What was happening in February? Here’s our Hui-tanguru update – all items collected in one handy page!
National / multiple centres
Touring the School of Beatbox
Queer art and diversity training
Ze: Queer as fuck
ILGA World Conference 2018
Auckland Pride 2017
Strategising for Charlotte’s future
Seeking GLOW singers
Bay of Plenty queer youth co-ordinator wanted
Lesbian picnic at Karitane
Beatboxer Matehaere Hope Haami, who performs as Hope One, will bring her School of Beatbox workshops to Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Wanganui, Hamilton, Rotorua and Wellington from late March.
Hope (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) grew up in Wellington and is now based in Brisbane. Her beat boxing (vocal percussion that mimics drum machines and other instruments) has starred in international TV ads, supported T-Pain, Naughty by Nature, Eve & Kid Ink, and shared stages with George Clinton, Cold Chisel and The Wailers.
She does some stunning beatboxing as the lesbian cast member of Hot Brown Honey in the Auckland Pride Festival before her workshops. School of Beatbox aims to be fun and interactive, covering the foundations, history and mechanics of beatboxing in ways that develop confidence and self-expression on the way to a performance.
Consultations about a National Rainbow Strategy will be held in March during the Wellington Pride Festival and in other main centres after that.
The initiative is driven by Elizabeth Kerekere, a takatāpui woman affiliated with Ngāti Oneone, Te Aitanga a Mahaki and Whānau a Kai, and chair of the Wellington Takatāpui group Tiwhanawhana, who is funding the idea herself. She welcomes contact from Rainbow groups around the country about their vision and priorities. Email Elizabeth.
InsideOUT’s fundraising art exhibition in Wellington is a chance to acquire some queer art in a good cause. The exhibition runs from January 30 to February 5 at Matchbox Studios, 166 Cuba St, with the big auction night on Friday 3 MCd by Jac Lynch.
The exhibition includes work by young artists who submitted to the organisation’s first multi-media arts competition, Expression. “We were really impressed with the quality of entries we received,” says National Co-ordinator Tabby Besley. Winners were announced in January and the event was so successful that Expression will run again in 2017.
Tabby says InsideOUT is considering a two-yearly publication of winning writing entries, as well as screenings of winning film entries; all winning entries will be released on the website over time. Submissions open again from May 1 to October 31, to allow time for projects to be developed during school terms.
A Vodafone Foundation’s World of Difference Award to Tabby in late 2016 will enable her to work full-time in 2017, and bring InsideOUT’s support for Rainbow youth and professional development work to new regions. The group is keen to hear from regions that could benefit but already plans to visit Invercargill, where Tabby says “health practitioners and youth workers are crying out for sexual and gender diversity training”.
InsideOUT will also extend their work in Palmerston North and Wanganui, and run more sessions on Working with Trans and Gender Diverse Youth at conferences like the 2016 Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Conference.
Those wanting to know more about InsideOUT can find them on the Rainbow Youth stall at Auckland’s Big Gay Out on Sunday February 12, and at Out in the Park or their popular Pride on Board night of board games during the Wellington Pride Festival in March.
Canadian Genderqueer comic Ren Lunicke (pronounced Loo-nick-uh) will be touring zir* shows in Auckland and Wellington in February and Dunedin in March.
Ren has been living in Whangarei for two years, and originally identified as lesbian. Exploring zir gender fluidity was “a big transition. I used to be married to a woman, we got divorced and all of us had been fighting for marriage equality. It was a huge life interrupter,” and led zir to travel to Australia and Aotearoa. Ze says: “I still won’t ever be straight, regardless of who I’m with – I’m solidly in queer culture.”
Zir show Ze: Queer as fuck! explores this experience. “It brings out people from across the queer spectrum.” Ze* describes it as “perfect for people who know all the categories, and a great show for straight friends who have trouble understanding lesbianism. Their friends will be so comfortable with lesbianism at the end of the show compared with me!”
Ze has performed in Perth, Adelaide, Dunedin, Whangarei, Toronto and Vancouver in 2016. Ren’s other show, I’m an Apache attack helicopter, is a preview workshop of a show that will be performed in full at the NZ Comedy Festival in April. “It’s more geared towards the straight community and allies, or even queer people who can’t understand millennials with zillions of labels. I’m highly aware of intergenerational dynamics. I’ve dated lesbian women who had a real problem with me identifying as non-binary, because it upset their attraction. We tend to project our sexual identity onto our attraction for other people.”
“Apache examines pronouns and labels and shows that what’s ridiculous is subjective. The line is always moving. It takes the piss out of labels, and directs it at labels we don’t think of as funny.”
You may also see Ren busking as a living statue during zir visits to different towns. “I call my character The Rainbow Androgyne. They stand in the glory of all of their queer awards, and beneath that they are white (all spectra) with a question mark over their crotch, a comment on the obsession with trans genitalia.”
“I always post on Twitter about where I will be in any given day and try to statue during performance festivals as much as possible.”
* Ze and zir are non-gender-specific pronouns, often used by genderqueer people.
Planning is underway for this international event in Wellington in October next year, by the three host groups – Wellington takatāpui group Tiwhanawhana, Auckland-based Rainbow Youth, and Wellington-based Intersex Awareness NZ (ITANZ).
The groups are negotiating a contract with ILGA, the international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex association, which includes pre-conference meetings, interpreters and headsets, and sessions on particular issues. Venues are booked and they are negotiating with hotels
Tiwhanawhana chair Elizabeth Kerekere says “Bangkok in 2016 had 700 participants and was the largest ILGA conference so far. They think numbers will be less in New Zealand, but we are aiming for that many and will be providing as many scholarships as possible for participants.”
“We’re looking at how we make this conference accessible for young people – they’re very expensive to put on. Normally they’re at least $500 plus accommodation, so there’s a huge financial barrier. We’ll have to raise a significant amount of money so we’re looking for major sponsorship.”
Host groups will work closely with other Rainbow organisations, as well as the Human Rights Commission, police, customs and other government agencies. They welcome contact from Rainbow groups and individuals about conference sessions and volunteers. See http://www.wellington2018.nz/.
This year’s Pride Festival includes a wider range of events and performances, and more low-cost or free events than previous festivals. They include films, a quiz night, open days, art exhibitions, performance poetry, a poi workshop, Dykes on Mics, a dog show, a GALS choir performance, cycling, swimming, surfing and softball as well as the Big Gay Out and the Pride Parade. Pictured are Green MP Jan Logie, left; Auckland Women’s Centre manager Leonie Morris; Cissy Rock, organiser of many lesbian events; and Alison Kagen of LNA at the Big Gay Out. We profile some of the new events by or of interest to women.
HBH has been described as a camp, clever and comic mix of dance, hip-hop, opera, burlesque, circus, satire and politics, from the viewpoint of indigenous and brown women. From 2012 HBH has taken the piss out of racism, colonisation, sexism with writers Lisa Fa’alafi and Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, also musical director, as well as indigenous dancer Juanita Duncan; beatboxer Matehaere Hope Haami (who is also touring solo); Tongan-Australian soul singer Ofa Fotu; and aerialist Crystal Stacey.
MC Busty Beatz, standing above the constantly changing honeycomb Hive lightshow, weaves the words of Indigenous and black feminists such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Audre Lorde with her pumping soundtrack of RnB hip hop remixes and originals, and repeated taglines about “the word of the mother”, encouring us to “fuck the power”, practice “radical fierce love”, and “decolonise and moisturise”.
Highlights for me were a powerful aerial performance about domestic violence; Lisa’s reverse strip ridiculing the ‘dusky Pacific maiden’ stereotype; Juanita’s number stripping away an Aussie flag costume to reveal indigenous tights and a ‘still here’ t-shirt; the maids dancing about privilege; and the ‘cultural awareness’ number, Don’t touch our hair.
The show is a fast-paced set of skits that relentlessly satirise male power, racism and colonisation by and about indigenous women, with lots of humour and middle finger permanently raised.
Hope (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) says “it’s quite liberating to perform things you stand for in your own life and to start conversations on what all of us go through every day. A lot of people connect with it so much they’re in tears after the show; we get lots of people sharing their own stories, even on the other side of the world.”
She describes herself as the show’s gender-bender and says her pieces often raise issues such as the lack of marriage equality in Australia. “We make people laugh at what we are portrayed to be as women of colour and queer people.” Hope lives in Brisbane, where she came out as a lesbian: “I can’t wait to come back and be around the Pride Festival – I haven’t experienced the queer community in my own country.”
After Auckland, the show heads to England and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, followed by Canada. For a pre-show taster, get to the free HBH Bloc Party at 2pm on Saturday 11 in Aotea Square. The show runs from Tues 14 to Sat 18 in the Aotea Centre’s ASB Theatre. Catch the conversation with the writers and performers on Saturday 18 at 11am. See the Hot Brown Honey Facebook page and book at Aucklandlive.co.nz JR
This 80-strong amateur water ballet troupe is co-produced by Pip Hall and Judy Dale with choreographer Lara Lieu, whose empowering and non-threatening approach brings amateur dancers back year after year.
