Gayby baby grows up to write a book for the 'gayby' boomers

Gus Skattebol-James (centre), with Maya Newell (left) and Charlotte Mars (right), the makers of the film Gayby Baby, in ...
Gus Skattebol-James (centre), with Maya Newell (left) and Charlotte Mars (right), the makers of the film Gayby Baby, in which he starred. Photo: Supplied.

Gus Skattebol-James was 10 when he starred as one of the four children featured in the documentary film Gayby Baby about growing up with same sex parents. As the poster child for the film, which was banned by the NSW government from screening in state schools in 2015, he achieved a certain level of fame and notoriety at his inner west Sydney school.

“I was excited to have my face on the poster as a kid but I wasn’t thinking about the long-term impact, I was just obsessed with wrestling back then,” he says.

Now 17, and a Year 12 student sitting for his Higher School Certificate, he’s co-authored a children’s picture book about the experience of growing up in a gay household, celebrating Mardi Gras and loving wrestling.

lllustration by Tom Jellett from the book Wrestle.
lllustration by Tom Jellett from the book Wrestle. Photo: Supplied

He has written Wrestle! with the makers of Gayby Baby, Charlotte Mars and Maya Newell. Ms Newell, the film’s director, grew up in the inner west around the corner from his family, and like Gus was raised by two lesbians who have now been together for more than 30 years. She believes there is space in the book market to cater for the children of what she calls the “Gayby boom”.

“We wrote Wrestle! because LGBTQIA families are still rarely represented in books ... children are growing up in a landscape that remains overwhelmingly dominated by images of cookie-cutter, 2+ 2 hetero families.

“But in recent years thanks to reproductive technology, the changes to marriage laws and a lot more gay parents getting married, there are a lot more children growing up in same-sex families...we thought it was time for a book that’s about showing there is no right or wrong way to be a family, or be yourself,” she said.

When they began working on the book three years ago Gus didn’t believe there were few books set in LGBTQI families. He’d always remembered one of his favourite books, Some dogs do as a children’s book featuring two mothers. He hadn’t realised his mums had taken to the book with a white-out pen, changing the pronouns in the book, and removing references to dad and replacing them with mum.

“Our book Wrestle! is the story about a gay family celebrating Mardi Gras, and a boy like me who was obsessed with wrestling, because there just aren’t enough stories to normalise the experience of growing up in a gay family,” he said.

“I grew up with a lot of strong loving men who were family friends – but I don’t think of them as male role models - I looked to the wrestling world for that, which my mums struggled with,” he said.

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“When Gus was 10 I’d never met a child more obsessed with wrestling which caused an enormous conflict in his family because that world of ring clothes and WWF costumes, was a whole area of masculinity that was unknown to two women raising a boy,” Ms Newell said.

She said the world of dressing up like the stars in wrestling was in line with the queer dress-up culture of Mardi Gras, which meant the book lent itself to colourful illustrations by artist Tom Jellett.

The book, published by Allen and Unwin, will be launched this week to coincide with Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which Gus says for him is “a celebration which is always a highlight of the year”.

Gus Skattebol-James on the movie poster for Gayby Baby.
Gus Skattebol-James on the movie poster for Gayby Baby.  Photo: Supplied.

“For Gus and I and children of same-sex parents, Mardi Gras was always as good fun as Christmas, although I remember the early 90s when it was more a protest to remember the struggle of people like our mums,” Ms Newell said.