read it almost in one sitting because the characters are so engaging and it’s, it’s that it also feels like that slice of life. Like you know, for people who are not so aware of day-to-day gay men life, this is a really great view into that. But also with some beautiful positive messaging I reckon around, you know, self-love and friendship and acceptance. It also felt cinematic, like I would love to see this on the screen one day. That would be amazing.
Luke: Would that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?
Rob: <laugh> Definitely. And so the choice around setting it with the same sex marriage plebiscite that resonated a lot with me. It took me straight back to those days. When you came up with the story, did you think, okay, this is the time period I want to set it in because it plays beautifully with what’s going on, obviously for Sean, internally?
Luke: It does. Yes. I can now see that having written it, <laugh>, but I wasn’t aware of that so much at the time. So the idea to set it during the marriage equality campaign was just this idea that came to me in the shower one day and I hadn’t started writing it yet, but I had been planning it for a couple of weeks. And honestly, it just seemed like a good idea. And once I made that decision to set it during that time, the story did come to me a lot easier. It created this natural structure to the story and I sort of could see where it was going to end. And looking back now, I can see how setting it during what was a very turbulent time in Australia’s fight for equality does fit in quite well with Sean’s internal journey that he goes on to find his pride.
But, I wish I had a more intellectual answer to give you, but it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And obviously it’s a period that we all remember very well. I hadn’t really come across any other books or stories that were set during that time. That’s not to say there aren’t any out there, but I’m not aware of them. So yeah, I was interested in exploring, particularly in Brisbane where I live, setting at a time that most people would remember, I suppose. Yeah.
Rob: Yeah. And it just, it was such a great vehicle for all the people, all the characters in Sean’s life. You know, everyone had an opinion. Everyone, you know, you were finding out about people’s friends and relatives who were voting No. And, you know, it was all of that. So no, it was great. Filip Vukasin, he set a book within the marriage plebiscite, that was a, a couple years ago. It’s more of a sort of domestic thriller, but yes, no, yours is the only other queer book that I’ve read where you’ve got that time. And so for you, there’s the phone banking — were you involved with that?
Luke: Yeah, there is a scene in the book where Sean, attends a phone banking event, which is essentially just where you make cold calls to members of the public. And those calls were all about just trying to convince people to return their ballot. They weren’t persuasive calls. And yes I did do that during the campaign and a lot of the conversations that I had with people did find their way into the book and the two that stand out really, it was an eye-opening experience for me. Living here in Brisbane, it’s a bit of a bubble. It’s a progressive city. You never really come across people that are homophobic, really walking down the street, you can be quite comfortable just being yourself and know that no one’s going to say anything. So it is a bit of a bubble.
But yeah, the two conversations that stood out were kind of on polar opposite ends of the spectrum. One was this older man who said to me, “Oh, I just think it’s disgusting what you people are doing, and, and how dare you bother me, you know, with this phone call and, you know, blah blah, blah.” Um, <laugh>. So that was, you know, a little bit confronting, I guess. And at the end of the spectrum, I spoke to this woman who got quite emotional talking to me. And she was saying how she just thought it was awful what we were putting the queer community through. And she worried about what her son would be hearing, and she, back in the day, she worked on Oxford Street as a drag queen makeup artist.
So I put that in the book. It wasn’t something that I just made up. So, yeah. It was a, I think the campaign, oh God, it was a very tense time, wasn’t it? Because, you know, not because there was this danger of — we all knew that majority of Australians supported marriage equality. It was never a campaign to convince people, that debate had sort of already been going on for many, many years and I think had already been won — But it was a campaign just to turn out the vote and make sure that enough people could be bothered. And that was really the strategy of the “No” campaign was that enough people would be apathetic and just think, “Oh, well we’ve got this in the bag, we don’t need to worry about participating.” So it was a very, very tense time. That’s kind of what I remember from it, really.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And the skywriting, “No”, and just, yeah… But you captured also the beautiful thing, which was all the support from the wider community with rainbow flags and, you know, I remember rainbow chalk drawings on footpaths and seeing it in shops and people’s homes and it was amazing just feeling that love from the wider community. But I do remember when the results, you know, how they were televised and they were going to be saying it live. And so I’m part of a Rainbow family. We were all together with my, well with our two children who I think might have been eight or nine, something like that. And just, I remember sitting there thinking, how am I going to explain to them if the answer is no? Obviously, the results were really good, so that was great, but yeah, it was an incredibly tense time.
Luke: Yeah. And now we’re going through it again, aren’t we? With the, the Voice to Parliament referendum.
Rob: Yeah. And also I feel like whatever we can do to support the trans community at this time as well, because they’re been used as political football.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. So still a lot to to do, but.