Pip says the group has “always been feminist without being active about it – a large group of women of all ages and shapes and sizes performing is a political statement”. She says the Sea Change ballet, developed “in a Trumpian dystopia, is about reclaiming women’s space and girl power. The first half of the show looks at the weight of social roles we carry, and the second half shows the power of being strong and brave in a community.”
The group includes queer women and the rest of the cast “was really excited to be part of Pride and not worried about being assumed to be lesbian or queer”. The producers “thought it was a good fit, we felt our values aligned – being inclusive, celebrating diversity, especially body diversity”, says Pip, and the show fits the Change theme of this year’s Pride Festival.
The cast wear retro swimsuits and red-hot lippy, and the show draws on 1940s Hollywood but in the kids’ pool rather than the deep one. “We’re like swans, graceful above and working like crazy underneath,” says Pip. See the website and the Facebook page, and get tickets from iTicket, although tickets were almost sold out at the end of January.
Production co-ordinator Hannah Wright describes performance poetry as “immediate – there’s no barrier between the performer and their creation. You don’t need training or equipment; it’s just you and your words. It’s accessible and allows people from different perspectives to have a voice.”
She says the Auckland spoken word scene is “intensely political – Pride is an extension of that”. Maybe it’s no accident that the two shows this year and in 2016 who’s advertising was openly critical of the mainstreaming of Pride were performance poetry. The Loud & Queer blurb says: “they’re not your niche market. They don’t earn enough to give a shit about your GAYTMs.”
The show has been workshopped collectively by the performers; most of it is “polyvocal poetry with multiple voices, stage dressing, visual elements and pre-recorded audio”. All the performers – Dominique DeCoco, Teddy Mason, Joni Nelson, Manu Vaea and Nate Villanueva – identify as queer, two as female and none as male, Hannah says. They bring “radically diverse perspectives from different ethnicities and religious backgrounds”. JR
When Can I See You Again?, a multimedia exhibition of lesbian and queer female artists of Māori, Pacific, and Pākehā descent, runs from February 16 to Saturday March 25 at Fresh Gallery, Otara.
Pictured are some of the artists: partners Ana Te Whaiti, a fashion creator, left, and ‘Aliitasi Su’a, illustrator; multi-disciplinary artists Molly Rangiwai-McHale and Luisa Tora, kneeling; with multi-disciplinary artist Sangeeta Singh and multimedia artist Jamie Berry; photo by Tuafale Tanoa’i, aka Linda T. Absent is collagist Kerrie Van Heerden who lives in the UK.
Learn basic knotting, body adornment and jewellery techniques with some of the artists at Knot Even workshop in the gallery on Saturday February 25. Ana leads a Weaving Circle with some of the artists from 3-5pm on Saturday, 18 March, which welcomes visitors and coincides with the gallery’s White Night events.
Some of the work from the exhibition will also be shown in Wellington, in a collaborative show with local queer female artists. We will provide details when dates have been finalised. JR
The words glamour, spectacle, and the proud baring of flesh have rarely been applicable to Auckland Pride women’s events. However, this is what the organisers of Champagne, Auckland’s women-only burlesque and striptease event, are aiming for on Saturday 18.
To say preview reactions to the event are polarised among lesbians is both a bad pun and an understatement. For many, performances like Champagne embody the commodifying exploitation of female sexuality beloved by the patriarchy and the current US President, regardless of context or audience. Others are more enthusiastic, embracing the notion that (particularly in the context of burlesque) such an event embodies a spirit of female sexual celebration and empowerment.
These differing perceptions are neither new nor likely to be resolved any time soon. But the good news for enthusiasts is that Champagne is promising quite a lineup. Along with a combination of strip-tease, pole dancing, burlesque, and nude theatre, Champagne for Pride will also feature drag king shows and an aerial performance. Doors at 25 Cross St, Newton open at 9pm, the first show is at 9.30, and the evening goes to 1am. Entry is $20, cash only. BB
A draft strategy for the Charlotte Museum, the southern hemisphere’s only lesbian museum, will be discussed at a public meeting of friends and supporters at the museum on Tuesday February 21 from 6-8pm.
The strategy was developed from a community conversation in October 2016, an existing business plan and an earlier strategic plan. The museum trust board will invite those who have shown an active interest by email. Women who haven’t received an invitation by February 13 can email the museum to register their interest. JR
Hamilton’s LGBTTIQ choir, the GLOW Singers, is looking for new members, and welcomes interested women to open nights on three consecutive Wednesdays – February 15 and 22 and March 1 from 7-8.30pm
The choir also seeks a pianist to play a few songs in more occasional rehearsals. The Glow Singers started in 2009 and perform a diverse range of music. Musical abilities range from experienced choral singers to those who haven’t sung since school and don’t read music. So if you think you can hold a tune, have a go! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for rehearsal location and directions, or if you’re interested in playing piano.
Auckland-based Rainbow Youth is seeking a second BoP / Hauraki co-ordinator after the first one left for another job. The 20 hr/week position runs for 10 months, is preferably based in Tauranga and applications close at midday on Friday February 3.
The person will connect with organisations working with youth, including marae, schools, and health services, as well as providing training and education to youth services in the area. The position is funded by the Ministry of Social Development. Download a full job description.
The Wellington Pride Festival from Friday March 3 to Sunday 19 will open with a ceremony at 7-9pm on Friday 3. Major events include a parade, a fair and two major parties.
The Pride Parade starts at 11am on Saturday 18 with a theme of A World of Fantasy. It will travel from Cambridge Tce to Courtenay Place and Taranaki St to finish at the Out in the Park fair at Waitangi Park. Register or volunteer at email@example.com. Out in the Park runs from 12-6pm, and will include more than 60 stalls, an entertainment stage and the ever-popular Pooches in the Park.
The fair will be followed by a Youth Ball for 13-18-year-olds, from 6-10pm, and an adults’ after-party from 9pm until late. Organisers expect about 400 young people from the Wellington region, Wairarapa and Manawatu to the Youth Ball. See the website and Facebook page. JR
Ten lesbians from three different Dunedin groups enjoyed an open lesbian picnic at Karitane on Sunday 5, in what they decided will become an annual event on Waitangi weekend. Pictured left to right are Nell, Ella, Joy, Anne R, Mary and Orma in the distance, Lysette, Steph and Sue.
The picnic at Karitane Reserve, a 30-minute drive north of the city, included members of Wild Women Walks, the L Club and Dunedin Lesbian Dinners. They enjoyed yummy food, homemade sparkling elderflower drinks, kite flying, kayaking, gathering tuaki (cockles) and bird watching.
The event enabled Wild Women Walks to discuss their walk format, timing and ideas for walks with new women. Photos by Ann Charlotte – more on our Photos page. JR
May 28 1942 – January 10 2017
Following Heather’s funeral in Hamilton in January, two further tributes are planned in Auckland and one in Christchurch. A memorial for Heather will be held from 2-4.30pm on Sunday February 19 at Earthsong Eco-neighbourhood. Please BYO drinks and finger food, as well as poems and memories for a sharing circle.
Earthsong, 457 Swanson Rd, Ranui, is next to the Fresh Choice Supermarket on the right going towards Swanson, 10 minutes’ walk from the Ranui railway station. Visitors are asked to park on the road if arriving by car; only disability parking is available inside. Phone Chris on 09 832 0630 or Rosemary on 09 833 6444.
And at the aLBa meeting on Wednesday February 8, Fran Marno and Aorewa McLeod will say a few words and read a poem of Heather’s in tribute to her, before Carole Beu’s interview with Alison Mau. See Dyke Diary.
HEATHER grew up in Tauranga and studied teaching at Ardmore Teachers College in Auckland. She always loved words, winning the senior prose prize at her secondary school, and becoming a poet and supporting herself with editing and proofreading.
She raised her son Carrick in Christchurch as a single mother and later as an out lesbian. In the 1960s, she had a few poems published in literary journals, where she noted that women made up one out of five published writers. In 1973 when Carrick was two, the experience of listening to 20 “indistinguishable” men in a Young Poets session led her to found the Christchurch Women Artists Group (WAG). As well as supporting each other, Heather aimed for a women’s art centre and a women’s literary magazine.
WAG members produced the ground-breaking 1977 United Women’s Convention Art exhibition, meeting and performance space at the Canterbury Society of Arts, probably inspired by Judy Chicago’s 1972 Womanhouse. WAG member Joanna Paul organised the 1977 exhibition A Season’s Diaries, which included Heather and other WAG members and toured to Wellington and Hamilton.
In 1976 Heather edited the first edition of Spiral, a women’s arts magazine, “partly because I didn’t know how to work with a collective; later we managed more job and responsibility sharing”. Heather was involved in issues 2, 3, 4 and 7; printing for early issues was funded by women’s dances. As part of the women’s art movement aim of democratising creativity, after four issues Spiral became a floating publishing imprint, with issues and other publications produced by collectives of women in different locations. In 1982, another Spiral collective published Heather’s first book of poetry, A figurehead, a face, the first by an out lesbian in New Zealand.
