PRIDE Festival is a pretty new concept for some of us. Mostly because people live in bubbles that never burst. Some people are use to shrugging it off as just another “GAY thing for those gays”. The distinction being ‘those gays’ as if PI’s are culturally sheltered from such ungodly social blemishes and these things don’t exist in our culture. Just like marriage equality, Pacific people are either extremely ambivalent or morally adverse to open expressions of queerness. Colonisation is still a long way from being properly unpacked, undressed, re-purposed and gifted back to the settler colonialist that gave us organised monolithic religion, influenza, classic body shame, cheap imported labour, beef off cuts and my personal fave – syphilis. The true minorities in this context are the number of Pacific people that love and support their gender and sexually diverse family members. (Something you rarely hear about)
But these are a mix of anecdotal surface logics. Occasionally people are indifferent to public programming because their circumstance prevent them from engaging. These issues become circumvented by festival directors who will try to programme events that are free in order to remove economic barriers to engagement. But this doesn’t always guarantee participation and so enabling independent event producers on the ground, to bring their networks into the fold, is a strategy implemented at the earliest stages of audience development. It then becomes the challenge of a festival to develop organic ways to embed with communities ideologically. It’s this interaction that can create problems around representation, as a festival needs to maintain a broad scope for engagement. Propelling the indigenous representation to the forefront of the festivals mass marketing power is one way that these things are compensated. This margin is sometimes the gap that causes cultural specifics to be disregarded or left behind, because an indigenous poster child doesn’t always translate to a meaningful platform. Just ask express magazine lol
FAFSWAG have been involved in different iterations of PRIDE over the past 4 years and seen inclusion and exclusion exercised in equal opposing measures. The idea of a regional initiative that holds ‘people’ at the heart of its purpose seems too good to be true. Especially for those of us entangled within social structures that feel engineered to achieve the opposite. How do people celebrate diversity when the priority is about living? All the marketing in the world won’t shift these priorities. Civic identity is always emblematic of many of these attributes. You can see examples of this cultural disconnect echoed in the current transformation underway in Auckland’s CBD – The most livable city in the world.
There is simply a feeling that these improved civic spaces are set to improve the social mobility, productivity and general well being of a very particular group of people. This may very well include gender and sexually diverse people but most likely those of an economic status where the access and occupation of public space is purposely designed with their needs in mind. Meanwhile families in other parts of Auckland are trying to duck the shame of living out of their cars. It’s easy to say that there are no correlations between the disparities of low income Pacific minorities and their LGBTIQ families to the design of social space. But any one who grew up in Mangere with a liquor store and fast food takeaway on every corner has a totally different view of social planning and what Auckland Council thinks of their neighborhoods. These disparities are not experienced by the majority rendering them moot in a discourse about the ‘social responsiveness’ of a festival to demonstrate progressive social change. It’s like that blissfully ignorant expression that “you don’t know, what you don’t know” and why is it the social responsibility of a festival to push political agendas anyway?
This is where PRIDE differs because the festivals origins have an umbilical attachment to homosexual law reform and the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1986 – which generated the political will to strive for rights for all people irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Those of us old enough to know this have fallen into two social subsets. Those that get to party and those still waiting for invitations. You can look to this moment and how it’s documented to see who the dominant voices belong to, and who, over the past 30 years of homosexual law reform have benefit from these progressive social movements and changes.
Despite law reform creating the perfect conditions to develop inclusive social policy it will be three decades before we see the emergence of adequate rainbow Pasifika services (If you can call them adequate!!!). Services that have emerged not purposefully -because someone gives a shit, but incidentally, so that ‘Susan’ the case manager at WINZ has an internal policy to govern her shitty attitude for mis-gendering Trans clients. This is always a back foot consideration and always in response to the lack of capacity within current mainstream health, social welfare and educational systems and frameworks. So regardless of what we can equate in theory to the discussion of state enforced policy and legislation, there is still a discussion of SPACE missing from this fucking conversation.
We can’t escape the political nature of our diversity. It is something we are bound to as indigenous LGBTIQ people of colour. But not always something we are all conscious of. In trying to avoid reducing this discussion to identity politics alone we have to talk about space. Space being the dimensions where these natures and plural context intersect with opposing forces and forge societal norms as well as the tensions required to break those norms and reshape them. But it requires that you show up to the party. Yes, the landscape is only now adhering to our needs. Yes, the political will among Pacific MP’s to push for improved social utility for Moana LGBTIQ peoples is abysmal. Yes the church still preaches hate and Yes toxic Masc for masc desires are still sold to young people on the daily.
