I’ve spent a big chunk of the weekend at CLITfest in Wellington, and now I feel fed, not just by the incredible presentations – though I didn’t go to one session which didn’t stretch my thinking in one way or another – but by the time and space to explore ideas between sessions with other people interested in talking and thinking about oppression and social change.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a conference so thought-provoking.  The organisers did a wonderful job of creating a safe place to explore complex, difficult issues, which no doubt were uncomfortable at times for many/most/all of us attending, without that feeling, in my experience at least, overwhelming.  I want to give them a huge thank you, because I know how much work it is to try and create that kind of space.

So this is kinda going to function as a review as well as a pat on the back, for those of you who couldn’t get there and were interested.  Bearing in mind I missed some sessions because of other life stuff, so there are holes.

Indigenous feminisms and social movements featured Marama Davidson, Shasha Ali, and Erina Okeroa.  Erina spoke first, examining Māori women’s connections to Black feminisms internationally, through kaupapa Māori research and interviews.  Marama presented on the centrality of Māori women to caring for the Earth and kaitiakitanga, given how poor a job we’re doing now.  Shasha talked about connecting indigenous struggles from different places, and the disconnect this created when you were not indigenous to where you were living, but identified as indigenous in another colonised land.

Takataapui, Pasifika ways and beyond queer theory included Fetu-ole-moana Tamapeau of BOX events, Maihi Makiha from NZAF and Kim Mcbreen of He Hoaka.  It’s hard for me to give a favourite, but if I absolutely had to, it would be this one.  Fetu and Kim focussed on the disruptions colonisation created for Pasifika and Tangata Whenua understandings of sexuality and gender, and why queer theory cannot undo colonisation because it still comes from western understandings.  I’ve thought a bit before about how good English is at categorising – so lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex – and judging differences.  Disconnecting, some might call it.  And I’ve noticed that takataapui appears to do the opposite, appears just to connect non-heterosexual people, but Fetu’s metaphor of queer being the island, and Pasifika understandings of sexuality being of the ocean is still rocking my wee Pākeha brain.  Work in progress.

Intimate partner violence in queer and gender diverse relationships, hosted by Te Whare Rokiroki Māori Women’s Refuge and Wellington Women’s Refuge with support from the extraordinary Mani Mitchell was something I was involved in, so can’t really “review”.  It was amazing to see between 40 and 50 people in the room, and important to think about how this work can progress, given international research is showing lesbians and gay men are experiencing rates of intimate partner and sexual violence comparable to straight women and men; bisexual people are experiencing much higher rates; and intersex and trans* peeps rates, from early indications, are much higher still.

Body politics: food, health, fat, disability, class and moral virtue featured Cat Pause, Ali Nissenbaum, Robyn Kenealy, Esther Woodbury and Grace Millar.  Between them, they took apart body politics and put them back together again, dismantling neo-liberal pushes for individualising responsibility for bodies while they pointed out some of the things the western world at least holds dear just may not be true.  Probably the comment that made me saddest was about needing to not be around women when recovering from anorexia, because of the extraordinary amount of social time women spend policing one another’s – and our own – food intake and bodies.  It just rings very true to me, and is something I struggle, constantly, to know how to respond to respectfully.  I’m slimmish, and love food, and constantly deal with people telling me how “lucky” I am I can eat so much.  I haven’t yet found a way through that misogynist mess.

The Underclass panel was incredible, Nic Dorward, Ruth Amato, and Hana Plant sharing their own personal experiences of class and marginalisation, tied in with colonisation and racism, gender inequalities, class oppression making us unwell, and social institutions responsible for “caring” for vulnerable people being both inadequate and chock-full of classist assumptions about families and people.

And finally (for me) desire as social currency and how desire is constructed around stigmatised and non-normative bodies focusing on trans* experiences. Dee Dewitt and Wai Ho talked about how difficult it might be to separate personal preferences from socially constructed desires, and the painful fetishising that creates for non-normative bodies.  Beautiful and brave.

Hoping there’s another CLITfest on the horizon. And a nod too, to the beautiful artwork on the flier, which is now decorating my room.

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