Heather was also a founding member of the Christchurch Incest Survivor’s Group in 1979, which was an early contributor to the movement acting on violence against women. The group presented a statement about the impacts, healing and prevention of sexual abuse at a 1983 National Symposium on the prevention of Child Abuse.
As well, Heather was a member of the group which founded the Women’s Gallery, which ran from 1980-84 in Wellington. Heather had earlier written that art “has to arise from a specific focus, and the unmentionables, whether child-care or menstruation, being part of our lives should be part of our art”.
In 1980 Heather left Spiral to move closer to her North Island family and write more, but “reluctantly” co-ordinated the gallery’s pioneering Women & Violence exhibition “as nobody else volunteered”.
Spiral also represented New Zealand women writers at three international feminist book fairs. In 1986, Heather travelled to the second International Feminist Book Fair in Oslo with Arapera Blank, Irihapeti Ramsden, Jacquie Sturm, Patricia Grace, Stephanie Baxter and Marian Evans.
“How did we do it,” Heather wrote about the women’s arts movement; “enthusiastically, messily, eagerly. We were changing our worlds.” Heather later lived in Auckland and Hamilton.
As well as publishing poetry in many journals and magazines, Heather produced three further books of poetry – The third myth in 1986, Other world relations in 1991 and Travel and other compulsions in 2004. Some of her books are pictured left in a memorial display at the Grey Lynn Library. She also reviewed art and literature, including for the Tāmaki Makaurau Lesbian Newsletter, the print ancestor of LNA, and wrote prose essays on women’s art, rape, smoking and lesbian history.
She remained an activist, devoted mother and grandmother, and beloved friend of many, writing hundreds of unpublished poems for lovers, friends and family. A collection of her garden poems, tentatively titled This joyous, chaotic place will be published posthumously. Editor Janet Charman says the poems itemise “nature’s sensational pleasures and the generosity of human interactions”.
Heather’s health deteriorated with cancer in her last months, but Janet says “whenever I visited, her sharp intelligence and her political astuteness were undiminished. These attributes were tempered in these late poems, to reveal the woman deeply loving of her family; secure in her lesbian identity; unbowed by fortune; and keyed towards fearless engagement with whatever life and the world, might show her.”
Compiled by Jenny Rankine from writing by Marian Evans, Janet Charman and Heather.
LNA was keen to hear more about Sonya Apa Temata after brief contact over her candidacy for the Auckland District Health Board in the 2016 local body elections. She shared the story of her life with Jenny Rankine, starting with the origins of her name and her whakapapa.
“The name I was given is Sonya Christine Temata, but my friends and family all call me Apa. I kept my first and last name out of respect for my mother; she named me after her best friend and Sonya means ‘wise old woman’. I did consider changing my surname because it was my father’s, but I realised that Temata holds its own mana and connections to my Tahitian fanau. The name Apa was given to me by Papa Kata, one of our metua (elders) and rangatira of our ui ariki (nobles) of Akapuao in Titikaveka, a village in Rarotonga. He named me after my grandfather Tapeka Apa who was a renowned boxer and a respected metua in the Cook Islands and Aotearoa.”
“On my mother’s side we have three island groups – the three islands of Ngaputoru as well as Mangaia and Rarotonga. My father’s side is from Rarotonga and my grandfather is from Rūrutu Island in the north of Tahiti.” Her Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungungu links are “from my great-grandfather Paora Parau, on my father’s side. He was an ariki on Rurutu who was brought over by Governor Grey during the Māori land wars, to be a negotiator between Te Kooti and the British. Grey took a lot of our iti tangata (people) particularly our tāne (men) from Hawai’i, Tahiti and the Cook Islands because their language and culture was very similar. He married a high-born Ngāti Kahungungu woman from Wairoa and is buried in Lower Hutt.”
Sonya’s mother and her parents migrated from the Cook Islands in the 1950s, and she was born and raised in Auckland. “We lived in Grey Lynn, where the Polynesian Panthers started. It was the kind of environment where you could walk next door and have rellies; it didn’t matter if you were PI, Māori or Pākehā, we were just one big family.”
“When I was growing up, I didn’t know my family connections; we knew we were from the Cook Islands, and had rellies in different parts of Auckland and across Aotearoa, but I felt there was a huge gap with our connections to our motherland. I grew up knowing and learning te reo Māori, tikanga and kapa haka as a child but didn’t know any of my own Cook Islands te reo, language and culture.”
“Mum said that when she came here, she was told not to speak our language but to learn the pa’paa (European) way. So we weren’t taught at home; she spoke our language to our elders but never to us kids. It took me years to understand our language and culture and by then I realised that our language is dying.”
“So many of my generation and the next had no idea of our own te reo, tikanga and customs. In our ipukarea (homeland) we have many dialects from the 15 islands and learning them can be very challenging.”
“I come from a line of vaine/wāhine toa. My great-grandmother was seen as a taonga; she was a midwife, a medicine woman and healer in her village in Mangaia and Rarotonga, and she also sewed many of our family’s traditional tivaevae (quilted blankets). My mum’s mum was the eldest of nine kids – she was the family head and matriarch, a hard worker known for her traditional sewing and crochet. My mother also is the matriarch of our wider family, respected for her volunteer work with women’s refuges. She was a mum to many young kids.”
“We often had cousins and friends stay with us because they were in trouble with the law, running away from home, or their parents could not deal with them; mum would intervene and support them. I have five brothers, I am second to youngest and the only girl, but I’m the head, I made the calls. My mother passed that to me years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer and after our brother committed suicide”.
Sonya was born into a violent environment. “When I was born I was covered from neck to legs in bruises from the beating my mum received prior to giving birth to me. My mum wanted to get her tubes tied then but couldn’t because her husband had to give consent. My mum and great-grandmother massaged me with special oil and over the years the bruises disappeared, but every now and then those scars are visible”.
[Sonya with her mum in 2011.] “When our last brother was born, mum finally had the courage and strength to fight back. She disclosed all the violence, rapes and abuse through every pregnancy to the same doctor who delivered me, and said she couldn’t bear to go through another pregnancy like that. So the doctor tied her tubes.”
“It was very difficult for women living with violent partners in the 70s and early 80s. Mum didn’t receive any official help, she had some support from family and friends. To us kids, seeing some of our male relatives beat their partners was normal and very frightening, especially the fights. I used to hide under the bed or in the wardrobe.”
“I hated my mum when I was growing up because of the violence and drinking. There were parties most weekends. I was always wary and on edge, wondering who was going to walk through the door, going to different relatives’ places, waiting in the car for them to come out of a party.”
Sonya and her brothers experienced violence and sexual abuse. “I found out years later that many of my girl cousins and aunties had similar stories. One of my cousins who lived with us for many years, much older than me – she was suicidal, self-harming and cutting herself from the sexual abuse and rape. So many sad stories; speaking about it brings up my rage and so much pain.” Despite this, Sonya believes it is important not to keep silent about family abuse and violence.
Sonya left school at 15 and studied plumbing and gas-fitting at Unitec: “I was the first girl. I worked in that area for a year, but didn’t get an apprenticeship. No one would hire a girl, especially a Māori/Pacific 16-year-old. Then I got into a sheet metal engineering company, rigging and welding; I worked in that area for six years. I was the first woman there too; I loved working with my hands, on construction sites – I was determined to develop those skills.”
“It was an all-male environment, I was the youngest and the only woman. Derogatory pictures of women, naked and in explicit poses, were plastered all over the walls and ceilings. I often got sexually harassed, as well as discriminated against as female, Pacific and Māori. Some of the men were okay about me being a lesbian, but most got off on it; they’d ask if they could watch me and my girlfriend having sex, and make other sexual digs.”
“Some of the younger boys had a problem working with me, especially when I had to tell them what to do.” Sonya often had to co-ordinate small groups for urgent jobs, interpreting plans to fabricate ventilation ducts and frameworks from flat sheets of metal. “One day one guy decided he wouldn’t work with me, even though the supervisor has asked us for all hands on deck. He told me to ‘fuck off bitch, I don’t listen to any woman’. He repeated it, almost spitting in my face: ‘you heard me, bitch’.”
“I punched him in the face and we rolled around on the concrete amongst bits of metal and pink batts with me throwing punch after punch at him. I tackled him into the metal ducting and caught my eye on a corner. It took two other men to separate us and calm me down. The receptionist, the only other female, tidied me up and said: ‘You go back down there and show those guys you’re not going home to cry’.”
“The boss said: ‘Bloody good on you, but you should have let him touch you first because then I could have fired his sorry ass.’ He gave me big hug and said, ‘Don’t ever stop being you’.
“We grew up around transsexuals and transvestites; my mum’s generation called them trannies and tomboys. When some of our transsexual aunties came home, we just naturally gravitated towards them. It was confusing for us kids, we didn’t know what to call them. Our Uncle Ben was dressed as a woman, so I remember asking, ‘Mum, what do we call Uncle Ben?’ She replied, ‘Aunty Uncle Ben’. Aunty Ben shook her head in disbelief, said something to mum in te reo and both of them laughed. These days we use traditional terms like aka’vaine and takatāpui.”
