top of page
  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

One Of Them by Shaneel Lal

Imagine being five years old and told by the people you loved the most that the way you were born was evil and wrong?

In a world where acceptance often clashes with tradition and prejudice, “Shaneel is not like anyone you have ever met. An absolute must-read.” This coverline by Ruby Tui perfectly captures the essence of Shaneel Lal’s memoir.

From the beginning, we are transported to a tiny village in Fiji, where young Shaneel grapples with a reality that sets them apart from their peers. Their idyllic childhood days of innocent play soon give way to harsh condemnation of Shaneel’s family and relentless attempts to erase their identity.

The heart-wrenching account of the conversion ‘therapy’ cruelly inflicted on Shaneel by elders is haunting. The elders tried to ‘free’ Shaneel from the evil spirits they thought were making them queer by beatings and torture. Meanwhile, Shaneel was kept away from the girls to stop them becoming more feminine and kept away from the boys to stop their queerness spreading!

Escaping to Aotearoa New Zealand may have seemed like a fresh start, but Shaneel soon discovered hatred was not confined by geographical boundaries! Shaneel tried to keep their sexuality and gender to themselves, but gradually found the courage to come out. However, one day while volunteering at Auckland’s Middlemore hospital, a church leader approached them and offered to ‘pray the gay away’.

This encounter was a lightbulb moment for Shaneel, who could not believe the same practices that had scarred their childhood in Fiji, were operating and legal in New Zealand too.

Determined to ensure others wouldn’t have to endure what happened to them, Shaneel founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group (CTAG), which led the movement to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. Last year, thanks to Shaneel and other activists’ work, conversion therapy was banned here.

“I knew from a very young age that I was different, but I didn’t have the language to communicate how I felt. I did not have the confidence or courage to say ‘I am not a boy either’. Things are different now. I am older, I have some experience, I am confident and I can protect myself. My gender transcends language. It is a feeling of limitless joy, but it is caged by transphobia. A feeling that makes me want to fly, but the elders cut my wings before I could fly. I now have the language. I am nonbinary. I am one of them,” says Shaneel, now 23 years of age.

This defiant memoir explores Shaneel’s evolution from a survivor to a fierce advocate. Shaneel’s resilience shines through, as does their commitment to empowering and educating others. The reality of conversion therapy is confronting, but the transformative power of activism is inspiring. One Of Them is more than a memoir, it’s a rally for compassion, justice and the right to be authentically yourself.

Shaneel is currently studying Law and Psychology and is a finalist for the Young New Zealander of the Year 2023. Shaneel founded the CTAG after speaking at Youth Parliament in 2019. They have sat on the Minister of Education’s Youth Advisory Group and Amnesty International’s Global Youth Taskforce. Shaneel was a Global Youth Leader for the Open Government Partnership and was selected for the role of Youth Justice Leader by the New York Center on International Cooperation.

Reviewer: Andrea Molloy Allen & Unwin


bottom of page