Queer youth Decolonisation Hui
Inspiring Pacific women’s action
Trans/forming feminisms conference
Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie
The smorgasbord of Pride
Freya Desmarais and sex ed
Rainbow Pride Community Honours
Dr Nadia Gush, a part-time lecturer in history at the University of Waikato, started work as the new part-time director of the Charlotte Museum of lesbian culture in February.
Nadia has a PhD in history from Victoria University, and specialises in twentieth-century New Zealand cultural and women’s history, including art history and theory, voluntary organisations and citizenship. She is editing a forthcoming issue of the Women’s Studies Journal of Aotearoa/New Zealand on women and the nation at war, which aims to provide balance to the fervour surrounding the centennial of World War One.
Pema Wu is one of the three co-founders of EquAsian (equal and Asian), a support and social group that aims to advocate for LGBTIQ Asian Aucklanders within the rainbow and Asian communities. The group began after a dialogue event for Asian queer people in Pride 2014, when Pema, Ben Isderman and David Ting decided the community needed more support. They started a potluck at 7pm on every third Saturday of the month at the Rainbow Youth centre on Karangahape Rd. The dinners attract at least 20 people of different ethnicities and nationalities from the wider Asian region and the Middle East, and gradually gained roughly equal numbers of men and women.
The committee formed in the middle of last year, and includes first and second generation Kiwis with ancestry from China, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and family history in Malaysia and South Africa. This Pride they launched their website, had a popular stall at the Big Gay Out, ran a second successful dialogue evening, spoke at the NXT:15 LGBTIQ Youth Leaders Conference and held an EquAsian picnic at Mission Bay. A coffee group will meet on the first Saturday of every month at Ironique Café in Mt Eden, and workshops are planned.
While all the organising work has been voluntary, they funded the website, advertising and some events with a small grant from the Ministry of Youth Development Queer and Trans Youth Fund. Pema is in charge of communications, media and education for the committee, which is translating their resources into different Asian languages and reaching out to new migrants.
When I met Pema at the picnic, one of EquAsian’s members, Danny, arrived with his mum. She was very proud of her gay son, and keen to make sure that there were enough seats, rugs and food for the picnic. Like other parents of lesbian and gay children, she said she “was learning a lot” about the gay community. During the picnic, EquAsian members learnt that the Taiwan Executive Yuan had voted in favour of a marriage equality amendment, bringing same-sex marriage a step closer.
Pema arrived in Aotearoa from Taiwan at the age six, and was fostered by a conservative Pākehā Christian couple as a teenager. “I never found myself wanting to be very Asian due to the discrimination I received at primary school as a child,” she said. “I grew up in Pakuranga, where we looked out for each other, but in central Auckland it was very different. During the mid-90s there was quite bad racial tension between Asian people and the rest of the community. I lost my Mandarin as quickly as I could – I didn’t see the need for it or want to use it. My White friends only get discriminated against when they’re with me – we have a very long way to go with racism against Asian people in New Zealand.”
Pema studied criminology at the University of Auckland and became involved in UniQ, the support group for queer students. She was President from 2012 to 2014, and helped organise a Facebook page, more events in parks during the two summer semesters, as well as seminars about gender and sexuality issues, and a masquerade ball. There was “a cis-male majority” when she became involved, and she was keen to “get more gender and sexuality balance and have events catering to a wide range of people”.
She was proud about the better awareness between the queer students at UniQ after her term about “what a lesbian is” and different gender and sexual identities. For her, advocacy means recognising the intersections of different identities and power relations, and seeking social justice in the face of racism, sexism and other discrimination.
Pema’s adoptive parents know her as a lesbian, although she says she has “masculine traits that I don’t see as being butch – the labels butch and dyke don’t quite fit.” She has come full-circle about Mandarin; she studied it at university and visited Taiwan and China several times to improve her Mandarin fluency.
The hui is organised by Glitch Aotearoa (“like a glitch in the system”), a collective of young tangata whenua and tauiwi people of colour who are sexual and gender minorities and who want to work towards decolonisation. Most are based in Wellington and Auckland. They include women, gender queer and trans members; their gender focus “is on the common elements that all gender minorities share, like the ways that we all resist patriarchy and gender-based oppression”.
The group wants to enable an intergenerational dialogue at the hui. Glitch says they “have invited older people who have been involved in those movements to speak from their experiences and listen to their stories of this history. It feels like sometimes there can be a gap in the transfer of that knowledge to younger generations.”