[Sonya’s older, openly gay brother and her mum, with Sonya on the right, in 1998.] “My family also had many lesbian and gay aunties and uncles. They weren’t openly gay, but some of my aunties used to have short hair and wear men’s clothes. Some uncles behaved very femininely, and often would dress as women at family functions and it was accepted. However, any sexual behavior was tapu or hidden and not discussed.”
“I have two aunts who were openly gay for many years, in relationships; they were aka tutu tāne, a Māori term for a butch woman. They’re called tomboys back home; they don’t use the term lesbian – it often comes across too harsh.”
“I knew I was different from a very young age; I kissed girls in primary school and never had boyfriends.” Sonya found a community of women amongst the sports scene; “touch, rugby union and softball had lots of gay and butch women – that was my first exposure to the lesbian scene. I was 15 when I first started league, and still at school. I didn’t feel like a student – I felt much older than my school friends. They said, ‘Wow, you’ve changed, you look different’. I left school between 15 and 16.”
“Our league team used to be called the lesbian team and accused of converting new women into lesbians; almost half the players were butch. You could see the distaste and hear the comments from some opposition teams, especially after the game.” Sonya formed lasting relationships in rugby league, playing for many years. “They were my aunties, my whaea, sisters-in-arms. But it was also a heavy drinking environment; often there’d be fights on and off the field and at the after-parties. But the atmosphere was also aroha, support and whānau. I loved it; it what I had been missing for many years, a sense of belonging.”
Sonya’s 16th year was tumultuous, including meeting the woman with whom she would have her first relationship. “We instantly clicked. I told her about my life and the violence I experienced and she disclosed her own trauma and violence. From there, we became best friends, and then it became much more. I was fascinated with her, she was this masculine, androgynous, older Pākehā and Māori wāhine from Tuwharetoa.”
“I came out that year. I didn’t tell my mum – she just knew. When she asked that question, and I said, ‘Yes, she is and I love her’, mum got so angry and wept. I don’t think coming out to your mum drunk is a good idea, but she calmed down and we talked.”
“As a mother, she wanted the best for her children, but her only daughter was expected to get married and have kids, which was a lot of bullshit to me. Two of my other brothers came out afterwards and my youngest brother much later. Mum has always been our biggest support; she says, ‘I will always love you all, no matter what you are’.”
“If she heard one of our very strict, traditional and Christian relatives talking about her gay kids, she’d say, ‘If you have something to say about my children, you say it to my face’. And she would go off her nut – she didn’t hold back telling anyone off, even her elders.”
“It was a slow coming out; I didn’t hold my girlfriend’s hand or show any affection in public, certainly not in front of my family. Our family knew we were gay, but never talked about it. Our cousins of the same generation saw us as the tuākana (senior) gay cousins. Lots of other cousins came out after us.” Sonya is pictured with her gay akavaine brother at Auckland City Mission.
Sonya’s girlfriend introduced her to a lesbian scene outside of sport. “She exposed me to things that I don’t think many 16-year-olds get to see, especially getting into gay clubs at that age. I started going to the Rising Sun, the Staircase, where Buckwheat and Bertha were glamorous legends, and the lesbian clubs on Karangahape Rd. There were butch women DJs like DJ Dino at the Bass Bar, which attracted a mixed gay and straight scene. There was also the lipstick lesbian scene where I often went as a young butch dyke. I was fascinated by the whole scene, this is where my fascination with being a butch lesbian started.”
Sonya is pictured with others from Hui Takatāpui, 2016. “I formed many close friendships with older woman; most of the woman I socialised with were over twenty, thirties and above. I never hung out with people my own age. I was one of those lesbians who sat in the corner observing the crowd, only sometimes socialising.”
“I was always acted masculine in most ways, but I had crushes on butch women and tom boys over the years, so never thought I would be attracted to feminine woman later on. I describe myself as tomboi or wahine mo nga wāhine (woman-loving woman).”
Sonya was raped when she was 16. “I got back to a friend’s place and scrubbed myself, the smell lingered on me for a long time; even now I remember it. I was quite sick but I didn’t tell anyone, just my girlfriend – she was the only one I trusted. I left it alone and buried it for a long time.”
Sonya’s girlfriend went through cycles of being sober and relapsing into drug and alcohol use during their relationship. “I guess with her stuff coming up, I never really actually got to understand my own trauma until much later.” During that relationship, Sonya “dressed feminine, I had long hair. After six years, when that relationship broke up, I started slowly changing towards butch. I wasn’t comfortable with long hair, getting hit on by men – I didn’t want that attention. After all the sexual harassment and abuse, dressing butch and portraying a more masculine look was more comfortable. But I was in between for years”.
After that break-up in her early 20s, Sonya became deeply depressed and suicidal and tried to commit suicide numerous times, “I was in a very deep dark place at the time.”
Moving into nursing
Sonya started working in rest homes part-time while she was still in engineering, first as a tea girl, then cleaner, then caregiver. When she left engineering, she worked “two to three jobs” in a private hospice. In 2001 she worked at Auckland Hospital as a healthcare assistant with the district nursing service, as well as caregiving, when she met an inspiring woman who was a major influence in her life. Gwyneth Trigg and her partner Lily Rose were both “influential lesbians, senior nurse leaders, staunch feminists and animal rights activists. They inspired me to become a nurse and supported me through my early days as a student nurse.”
[Sonya, back right, her cousin Mary, centre, and other members of the NZ Nurses Association Pacific Nurses section.] “They lived on Waiheke Island where I immersed myself into a new, very empowering group of older wāhine toa. These activists, poets, writers, feminists, separatists, vegans, vegetarians and hippies opened up my world view to new ways of being. We had many intelligent and stimulating conversations around the fire, playing music and singing, sharing kai and knowledge. The stories were rich, full of life, and also sad; I disclosed my own story to many of them who had also shed the same trauma and pain in their lives, finding solace with each other. These ‘wild women’ of Waiheke fuelled a fire in me.”
“Communal living, women’s space, the sacredness of the connections with each other – it made sense with our whenua and moana, nurturing not just ourselves but our mother earth. They taught me how to love myself, heal and survive, as well as how to grow and make things, and to cook with love. The mana and wairua made Waiheke such a special place for me. I have met and loved many wāhine toa from different backgrounds and professions who have been influential and inspiring; I feel privileged to have crossed paths with such strong mana wāhine”.
In 2004 Sonya started studying for a nursing degree, while working as a nurse aid and part-time at the Auckland City Mission, from 2006 till 2011. She helped staff the drop-in centre for homeless people and supported people with alcohol and other drug problems. “The City Mission opened my eyes to poverty, homelessness, and poor services across different sectors. Streeties are such a diverse mix of people from all different backgrounds and journeys in life. When I’ve been away, I always come back to the City Mission, so now they keep me on as casual drop-in crisis worker, every Christmas and other times.”
Sonya gained her nursing registration in 2007 and graduated in 2008, the first in her family to get a degree. “I love nursing, working with people and hearing their stories; it instills hope, strength and courage,” she says. Sonya worked in Auckland Hospital’s cardio-thoracic surgical unit on open heart/lung surgeries and, nursing people living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney and heart failure.
[Sonya with a colleague in the cardiothoracic unit, 2014.] The next few years were another rollercoaster. “In 2008 my grandfather passed away and my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer.” Sonya took time off while her mother received treatment. She started going to a trauma counsellor about her childhood sexual abuse. “I was doing well with the sessions until my brother committed suicide in 2010. I felt my own trauma from sexual violence, rape and attempted suicide well up in one hit, and felt exposed and vulnerable.”
“I remember being at home waiting for a response from the police, with my mother was wailing in the kitchen. I was still numb and in shock, and she shouted ‘Why, why my son?’ again and again. I yelled back; ‘Why do you think mum, don’t you think I and my brothers haven’t tried as well?’ This was the first time I’d spoken to her about my attempted suicide and those of my brothers. She sat stunned with her head down, crying.”
“My relationships with my then girlfriend, my mum and brothers suffered. I found myself back in that dark place again, not suicidal but drinking myself to forgetfulness. I was violent when I was drunk, going to clubs to pick fights. I was dysfunctional, volatile and uncontrollable and I had to give up my postgraduate study.
“I cried myself to sleep and most days went to work numb or just not all mentally at all. A few months after my brother’s death, I went back to the Cook Islands to heal and to recover. The grieving never ends and I returned the following year. I was trying to connect with our whenua back home, our whakapapa and history. I didn’t want my nieces and nephews not knowing who we are and where we’ve come from”.
In 2011, Sonya went to live in Sydney and moved to Alice Springs for contract work in 2012. “A lot of my dreams are premonitions; some random dreams are about where I might be. In one of my dreams I was walking the red earth, but at the time I didn’t know where that was. Three years later I found myself doing it.”
