I had the utter honour of sharing a stage with three Aotearoa queer authors at WORD Christchurch today - Shaneel Lal, AJ Fitzwater, and Karen Healey - chairing a panel on the importance of queer joy.
It feels especially critical at this point in time to be talking about joy - joy as a boundless form of resistance, joy as an opportunity to create possibility models, joy as a means of envisioning queer futures, for ourselves, our rangatahi, and anyone else in the closet.
It feels especially meaningful to be sitting alongside these three. Shaneel, whose memoir (in their words: what 22 year old writes a memoir?) One of Them has consistently made bestseller charts despite (maybe even fuelled by?) TERF campaigns to shut them down. AJ, who writes prolifically and consistently envisions worlds in which queer folk of all shapes and forms live rich, fulfilled lives. And Karen, whose 2011 YA supernatural crime thriller The Shattering contains a coming out scene groundbreaking for its time, who continues to write characters for whom their gender or sexuality is an important part of their identity, and yet remain rich and whole beyond.
I keep reflecting on a point Shaneel made so well, both during our panel today and in their session with Mahdis Azarmandi yesterday: queer joy is so important because it gives us hope. Those who deny our existence, those who deny our rights, they want us to have anything but hope. They want us to not be able to envision a world in which we thrive - queer writing helps us envision that world.
We also talked (very briefly, before deciding that it could be a whole session on its own) about porn. So many of us had hugely informative and not necessarily positive experiences with porn or explicit material as young people. We’re so often seeking, not even consciously, but seeking anything that suggests a different world or a different way of being. In One of Them, Shaneel talks about being in the underwear isle as a child and lingering by the Calvin Klein packages, and then searching “men kissing” on Google and finding hardcore porn. In the absence of information, in the absence of open conversation, and in the absence of representation, queer people of all ages, consciously or not, look for themselves in the wider world.
Which is why the terfs and family first will never win - when you don’t teach about queer identity, about sexuality and gender in schools, you don’t create heterosexual adults. For generations, queer people have found ourselves, have found the queer oasis in the desert of heterosexuality.
AJ’s The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper opens with an introduction about the importance of joy, and why they wrote the book they did - the collection follows Cinrak, capybara pirate galore, in a world filled with pirates, whales, trans masc ship boy chinchillas, and more. I asked them about it today - they wrote the first story in the depths of the Trump administration, watching how Aotearoa was beginning to import the rhetoric we started to see in the States, just as we continue to do today.
And we are seeing a rise in fascism nationally, and a catastrophic, astronomical rise in anti-queer rhetoric here in Aotearoa, initially being imported wholesale from America, now being created on our own shores by a mad combination of terf, anti-vaccine, far-right white nationalist groups. This year is the first time I’ve had to actively think about my own safety in the context of the work I do. People are so aware of what’s happening online - and political parties are starting to engage with this rhetoric, either by dogwhistling to these groups (looking at you, Nicola Willis), or wholeheartedly getting stuck in because they think they can ride the disinformation coaster right into Parliament (good luck, Winston).
Queer joy is more important than ever. Shaneel said it twice this weekend and it continues to float around in my head: being gay isn’t hard. Being trans isn’t difficult. Dealing with bigotry is hard - and that doesn’t come from us.
My queerness and my transness brings me a huge abundance of joy. Sharing space with other queer people brings me joy. This happens despite everything the terfs and far-right are trying to do - it’s futile. That source of joy is renewable, it’s infinite, and it grows when it’s shared.
So go - go read One of Them, go read AJ Fitzwater’s latest, No Man’s Land (and follow their Substack while you’re at it), and go read some Karen Healey - The Shattering is her favourite, and mine, and gets the least love.
Go find some queer joy. Read some queer joy, create your own, share it with others. Find community, create community, relish in community. Get out the vote. Remember you have joy within you, and remember that it is relentless.