WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
DISUNITEDKINGDOM-NEW
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.

Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.

As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.

Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’

Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.

I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Denise Mina is a  Crime Writer who won the 2017 McIlvanney Crime Novel of the Year for Long Drop

Ed Husain is the writer of The Islamists and The House of Islam  

WORD Christchurch: Sonya Renee Taylor – The Body Is Not An Apology

The Body is not an Apology is available in bookshops nationwide. 

Seeing a fat woman on stage talking about how beautiful she is feels drastic – decadent – almost illegal. Experiencing Sonya Renee Taylor being genuinely not just okay with her fat body but loving it was a shock and an enlightenment. There’s another way. Body shame is neither natural nor compulsory. There’s another way. HOLY COW. At one point she joked ‘I’m not Jesus’, but I have to tell you, I’m not sure that’s true.
Sonya-Renee-Taylor
Taylor is a queer fat black American performance poet and businesswoman who’s residing in Aotearoa for a few years as part of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. She is the creator and leader of The Body Is Not An Apology movement, which preaches radical self love. This session was programmed and chaired by Tusiata Avia, who opened by inviting us to feel the mana whenua under our beautiful bodies. Soon we were also feeling the aroha as we basked in Taylor’s and Avia’s combined presences.

Radical self love is related to body positivity and fat acceptance but has a wider remit and greater ambition. Taylor says that her goal is nothing less than to entirely dismantle the oppressive systems that tell us that some bodies are better than others: racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and so on. Radical self love starts by looking inwards – ‘We cannot create externally what we have not created internally’ – but is expansive and contagious. Unlike self-confidence, which is fleeting and individualistic, radical self love means that ‘I never doubt my inherent enoughness even when I’m not feeling pretty’. Radical self love is solid even when everything on top of it is shaking.

cv_my_body_is_not_an_apology.jpgTaylor said that there is no such thing as a toddler with body shame: we are born ‘magnificent and full of wonder’. (Later on, British poet Hollie McNish would make the same point.) The shame we seem to all end up feeling is learned and comes from what Taylor calls the ‘body terrorism’ of the global body shame profit complex: everything from the diet and beauty industries to pat-downs in airports.

One of the hierarchical systems Taylor wants to destroy is the widespread belief that ‘healthy’ bodies are better than ‘unhealthy’ ones: ‘Health is not a state we owe the world.’ And in the meantime, while most medical institutions are operating on the mistaken assumption that being fat is inherently unhealthy, ‘fatphobia is killing people’.

Taylor is an extraordinary stage presence. She is loud in the very best sense of the word: confident, generous, and captivating. As with Comfortable In Your Skin (which Taylor was also a part of), it felt like one of those magical festival events where exactly the right people had found themselves at exactly the right event. We were a responsive audience, often clapping, clicking, murmuring agreement – even crying a little. We ran over time because Taylor and Avia both shared with us their poems: Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology’ and Avia’s ‘Apology’, both on the same theme. We clapped and clapped and clapped, and then all rushed out to buy Taylor’s book and get her to sign it for us. Taylor has given us the gift of an alternative path, and I could feel her words go right to the heart of me. Ngā mihi nui e te rangatira.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchurch: The Body is not an Apology

The Body is not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
by Sonya Renee Taylor
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers
ISBN 9781626569768

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

Before you read this – or in fact instead of reading this – go and experience the FAFSWAG Vogue interactive dance video: https://fafswagvogue.com/  Turn the volume up and soak it in.

FAFSWAG is a queer Pasifika arts collective based in South Auckland whose name derives from fa’afafine and swagger. ‘We celebrate queer brown bodies, contemporary Pacific arts and cultural restoration.; They also perform phenomenal Voguing, a highly theatrical dance style special to the queer and drag communities and rooted in the fight against racism and homophobia. I attended the Vogue workshop run by Manu Vaeatangitau and Pati Solomona Tyrell of FAFSWAG, and Manu explained that Voguing originated amongst queer black prison inmates in the US, then expanded out to Harlem, and thence to the rest of the world.