Her contract was in the Emergency Department and paediatrics at Alice Springs hospital, but she also worked part-time with Aboriginal women and children escaping violence and abuse at the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter. “My calling was always to work with indigenous Australians, and I found that through working in the shelter. I saw so much pain and suffering, the oppression, the trauma and violence, the scars and impacts of colonization on our indigenous brothers and sisters. And I experienced fun, laughter and great friends from different cultures and backgrounds. They encouraged me to go back to my own heritage and advocate more for Māori and Pacific communities.”
After working a couple years in Australia, Sonya returned to the cardio-thoracic surgical unit, where she saw an increase in Māori and Pacific admissions for heart surgery and chronic heart conditions, and a widening gap in services for Māori and Pacific people.
She also went through restructuring, cuts in services, worsening working conditions get worse, “a lot of pressure to meet the demand for services with fewer staff. I was working the floor, and I was also on the Pacific Clinical Nursing Advisory Leadership group.” She became more active in the Cook Island Health Network Association and in 2015 the secretary for the Cook Islands Nurses Association Aotearoa (CINAA).
From 2013 to 2015 she also worked as a general district nurse, visiting people at home. From 2014 she also worked in the regional sexual health service, providing sexual health screening and testing, contraception, services for takatāpui, LGBTI+ and Rainbow Pasifika, immunisation and vaccination.
“I’ve always been passionate about services for Rainbow, Māori and Pacific communities and learning about different areas of health.” She’s pictured at a Body Positive HIV seminar in 2016. “There were no Māori nurses and only one other Pacific nurse in sexual health – I’ve always been a minority in all the services I’ve worked in. But Pacific use of some services is high, with lots of barriers. A lot of Māori and Pacific people have had really negative experiences with health services.”
“So I’m very passionate about developing our health workforce. The current Pacific workforce is about two percent, compared to ADHB’s Pacific population of over 11 percent. It helps for Pacific and Māori patients and clients to identify one of their own in services. Sometimes it takes the right person to say the right thing at the right time. I have presented cultural safety and competency within ADHB and in the community – it’s about treating others with respect, empathy and compassion.”
“I want to bridge the gap between Westernised, Pacific and Māori perspectives. Positive change usually starts with oneself and empowering others to also do the same, often with the most marginalised populations, not just homeless people, those experiencing institutional racism, oppression and discrimination. My vision has always been to turn that around, to educate and empower service users and health professionals.”
Nursing and Pacific peoples
“My cousin Mary Kata and I (left) re-established CINAA (Cook Islands Nurses Association Aotearoa), working with our own nurses, our communities and other Pacific and Māori nursing associations to establish and strengthen connections. We see our Cook Islands community affected by increasing health inequities; we identify young leaders, help our workforce grow sustainably, maintain relationships with community groups and government officials.”
Sonya and other nurses from the Cook Islands Health Network Association and CINAA (below) attended the 18th Cook Islands Health Conference in Rarotonga in July, where she talked about a Pacific perspective on sexual health and sexuality, as well as attending the South Pacific Nurses Forum in the Solomon Islands.
Sonya has just finished a contract under Auckland DHB as a Pacific Health Resource Nurse in for people with chronic health conditions, which includes a project to make diabetes services more welcoming for Pacific peoples. As usual, she is juggling jobs, with a new position with the Centre for Youth Health in Counties Manukau DHB and after-hours work for the adult sexual assault service.
Her mum’s cancer has returned: “Mum is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She’s still living independently and we’ve built lots of support around us.”
Sonya has been a member of Pasefika Pride, above, co-ordinating the Pasifika Pride float for the last three years with other takatāpui leaders, and been on the committee of the NZ AIDS Foundation’s Pasifika Love Life Fono.
She says it has only been in the last five years “that I’ve been comfortable presenting as butch”, but she also describes herself as having both masculine and feminine characteristics. “My masculine is the right side, it’s my stronger side, it keeps me alert and centred. My left side is my feminine side, I embrace it – I wouldn’t change it. It’s important to identify both sides.”
“My tatau reflect that; it honours where I’ve worked and what I’ve done. I hold my mana and wear it on the outside. My left arm is whakapapa, and my right side is some of the work I’ve done, and places I’m connected with, especially to many of our indigenous communities”.
We welcome your suggestions of websites, books, films and any other media of interest to lesbians and queer women.
A collection of (mostly historical) fiction, loosely connected, all published in late 2016: Ali Smith, novelist and short story writer, has published a new novel, the first in a planned series of four, connected to the seasons; Stella Duffy, who has published a wide variety of fiction and is an arts/science activist (visit the Fun Palaces website) has a new novel set this time in south London; Jeanette Winterson, who was at last year’s Auckland Writers Festival with her wife Susie Orbach, published a book of new stories; Julie Helean has written a satirical novel set in 1990s Auckland.
Jeanette Winterson is a fabulous writer. Challenging, most of the time, to be sure, and rewarding, all of the time. Her debut (semi-autobiographical) novel, Oranges are not the only fruit (published 1985) had a huge impact, and has been followed by a television adaption (1990) and a memoir, Why be happy when you could be normal? (2011). And there have been over 20 other published works: fiction, non-fiction and children’s works.
Christmas days: 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days was published in November in 2016, so there’s no shame if you haven’t read it yet. It is an imaginatively conceived work, typical of Winterson, and gives the appearance of being straightforward (also typical), although the reality is much more complex (and again, typical).
There are 12 sections, each in two parts: a story and then a story about food, along with a recipe. Obviously they are Christmas-seasonal, but they will also work for winter-seasonal (for those of us living where these don’t coincide), and they will also work for any kind of occasion you may wish to share food with others.
The stories are mixed: some are of the “I didn’t realise I was looking for love till it found me” kind. Some are ghost and fantasy stories; with some, it’s hard to tell – not that this is a bad thing. The food stories are conversational, and as you could imagine occurring while you worked in the kitchen with Winterson: opinionated, somewhat quirky, interesting …
You could pace yourself and read one a day, or you could read them all in one sitting. (You will need to pace yourself with the food, though!) An unusual characteristic is that each story feels strongly like it would work well read aloud – another kind of sharing that would be rewarding.
Read, eat and enjoy. And read any others of Winterson’s works that you haven’t already.
This is very much a local book, particularly for readers familiar with (central) Auckland: lesbian flats in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, takeaway coffees from Cezanne, Cox’s Creek …
The time is the summer of 1989/1990, and the focus is challenges to the sesquicentennial ‘celebrations’ of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Julie Helean has taken points of tension between Pākehā individuality and the need for collective action (Māori and Pākehā, separately and together) to make change as a framework for the novel.
Charlie, our narrator, is a young lesbian active in ‘PAST’ (Pākehā Action in Support of the Treaty). She has a chaotic life that includes looking for a girlfriend, maintaining multiple and conflicting friendships, separating herself from her family of birth (though they come to visit her in Auckland for the Commonwealth Games – also a target of PAST activism), understanding her lesbian identity, and working cash/under the counter jobs. The story is bursting with action, commentary and ideas, which acts to illustrate the confusion in Charlie’s environment and life.
Helean writes with a light touch, so there is humour – deliberate, inadvertent, at Charlie’s own expense – blended through the serious aspects, what Helean calls social realism, with bubbles of historical fiction. Flatmate Kat (Kataraina) has developed an understanding of her Māori heritage through university studies: “When she moved into the flat with her wilting philodendron she was just another dyke looking for a cat-friendly, vegetarian house close to uni”.
Charlie’s parents and brother arrive in Auckland: “Mum with a new perm; Dad in shorts, socks and sandals. I realise I don’t have a game plan. It might have been helpful to warn them about the tattoo, the short hair, about my involvement in the anti-racism protest”.
Those of us who were adults, possibly teenagers, around 1990 and who were living in Aotearoa, may find the past demanding our attention with the finesse and subtlety of a sledgehammer. When was the last time you thought about PEP schemes, the phrase ‘Trick or Treaty’, operating a telephone tree, arguments about whether Pākehā may speak te reo Māori or if that is another act of colonisation, or women’s bands at the Gluepot?
Younger readers are likely to be particularly startled by changes in the social environment: in spite of ongoing worries that the flat’s landline may have been bugged, there seems an astonishing lack of security action or technology capability. There are no smart phones, no cellphones, no email, no internet – no Google!! You can buy spray cans of paint from the local service station with no difficulty. People are separated at protests or while out spraying graffiti, and may not find each other for hours or even days.
Read We the Ones to remind yourself of who we were, who you were, 25 years ago.
Ok, it’s a big call, especially in January, but I think this is the Book of the Year.
There are already other contenders (see others reviewed here, for example), and we have quite a way to go. But this is powerful, powerfully written and thoroughly engaging. This is the book I’ve been recommending to everyone since I finished it in December.
There are multiple elements to London Lies Beneath, and multiple people and points of view.
The main character is south London – Duffy loves the area (lives there), that becomes obvious quickly in this novel, but you may know that already: it’s also obvious in other writing (check her website).
