Inside SameSame But Different LGBTQIA+ Writers and Readers Festival
It’s Saturday night. 11pm. I’m pleasantly buzzed off of Basement Theatre’s finest IPA. Drag legend Hugo Grrrl is dressed as a kinky circus-ringleader unicorn, complete with a bejewelled, phallic-tastic horn crowning his glittering head. I just experienced the Poet Laureate of the nation strip down to his mesh underthings in a Madonna-inspired spoken word performance piece (back-up dancers included).
How did I get here you ask?
SameSame But Different is a literary festival with the kaupapa of celebrating queer writers and stories. Created by the late Peter Wells and now run by a volunteer board of passionate creatives, the festival has run in the last week of Pride Month since 2016. SameSame rejects the mould of stuffy literary events—housed in the sun-bathed upper floor of the Ellen Melville Centre, its sessions were intimate, accessible, and invigorating for a keen audience of young word-lovers. I tagged along as the friendly-neighbourhood-festival-bookseller to watch the SameSame community come together this year in sparkling fashion.
Opening Night Gala
The fest kicked off with the winners of the Peter Wells Short Fiction Contest being announced, with I.S. Belle taking the top spot with her equally visceral and tender romance “Minotaur Reading”—about a beast who falls in love with the boy that comes to kill him, and who also happens to be an avid reader of Hairy Maclary. The comp was an incredible showcase of new talent in Aotearoa, and made me deeply regret scrubbing my Ao3 account from the internet when I entered my cool and mysterious ‘it girl’ era.
Moving swiftly along, the night turned to its main event: Speaking The Unspoken, which asked five writers to reflect on the words they’d wished they’d said. The artists uncovered the queer histories of Aotearoa that have sat buried in archives, came out to their loved ones over and over until it felt right, and shared genre-bending fiction on partners running out of words and love for one another. Meat Lovers author Rebecca Hawkes’ spoke on the parallels between the liberation movements of the LBGTQIA+ community and sex workers, from her own unshared experiences in the industry. Amongst the revelatory was the hilarious—performer Ray Shipley gifted a hybrid poetry/stand-up comedy set about the sermon they wish they had given when they left the Anglican Church. The line-up was perfectly picked, diverse in their delivery but harmonious in their longing for conversations that never came into existence.
The audience was a sea of notebooks on laps for this session for aspiring creatives. The panel consisted of educators and writers Gina Cole, Josiah Morgan, and Laura Vincent musing on the tuākana/teina relationship in writing and publishing—their own tuākana that guided them, how to support those that will come after them, and how the notions of ‘emerging’ and ‘established’ writers are basically arbitrary. What I took from this discussion was that you could be on your deathbed surrounded by a sea of Ockham awards and still think of yourself as an “emerging writer”. All three resoundingly said that the tuākana/teina relationship is ever-changing, and that intergenerational exchange of mentorship is essential to keeping the (r)evolution of queer literature alive.
The panel de-railed from its course in the best of ways. The topic turned to speculative fiction as an area where the authors find comfort, from Cole’s pioneering work in Pasfikafuturism to Morgan’s obsession with Stephen King (“he’s straight and yet he only writes male characters who hate women and are obsessed with their penises…”). They are impassioned about turning sci-fi, fantasy, and horror on their heads, reclaiming the marginalised Other in these genres as an empowered figure rather than a vilified one.
The Peter Wells Lecture: essa may ranapiri
As one of the biggest names of the whole shebang, and a hugely celebrated poet across the motu, essa may ranapiri would likely be forgiven for some narcissism. But instead, the provocateur turned a solitary hour at a lecture podium into a celebration of takatāpui Māori across Aotearoa. They drew from the figure of Hinemoana, braiding the intersections of science and pūrākau to reflect on the festival’s theme of QUEEREVOLUTION: challenge and change, empowerment and inspiration. ranapiri followed the threads of evolution that lead to the creation of our oceans and how Hinemoana is the manifestation of them, to pose that the moana, and by extension its atua wahine, acts as connective tissue for queer Māori writers. They performed a stunning collection by a range of poets on their relationships to Hinemoana to illustrate her varied roles in Te Ao Māori, and the strength of the inspiration she provides to takatāpui writers:
“Blood wouldn’t move without liquid—it all draws us to Hinemoana. This conversation was created in the absence of contemporary tales about Hinemoana, it can do a lot of good to create new pūrākau about her for our descendants, so queer Māori in the future know that we were here, and unapologetically so.”
As the week drew to a close, we came down to Basement Theatre for arguably the most anticipated event of the whole affair. With two back-to-back sold out shows (someone give these poets a break and a raise) it was even more packed than usual, theatregoers spilled down the stairs and out into a rare and mockingly sunny evening. You know when the premise of a show is “what if poetry had a production budget?” Tāmaki will turn out. Dutifully, I did as I always do when visiting Basement—turned my Tinder radius down as low as possible and loitered artsy-ily in the corner. But before I could catch my big femcel break, the show was on.
The theatre looked like someone bullshit their way through a Creative NZ funding application to cover up for the fact they just really wanted to buy a confetti cannon—and the glitz and glamour only continued. The order of the poets was comically juxtaposed Emma Barnes and their backup poets’ angelic three way harmonies were followed in quick succession by Freya Daly Sadgrove’s punk rock slam poem complete with a live drummer and strobe lights. Ruby Solly’s heavenly taonga pūoro segued seamlessly into Rebecca Hawkes’ piece from the perspective of an incel; a sensory delight of fedoras, Lynx Africa, and red lightsabers being twirled around gaming chairs by backup dancers like a routine from “Magic Mike”. Of course, the aforementioned Chris Tse is blazing through his Laureateship with pizazz, and I will be beginning a campaign for his tearaway tracksuit to be housed in Te Papa. essa may ranapiri and Ruby Solly returned to bring the night and festival to a gentle, lilting end. The poems and music floated through the theatre, welcoming the rest of the poets back for the curtain call. To see them all side by side showed how SameSame But Different acted as a medium for these creatives and ideas to pass through, refracting them into a proud kaleidoscope of colour.
You can watch the festival live stream now on the SameSame But Different Facebook page.