The workshop was held at the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre. I was a bit nervous showing up by myself but was quickly made very welcome. The festival blurb said the workshop was for beginners, and I told Tusiata Avia – who had made the event happen as part of her guest programmer role for WORD 2018 – that I hoped it was okay that I had turned up. Yes Elizabeth, she said gravely, you are allowed to be here.

Being allowed to be present, to take up space, and to be who you are in the body that you have had been a major theme of the previous night’s event, Comfortable In Your Skin, also programmed by Tusiata and also featuring Manu and Pati. Conversation had been about being queer, being brown, and being bullied for it. Sonya Renee Taylor had talked about radical self love: not just self-confidence, which is inward-looking and fleeting, but aroha, which is connective and spills outwards. Manu and Pati referenced it specifically in the workshop and it felt like we were working our way towards it together.

There were 20 or so of us attending; a mix of ages, body sizes and shapes, ethnicities and gender expressions. Manu and Pati gave us an introduction to the elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, duckwalk, floor work, and spins & dips. Hands and catwalking were my favourite – duckwalking is extremely hard on the thighs and dips are a right bugger on the knees. But there was a wonderful energy in the room – we were all giving it our best shot and there was heaps of laughter and applause for everyone.

That room in the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre felt like a safe space where all kinds of bodies were welcome. The previous Centre was destroyed in the earthquakes and the current building is new. I got talking to a local woman who told me that, in the rebuilding of schools in Ōtautahi, the original shapes and contours of the land were being rediscovered. What was here before is like a thin mask, she said. And it’s cracking and falling away – the real Christchurch is emerging. It reminded me of what Pati had said at Comfortable In Your Skin: these days at their brother’s all-boys South Auckland high school being queer is no big deal, and on mufti days kids come to school in drag. Our real faces are coming through.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

 

WORD Christchurch: Manly As, with Dominic Hoey, Omar Musa and Chris Tse

What does it mean to be ‘manly as’? Jarrod Gilbert led Dominic Hoey, Omar Musa, and Chris Tse in a discussion on masculinity and their work, trying to unpick this tricky question. As we discovered, it’s not a question that’s easily answered. But a great conversation was had, and it left the audience with a lot to think about.

Courtesy of the WORD Chch twitter stream

An audience member at the end of this session suggested that perhaps rather than talking about masculinity in the singular, we need to think of masculinities. Of multiple ways of being. The three panelists were a great example of this, each displaying his own concept of masculinity, and each exploring masculinity in different ways in their work and in their lives.

Australian Omar Musa did a great job reminding us that intersectionality isn’t a word that is restricted to feminism, as it was coined for. He brought into discussion things such as race, religion, class, and economics. He spoke thoughtfully about a broad spectrum of topics, coming out with such comments as: ‘Something like gangster rap comes from Reagan era, Reaganomics…that’s not to excuse misogyny against women, but it doesn’t come from nowhere.’ And: ‘I’m asian australian but I’m also muslim australian. Asian men were almost desexualised in Australia. [My choice was] between being asexual or violently sexual.’

Auckland poet, writer and musician Dominic Hoey complimented Musa’s sentiments well. When asked whether he feels positive about masculinity in 2018 Hoey answered: ‘At least these conversations are happening and people are talking about feminism, but it’s hard under capitalism, someone’s always gonna be at the bottom.’ Hoey does a lot of work with youth in Auckland, and his challenge with boys and young men is “trying to explain to them how patriarchy is fucking them as well.” In his debut novel Iceland, Hoey has written a main character who is hypermasculine and violent. This was a deliberate act. ‘I wanted to show how he came to that point.’

Image from Chris Tse’s twitter

Wellington poet Chris Tse, resplendent in a floral romper, talked a lot about masculinity in the gay community. ‘What’s held up as the gold standard of masculinity in the gay community is a super buff white man.’

On discussions like Manly As? Tse comments ‘I think we are naive to think there’s a point, a nirvana, where none of this matters any more.’ A realist, Tse hopes for things to be at least ‘a little bit less shit.’ He sees his latest collection, He’s So MASC, as a contribution towards this goal: ‘Writing this book and just being who I am is hopefully helping other people.’

Manly As? showed that we cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand on these topics. As Musa said, ‘These things – masculinity, femininity, testosterone – they affect our lives whether we like it or not.’ Toxic masculinity and the patriarchy does very real harm to our societies, our communities. When asked by Gilbert what the goal is, Musa responded, to applause, ‘I’d just like to live in an Australia where two women a week don’t die at the hands of men.’