Luke: No, I think to me as well, I’ll just add like during the campaign, like by that stage I had been out for many years and so I had reached a point personally where I was quite proud to be gay. And so I did hear a lot of the negative rhetoric that was going on in the media and stuff and all those awful things, but I was lucky enough or privileged enough, I guess, to be able to just sort of brush all of that off and not internalize that too much. But of course, for many people that that probably wasn’t the case, you know, if you were from a family that where it wasn’t acceptable to talk about it or you might be questioning your sexuality.
I think it was a very damaging campaign for a lot of particularly young queer people. And I do remember talking to a friend at the time who worked at Lifeline and she told me how they had noticed a definite spike in the number of young people who were calling in distress about some of the things that they were hearing. So, you know, it was a campaign that just didn’t need to happen, I think. And we just didn’t need to community to go through, that’s the tragedy of it all.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And you had all of us in the queer community saying, spend that 24 million on, you know, homelessness or actually people in need, and just do your job in the parliament and just legislate.
Luke: Exactly. Yeah.
Rob: Yeah. What is your hope, Luke, for A Man and his Pride now being out in the world? What’s your hope for this book?
Luke: I think more than anything I, I hope that people will find it to be an uplifting and ultimately hopeful story that they can enjoy as just a piece of entertainment. Like that is really what I want, what I set out to do. But just, you know, I guess returning to what I was talking about before about this grey between being in the closet and being out and proud, you know, I think perhaps a lot of people haven’t really thought about that a lot before. And I think pride is something that most people take for granted. Um, because it’s not ever something that you have to find. I think it is something that is particularly unique to the queer community and, and other minorities. So I would like to think that people reading it might, it might just open their minds a little bit and them come away from the story with a deeper understanding and appreciation of, of what it means to find your pride.
And also for queer readers reading the book, I mean, I would hope that some of them might see their own experiences reflected in the story. Because there’s really nothing more important than seeing your own experiences in the stories that you read and watch, in shows and stuff. It’s how you know that you’re not alone in your experiences and it just normalises your life as well. Yeah. You know?
Rob: Yeah, beautifully put. And it’s a fantastic hope. Go out there and buy it. <laugh> A question we ask all our guests is a writing question, which is around “Any advice or top tips for aspiring writers or storytellers out there?”
Luke: I think my top tip would just be do whatever you can to just get to the end of that first draft. It’s so important to finish what you start, like you can’t edit a blank page, but more than that, go into that first draft with the expectation that it’s probably not going to be what you had initially hoped, or what you thought it would be.
I am a writer who suffers a lot from self-doubt and imposter syndrome, and often, you know, you get to the end of that first draft and you read it back and you realize, well me personally, I got to the end of the first draft of A Man and his Pride and realized it was terrible and you just become aware of you’ve got a lot more work to do basically.
But if you tell yourself no first draft is going to be very good, it’s just a process of figuring out the story and what it is that you’re trying to say. I think that that takes a lot of the pressure off and will help you deal with that self-doubt that will inevitably come and which is just part of the process, unfortunately.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. No, that’s excellent advice. Now on the show, we also have a shout out question. How can listeners connect with you on socials book events?
Luke: I’m on Facebook and Instagram, at lukerutledge.writer and or you can reach out to me via my website with a contact form. It’s just lukerutledge.net , that’s probably the main way social media in my website.
Rob: Great. And I’ll put those up on the show notes. And also any LGBTIQA plus artists, books, art shows, organizations, social media accounts that you would like to shout out?
Luke: I’ve just been watching a TV show on Netflix called Smiley, which is a Spanish queer show, and I guess it’s dealing a lot with the similar issues as my book. It’s also a set on the Grindr scene, and it’s about, it’s sort of an opposites attracting kind of romance I suppose, sort of delves into some of those issues we were talking about before with the Grindr hookup culture. So that’s a really good show. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s on Netflix. And then I’m nearly finished a book called, When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw. Um, so not to, to be mistaken with Call Me by Your Name <laugh>. So it’s When You Call My Name, and it’s a YA sort of coming of age story set in New York during 1990. So it is set during the AIDS epidemic and it’s a really good read actually. I would recommend that to anybody.
Rob: Fantastic. Thank you. And our closing question for you, Luke Rutledge, is “What is your hope for the LGBTIQA plus communities?”
Luke: I think visibility is such a big thing, especially today. I think we’re sort of living in a time where we’ve got the best of both worlds really. Where in Australia, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the majority of the population do support gay rights. Obviously, there are pockets where that is not the case, but the vast majority of people I think, do support L G B T rights. And then on the other hand, we’re also living in a time where we are seeing more and more of our own queer stories making their way into the mainstream, you know, with shows like Heart Stopper and Love Simon, all those sorts of really affirming stories. So I think having a combination of those two things is so important and I have a lot of hope for young queer people today who are no doubt watching these shows and reading these books and internalizing those messages.
Rob: Beautiful. Thanks Luke.
Luke: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so good to talk to you.
If you haven’t already, check out QWS Podcast Season One here.