You can guarantee that if left in the hands of the moral majority that the best you can expect for meaningful representation and meaningful inclusion is an A.T. commercial, reassuring South Auckland communities that there is still a faster way of getting to their commercial cleaning jobs in the CBD. Even today civic life is presented to some suburban audiences as a destination and not really a space to be occupied or filled with colour.
“I heard about PRIDE through word of mouth.. I thought it was gonna be like mardi gra but it was really white and seemed kinda bougie. I didn’t know there was such a thing as pride” – Akashi Fisiinaua / Tongan Performance Artist
This is one of the challenges faced by Pasifika Festival almost every year. Diversity is assigned its calendar date and central location and people of Pacific heritage are spooned by the festival to broadcast their cultural codes through a measured and curated time and space. Sanctioned by local government our cultural politics are either simplified or removed entirely to maintain our quaint kiwi neutrality. This fragile paradigm keeping cultural tensions disoriented and distracted enough to make resistance manageable and have everyone drinking from the same Kool-Aid.
This threshold is always underpinning our showcasing of diversity. Not quite token but not quite holistic enough to acknowledge our own cosmologies. Especially in place of the western standard we’re all so attuned to. All of a sudden the bigoted Samoan MP’s adorn their rainbow flags and march in the parade, posturing in an election year. But when push comes to shove will still stand with their churches to take away your human rights. We saw these double standards play out when documenting Oceania Interrupted at the 2014 Pasifka festival. Protesters collided with Prime Minister John Key and his security detail, chaperoned by a festival director fully pressed and bothered by the protest and it’s derailing of Pacific focus toward awareness regarding the genocide in West Papua. His response was so typical….
“This is not the time or the place to talk about these issues, today is about celebrating Pacific culture as a city!!!”.
I watched as every news outlet and Pacific journalist began to turn their back on the story. In that instance the preservation of Pacific people as smiling dancing and singing island folk became more important than the truth. So now when the coconut media approaches FAFSWAG for interviews we tell them to get fucked.
These underlining tensions created by suppressed political resistance to cultural homogenization and massive social inequalities often foreshadow the moments when a festival is propagating false impressions of shared prosperity and mutual interest. It seeps into their marketing and their community engagement which at times feels like being asked to song and dance like performing monkeys, or worse – Performing MP’s. Communities respond accordingly with ‘disinterest and disengagement’. What’s most frustrating about these attitudinal responses is that it becomes OK to look away when you feel disconnected. And so nothing changes, and nothing moves, and those tired of standing still are left waiting for another moment in our history when a gathering critical mass can connect them to the possibility of progressive change, separate from their isolated daily hustle.
There are no expectations that PRIDE will transform the lives of all. Least of all the lives of our most vulnerable – but it seems to be happy to try. It’s still too early to determine what this will look like but in short, the festival appears to have made space for its community’s historical face off with interventionist state violence and acknowledges some institutional and political struggle. This cant guarantee that GAYTM’S won’t get a bukaki paint job or that nondescript brown bodies won’t get the sexy splash treatment in the pages of your local gay media. But at least the narrative around LGBTIQ representation doesn’t have a gaping hole where it’s political will used to live. The treaty of Waitangi has been reintroduced into the constitution of the PRIDE organisation and Jaycee Tanuvasa and Sonya Apa Temata both sit on this year’s PRIDE board. These gestures are still for you to decide in value.
FAFSWAG has been trying to disrupt space for some time and we’re now looking at what it means to make space. For us this festival is an opportunity to achieve some of these things but it still requires long term vision and consistency. I guess our job now is not to remain docile. To make sure we play an active role in bursting those bubbles and ensure that the space we carve out in this civic festival counts. So while the Celebration rhetoric goes into over drive and the rainbows start poppin up all over the place and maybe even out of some people’s assholes. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just another ‘GAY thing for those gay people’. That the PRIDE you want is entirely up to you and that even though you’re circumstances and poly variety shopping list of complex social and cultural issues might isolate you from connecting with the festival. There are still spaces in the festival you can come to that are for people just like you. So when you’re out in the world Pick up a PRIDE GUIDE and make up your own damn mind!!!