Speakers include Leonie Pihama, Kim McBreen, David Kukutai Jones, Phylesha Acton-Brown, Torranice, Emilie Rākete and Kiran Foster. There will also be workshops, panel discussions, music, poetry, art, waiata, kai, dance, yoga and sleepovers. Participants will be able to learn leadership and political organising skills.
Glitch says they hope to “create an ongoing network of sexuality and gender minority indigenous/people of colour who can organise actions and events”, as well as “more social connections to combat the isolation that many of us face from being multiply marginalised”.
They hope at least 50 young people will attend the hui from all over the country. The hui cost is whatever people can afford, from $0 to $60+. A Queer and Trans youth grant from Ara Taiohi, a peak body for the youth sector, means the organisers can contribute towards participants’ travel costs. Contact them at glitchaotearoa.tumblr.com
An innovative Pacific women’s action group is looking for supporters and participants.
Oceania Interrupted organises performances by Māori and Pacific women in public spaces to raise awareness of Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua among Māori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa. Performers include lesbians and fa’afafine, and founder Leilani Salesa describes the group as rainbow friendly. Supporters include men and women of all ethnicities. Their next rehearsal is on on Monday March 9 at 6.30pm, and their next action, Mourning Star – Free West Papua! will be held in Manukau city on Saturday March 14.
The group formed in 2013 after a visit by Benny Wenda, an exiled West Papuan independence leader and founder of the Free West Papua Campaign. It committed to carry out 15 actions for the 15-year jail sentence handed to West Papuan independence activist, Filep Karma, for raising the country’s morning star flag in 2004. The group linked with earlier activists like Maire Leadbeater, who campaigned on the issue for at least 20 years.
Leilani, who is a Samoan teacher and community activist, discussed ideas with her friend and now co-leader Emma Tavola, founder of Otara’s Fresh Gallery. The values of manāki, support and care, and whakawhanaungatanga, building relationships, are central to the group’s process. Actions can take up to 90 minutes, but from the opening karakia, the introductions of performers and supporters, a mini rehearsal, a debrief, karakia and a shared meal takes about four hours. Leilani is known for her precise organisation, with regular texts and emails, a run sheet, legal advice, supporters handing out leaflets, first aid and catering. She shares these tasks with Emma and the other two core organisers, Leilani Unasa and Leilani Kake.
The first action involved ten performers who walked in procession down the footpath in Auckland’s Queen St and raised the flag at three major intersections after the lights went green. In the second action just before Christmas 2013, the women marched silently through the Otara Market in South Auckland, finishing at Fresh Gallery where a children’s competition coloured the morning star flag. Those actions were unrehearsed, but since then all actions have been rehearsed separately beforehand.
“We develop the artistic brief as a collective, organically, at rehearsals and then I write the concept,” says Leilani. “For many women performers you’re doing two things at once – you’re acting in solidarity with people in West Papua and you’re engaging with Pacific and Māori women in an artful and creative context that is very vocal, even though we’re silent when we perform.”
Leilani says social media discussion of West Papua has increased, and the group has involved women and supporters who would not otherwise have been reached by traditional Pākehā-dominated human rights groups or art activities. Often their first response is: “How could there possibly be a genocide in the Pacific and we not know?”
She wants the group to generate a new group of activists with varied skills; the next training will be in dealing with media.
The third action, called Free Pasifika – Free West Papua, was a two-hour silent march by 14 women through the Pasifika Festival on International Women’s Day in inner city Auckland (top photo, by Sangeeta Singh).
The fourth action, Freedom is …, launched a video of previous actions at a gathering on World Press Freedom Day in May 2014, with a call for women to discuss West Papua and freedom with people in their lives.
Action five, Whose Pacific shame?, was a ten minute presentation about the ideas of blame and shame from a Pacific perspective, before a seminar by visiting West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor.
Mission Bay beach hosted the sixth action, Changing tides – Free West Papua! in December 2014 (bottom photo, by Sangeeta Singh). Oceania Interrupted went to Wellington for action seven, Capital interruption: Free West Papua! in January (middle photo, by Tanu Gago).
An international conference for feminist, trans and queer activists and academics in Dunedin is seeking proposals for skillshares, workshops, performances, papers and panels about online media and feminisms by April 2.
Trans/forming feminisms: Media, technology, identity will be held at the University of Otago from November 25-27, organised by the Department of Media, Film and Communication and the Fresh and Fruity Gallery Collective. Sandra Grey of Victoria University in Wellington, president of the Tertiary Education Union, will be one of the speakers.
The organisers say the prefix ‘trans’ refers to trans* politics as well as transformation, change and new modes of being, thinking and doing ‘feminism’ online. They aim to combine theory with on-the-ground organising in a productive and transformative discussion, and provide an open space for activists and academics to interact.