Reviewed by Gem Wilder

WORD Christchurch: Juno Dawson Gender Games

WORD Christchurch Juno Dawson: Gender Games

Given the subject matter at hand, a 10am Saturday session with Juno Dawson could easily have been a dark and morose affair – addictions, mental illness, gender and sexuality are all key themes in Dawson’s body of work, though it was ultimately a light and enlightened session, which has encouraged me to look deeper into her work.

Juno-DawsonGender-GamesDawson has published work in both Young Adult and Non-Fiction. Conversation for a time moved around the way that Young Adult, as a category, is often very liberating for writers in terms of genre, with romance, horror, fantasy or drama all ultimately ending up in the same place in the bookstore. This has allowed her writing to shift between styles in a way that Adult Fiction’s more rigid genre divisions wouldn’t allow. Dawson’s background is in education, though she deliberately doesn’t use her fiction as a means to try and educate young people, there is a wonderful sense here of the ability to create worlds where the hard discussions and intensely personal feelings of youth around identity and substance (ab)use and sex can be raised and thought about and considered in a safer way by locating them in fiction.

Of note also was discussion on Doctor Who (Dawson has been commissioned to write the first novelisation of the Dr) and of the transformative power of the Spice Girls, for those who were of the right age in the 90s. I can only look back hazily on the world before those 5 iconoclasts entered, but it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to consider their important part in making the world a safer place to be queer or questioning as a teenager than it was before.

Reviewed by Brett Johansen

WORD Christchurch: Comfortable in your Skin

WORD Christchurch: Comfortable in your Skin

In this session put together by guest programmer Tusiata Avia, Victor Roger led a panel of queer people of colour, each with different stories to tell about how they have come to be comfortable in their skin. As Roger invited each panelist to tell the audience about their journey to self-acceptance, we saw the similarities between stories that spanned continents and generations.

Comfortable-in-your-own-skin

Manu Vaeatangitau
Georgina Beyer was up first, and she led us through her fascinating tale, from leaving home at 16 with dreams of studying at the New Zealand Drama School, a stint as ‘the boyfriend’ on soap opera Close to Home, time as a stripper and sex worker, to becoming the first transsexual Mayor and then Member of Parliament. Add in renal failure and a kidney transplant, and you have what would make a seriously fantastical biopic. And who would play her in the movie of her life? Beyer is adamant: ‘First things first, it has to be a transgender person.’

Beyer is unapologetically herself. There was never a question of her being anyone else, and her ‘Fuck off’ to the haters attitude is refreshing. She says of her teenage years: ‘When I was being Georgina I was free, I was liberated, I was comfortable in my own skin.’

Sonya-Renee-Taylor

Sonya Renee Taylor

Radical Self Love activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor is also unapologetically herself, and has made it her life mission to guide other people towards accepting themselves, exactly as they are. Roger asked Taylor how she came to this level of what she terms Radical Self Love, a movement that has it’s roots in a conversation Taylor had with a friend, which led to a poem, which led to activism and a book, The Body Is Not An Apology. Taylor answered: ‘Language creates things, so as you’re saying shit you’re making shit.’ Meaning that the more she performed her poem, the more she began living its message.

Artist and founding member of FAFSWAG, Pati Solomona Tyrell, also wants to help others become comfortable in their skin. He sees his work and the events and creations of FAFSWAG as a way to return power and knowledge to Pacific people. ‘A lot of [traditional Pacific] power and knowledge is held by the church, so it’s not accessible to queer kids.’ Tyrell talked of the close bond he has with his family, and how that bond forced his coming out to them in his first year at University, as ‘having to hold something back that was a very important part of my identity kind of wrecked me.’ Though Tyrell’s family are accepting and supportive, they can’t understand the experience of being queer. This is where the community that is FAFSWAG comes in. ‘We built, like, a little family.’

