Re-minding queerness by Nathan Stoneham

Image by Sarah Walker, in  The Sydney Morning Herald

Image by Sarah Walker, in The Sydney Morning Herald

Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music was the radical social work intervention I didn’t know I needed. For this white queer, it was transformational, and the first time that I’ve experienced art that left me feeling healed.

Over twenty-four hours, as Taylor Mac performed songs popular in America during the last 240 years, I saw queerness represented in ways that filled me with pride, hope and courage. I entered a little lost, a little insecure, carrying my own white guilt, internalised homophobia and shame. I left knowing that who I am and the way that I think is valid, and necessary, in order for us keep making changes in this world. In this “art show” and “radical fairy realness ritual” – Taylor Mac was there to remind us of things “forgotten, dismissed or buried” – and for me, it was my own queerness and potential agency that I needed to reconnect with.   

From the beginning, when Taylor Mac and Wurundjuri elder, Aunty Diane Kerr made heartfelt offerings to each other, I knew this production was going to abandon the status quo and honour humanity. Aunty Diane presented a handmade gift, and welcomed Taylor to country. Taylor Mac offered an apology, both for the cruelty that judy’s* ancestors inflicted, and for the ways that this cruelty still may manifest in judy’s interactions today.

Colonialism and the global capitalist economy were reoccurring themes throughout the performance as we witnessed Mac’s subjective history, spanning early women’s lib movements, American Civil War, immigration, WW1, the depression, queer riots and so much more. We needed twenty four hours to deal with this content, and the result was an intersectional acknowledgement of the past, honouring the communities of activists and queer thinkers who have brought about social change despite white supremacy, minstrel songs, temperance choirs and perfectionist assholes having a bourgeois crisis.

Right now we’re posting our marriage equality surveys and being flooded with mainstream gay narratives – narratives that present anti-intersectional versions of equality, promote normative coupling, and ignore the oppressive forces of capitalism. You’d be forgiven for thinking that;

 ...marriage is not only the natural but the only desired outcome of decades, really, centuries of queer existence. Source 

Of course I voted yes, but I personally reject the notion of assimilation in to the heteronormative institution of marriage – just as I reject participation in the military and reject the prison industrial complex, or any approach that values control over care, or property over people.

To be honest, I’d buried my queerness a little recently… I’ve been homo AF but not so queer. Perhaps the queerness was a little forgotten, buried or dismissed by the marriage equality campaign, my fear of offending others, my disconnection from queer networks due to moving interstate, entering a monogamous relationship, and/or my overexposure to conservative views at a new workplace.  And then, Taylor says: “I want to be able to get married so I can say fuck you marriage” and my heart explodes. “We’re not all Ellen!” judy says, and we cheer together – for longer than you’d expect – savouring the moment amongst community who'd been brought together. Taylor says something along the lines of “Maybe once you have gay marriage you can deal with your refugee crisis” and I remember that:

When we craft a political agenda based only on one form of oppression (sexual orientation) while minimizing other forms of oppression and privilege, we bolster our own privilege, and reinforce the structural disadvantage others suffer. Source

Taylor segregates the entire audience, rearranges us so that the people of colour have front row seats. We share intimate experiences with strangers of the same gender. Straight white men are emasculated. Dikes are honoured. Promiscuity and anonymous sex is normalised. I feel represented as Taylor shares stories of sex in back rooms, open relationships, interracial sex accompanied by critical self-reflection and an existential crisis, and other experiences that deviate from the heteronormative narrative and the gay mainstream narrative. In one moment there’s Christian bashing, and in the next, we pray as a didgeridoo is played. We pray that those seeking freedom don’t continue to lock others up in their fight for freedom.

This intervention – this performance art show – this 24 hour radical process drama - this therapy - reminded me of my own queerness in a time when neoliberalism leaves little space for ambiguity, imperfection, dialogue or collectivism. Taylor facilitated my healing, introduced me to my shame, and in the process - honoured the past, honoured the present, and encouraged us to “dream the culture forward”. I met myself again, and I was full of love, and I’d missed me.  

*Taylor Mac’s gender is performer and preferred pronoun is judy



Re-tell 2014 by Nathan Stoneham

There is a love story that re-tells itself over and over in my life and in the work that I do.  In it, nobody falls out of love. People leave people that they don't want to leave, and lose people they don't want to lose... but they do not fall out of love.

I began 2014 by preparing to tell this story through  "지하 Underground" - the show I made with Jeremy Neideck and some of our closest friends over three years ago.  If you haven't seen it, it's about love transcending the percieved boundaries of language, culture and gender - and anything else that attempts to seperate us; time, distance, heartache.  Teams of helpers prepared 지하 Underground's set.  Hundreds of Aunty Deb's wooden fish were attached to one of Grandad's old trawling nets in my backyard.  We installed the venue and I went to the place I like to be - to my keys at the side of the stage, out of the spotlight for most of the time.  From there, I loved as hard as I could, and I hope you felt it.

I was living under a big old dusty Albion Queenslander in a granny flat type situation with a dysfunctional ensuite.  I'd fallen for someone too hard too fast, and it made me nervous.