They’re interested in questions like
- How do media platforms, such as social networking sites, constitute and reproduce forms of White bourgeois feminism and how can intersectional feminism counter this?
- What does ‘rape culture’ mean in the context of Web 3.0?
- How can mediated practices empower women to fight back against sexual violence?
Send your proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 2 as an email attachment in Word. Papers will be 20 minutes long, with ten minutes for questions. Paper abstracts, infobooth ideas and skillshare proposals should be up to 250 words and should explain the connection to the conference theme.
Panels will generally be made up of three speakers and a chairperson. Panel proposals should provide an outline of the panel idea and its relations to the conference theme (up to 200 words), and provide abstracts of up to four speakers (up to 250 words each), and the name of a person who will chair the pane.
Skillshares will run for one to two hours and can take diverse and creative formats. Infobooths with be available in communal spaces – tables and chairs will be provided.
Conference fees are $200 for academics, $75 for postgraduate students and casual lecturers and $55 for activists, and include lunch and refreshments (including a cocktail function) for the length of the conference.
The organising group includes Rosemary Overell, Vijay Devadas. Massimiliana Urbano, Kevin Fletcher, Catherine Dale, Katharine Legun and Annabel Cooper. See transformingfeminisms.noblogs.org, the official university site, or twitter.com/transfem15.
Heroic Gardens this year provided 26 gardens to visit over a two-day weekend of Pride month. Wendy Wilson and Kathleen, up from Wellington for the occasion, visited 18 this year. It was difficult to fit in more with Kathleen’s flight times and the distance (in the south) between gardens. Planning their route carefully was essential and being at the first garden at 10am was a must. Saturday focused on the North Shore and the inner city, covering 13 varied gardens. Sunday they went south to another five larger, rural gardens with their own uniqueness.
As Wendy and Kathleen both have small gardens of flowers, fruit and veggies and are both keen art collectors, the opportunity to visit these gardens is an exciting event. There were small gardens of potted plants. There was topiary (clipped hedges and trees). Tropical and cottage gardens. Large sculpture gardens to rambling developing gardens. Some had artists in attendance to discuss their art work with the possibility of purchase.
As people move from one garden to another, often in the same direction, there is a quite a lot of lesbian- and gay-spotting, meeting with fellow Fifth Season members, and chatting with many people from all walks of life, comparing garden experiences and the ‘must see’ for those with limited time available.
The Hospice as recipient is a good cause, and the organisation needed for the event has out grown the gay community. Wendy understands that financially the Hospice makes a lot more money each year. Unfortunately it also means there are only a few gay gardens and even fewer – or no – lesbian gardens included. The standard is high and those making the selection are sometimes tended by a profession gardener and not the owner.
Wendy understands that each year the Hospice will select different areas in Auckland. This will enable them to concentrate gardens, easing the drive between. It will also relieve other gardens from the expense of maintaining (watering) a garden at a very dry time of the year.
‘Straight’ gardens are mostly recognisably straight, Wendy says: neat, straight, boring edges; mostly green (plants, trees, lawns). Gay gardens, on the other hand, leap out at you with passion: lots of colour, much more variety in plant shape and structure, imaginative use of pottery and sculptures (shape and colour).
It will certainly be worth going again, but it would be really lovely to be visiting the gardens of several lesbians. Any takers?
Over 100 locals and lesbians (some were both) crowded into the Helensville RSA Hall for a concert in February. The performers were international musicians (singers, songwriters, composers and instrumentalists) Teresa Trull (right) and Barbara Higbie. Set design – country/horsey – was courtesy of MC Jools Topp. And the evening finished with a cup of tea and a biscuit.
Teresa and Barbara have a long history of playing and recording together. At least one member of the audience saw them in 1984, at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival! Most recently they were performers on the Australia/NZ Olivia cruise, and many of the Helensville audience were there because they had seen them on the boat.
Teresa is now a local, operating NZ Horse Help from Jools Topp’s Liberty Circle Ranch.
The performance included their own compositions and covers. Barbara played fiddle and piano, and sang; Teresa played guitar, and sang. A highly ideosyncratic version of Everybody wants to go to heaven (but nobody wants to die) was a standout, and the two standing ovations were no surprise to anyone in the audience.
Alison, photo: Sue Odlin
It’s impossible to get to, let alone assess, the mass of events available during the Pride Festival. A friend new to Auckland enjoyed the Pride Gala, which succeeded in showcasing the variety and strengths of the festival, with comperes Waimihi Hotere and Hori Ahipene. There were stunning dancers, singers, fa’afafine and drag queens, snippets of theatre from the Legacy Project and Wild Blue Yonder, a rapper, poetry from Alternative Bindings event, and a four-piece from Heroes Out West belting out Venus – She’s got it.
