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BOOK REVIEW: Pink Ink by Harry Cook

| 19 January 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Pink Ink by Harry Cook

Finch Publishing
August 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Biographies & True Stories

80% Rocking

Twenty-seven seems like it’s a bit young to write a memoir. But actor and LGBTQI activist Harry Cook has crammed quite a few things into his professional and personal life to date. Pink Ink is a chronicle of all of this, because, at its heart, it is a collection of Cook’s own stories and anecdotes. This is a strong debut from an exciting, new, queer voice.

There were no readily available resources for my parents; no media attention or rallying cry across the country for acceptance of queer youth and they simply had no idea how to navigate the information I had given them. I was always very aware when I was growing up that there were barely any stories with a happy ending for gay people. I was so used to seeing sadness, misery and drug abuse associated with the gay community, my parents assumed the same was the only outcome for me.

This memoir is a little raw at times but one thing’s for sure, Cook is frank and honest about his experiences growing up and realising he was gay. This was something that he needed to come to terms with, because of the shame he had internalised from our society and culture. His coming-out was especially fraught; he tried to do this as a teenager but his father’s devastating reaction had him running back to the closet. Cook says neither he nor his parents had the tools to deal with any of this, because positive information about being gay wasn’t readily available at the time. In fact, in his parents’ case, they had been exposed to lots of homophobic propaganda during the AIDs and HIV epidemics.

It’s devastating to me that saying ‘I love you’ to the man I have spent the better part of a decade with could possibly make me anxious. The innocent act of holding hands in public, for a gay couple, can be literally life-threatening. Walk past the wrong homophobe or a group of bigots and the threat of beating your head in becomes real. Not only was I terrified of showing public displays of affection, I realised that I still had so much work to do to rid myself of the ingrained shame that society had entrenched in me.

Pink Ink feels like an important story. Even though it’s one man’s perspective, it will add to the chorus of representation of LGBTQI people in the media. This should help LGBTQI young people and adults realise that they need not feel alone or like they’re outsiders. It can also educate straight people in the same way that Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up show and Netflix special, Nanette, helps us to feel empathy and see things from her perspective.

‘I’m done, Dad.’
I turned and ran. I was so angry I could’ve screamed. All of this pain and suffering because the thought that I could possibly be attracted to people of the same gender was apparently so obscene it had, for the most part, completely destroyed our family.
I was furious, not just with Dad, but the society he grew up in. A society where being homosexual was something so feared, so misunderstood it could cause this much damage. The ignorance of the world sickened me in the deepest recesses of my gut.

For those looking at Cook from afar, he appeared to have a charmed life. As a teenager he got to act opposite Geena Davis in the film, Accidents Happen. Cook may have been working his dream job but he was also experiencing inner turmoil. He ignored his anxiety and depression and at other points self-medicated and this spiralled into addiction.

Life with my family had taken a real beating because of my drinking and drugging. I would get wasted and scream at Dad for ‘making me this way’, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Dad had been trying with me. He and Mum were making the effort and I was refusing to let go of the past, blaming Dad for everything and ignoring the amends he’d tried to make.
I was 19 years old and my shame around my sexuality hadn’t gone away despite the new-found acceptance by my family. Shame is a funny thing like that. It seeps into your pores, turns your blood black and envelopes every inch of your soul. I simply couldn’t shake it. I was out to my nearest and dearest. I kept it hidden from everyone else, terrified of going through countless coming outs with new people. It seemed easier to remain silent.

Cook’s prose in this book is easy to understand and relate to, but the subject-matter is not simple or breezy by any stretch. Some of the stories are downright sad and tragic. Cook had some violent altercations with his father, as the two grappled with Harry’s sexuality. There are some repetitive moments but that is sometimes due to the fact that this pair kept making the same mistakes. They have managed to repair their relationship since then, but this was thanks to lots of therapy, love, and forgiveness.

At the age of 22 Cook decided to make a YouTube video where he came out to the film industry and his fans. The piece went viral and he initially received a lot of support. But the decision to do this was a tricky one and Cook says his career subsequently took a hit. It seems that there is a prevailing misconception that audiences can suspend their disbelief for films involving dinosaurs and superheroes but not when it comes to a homosexual actor playing a heterosexual role. While Australia has made marriage equality law, it is moments like these that remind us how far we have to go towards true acceptance.

I, on the other hand was strongly opposed to going back [in 2013]. I loved our life in California. The thought of going back to Australia where marriage equality was still being debated on the TV and the minister for women was a heterosexual, old, white guy seemed the equivalent of taking a one-way ticket back to the 1940s.

In this book, Cook revisits a lot of difficult memories. In doing so, he reaches a level of catharsis for some of his more painful recollections. These days he seems happier than he’s ever been, having kicked his addictions and inner demons. He lives with his husband, Liam Davis and their adopted English bulldogs in a kind of quiet domesticity.

The ceremony lasted about half an hour as we held each other’s hand and committed to a life of love and laughter with one another. Exchanging our rings and kissing to seal the deal, my heart felt like a starburst, every nerve ending in my body tingling with happiness. We told each other how much we loved one another and, holding back tears of joy, we walked with Poppy down to the water’s edge to dip our toes in the water and take it all in. Various onlookers congratulated us as Catie took our photos, Poppy running around us on the sand at the excitement of a new environment before we strolled slowly back to our hotel for cake.

In Pink Ink Harry Cook takes us along for one very personal story – he does this by being true to his unique self. This is the inspiring tale of one man’s resilience and the power of love triumphing over the forces of hate. Let’s hope Cook’s story is the start of more queer voices getting the opportunities to share their own perspectives.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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