WORD Christchurch 2023: The Importance of Writing Queer Joy  

I stood in a long queue, winding though the Ōtautahi Zinefest stalls at the Christchurch Art Gallery listening to people talking excitedly about the writers we were waiting for. Once I reached the front of the queue, I found a seat in the front row barely two metres from the panellists (got to get those good photos!). By the time the panellists were introduced, the seats were nearly full. Audrey Baldwin, WORD Programmer at Large, took the stage and introduced the chair Jennifer Katherine Shields and panellists Shaneel Lal, A. J. Fitzwater and Karen Healey.

This is The Importance of Writing Queer Joy, a conversation between New Zealand storytellers about writing queer narratives as a political and revolutionary act.

The Shattering

No Man's Land

One of Them

A.J. Fitzwater got the panel off to a great start. Wearing a fantastic turquoise sequined jacket, they introduced themselves as “A.J, Pronouns They/Them, Gender of the day: Yaaass.” They gave an anecdote about their book The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. It was written expressly with queer joy in mind, a sweet story where characters can exist without bigotry. However, due to rise of fascism with Trump's election at the time of publishing, A.J said they felt the need to write an intro to the book specifically about queer joy. With political climate in the USA having trickle down effects into New Zealand's politics (e.g., Winston Peter’s bathroom ban mirroring those across America) A.J used the intro to explain why positive, joyful queer experiences are important to write.

The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper

My favourite point brought up at this panel was “There’s nothing hard about being queer until heterosexuals show up”. Shaneel made this point in response to others pitying the experiences of queer people. The panellists, with noises of agreement from the audience, all agreed that being queer is a very joyful experience. It’s dealing with hatred that’s hard. Shaneel added that writing joy in response to hatred is powerful resistance. The panel's view is that bigots don’t want queer stories because of their belief that if children do not see queerness, they will grow up “normal”.

A term I hadn't heard before came up during the panel. There was discussion about the importance of "possibility models". Possibility models show people what they can be and help form identity and self-worth. If queer young people aren’t given access to queer media, they don’t have these models. Most of the time if they do have access to queer media, the only models they see experience bigotry and distress, which will influence self-worth. The panellists all agreed the writing joyful queer narratives and characters allows them to create those positive possibility models for young people who are searching for themselves in media.

Jennifer asked the panel for their best queer joy moments. A.J said Stone Butch Blues showed them the joy of relationships, and the world's queer people could build around them. Queer fantasy and Sci-fi is their happy place. They also love Ivan E. Coyote’s way of speaking to a “beautiful reality”. Karen said she gets joy from writing and enjoys Melissa Scott and Julia Turshen. The thirsty sword lesbians TTRPG was one of her favourites, too. It’s my list now as well! Shaneel’s top pick was Heartstopper, surprising no-one. They brought up the show so many times during the panel. They also loved the film Call me by your name, saying it showed how beautiful queer relationships can be.

It was a fantastic panel discussion with great writers, who covered a huge subject so well. I’m struggling to do it the same justice they did. Listening to their discussion confirmed a lot of things I knew already within myself. It’s important to see people like you in fiction, and it’s just as important to see people like you having fun.

Hapori, Tūranga

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