With another 150 women I had a great time at Heroes Out West, watching Anne Speirs, Down Home Girls, Anji, Ellie Lim and Jodi Pringle, Out There, Penelope Kingsford, Jyoshna La Trobe, Courtnay Low, Emma Paki and Therry Weerts. It was sad to hear that this eighth event could be the last.
The Pulse Art opening presented a wide range of art forms and drew a good crowd, and the Dykes on Mics wonderfully varied open performance night, also at Garnet Station, was sold out. It was great to see two more community sectors – queer Asians, and LGBT people from the Caribbean, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Latin America, imaginatively named 50 shades of black – out at relaxed public picnic events. Both attracted smallish groups which enabled some great conversations.
See our item on the People page about Freya Desmarais’s one-woman Love Orgy. We’d love to hear your Pride experiences – what did you enjoy?
Freya Desmarais’s Pride show Live Orgy was a funny and clever Feminism 101 show about sexual violence, consent and what sex education should be, culminating in a bearded man playing a clitoris, with a mouthful of water, wearing a rain poncho and a beanie, being tickled by two women with feathers. Okay, maybe it doesn’t sound hilarious – I guess you had to be there.
The idea, said Freya, is to make the clitoris laugh (one of the better descriptions I’ve heard of sex from a woman’s point of view), and when he can’t keep the mouthful of water in anymore, that’s a female ejaculation. You definitely had to be there.
“I was very careful about how I presented the show,” says Freya. “Half of it was intended for feminists, and half for people who hadn’t thought about date rape before and aren’t politicised. I wanted it to be really clear that feminism isn’t about man-hating it’s about equality, right at the beginning.” So of course early on she got all the men to stand on their chairs and told them they had to go out the right hand door, where they’d be milked of their sperm before they were annihilated. “Just because feminism isn’t about man-hating doesn’t mean it’s not fun to fuck with you,” she told them.
The 26-year-old also described her own experiences of rape, including her first time with a man. “I wanted to make a point about how shocking it was that it was only retrospectively that I realised that I’d been raped, and there were men who didn’t realised they had raped someone.”
Earlier shows have described her experience of depression, bipolar and suicidal feelings. “I have a responsibility as an artist to talk about these things because I do feel comfortable talking about them.”
She’s had very positive feedback about Live Orgy, with lots of people saying she should adapt it and tour schools. “It’s a call to action, but I’m not putting my hand up to single-handedly revolutionise sex education in New Zealand.”
This was her first overtly feminist show, although she “always knew I’d write a feminist play”. She started with the title in August, but didn’t start writing it until January. “The show opened on February 9, so it was pretty white knuckle.” She hopes to make a living at comedy one day, “I know in my bones this is what I’ll be doing”.
Freya is a Pākehā from Tauranga who has lived in Sydney and Wellington and just moved to Auckland. She identifies as “somewhere between gender queer and cis”. She’s happy to be described as lesbian “but don’t feel I need to have a sexual identity; I’m a person who happens to fall in love with women”.
Her next project is a remount of her earlier show about depression, Home (The hilarious comedy about how I nearly died but didn’t then learned a lot about life afterward), in the Dunedin Fringe from March 20-22, 6.20pm in the Fresh and Fruity Gallery in George St.
“I’m really proud of the show and want it to be seen by more people, that’s why entry is by koha.” She expects to bring the show to Auckland and Wellington before the end of the year.
Freya has been making theatre in Sydney and Wellington for eight years, writing and directing There’s so much to live for, co-writing Citizen Gef, appearing in Corner Diary and Barefaced Stories, and producing other shows. She has also exhibited watercolours and, as boy wonderrr, producing and publishing EPs on Bandcamp and Soundcloud.
She can also be seen on open mike comedy nights around Auckland, including at the Classic in Queen St, and will compete in the 2015 Raw Comedy Quest during the Comedy Festival. Later she’s thinking of honing her stand-up comedy in England.
Very well known for her first hit It’s My Party (1963), it’s You Don’t Own Me (from her second 1963 album) that probably resonates with lesbians the most.
Gore had an extensive television acting career as well, with her role as Catwoman’s minion ‘Pussycat’ a highlight.
The community contributions of LGBTIQ youth group leaders, volunteers with welfare and cultural groups, community event organisers, sportspeople, and singers were recognised. Lesbian stalwarts Pat Rosier and Porleen Simmons, who both passed away in 2014, were also honoured.