A smaller part of the 지하 Underground team got back to work on another project which was supposed to be a simple little show...  The 떡볶이 Box (The Dokboki Box).  It turned in to quite a complicated project and before long I had food and liquor licenses spanning two states and I was a certified food safety supervisor with RSA training.  The love story told itself again, in a new way, with Korean street food, original live music and karaoke.  This time it was tied up in the political situation we face in Australia and Korea.  The 떡볶이 Box (The Dokboki Box) opened in Melbourne for Next Wave Festival then went home for a season at Metro Arts.  

It's amazing the lengths we'll go to tell a little story - or rather, create spaces that encourage audiences to listen... not just to us, but to each other.  We do it in the hope that people come together in a meaningful way.  We do it for companionship.  We do it to model a way of being together that feels better than the way we are together now.  To give us something to hope for.  A green cheese moon.  I am forever grateful to M'ck McKeague, Candice Diana, Kit Tran and Younghee Park for all they gave.  By that time in the year I was a bit heartbroken, so like The 떡볶이 Box itself - things appeared warm and fun on the surface, but beneath that, there was a sense of hopelessness. 

My Grandfather passed away.  I will remember him for his intelligence and wit.  I saw myself in a photo of him at the funeral.  I'll never forget the day he spoke to me about "Dog Tags For Gays" - Mum and Grandmother were outside in the garden, and he seemed proud.

For the 11th time, I flew to Korea.  Chris and I went to the baseball, drank "Jack-cokes" and "long-teas", played darts and frequently returned to Seoul's Homo Hill where we met seven years ago.  Back then I had a crush on his Mongolian friend and we all bonded over ox bone and potato soup after a night of drinking glowing gin-tonics under the blacklights and green lasers of a trashy danceclub called "Why Not" (which is now a wine lounge much to my disappointment).  Hara and I flew to Jeju Island, where we avoided the big red tourist buses, stayed in cute guesthouses by the sea, swam under waterfalls, ate raw fish, drank peanut makoli and got naked in sparkling spring water that tingled you in funny places.

I facilitaed Lenine Bourke's "The Walking Neighbourhood" in Seoul, with my new friend, Charlye.  Children guided adults through winding alleyways and busy streets to second hand bookstores, ancient doors, street vendors, wooden owls and more.  I caught the fast train to Gwangju to say hi to Mammalian Diving Reflex who were in town.  Then I flew straight to Darwin to do "The Walking Neighbourhood" again in Bagot.  It was my second time in this community with this project, and I'm proud of what we made there and the lessons I learned.  I was challenged on many levels.  Big shout out to Britt, Soraya, Libby, Ms. Kellie, Kali, Jaydn and Darwin Festival who just GOT IT.  And thanks Lenine for trusting me with this baby.

It was straight to Sydney after that, where I spent time with my mentor, Rosie Dennis and her company, Urban Theatre Projects.  I watched Rosie collaborate on a new theatre piece with a woman in her 70s, attended workshops where Rosie planned a democatric garden with a diverse group from Western Sydney and sat in on company meetings to get an insight in to how a socially engaged art organisation runs.  I could imagine myself leading a company like that, and started to imagine myself in a role like that.  This project by project lifestyle that I've been enjoying for 9 years offers many adventures and concentrated connections...  But I'm tired, and tired of leaving people I don't want to leave.  Occasionally I find myself dreaming of staying in one place for a while.  You know, settling down a bit... joining a gym and maybe even attempting to maintain some kind of conventional relationship.  Then I do something like apply for a grant to spend three months in Mongolia (I'm there now).  While in Sydney I caught up in real life with all the babes on the internet.  Including one who I'd often admired from afar outside "Why Not".

The moment we'd all been waiting for:  지하 Underground went to Korea.  In the basement of city hall for HiSeoul Fetsival, we followed Coconut Princess's journey from a remote island to the city, and met the characters he fell in love with along the way.  In some ways, you could describe Korean society as quite conservative, but this show - with all its queer characters and themes, was embraced wholeheartedly.  All tickets were snapped up before we knew they were available.  I was called Silver Lady in the street - a highlight of the year.  Big love and thanks to Dave Sleswick for producing this work and believing in it despite how difficult it is to mount.  Fiona MacDonald joined the team as production manager and I can not thank her enough for everything she did.  She was our binoculars, our compass and our pearls. 

I returned home to Brisbane and began an artist in residence project at Kurilpa Community Child Care Centre with Imaginary Theatre.  Verena and I spent seven weeks with the Kindergaren children creating a Play Museum.  What a gift to have the time and space to really practice what we preach - collaborating with children and communities, responding to their ideas and resourcing their play.   

It was time for a holiday.  I returned to my Mum's place on the mountain, rested, visited Woodford Folk Festival and The Falls Festival in Byron Bay with the Albion housemates.  I said goodbye to 2014.  The hard parts are part of the love story, but only for a moment, and their time has passed.  All that remains is all the love that I've never fallen out of.

2015 is jam packed until August.  Then it will be September and I'll be 29 and it will be time to settle down, surely.