Hannah McElhinney and Rudy Jean Rigg are names you need to know. The writers and creators of Rainbow History Class are on a mission to make sure we never forget the queer and trans history that has been erased from our textbooks.
Rainbow History Class (Hardie Grant) stories are equal parts inspiring and infuriating, hilarious and heart-wrenching. And now, with the release of their Audible exclusive audiobook, aptly titled ‘Rainbow History Class,’ they are taking their mission to the next level.
Narrated by Rudy Jean Rigg, the co-creator of Rainbow History Class, the audiobook is a comprehensive and entertaining romp through queer and trans history. From ancient civilizations to the internet, they cover it all, giving us the inside scoop on secret queer codes, gender-bending icons, and incredible activists.
But this is not your typical history lesson. In particular, Hannah’s style is anything but dry and academic, and it’s definitely not glitter-soaked and reductive. Instead, her writing brings a fresh, unique perspective that makes you feel connected to the stories of our rich and vibrant community.
And if that’s not enough, the Audible exclusive chapter will give you even more insight into Hannah’s process. Rudy will sit down with Hannah and dive deeper into her journey, including the parts of history that didn’t make the final cut.
‘Rainbow History Class’ is a celebration of LGBTQ+ people, an invitation to the newly out, and a crash course that we all need. So join the club, and let’s get caught up together.
We sat down with Hannah for an education on Rainbow History Class.
Happy: What are you up to today?
Hannah: Today I am packing for Sydney WorldPride. I leave early tomorrow morning for two weeks. We will be doing our Rainbow History Class Live show at the Darlinghurst Theatre from 2-4 March as well as a whole bunch of other IRL events. I’m not the most organised person in the world, but I’m trying to not forget anything!
Happy: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?
Hannah: I live and work in Collingwood, on the lands of the Wurundjeri and Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. I have lived in this neighbourhood for around 6 years and I intend to continue. It’s the queer district of Naarm/Melbourne which means there are tonnes of people like me walking around. The food, bars, cafes and community are what keeps me there. If there is one thing I don’t exactly love, it would be people not picking up after their dogs!
Happy: Describe your average work day.
Hannah: Each day I wake up and try to set myself up for a day that doesn’t end in chaos, and each day I fail at that. I wake up, and check my phone (naughty) as well as the our TikTok channel (also naughty before 9am), so I guess work kind of begins there. I head into our office/studio space in Collingwood around 10, where I work with our team creating content for our own channels as well as collaborations with brands and other partners. I’ll usually need to write and research a couple of
Rainbow History Class scripts, and have a WIP meeting with my Rainbow History Class co-creator Rudy and our incredible producer Eliza.
Happy: What about your ultimate day?
Hannah: In my ultimate day, I would wake up, walk my dog Sandrine with my partner, who is also Hannah. Then we would go into Carlton and see a film at Cinema Nova with a chilli hot chocolate from Heart Attack and Vine, before going for a long lunch at an Italian restaurant and then spending the afternoon shopping for books. It’s Autumn, 26 degrees and sunny.
Happy: Tell us about your creative community.
Hannah: I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a creative community, most of whom are friends as well as collaborators. I work with a crew of content creators who gift the internet their creativity. Among my friends are writers, journalists, designers, artists, musicians, creative directors, rock climbers, childhood educators, architects, film-makers and dietitians who are all wonderfully creative and constantly inspire me.
Happy: Which tv show are you currently watching?
Hannah: The Last of Us, though I am still trying recovering from Episode 3.
Happy: What did you read or watch last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?
Hannah: I’ve been reading a lot of autobiographies recently, and Janette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died really opened my eyes to the reality of being a young girl in show business. As someone who grew up watching Nickelodeon and seeing it as after-school fun, discovering the extent of how corrupt and predatory the reality was for its stars was darkly enlightening.
Happy: Can you tell us about your background and how it has influenced your writing?
Hannah: My background is in writing and radio. I was lost after school, but I found myself through hosting a radio show on Melbourne queer radio station JOY 94.9. In the days I worked as a creative and copywriter in an ad agency. Eventually, my radio gig at JOY became a regular late night slot on Triple J, but a nasty bout of Dengue Fever and its debilitating fatigue put an end to that. I then went back to being an
advertising creative, eventually winding up at VICE Media, where I was a Creative, but able to learn as much as possible about documentary storytelling. I tend to think that my entire patchworked background has directly shaped the writing in the Rainbow History Class Book. In both advertising and radio, your job is to communicate often highly complex topics in a way that will not only make sense to a wide audience but keep them interested. In writing Rainbow History Class I had to take a lot of rather gate-kept academia and translate that into a history book that was accessible and entertaining for young queer and trans people, who might not have ever found themselves in the history section of a book shop.
Happy: Can you discuss your writing process and any challenges you faced while writing your latest book?
Hannah: It was a really interesting process writing Rainbow History Class, because the concept of the book emerged from our TikTok channel, which is all about conveying information in 1 minute, so turning that into something as long form as a book was a great challenge. It also spans a more than 4000 year timeframe, so I did a lot of research into the history of the world and those big sweeping shifts that have shaped who we are as a whole. Before I started writing, I made a really, really large timeline in a spread sheet and started plotting on major events, so that I had my bearings as I dug deeper into the stories of queer and trans people.
Happy: Can you talk about any LGBTQ+ authors or works that have inspired or influenced your writing?
Hannah: On the queer history side of things, Gay Berlin by Robert Beachy, Gay New York by George Chauncey and the work of Michael Bronski are all seminal, rigorously researched works that I was inspired by while writing various chapters. This book is designed to be much less academic, so I also looked to fiction writers to get a sense of how they created the atmosphere of different time periods. One of my favourite novels ever, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is an example of a book that really brought to live the reality of living through the early days of HIV/AIDS.
Happy: How do you navigate writing about personal experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
Hannah: Honestly, it’s hard because our community is so diverse, and my experiences are just a sliver of our collective queer lives. So I try to use empathy to see what from my own experiences feels useful or true in telling queer stories, but at the same time, I try not to tap into my own experiences so I can be objective and not paint queer life with a particular lens. Being increasingly public, I’m often asked to share my personal experiences, and there are parts that I’ll happily share, but other parts of my own queer life are beautifully mundane, and that’s what I like about them, but I don’t think anyone would be interested in those!
Happy: What themes or messages do you hope to convey through your writing?
Hannah: In this particular book, the message that I hope comes through the most is that history isn’t linear. As a community we’ve had periods of relative freedom, immediately followed by periods of brutal persecution, so I hope this acts as a reminder that we can’t become complacent and assume that things are always getting better. In fact, across the world, there are many signs we are entering dark times again. Secondly, I hope to help people figuring out their identity feel less alone, by showing them just how many people throughout time have been just like them.
Happy: What makes you happy?
Rainbow History Class is written by Hannah McElhinney and published by Hardie Grant Books. Available in stores nationally. The audiobook, narrated by Rudy Jean Rigg, is available through Audible.