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Identity through memoir

2 February 2018 | Posted in: News


Written by: Rayannon Innes | Photography: Kristen Daly

From tea to gender identity, the former gallery and tea house owner, now academic research writer Bastian Fox Phelan has experiences worth reading about.

Having recently relocated from Sydney, the author, musician, poet, zine maker, and all-round creative force has set their roots firmly in Newcastle in order to pursue the final chapters of their upcoming memoir. Although still studying their masters and working in Administration and Outreach for the University of Sydney, Bastian recently secured a Renew space on Hunter Street that would serve as the ideal writer’s studio, away from the hustle and bustle of the Sydney CBD.

Having formally been involved with Renew Newcastle in 2009 through the creation of Totoro’s Tea House with artist Natalie Aylward – a live music and exhibition space and one of the first tea houses of its kind to exist in Australia – Bastian would establish a following for their writing through self-published zines circulated at the time.

Nevertheless, although the life of a gallery owner and teahouse operator might inspire some great stories, it’s Bastian’s personal experience with facial hair and gender identity that is at the forefront of their writing. Rooted in Bastian’s personal experience with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), their book explores themes of self-acceptance despite the challenges faced in mainstream social and cultural structures.  Like many non-binary identifying people, Bastian uses the gender neutral pronoun ‘they’.

“I think there’s a huge amount of shame around PCOS because it’s related to things that are taboo in society” Bastian explained.

PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women and affects one in ten of those at childbearing age. Symptoms include excess hair, weight gain, acne and fertility problems.

Despite the high instances of PCOS among women, the condition is very rarely publicly discussed. Subsequently, as Bastian has personally observed, this has often created misconceptions around the condition. As an individual who accepts their facial hair, Bastian believes that their memoir might shed light on the topic and encourage self-acceptance by challenging mainstream ideas of beauty.

“I don’t think there’s really anything like my writing… although essentially, I’m just writing a story about how I decided to be myself and that’s something that a lot of people have written about and relate to.”

Bastian was shortlisted for the Scribe Non-Fiction Prize for Young Writers in 2017. They will be seeking a publisher for their memoir later this year after submitting their Master of Arts (Research) thesis.

Bastian and the other artists of The Sanitarium will be holding an Open Studio on February 28th from 6-8pm.