QUEERING HIGH SCHOOL AT SUMMER HEIGHTS
Pp. 168-191 (24)
This chapter looks at queer places and times on Summer Heights High, the hit
Australian television mockumentary. The success of the program pivots on the credibility
of the performances of actor Chris Lilley as 16-year-old schoolgirl (Ja’mie King), 13-yearold
Tongan schoolboy (Jonah Takalua) and drama teacher Mr G. Although Lilley’s
performances can be read as ‘drag’ in their subversion and exaggeration of sex and gender
norms, the chapter argues that beyond the bodies of Jonah and Ja’mie, subversive
imaginaries are enacted in the narrative through two minor characters, Ofa and Tamsin. The
student characters are traced through a series of scenes that take place in the very queer
places of the boys’ toilets, the Year 11 formal and ‘Polyday’ celebrations. Gannon suggests
that the excessive performances of the characters draw attention to sexuality, gender, class
and race in secondary schools, and not only to the operations of these striations of identity
but also to their instability and contingency. This chapter details normative structures and
processes as manifested and subverted in Summer Heights High. It considers the
ambiguities of parody, where Lilley articulates homophobia and racism at the same time as
they are critiqued. It examines the operations of drag to show how Lilley’s performances of
race and gender demonstrate that these are not sutured to particular bodies. Bronwyn
Davies provides a response to this chapter.
Summer Heights High, queer, parody, drag, gender, homophobia, Chris Lilley,
performance, race, class.
University of Western Sydney.