Pride Month Essay: Keelan Mak on Finding Community & Connecting with Culture

Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier
Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier
This Pride Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of short essays in observance and celebration of the month’s significance. Today’s submission comes from Melbourne-based queer alt-pop artist Keelan Mak.
In the early phases of his career, Mak struggled with expressing himself. He was able to explore his identity through fashion and leaned on his “beautiful mix of culture” to inform how he experiences himself and others. In his essay he reflects on this, highlights the delicate art of the protest, and pays tribute to those who came before him.
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Every time I leave my house as a queer person of colour, that in itself is an act of protest…

After being asked to reflect on what Pride Month meant to me as a queer POC artist, I found myself in this strange zone of introspection.

I see myself as a fairly in tune person with all parts of my life but my sexuality and queerness is something I don’t reflect upon a lot. It would be irresponsible not to recognise the fact that I do live in a time where being queer has become a lot more acceptable, especially in my little inner-north Melbourne bubble.

For me, Pride Month (and beyond) is a time of recognition, love and acceptance. Without the efforts of 1969 Stonewall riots and furthering fights, especially from femme queens and black trans women, we wouldn’t have made the progress internationally that we have. On a personal level, I see it as a celebration of yourself and the people in our queer community. We all have a shared experience to some extent and coming together to recognise and celebrate each other is something so unique and beautiful.

Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier
Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier

Like many others, my queer experience growing up in a small town revolved around survival and blending in. I never really knew how to truly express myself until I left that environment and developed a life for myself, surrounded by other like minded POC’s and LGBTQIA+ people. Through fashion and makeup I was able to explore a lot of who I am and experiment with different parts of my identity.

As an artist you have a platform and higher visibility, and it can be confronting expressing yourself.

That was definitely a struggle I experienced in the early parts of my career, choosing to favour the hetero-centric parts of my image to avoid any type of conversation, especially between my friends and family. I want to be able to wear and look however I want and feel comfortable doing that; whether it’s draped in a floor length gown or jeans and a tee.

My mother was born in Papua New Guinea, later moving here (to Brisbane) in the ’70s. Her side of the family is a cultural/ethnic blend of Spanish, Papua New Guinean and Filipino. My father is white Australian with Irish descent. My life has always held a beautiful mix of culture and it’s carried through into the way I experience and hold conversations with others. I recognise that as a lighter skinned POC with westernised features, I live with privilege, but I’ve also experienced levels of racism throughout my life. I want to make sure my voice is heard and I can continue to further support my community through any means in and outside of my art.

Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier
Keelan Mak © Jess Brohier

Being rested and unplugging has become more important than ever. There’s value in recognising that not everything we do needs to be in protest; sometimes my value and protest are placed purely in my existence, knowing that every time I leave my house as a queer person of colour, that in itself is an act of protest.

Pride Month is about having more conversations with our friends and family, normalising our queer experiences. Donate to foundations that support BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people. Support Queer/POC owned businesses. – Keelan Mak

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Stream: “Forever Ago” – Keelan Mak



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Forever Ago - Keelan Mak

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📸 © Jess Brohier

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