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Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Trouble With Express...

There has been a fair bit of anger and upset in certain LGBTTI+ circles this week, after express writer Sarah Murphy published a report on long-time community stalwart Paul Heard's racist comments after he and his partner were gay-bashed on K rd as they were finishing a night out.

I've known Paul for many years, he's a friend and someone I know as a good and decent man. But as soon as I saw those comments I knew he was in trouble.

Paul's comments were racist and offensive, nobody has ever said they weren't. But he had just been gay-bashed, for the third time in recent years, on K Rd, a space that we do tend to view as our own. Getting gay-bashed is traumatic, to put it mildly, and unlikely to elicit a calm and reasoned response.

Yet the event had happened nearly two months ago, and had been reported on the now closed very soon after it happened.

Just why Sarah Murphy decided to dig up the story and present it again at this time is strange. The tone of her reporting was subtly nasty. If she is really concerned about racism in the LGBTTI+ world there are many other stories worth following up. This was not in any way framed as a piece on racism in our world. Nor was it a piece on whether or not K Rd really is "ours". Nor a piece on the prevalence of queer-bashing. It was a petty piece of back-stabbing of one man.

And that's why it got such a rapid and sharp reaction from so many people. It was gratuitous, vindictive and spiteful, that's certainly how it seemed to me.

And it's caused a few others to offer their take on it all, including a very measured response from noted gay media commentator Andrew Whiteside with this analysis.

Sam Brooks writing on The Spinoff seems all in favour of Murphy's approach. I'm assuming they're friends by the tone, but I could be wrong. It's good when your mates stand up for you.

But he does note that "An executive decision regarding the angle and balance of the piece was made that followed the ethos of my new workplace.” That's the elephant in the room really.

He doesn't make any effort to go on to explore what that ethos is in any way. Let's unpack that a little.

Certainly in my experience and opinion, watching express over the last years degrade into a gay version of New Idea at best, or sometimes something closer to The Sun, largely filled with stories yanked from overseas sites like Pink News or The Advocate, some fluffy filler around New Zealand, it has become something that is of no relevance or value to my life or that of any people I know. 

And that's a shame, as it used to function as a very good community paper, under previous ownership. And yes, I used to write the occasional story for it, under both its original and later management.

Look at that sentence above about "an executive decision... the ethos of my new workplace". It's interesting. It deserves our attention, as it seems to indicate that someone other than Murphy shaped the final tone of the story, which possibly explains the nasty, vindictive tone that sits there.

To be fair, express has a reputation for using its writers' names this way. There have certainly been accounts of it happening  before, and a lot of people around town this week were assuming that had happened again in this instance.

But any journalist with a shred of  integrity who puts their name to a piece of copy has to be prepared to stand behind it, with no excuses or caveats. So Murphy offering this little "out' for herself here is not really satisfactory.

Perhaps that explains why real journalists don't seem to stay there very long.

The outrage that swelled around this report was not around Paul's comments being reported or his losing his position at the NZAF. That was old news. 

It was around the nasty, spiteful way the whole story was written up, the core topics trivialised, with a level of innuendo that reads more like it comes from The Sun or the Daily Mail than a publication that claims to represent our various communities.

express revealed itself again that behind its "community" facade it is a toxic mess, irrelevant, and out of touch.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Telling our Stories

I ran into an old friend a few weekends ago. We were both at the wonderful Fāgogo exhibition at the St Paul Street Gallery.

Pati Solomona Tyrell, the artist, has created something truly intriguing, evocative and beautiful. It's nearly over now, but if you can, go see it.It is worth your time.

The works by themselves are beautiful pieces of art, If this exhibition were in a dealer gallery there would be red stickers by them all. And in a wider context, the entire exhibition tells a story.

To put it simply, going by what I've read, Fāgogo is a form of story telling in Samoan culture that builds and holds community heritage and history. Stories told "in a shared context, with an expectation to share the story." He brings this alive in the biggest piece, projected on a wall with a running narrative.

The work is intimately tied into the Fafswag scene that is getting more attention, as we see different queer Pasifika voices make themselves heard.

It's that "expectation to share the story" that resonated with me. Pass the knowledge on.

But getting back to my friend, we hadn't seen each other in ages. We both talked of how we miss Urge as a venue, as a social space, somewhere to go and catch up with others. Nothing has replaced it for gay men. It's not the venue itself that we miss so much as the opportunity it gave to connect.

That opportunity to connect also gave us a chance to meet, to plan, and to share our stories. And that's harder to do now.

One standard way of defining a community is to look for shared understandings of religion or the spiritual world, shared understandings of what is sacred or profane, shared language, shared rules around food, shared dress codes, shared concepts of family and social order, and shared sense of mythical and actual history. Shared stories.Shared narratives.

These shared narratives help create community.

We in the LGBTTI+ world don't have many of these characteristics, and that's part of the weakness that lies with us as communities. We're thin communities, without many of those traits above to bind us.  We often come from such very different backgrounds that we don't have a lot in common, apart from being queer. And being queer in itself is not much of a basis to build lasting community.

But we do have our stories, our narratives, and they can bind us together to some degree.

We need to do more to tell our stories and to pass them down to future generations. We need to keep the knowledge alive - not to say that things will always be this way, but to let younger people coming up know that things were once this way, and that our past to some extent explains their present, and their present will to some extent explain others' futures.

If we forget where we came from how can we know where we're going or value where we are now?

So it is was great to see this video from the UK, of a 78 year old gay man talking to a 13 year old gay boy about how things have changed.

I would love to see more of this sort of thing happening here, and perhaps it's something that Pride can explore, telling our stories as part of the Festival.

Fāgogo is an inspiring model to look to. We don't have the cultural practices or community spaces to share our stories and pass them on this way,  but it would be great if we could find some way to do something like this.

But in the meantime, go see this exhibition if you're in Auckland. It's beautiful. It's art. And it's another thread in our stories.