By FAGA TUIGAMALA (FANG)
FAFSWAG, an Auckland arts collective, has recently taken the internet by storm with their documentary which launched recently on VICE. It highlights the hardships faced by transgender people and how they found comfort through the art of voguing and of course, each other. We sat down to chat with the vibrant and multi-talented Jaycee, who is a part of the Auckland Vogue Scene and has worked collaboratively with FAFSWAG since 2014: Jaycee is also a writer, dancer, choreographer and youth worker involved with community development and engagement. When she’s not vogueing or gracing the dance floors in Auckland city, she is the facilitator at the Otahuhu Mangere Youth Group (OMYG). She works with young people in a way that schools do not. As she said, “The thing about the mainstream education system is that it doesn’t teach you how to survive.”
With all the obstacles FAFSWAG have conquered, it only adds to their fierce and fearless image. But the story behind these extravagant and confident artists is one of struggling to be accepted and heard. With the documentary making waves throughout New Zealand and the world, they now have the support of many strangers who have been touched and inspired by their experiences. I am one of those people.
With her bold vision and warm personality evident through her elaborate responses, I felt determined to make a change within my own community.
This interview has been edited for length.
“It’s pretty cool that FAFSWAG has a documentary entirely about them! What was the message they wanted to convey?
Most of the documentaries in the past are explaining, for the sake of the world to come to an understanding of us. For me, this documentary is so different because we didn’t explain anything. We just lived our lives. For me, that’s a great step in the normality direction. Because if we constantly explain who we are, it differentiates us from being ‘normal’. I mean, in terms of body and identity, yeah we’re different. But in terms of humanity, we’re just the same. So I thought the documentary was a great example of showing another walk of life. You just get to watch, observe and appreciate in a sense.
New Zealand is apparently a very accepting and diverse country. Taking your experiences into consideration, do you agree with this?
New Zealand is one of the most liveable countries in the world, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a long way to go. We’re still progressing. I mean, when VICE on Facebook was launching little snippets of the doco, there were way more negative comments than positive and it was from our very own New Zealand community. It really just showed the true colours of where we’re at in society with the development of our authentic identities in New Zealand. It’s kind of annoying, kind of depressing. I mean, we’ve been existing since way before Christ yet we’re still fighting for the right to live!
We’re not asking for you to hold our hands in public. No, we’re just asking you to leave us alone and let us be ourselves. So in terms of New Zealand, we still have a long way to go. But it wouldn’t take as long if people just thought as compassionately as we do. We walk around and tolerate discrimination but they can’t even do that for us. If people practice unconditional love, then we will move forward a lot faster. But I do appreciate where our country is moving in terms of the development of equality because God knows what’s happening elsewhere. So I’m just happy with where we’re at but we can still do more. There’s always room for improvement.
With the examples our country’s leaders are setting, does it affect the way others view the rainbow community?
These role models within our nation need to speak up, even if it’s something that’s not their forte. But they need to get involved in certain avenues because people will listen to them. Like if a role model as famous and masculine as Sonny Bill Williams came out and said, ‘Trans people need respect’, then all those who look up to him will also be supportive of transgender people. It creates a positive domino effect. So I think people in parliament and those regarded as role models need to step up because they can.
Do you think this documentary has inspired people in any way?
I think it definitely has. People have messaged us, thanking us for the doco, for giving them the right to be their authentic selves – to feel fabulous and do whatever they want. This documentary giving people the feeling of having the right to be whoever they want to be is real revolutionary because it has been received really positively. Even simple little things can go a long way. Like that umbrella thing I did where the feathers come out? Someone messaged me saying, ‘I am living just from the umbrella.’ So many young people are inspired and want to come out to our vogue balls and our vogue nights and be involved with the community. And it has transcended not only in this country but has gone further. So my favourite thing from this doco was that we give the right for people to live their authentic selves and I thought that was real touching to hear.
Do you think schools are doing enough to combat bullying? What more can be done?
I definitely don’t think they’re doing enough. A high percentage of New Zealand’s suicide rates comes down to bullying. That already shows that we’re not doing enough. For my identity, schools weren’t accepting because in the system people will have their own personal perspectives that are within the Head of Faculties. So when outside services for rainbow communities come, they can turn it down because of their personal preferences. The school I went to turned away help for the rainbow community but that’s really difficult because at the end of the day, the lives of these young people in schools are in the hands of the teachers. So if they don’t accept these authentic identities and help them, then there’s nothing we can do because they’re calling all the shots. So in terms of the education system, they need to step down from their pedestal and listen to young people to solve these problems.
The youth of today are faced with troubles of acceptance and bullying; they are being judged left, right and centre. What is your advice for them?
If you are at school and are going through those things, my advice is beat the system at its own game. When you get bullied and feel like you can’t go to a teacher, go straight to the principal. They have no choice but to deal with it. I used to think that they wouldn’t help me because they didn’t like me but you know what? It’s their job and they can’t deny you. For me, I feel like a lot of my problems would’ve been eliminated if I did that – I wouldn’t have felt like I had to use violence to defend myself and I think I could’ve skipped all of that if I just went straight to the principal. It’s basically using the system and playing it at its own game.
If you are outside of school or are going through these things internally, I really encourage you to look for someone that is in a certain capacity of authority that you trust to really share your thoughts with. Because the number one thing that creates conflict within a young person is that they feel like they’re on their own and can’t talk to anyone. And when you bottle everything up as a young person, you’re going to have this moment where you feel like you’re going to burst or reach breaking point. And sometimes that breaking point is a suicide attempt or self harm. And we cannot have that for our young people. For our young people out there, use the internet, ask the nurse for advice, etc. There are people out there, you just need to look for them. Having someone to turn to will help you to not feel so conflicted with how society is treating you.
And for the parents, you really need to sit down with your child at every age level that they are. Just always check in and see how they’re doing in terms of education and personal life. Because I think that’s where the lack of communication is, it’s understanding the real depths of what young people are going through.
You can watch the doco FAFSWAG: Auckland’s Underground Vogue Scene on Vice, or call Youthline at any time on 0800 376 633.
FAGA TUIGAMALA, simply known as ‘Fang’, is a short-sighted music nerd who laughs too much. Keep up with the eccentric pianist on Instagram: @fangtuigamalaSHARE THIS POST...