It’s a story of three young boys in 1912, and you know from the get-go that it’s not going to end well for everyone. This is not a spoiler: the first words on the dust jacket are, “three friends set out on an adventure. Two of them come home.” It also tells you the tragedy is “inspired by real events”.
So then you turn the pages. There are two aspects that make this novel really exciting: one is the technical and literary effort required to tell a story from so many points of view. There are the three boys, and their three mothers. As if they weren’t enough, there are fathers, siblings, other adult relatives, several other people. Some of them have not much more than a cameo, but many of them have considerable input. There’s a distinct voice and point of view for all six of those main characters (and others) – you can work out who it is not only from what they say and who they are talking about, but by the way they say it.
The other exciting part is the content, the historical context. There are plenty of well-researched books around, based on or taking their starting point from some historical event or other. It’s not till you read this book that you can see how much so many authors rely on being able to tell you what they know or have found out, what they think you need to know. This book is not difficult to read, not dense in its content, but it is jam-packed full of detail, atmosphere, history, the lives of people. You may find yourself stopping periodically, as I did, to think about early 20th century south London, or some aspect of life and class. Class is another major character in this book, and again, Duffy doesn’t bang on about it, she has ensured it’s part of everything – including the much more limited awareness of those who are not working class.
Oh, and there’s also Duffy’s use of language. In the writing on the page, just in reading it to yourself, you get amazing variations in pace: some of it hurtles along, like the boys. Some of it is thoughtful, contemplative. Some of it is more difficult to read, but utterly authentic and credible, just the same.
The tragedy is tragic, no question. But the book doesn’t end there, at the dramatic moment. In taking us on past the tragedy, in having her characters continue to live their lives, which are the same, and which are utterly changed, she shows us the full impact of tragedy – those are the parts that had me unexpectedly crying into my coffee in a cafe, when I thought I was having a quiet half hour to myself, to catch up with my reading.
Buy or borrow, but make sure you read this book.
Ali Smith is a great writer, a real pleasure to read, and her latest, Autumn, is, if anything, better than earlier works.
Smith is a literary writer, so her works (short stories as well as novels) are layered, often narrated from more than one character’s point of view, and using first, second and third person perspectives. They are highly imaginative: my favourite of her short stories shows a relationship ending because one of the women has fallen in love with a tree. In The Accidental, one of the most notable aspects is the portrayal of the 12-year-old girl. There are five narrators in this novel, and they are signalled by tone and language only: you have to work out who is speaking as you go. The pre-teen tone and language: innocence, naivete, suspicion (there’s a lot to be suspicious of), boredom, feelings of being hard done by … she has captured it all.
Smith’s stories are not easy to describe: the plot(s) and the writing are changeable in time, character, focus and language. Fantastical elements are closely juxtaposed with the ordinary and prosaic. Autumn has two main characters, their stories both told in the third person. We are closer to Elisabeth, who is 32 in 2016, than to Daniel, who is (probably) 100 in that year. It is set in several times, particularly 2016 and the 1960s, and several points between.
Remarkably, Autumn incorporates Brexit (though this word is never used) and some of the social aftermath; the vote was in late June 2016 and this novel was published in October.
There is frustration with bureaucracy and politics in 2016, with conservative and hypocritical politics in the 1960s. The relationships, the stories, the ideas reveal themselves, but not always logically or chronologically.
Word has is that Ali Smith will never be at any Aotearoa NZ writers festivals (she doesn’t fly), and neither does she have an obvious social media presence. You can check out her Wikipedia entry, and read a 2003 interview with her by Jeanette Winterson. More usefully, grab an opportunity to read Autumn, and her other work. Get ready for the next works in what will be a seasonal series.
Sexuality and museums
Siren Deluxe has worked as an artist, picture framer, technician and collection manager. As a student she briefly worked on the Carmen Rupe acquisition at Te Papa Tongarewa and catalogued at the Lesbian and Gay Archives New Zealand (LAGANZ) in Wellington. She is currently Collection Manager, Preventive Conservation at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. She stresses that she is not a curator – she looks after objects in the museum collections rather than choosing them.
Siren has studied the way in which museums display sexuality and sex, and agrees with Jennifer Tyburczy that “all museums are sex museums” but that most represent dominant norms, and implicitly or overtly police sexuality and taboo topics. Tyburczy argues in her book Sex museums that most museum displays assume that the sexual life of their visitors is represented by White patriarchal heterosexuality. This is supported by the tiny number of digitised items in the Auckland Museum’s collections identified by a website search for the word ‘lesbian’. Siren spoke with Jenny Rankine.
Siren’s interest in sexuality and museums led her to a placement at the Museum of Sex (MoSEX) in New York in 2009. “They cover everything, with a focus on sex in films and media, and sex and technology. They have a theory that as soon as a technology is invented it’s turned to sexual gratification.”
“They’ve got vibrators and real dolls – incredibly lifelike, like mannequins made of latex. They cover the evolution of sex in films, from black and white movies with the metaphor of trains roaring through tunnels; the genre of nudist films as a semi-legitimate way of looking at boobs; and the first televised inter-racial kiss in the USA on Star Trek.”
“They screen the first gay kisses, the first gay sex scenes, lesbian porn, gay porn, celebrity porn, and a fascinating film of women’s faces as they orgasmed. You can’t help but wonder how much the women are performing so they have a pretty orgasm,” she comments.
“Sex museums raise some very interesting questions. MoSEX has quite a high entrance fee, so people expect entertainment. It was titillating, not purely academic; one gallery might have sex education material, while another might feature high fetish gear, such as gimp masks” (full-face sensory deprivation masks, with a zip over the mouth). Pictured is the bouncy castle of breasts in MoSEX’s Funland exhibition.
Siren returned from Mosex hoping to run a sex museum in New Zealand, but realised how difficult it would be and how much it would take to run.
Unearthing sexuality in museum collections
“In a traditional museum structure sexuality comes under social or human history. I am very interested in how museums and their social history collections are preserving stories and choosing objects relating to sex, sexuality and gender identity. I see this area as a necessary area of growth in museums if they are to be relevant and connected. Contemporary museums are not sedentary and they can’t afford to be complacent. They must be agile, progressive and dynamic to remain relevant.”
Objects relating to sexuality are often buried and waiting for someone to uncover and tell their stories, she says. She gives some examples from the Auckland Museum’s collection.
“We have a beautiful ivory naked lady, who fits in two hands – she’s languidly lying on her side, wearing shoes and a necklace, and sits on a little wooden table. From a Western perspective she looks like a reclining Venus who is displaying her body for someone to look at.”
“But the statue is called pointer or a doctor’s lady; she would have been on the table of a Chinese medicine practitioner. Extremely modest female patients would indicate where on her body they were feeling discomfort, because it was taboo for them to indicate their own body. So Western people might think this object is about sexuality, but within its own culture it’s not. It tells lots of stories.”
Auckland Museum “also has a belt from my grandmother’s era that women used to attach menstrual pads, so a story about sexuality can be told there. And the applied arts collection has a dress specifically made for a fa’afafine”.
“I often think of Ettie Rout; her story has never been properly told in a museum context. I think she deserves a whole cabinet in a war memorial museum as she has an amazing war story. I suspect she was a lesbian – she was an amazingly creative woman.” Siren also sees Freda Stark’s life, which featured briefly at the Auckland Museum some time ago, as “another great story”.
She also gives examples from Te Papa, which has “a photographic montage from the Evergreen Café that used to be on Vivian St, Wellington, which was a safe place for gay men, run by a transgender woman who was Carmen Rupe’s contemporary. They’re trying to furnish it with lots of stories and personalities. They also have the Margaret Sparrow collection, which tells the history of birth control in New Zealand. So there’s lots of examples of sex in museums, but not enough.”
Representing lesbian history
Siren likes to ponder how museums can represent the heritage of lesbian communities with three-dimensional objects. “It’s really easy to lapse into collecting spectacular things like Pride Parade costumes, although I think we should, but ‘collecting the ordinary’ is a phrase we use a lot.”
“We have lots of white wedding dresses through the ages, which is an iconic heterosexual thing. We should have something representing the first lesbian and gay couples who had a civil union in New Zealand, and the same-sex weddings. I don’t know what they wore, and I doubt whether they would want to donate it to a museum, but what about the cake and the figures? That would be something that isn’t financially valuable or spectacular, but is imbued with meaning.”
She discusses the purple and pink painted stones I have, offered to all the people who came to my friends’ civil union years ago; “if that and the rings and the photo and an invitation was in the collection, that set of objects could tell a story. We’ve got to think about how in 200 years no one would know the significance of the colour purple on a stone.”
Sexuality in community museums
She would like to see sexuality represented in small community organisations like the Charlotte Museum, as well as collected and displayed by big museums. “There’s potentially a lot of freedom and agility in independent museums,” she says, giving the example of Mona in Tasmania, which was set up by eccentric millionaire David Walsh and focuses on issues of sex and death.
