Writing & News

Reviews of Detachable Penis: a Queer Legal Saga by Sam Elkin

Days into the life of Sam Elkin’s wonderful first book in the world, reviewers are loving it. I’ll keep updating here:

Starting with a feature piece by Sam himself in The Guardian on The Moment I Knew:


Review in The Saturday Paper 11/5/24 by Stephen A. Russell

Sam Elkin jumped ship from a “cushy” permanent position with Victoria Legal Aid to become the only lawyer with the state’s inaugural and tenuously funded queer legal service. Then presenting as female, he also decided this was the ideal time to transition. He tried not to take it as a bad omen that his interview took place in an old brick church with a cross glowering down from the rooftop.

Elkin’s chatty and often sassy narrative nonfiction memoir Detachable Penis: A Queer Legal Saga – that gorgeously crocheted cover image will play a significant role – follows what happens next. Elkin takes on the role in the aftermath of the poisonous marriage equality postal survey inflicted on Australia’s LGBTQIA+ communities by soon-to-be-ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

It was a fraught time. Many of the debates that cropped up during Elkin’s two-year post have only intensified since, from battles over the proposed religious freedom bill and access to puberty blockers, to the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) wars raging across university campuses, newspaper columns and trans athletes’ inclusion in sport. The book includes a guest appearance from would-be AFLW player Hannah Mouncey, when Elkin reluctantly participates in the code’s gender diversity consultation. It leaves him feeling “that we’d all been duped, paid off in ancient grain salads and mini muffins”.

Elkin was born just outside London in the early 1980s and adopted male pronouns before the family immigrated to Perth in 1990, despite the protests of his primary-school teacher. It feels as if the award-winning writer is still fighting. Devoting so much of his passion and depleting energy to defending queer people who desperately need this service – names and descriptions are changed to protect their privacy – the gutsy lawyer also takes a few choice pot shots at the bloviations of egotistical queer community leaders.

Detachable Penis is both a detailed historical document that is still relevant and a bracingly honest diary of the physical and psychological trials of transitioning. Sharing the unexpected grief at deleting an old voice message that felt like “I’d drowned a beloved sister” and the painful realities of top surgery, Elkin also outlines confronting encounters with various health service providers that often feel wildly antagonistic to trans bodies, or at least hyper-condescending. Then there’s the tedious admin stuff, such as dealing with defunct pronouns on old Airbnb reviews.

Personal and punchy, Detachable Penis is a fascinating read for anyone interested in hearing a genuinely lived perspective on a broad-church community that’s all too often talked about, but not often enough to

Upswell Publishing, 230pp, $29.99