Celebrating queer joy in New Zealand

August 24, 2022

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rainbow flag. It’s so bright. It’s impossible to ignore. Everywhere you see it, it’s striking and monumental. It shines through. This is what it means to celebrate queer joy. In the face of continued attacks on queer rights, our safe spaces being attacked and burnt, it strikes me as especially important that the flag that marks Pride is so dazzling, flamboyant, and unapologetic. 

This flag is such a different narrative to the one that media like to portray about us queer folks all the time. So much about being queer is how much they still focus on queer trauma. We’re so used to stories about our death and our abuse, our loneliness and our closeted lives.

We're constantly disappointed by how our stories are concluded. We're baited to believe queer literature and queer shows care about their queer audiences, only for satisfaction to be withdrawn at the last second. “If I can just ignore this part of myself,” we think to ourselves, “maybe I can be happy.” It’s like Sophie’s choice, be queer or be happy.

While I do think stories of coming out, grief and trauma are crucial. We, and especially our younger generations, still need stories that highlight the simple joys of leading a queer life in a world that wants to snuff us out.

You have to see it, to be it

Anjana Iyer, author of this article, looking her joyous self leaning on the wall covered in graffiti. Anjana is wearing a white tee with cartoon kid characters that says "Let's run away from our problems".
Anjana Iyer, author of this article, looking her joyous self leaning on the wall covered in graffiti. Anjana is wearing a white tee with cartoon kid characters that says "Let's run away from our problems".

Within the LGBTQIA+ community itself, there is an inherent focus on white people. They are seen as the default, so queer people of colour’s experiences are often shoved under the rug. When you are from an immigrant or ethnic minority community, your values tend to be similar to your parents. My values were shaped by my Indian heritage. I was so focused on learning about all the racial bias and inequalities our parents had to deal with growing up, that I never stopped to think about my queerness or my sexuality in a similar way. Our interview with Helen Yeung speaks more about this and the lack of queer Asian representation in general and particularly in Aotearoa. 

For that reason, many of us grow up with no examples of what it’s like to be LGBTQIA+ within our home. Although over the years my parents have been more accepting of my sexuality, they were never interested in queer history, what being queer looked like for the average person. So I grew up with no queer role models in my life. And I needed to see that queer joy. I needed literature, art and media that shows how happy and normal queer lives can be. Our stories shape our society and if you don’t hear stories about something that is a part of you then, that part of you can't possibly develop and grow. These stories nurture you, allow you to grow and just be.

Ultimately queer joy is about our community, and our found families, and banding together to say, despite everything, ‘I am happy and proud of who I am.’ There’s a joy in the shared experiences, inside jokes, and in the art queer people make.

Now, here’s a few of our celebrated Storyo interviewees sharing how they experience queer joy.


Beige background with a cut out photos of 6 people who are featured in this article segment

Andrew Tui on being a part of the rainbow community 

Andrew is a career coach and a podcaster, who comes from Samoan-Chinese heritage and gives off so much joy in his stories!

“I'm really comfortable with how I identify with the rainbow community. As a gay male, I grew up feeling a bit more conservative about it and feeling like “Oh, my God, how does that work?” to now being happily married. We have a cat. To me, it feels funny saying this, but you've kind of feel like you're role modelling in a really positive way, especially for young Pacific youth or any youth who might just feel a bit different or feel that they haven't quite seen people who can reflect who they could be just that make sense.” 

Bel Butler on her series “Out In Aotearoa”

Bel Butler is a creative who delves into the amazing worlds of design, film, photography and social media management. The series explores what it means to be a trans person living in New Zealand.

“I relate heavily with the experiences of identity, I felt like my authentic self was hidden, almost locked away, for so many years. I began therapy over a year ago. It's been a pretty rough journey to say the least, coming to terms with a great deal of trauma has helped me understand why I’ve hidden myself for so long. But I’ve finally been able to accept myself and live to my true authentic identity. That looks like working towards my goals, being unapologetic about how I live my life and putting myself first so that the overflow from my cup can fill that of others.” 

Dr Cierra Cremin on dressing up

Dr Cierra Cremin is a senior lecturer of sociology at the University of Auckland. Her work spans a range of topics from Marxism, to video games, to feminism and gender studies, through the lens of Critical Theory.

“I never get bored of putting makeup on, nor the sensuality of a quality lipstick or contouring the face and achieving dramatic effects with eyeshadow. I’m much happier as a woman, especially as I now no longer have to keep up the pretence of being a man. Part of that is the sensuality of the feminine style.”

Dr Rogena Sterling on what brings her joy

Dr Rogena Sterling is an intersex, identity & human rights advocate, researcher, lecturer.

“I enjoy gardening and camping. Growing fruit and vegetables that are healthy and it is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend free time if I have some. I do enjoy getting away and camping, though have not had a chance in the last few years. I find the tent and the camping site a place to have fresh air and to revitalise myself” 

Sonya Renee Taylor on Intersectionality

Sonya is a founder of The Body is Not An Apology platform that promotes radical self-love and body empowerment. She is a poet, author, speaker, and has had many awards behind her name.

“Intersectionality is a term coined by legal scholar and professor Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, and it speaks to the way in which a multiplicity of identities complicate the experience of an individual as it relates to structural and systemic oppression. So to be intersectional for me is to be constantly looking at the ways in which the multiplicity of our identities impact, shift, change, direct our experience with structural and systemic oppression and injustice.” 

Some conversations and entertainment we’ve been enjoying as part of celebrating our queer joy lately:

  1. Michelle Mascoll, previously featured on Storyo is part of a collective called Same Same but Black highlighting conversations amongst queer, black, indigenous and people of colour within the rainbow community in Aotearoa.
  2. This wonderful feature we did at Storyo on finding your community in circus arts and celebrating queer pride. 
  3. Heart-stopper on Netflix based on the web comic by Alice Oseman is a beautiful teen drama celebrating queer romance in a light hearted eight episode series. 
  4. Our very own Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby star in Our Flag Means Death, a romantic comedy about two pirates who falls in love. 
  5. Brontez Purnell's 100 Boyfriends is transgressive, bawdy and ridiculously entertaining, an unforgettable and fiercely discerning ode to queer love in its most messy of variations. 
  6. Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu follows long-lost childhood crushes Nova Huang and Tam Lang as they struggle through bills, family, and the supernatural in ways that only a witch and a werewolf can. So frigging good right? 
  7. Booking our tickets to Jonathan Van Ness’ Imaginary living room olympian show happening in Auckland in October.
  8. Listening to Beyoncé's newest album, "Renaissance," on repeat. It is a musical triumph that honours Black Queer Culture through its indisputable danceability, and riotous joy.