“He can do outrageous things that could never be done in a government-funded museum. Mona is award-winning, irreverent, and has a lot of people aghast. It has a famous artwork called Cloaca; they feed it twice a day, it digests in the gallery making terrible noises, and produces a poo.”
Siren describes the Charlotte Museum as having “a national treasure collection” (including the statue, left). “Often amazing collections come into big institutions from personal collectors who stuck to a vision to save heritage that was on the brink of being lost, and I see the Charlotte Museum as doing that. Every small community needs a champion to save it.”
Siren has visited other museums about aspects of sexuality, like the Musee de l’Erotisme (Museum of Erotica) is Paris, and a couple of sex museums in Amsterdam, which “were more like curiosity shops than museums”. There are many others, like the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, a male-dominated collection that has a Women’s Leather History Program.
She sees the online museum as a possible “powerful path for the Charlotte Museum. It would involve digitising every object in the collection and being smart about key words and the design so it’s easy to search.”
Working for change
She’s very conscious that “museums were largely founded by academic white men who travelled the world collecting curiosities”, and that museums about technology are often male-oriented.
“But now the sector is dominated by women and I believe it’s progressive in its thinking,” she says. “It’s ripe with opportunities. The key is to have curators who are passionate about sexual history, or more lesbians in the GLAM sector.” GLAM stands for galleries, libraries, archives and museums; “it’s an acronym made for the queer community” Siren says.
Siren describes the museum sector as “a very satisfying industry to be part of”, and herself as “proud to be part of a place that is loved by Aucklanders, and is iconic to the city.” She also prefers to “effect change from the inside.”
Siren believes that she and others who have a similar vision have “a responsibility to petition for change within the industry and encourage a liberal and progressive approach to collecting.”
Siren hasn’t worked in small museums; her hopes for change lie with the big ones, “because they should be modelling” inclusive approaches to sexuality. “Inclusivity is a word discussed a lot in the museum sector at the moment,” she says, but usually to refer to different ethnicities; “there should be robust pressure on big museums to discuss sexual diversity.”
“It’s just a matter of keeping the pressure on, constantly bringing it into the discussion. Museums are full of diversity, so it will come.”
Northland/Te Tai Tokerau
Waikato/Central North Island
Otago/Southland/Te taurapa o te waka
Monday 13-Saturday 18 Sea Kayak Trip, Bay of Islands with Women’s Holidays. An all women group. $1,250 per person, includes: All sea kayaks, kayaking gear, kayaking instruction, 2 female guides, safety gear, all meals, 4 nights accommodation in a private beach house and transfers from Paihia to the outer islands by ferry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit the website (womensholidays.com) and Facebook page.
Saturday 25 Gay in the Bay pool party at Waipapa, Bay of Islands. See the website for details.
Friday 3 Oceania Connections Pride Parade Float Fundraiser forNgā Aho Tapu o Te Moana-nui-ō-Kiwa,
Sacred Connections of Oceania (Tangata Whenua and Tangata Pasefika floats have combined). 8pm-1am. Encore Entertainment & Cabaret, 350 Karangahape Rd, Newton: DJ and performances, raffles. $10 on the door. Visit the Facebook event page for details.
Sunday 5 Dykes on Bikes ride 10.30am-1pm. Meet at Z Westgate (State Highway 16 & Asti Lane) for a 10.45am departure. Details & contacts on Facebook event page.
Sunday 5 Dyke Hike 11am, Goldie’s Bush/Mokoroa Falls. This walk is through some typical Waitakere Ranges forest to Mokoroa Stream, which we cross many times on our way up to the Falls. There is a short rock climb on this walk. Meet at the end of Horseman Rd, Waitakere. Limited parking, so carpooling is a good idea. Note: Kauri Die Back: this disease is killing Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges. To avoid spreading this disease please ensure all boots and walking poles are clean before entering any park or reserve and follow instructions for disinfecting boots on arrival at infected and at risk sites. For more information go to www.kauridieback.co.nz. 3.5 hours. Grade: Moderate (boots recommended, expect a few hills and stream crossings are possible). If there has been recent rain the stream crossings will be more difficult. Email email@example.com, visit www.lesbian.co.nz or the Facebook page.
Sunday 5 London Klezmer Quartet: all-women London Klezmer Quartet, including a lesbian couple, Raye Freedman Library, 788 Remuera Rd, Meadowbank. Tickets $20/15, bookings required, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit NZ tour page.
Wednesday 8 Alison Mau at aLBa talking with Verity George about lesbian life and the media, preceded by a few words by Fran Marno and Aorewa McLeod about lesbian poet Heather McPherson. Alison has been a print, TV and radio journalist for over 30 years in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and currently hosts a show on Radio Live. 6pm, Tiny Theatre, Garnet Station, 85 Garnet Rd, Westmere. $10, aLBa members free. To become a member email email@example.com.
Saturday 11 Pridelicious mosaics Another of the successful mosaic workshops for beginners and experienced lesbians at the Charlotte Museum, led by Natasha Norton. Join her in creating a piece for the museum, or bring your own projects. 10am-4pm, 8 Bentinck St, New Lynn. See the Facebook event page.
Saturday 11 Cheat and Tell (EquAsian Quiz night), 6-9pm, Rainbow Youth, 11 Edinburgh St, central Auckland. For further information and to register email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday 12 Big Gay Out Rainbow fair, Coyle Park, Pt Chevalier, 12midday-7pm. The main stage line-up includes Anji at 12.45pm and Charlotte Yates at 2.05pm. Visit the website and the Facebook event page.
Sunday 12 Earth Magic workshops 1-3pm, 12 February-2 April (8 consecutive Sundays): Understand and harness your woman’s power over eight consecutive Sundays, led by Sandi Hall: Tarot reader, student of Woman’s Spirituality and lesbian feminist writer. $25. Visit the Facebook event page for details.
Tuesday 14-Saturday 18 Legacy Project 4 “a kaleidoscope of bite-sized queer stories”. 6.30pm each night, Q Theatre Loft. Tickets $15-20 plus booking fee, from Q Theatre; details from Q Theatre and Facebook event page.
Wednesday 15 Pride poetry speakeasy 5.30-7pm, Leys Institute Library, 20 St Marys Rd, Ponsonby, Free. Bring your original and/or favourite LGBTIQ poetry to share in a welcoming word-fest. Visit Facebook event page and website for details.
Thursday 16 Rock & Speir in a special aLBa performance of their show Goodbye 16, going on 17, with local singer Karen Kahurangi. Enjoy a rollicking laugh as you catch up on the escapades of Cissy Rock and Ann Speir’s characters Pamalala & Syke and Bruce & Andrew. 6.30pm, the Tiny Theatre, Garnet Station, 80 Garnet Rd, Westmere. Tickets $20 (non-members) and $15 (members). Book direct with aLBa – email@example.com
Thursday 16-Saturday 25 March When Can I See You Again? a multimedia, multicultural, multi-regional exhibition of emerging artists explores female sexualities, desire, power, and safe spaces. Tuesday to Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday, 8am-2pm. Special events include opening, Thursday 16, 6.30pm: free bus leaves from outside Family Bar, Karangahape Rd, 6pm. Weaving Circle artist discussion, 3-5pm, Saturday 18. Fresh Gallery, 5/46 Fair Mall, Ōtara Town centre. Visit Pride Festival webpage and Facebook event page. Free.
Friday 17-Saturday 18 Same same but different LGBTQI writers festival. Visit website for tickets (some events free) and programme.
Friday 17 8pm and Tuesday 21 7.30pm ‘Goodbye 16, Going on 17’: irreverent comedy duo Cissy Rock and Anne Speir are back with a brand new characterful show, including Pamalala and Skye processing the year that was … Garnet Station, 85 Garnet Rd, Westmere; tickets $20/15. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Saturday 18 When can I see you again? exhibition Weaving Circle artists discussion, 3-5pm, Fresh Gallery, 5/46 Fair Mall, Ōtara Town centre. Visit Pride Festival webpage and Facebook event page. Free.
Saturday 18 Hot Brown Honey in conversation Cast members talk about how live performance can challenge outdated ideas of race and gender. Organised by Advocates for Inclusion and Equity NZ. 11am-12.30pm, 283 Karangahape Rd, Auckland city See the Facebook page.
Saturday 18 Champagne Burlesque an evening of performances by women.
Saturday 18-Sunday 19 Heroic Gardens Festival featuring gay, lesbian and straight gardeners fundraising for Mercy Hospice. See the website.
Sunday 19 Coffee & Stroll 10am, meet for coffee at Kings Plant Barn cafe, 236 Orakei Rd, Remuera; 10.30am, an easy 40-minute stroll around Orakei basin (1 short steep-ish section), possibly returning to cafe for second coffee …
Sunday 19 GALS at the Art Gallery 11am-12midday. Guided by new conductor Nick Forbes, GALS will delight with repertoire highlights, old favourites and new songs in one of the city’s most fabulous acoustic spaces. Free. Visit Facebook event page.