Manu Vaeatangitau is a part of that FAFSWAG family. He describes his own coming out at 15 as violent. The violence that was a constant throughout his High School years ‘made me very resilient.’ The youngest on the panel, and the last to share their story, Roger asked Vaeatangitau to reflect on whether he thought his generation have it easier than the more experienced panel members. ‘It’s a waste of energy to compare,’ responded Vaeatangitau. Drowning is drowning, no matter how deep the water. This nicely drew the panel together in a united front to wrap things up.

A last question from the audience saw Beyer respond with her same take no prisoners, give no fucks attitude, and Roger signed off ‘We end with fire from the whaea.’

 

Reviewed most excellently by Gem Wilder

Other events featuring these speakers:
Sonya Renee Taylor: The Body is not an Apology (Sunday 2 September, 1.15pm)
FAFSWAG: Vogue!  (Pati Solomona Tyrell, Manu Vaeatangitau) Workshop, 2.30pm, Saturday 1 September
The Neu! Otatahi Incident (Pati Solomona Tyrell, Manu Vaeatangitau) 7.00pm, Saturday 1 September
The Sex and Death Salon (Victor Rodger) 10pm, Saturday 1 September

WORD Christchurch: The House of Islam, with Ed Husain

WORD Christchurch: The House of Islam, with Ed Husain

It was established from the outset that there was something more rigorous than the advertised “conversation” on offer, with host, journalist Donna Miles-Mojab challenging Ed Husain immediately on matters pertaining to the Iranian government’s theology. Husain’s book The House of Islam is, he has explained, written with a western, English speaking audience in mind, and for those of us fitting that description there was a period of time in which we found ourselves perhaps a little disoriented by this discourse, though it was ultimately a session which cast light on the ideals of open, challenging discourse and the importance of this, while adding a layer to conversations raised elsewhere this weekend.

Ed-Hussain-House-of-Islam
Husain’s book is a beautifully written, detailed and thorough exploration of Islam which I devoured enthusiastically a few weeks ago, and as I read it, I was struck often by the way that he shows what commonality there is between societies steeped in Christianity and Islam and between the religions and their Abrahamic cousin Judaism. Husein emphasised this in terms of both the theology and ideals of the religions and in a more modern context, in terms of the similarities between the Imperialist West and the Ottoman empire.

Husain also notably explores the way in which the concepts of Shariah have become twisted to become totalitarian in radical Islam (and in the western Islamophobic understanding) though illuminated the way that ultimately the same values which brought western law to being are present; and indeed that for a modern, western Muslim, the laws of a country such as New Zealand fulfil all the key values of Shariah. There is far more nuance to this than our blunt, binary discourse in the west often allows space for, and fear has taken over where misunderstanding lives.

There was a bristle amongst the crowd at Miles-Mohab’s approach as a facilitator, though I applaud her and indeed the organisers for allowing this to be something more than a feel-good tour of Islam for the uninformed. Without the context that Miles-Mojab ensured we were aware of, it would have been all too easy to miss the way in which Husain’s analysis at times arrives in places that read very much alike the Conservative or Republican side of the western political battlefield. There’s far more at play in terms of the political spectrum, our collective values and the flow of ideas and information than I could hope to sum up here, though I appreciate the way the session allowed the threads of this conversation to be teased out further, rather than left hidden.

The way we arrive at personal beliefs and the way we seek to make our global society safer and fairer are matters which won’t be resolved at WORD Christchurch this weekend, though it was hard to put the echoes of American Fascism brought to mind by David Neiwert’s session the previous night to the back of the mind when looking at the questions of radicalism within Islam – Husain’s own journey through accepting and then rejecting radical Islam was not touched upon in great depth today, though there was discussion of the similarities and differences between alt America and radical Islamism.

Husain at this point argued very strongly against relativism in understanding the two fringe groups which have wrestled great control in the world, suggesting that radical Islamic terror was a far greater threat to the globe than right wing America, though the way in which this same idea feeds the thought process of the fascistic right in the west is an affront.

The hour long format meant that all these worms were just tipped onto the table at the point of us moving to the next event, but I am grateful to Ed Husain and Donna Miles-Mojab for bringing the can and the opener.

Reviewed by Brett Johansen

Ed Husain will also appear on Saturday, this time with Denise Mina, in Disunited Kingdom – 1pm, at Philip Carter Family Concert Hall, The Piano