This is Not Art: Forging a Path for Great Queer Events in Regional Spaces
By Matilda Douglas-Henry
There are a lot of things I fundamentally do not understand about being part of the LGBTQIA community because of the experience I have had a cisgendered white queer woman.
Having grown up in the inner west of Sydney as a gayby baby and attending two liberal schools certainly heightens my privilege. Something that I have often pondered is how easy I have had it in comparison to young queer people growing up in regional areas. Even having the freedom to walk down Oxford Street as a teenager made me privy to a vibrant, thriving queer culture, or the fact that Mardi Gras was an annual hub for queer and straight teenagers throughout all of high school. Attending Mardi Gras may have primarily served an excuse to dress up and drink a lot, but nevertheless; a queer world played some sort of role in the lives of many Sydney kids I grew up with.
The need to facilitate this sort of queer exposure in regional areas is just as crucial. As you may well be familiar, my life goal is for queers to take over the world. While Australia may boast a few cities that are known for their out and proud lifestyle, it has to occur on a national scale for my dream to slowly start becoming a reality.
To tie in with our first Newcastle-based event – held over the upcoming long weekend – we thought the focus should shift to an initiative that has been around for a hell of a lot longer than us, that are offering a thrilling and vibrant solution to open-minded queer expression outside of capital cities.
Say hello to TiNA – or, get to know them a little better, if you have already been introduced. TiNA (This is Not Art) is coming into its 19th year, and co-presents with the National Young Writers’ Festival, Crack Theatre Festival and Critical Animals to create a fascinating dialogue between live performance and panel discussion (among other things), with many locations dotted throughout, and beyond, Newcastle’s city centre.
Within its almost two-decade long run, TiNA has provided a safe space for people who have struggled to find their voice in a regional environment. Bastian Fox Phelan is a writer, musician and zine maker who now lives in Sydney. When they first attended a TiNA event they were seventeen years old and living in Wollongong.
“(TiNA) totally blew my mind,” Bastian explains. “As a teenage outcast who had been quite isolated because of my gender variance and queerness, TiNA was a wonderful way to make friends and meet other alternative creative people. I’d never seen so many artists in one place!”
Susannah is a queer, gender non-binary identifying poet and linguistics student. Like Bastian, they live in Sydney, but used to reside in Newcastle.
“While I lived in Newcastle I was connected with the small queer community, as well as being involved in radical environmental politics and heavily engaged in the poetry scene”, Susannah says. “My experiences in all of these really impressed upon me the hard, grassroots work consistently produced by queers, creatives, academics, and those engaged in politics in regional communities, especially given their relatively limited access to resources.
“This is Not Art is one of those invaluable platforms.”
Bastian and Susannah will now offer that solace and inspiration to fellow TiNA-goers, as they are running a workshop this year. Terrible Angels: Celebrating Queerness Through Writing is an event for queer and gender diverse writers. As the Facebook event reads, “This event is for anyone who experiences queerness, sexual diversity, gender diversity, or trans*/non-binary identity. We also welcome anyone close to someone who experiences these.” The nexus between creativity and queerness is a crucial one that is often overlooked. It is so important to encourage personal forms of self-expression within queer people – especially those who are coming to understand their gender identity – and particularly within regional areas. Terrible Angels is a solution to this issue, with Susannah and Bastian seeking to mediate the two communities that they belong to – emerging writers and queer, trans* and non-binary people.
“It is my passion to continue a healthy dialogue between town and city folk of varying interests, needs and identities, especially through such mediums as creative festivals,” says Susannah. The workshop endeavours to create a safe space that empowers young queer writers, as well as facilitating an open conversation where people can share their own skills and motivators. Bastian and Susannah will give advice on written and spoken poetry and personal narrative writing.
While TiNA is a wonderful platform for creative exploration, Bastian rightly believes that there can never be too much diversity. “There is still a need for greater social inclusion and political awareness, but this year the organisers are making an even stronger effort to cultivate that.” They hope that Terrible Angels will influence more people to stage similar events. Because, after all, as Bastian says, “community everywhere is only as good as you make it”.
TiNA runs from the 29th September – 2nd October. Bastian will be selling zines at the festival on Sunday: http://www.thisisnotart.org/program/zine-fair
Register for the Terrible Angels workshop (it’s free!) via the Facebook event : https://www.facebook.com/events/1243882162329502/
You can catch Moonsign’s music on their Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/moonsignband
Bastian’s writing here: http://cowbird.com/bastian-fox-phelan/
And some of Susannah’s writing here: http://susannahjack.tumblr.com/
If you haven’t already, lock yourself in to Heaps Gay’s Newcastle Long Weekend Party! Buy tickets: https://www.stickytickets.com.au/42821/heaps_gay_newcastle.aspx