Sunday 19 Auckland memorial for lesbian poet and Spiral co-founder Heather McPherson for those who couldn’t attend her funeral in Hamilton. 2-4.30 pm, Earthsong Eco-neighbourhood, 457 Swanson Rd, Ranui, next to the Fresh Choice Supermarket on the right going towards Swanson, 10 minutes’ walk from the Ranui railway station. Please park on the road if arriving by car – only disability parking available inside. BYO drinks and finger food, as well as poems and memories for a sharing circle. Phone Chris on 09 832 0630 or Rosemary, 09 833 6444.
Sunday 19 Dykes on Mics at Falls Park, Henderson. 4-7.30pm. An eclectic mix of lesbian performance on an open mic; “No food stalls/ no bar/ no marquees – just great performance”. Koha entry. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Tuesday 21 Charlotte Museum strategy public meeting for friends and supporters of the museum, 6-8pm. Email the museum to register your interest.
Tuesday 21-Saturday 25 “Ze”: queer as fuck! a “dark comedy about sex, gender, and the expanding parade of labels and identities Michelle/Ryan claims on zir way to pride”. 6.45pm each night; Vault, Q Theatre, 305 Queen St St, central city; tickets $20/15 from Q Theatre.
Tuesday 21, Garnet Station; Wednesday 22, Thirsty Dog; Friday 24, Actors’ Program Studio: I’m an Apache Attack Helicopter “the latest comedy project by genderqueer performance artist Michelle/Ryan that holds a mirror to the meme-obsessed, hashtag-happy, insulated world of cultural trolls and tone-police”. 9pm each night; tickets koha/donation; visit Pride Festival webpage.
Wednesday 22-Saturday 25 Intimacy Stages / Active Empathy an event with Sian Torrington, who is offering appointments to lesbian, bisexual, queer, femme, butch, takatāpui wahine, trans*, and female identified people, in which she will draw whatever the participant offers: participate in an embodied project on our sexuality. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Wednesday 22 OUTSPOKEN – The Digital Rainbow a panel discussion explores the effect of technology on the way we interact as individuals and as an LGBTIQ community. 7pm, Ika Seafood Bar and Grill, 3 Mt Eden Road, Mt Eden. Bar and food available from 5.30pm. Entry by koha on the night – but capacity is limited, so bookings are essential. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Saturday 25 ‘The future of women’s leadership: Pride without prejudice’ 2-4pm, Mary Dreaver lecture: commemorates Mary Dreaver (3rd woman MP in Aotearoa NZ and the 1st from Auckland), celebrates women leaders and women’s leadership, supports Labour women candidates. 2017 lecture by Maryan Street. Onehunga Community House, 83 Selwyn St, Onehunga. Tickets $25 unwaged, $40 waged, from Eventbrite.
Saturday 25 Pride Lick Auckland dance for girls who like girls and their friends with hip hop jams, R&B and trap remixes, 10pm-3am at Neck of the Woods, 155B Karangahape Rd, city, $10 before 11pm, $15 afterwards. See the Facebook event page.
Sunday 26 Labrys Women’s Social Softball Tournament for players of all abilities and sporting code backgrounds, 10am to 5pm, Metro Softball Club, Phyllis Reserve, 22 Phyllis St, Mt Albert. Team entry $100 and individual entry (for those wanting to be placed in a team) $15 by Friday 17. Visit the Pride website, Metro Softball website, Metro Softball Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday 26 Oceania Pride BBQ 12noon-5pm, Orakei Domain, 11 Tamaki Drive, Orakei. For all indigenous Rainbow communities of Oceania to connect and relax over food and drink, summer sun and good company. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Wednesdays 15 & 22, March 1 GLOW Singers open nights 7-8.30pm. Hamilton’s LGBTTIQ choir is looking for new members, and welcomes interested women to open nights on three consecutive Wednesdays. Email email@example.com for rehearsal location and directions, or if you’re interested in playing piano.
Saturday 18 Waikato’s queer women’s softball team plays 1 or 3pm at Resthills park, off John Webb Drive in Glenview, Hamilton. Cheerleaders always welcome!
Thursday 23 Lesbian Social Group after-work drinks Enjoy a few drinks, maybe stay for dinner or go for a walk along the river. All welcome. From 5.30pm, Hayes Common, Jellicoe Dr, Hamilton East.
Saturday 25 Join the Hamilton Pride float in the Auckland Pride Parade Open to all Hamilton LGBTTIQ people and supporters. Wear Waikato colours – red, black and yellow. A van is being organised for those who need transportation – see the Facebook event page.
Sunday 26 Cheerleaders wanted for the Waikato Rainbow Warriors softball team playing in the Auckland Pride Festival’s Labrys Softball tournament.
Anytime Self-guided LGBTTI walking tour of 24 historic rainbow locations around Wellington’s waterfront in one hour, free. Start at the former site of Carmen’s Balcony on the corner of Harris and Victoria Sts, now the City Library, walk through Civic Square, onto the waterfront, down to Bats Theatre and then back to the Michael Fowler Centre via Courtenay Place. Hear short eyewitness accounts at each location with your smart device using the interactive Google Map, or download the mp3 audio before you set off. See the website.
Monday January 30-Sunday February 5 InsideOUT fundraising art exhibition Matchbox Studios, 166 Cuba St, city. Unsold work will be auctioned at 6pm on Friday 3 with MC Jac Lynch. See the Facebook event page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday 7 Wellington Pride volunteers meetup 4-8pm, Eva Beva, 35 Dixon St, city.
“Want to meet some people? Wellington Pride is on March 3-19. Come in and let us know if you would like to be involved. Ask questions and get a little social.”
Visit the Facebook event page for details.
Saturday 11, Tuesday 14-Friday 17 “Ze”: queer as fuck! a “dark comedy about sex, gender, and the expanding parade of labels and identities Michelle/Ryan claims on zir way to pride”. 7-8.05pm each night; Ivy Bar, 49 Cuba St, central city; tickets $12/14/20 from NZ Fringe Festival Wellington.
Saturday 11, Wednesday 15, Friday 17 I’m an Apache Attack Helicopter “the latest comedy project by genderqueer performance artist Michelle/Ryan that holds a mirror to the meme-obsessed, hashtag-happy, insulated world of cultural trolls and tone-police”. 10.30-11.15pm each night; Ivy Bar, 49 Cuba St, central city; tickets $12/14/20 from NZ Fringe Festival Wellington.
Sunday 12 Lesbian Overlanders walk from Camborne to Mana boatsheds along the Camborne Walkway, up a hill for lunch, down to Plimmerton and back to a boatshed for a swim. Catch the 9.44am train from Wellington, 9.30am from Waikanae, meet at the Mana railway station at 10.15am. Please text Lainey on 027 303 9006 to say you are coming. Non-walkers welcome at the boatshed from 2.30 to swim, kayak and socialise.
Thursday 23 Rainbow Tea (UniQ Massey Wellington) 3.30-4.30pm, The Lounge, SST Level 1. Come along to meet old and new UniQ members, sign up (gold coin), and have some food and drink! Visit the Facebook event page for details.
Tuesday 28 Wellington Pride Volunteers meeting 4-5.30pm, Eva Beva, 35 Dixon St. Want to get involved in Wellington Pride? – marketing, admin, parade marshals, fair helpers, performer help and other roles available. Email email@example.com, visit Facebook event page.
The Lesbian Connection (TLC) sends a monthly email of events in the area, Nelson and Motueka in particular. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org to go on the mailing list or for more details of any events.
There’s currently no-one co-ordinating activities for Nelson events, other than potluck dinners, last Friday of the month. Do contact TLC if you can help with regular – or one-off – events.
The Christchurch Women’s Centre keeps a diary of events in Christchurch and elsewhere on their Lesbian Support page.
Check events on the Christchurch LGBT social events page.
The Lambda Trampers and Lambda Lattes are mixed social tramping and walking groups for lesbians and gays living in and around Christchurch, and their friends. The Lambda Trampers programme and contact details to August 2017 are available. Lambda Latte programme details are below.
Sunday 5 SunGay drinks 6.30-9.30pm, Pegasus Arms, 14 Oxford Tce. Visit Facebook event page for details.
Sunday 12 Lambda Lattes Mona Vale to Riccarton Bush. Meet 10am, corner Harper Ave and Helmores Lane. See http://lambdatrampers.webs.com.
Sunday 26 Lambda Lattes Cracroft East to Westmoreland Valley. Meet 10am at Worsleys Reserve, off Cashmere Rd, corner Worsleys Rd and Hurunui St. See http://lambdatrampers.webs.com.
Sunday 5 Dunedin lesbian picnic Karitane reserve opposite the playground and boat club, 12.30-3pm, bring food to share and your own drinks, picnic gear and swim things (optional). If weather is unsuitable, rainday is Sunday 12. Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need transport.
Sunday 15 January-Sunday 5 February Midsumma Festival – Victoria, Australia’s queer arts and cultural Festival, for and by LGBTQIA+ communities. Visit the website and Facebook page for information about events.
Saturday 4 February Australian Same-Sex Dancesport Championship, email email@example.com.