Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Hannah Ho: So here we have George Mapplebeck, and George Mapplebeck is going to tell us about FQBG.

George Mapplebeck: Hi Hannah. How's it going?

Yes, Feminist Queer Book Group, or FQBG, is something that I started with some friends, like a year ago.

Hannah: How did you think to...? Were you sitting around and throwing some ideas around, or how did that idea come about?

George: Yeah, kind of. It was New Year's that we basically came up with the idea and had like this burst of energy. We just decided that we needed to have a forum to sort of talk about some of the things that we'd found in gender studies and such papers, and it isn't really socially appropriate to discuss some of the things that we talk about in other contexts, so we thought it was important to sort of....

Hannah: [laughing] Like what? Tell me some of the socially inappropriate things that you talk about.

George: I don't know. When we talk about feminism this is not always a popular topic with your flatmates, or sort of boring people at parties and things like that. [laughs] But yeah, we thought it was important to talk about, and we like talking about what we read, as well.

Hannah: So did you kind of think of the idea because you'd been talking about particular topics at parties, and people were like, ugh, and from the responses you could see that it was really socially uncool or something?

George: Well, not really; I was just kind of kidding around there, but people sort of don't want to get heavily into political ideas, and they don't want to get really deeply into discussions about gender in their everyday lives and how it affects them.

Hannah: And why do you think that is?

George: Because I think they feel that they take it too personally or something, and it does sort of cut a bit fine when they're sort of being seen as a victim or an oppressor or something like that. That's kind of how they might feel about it.

Hannah: So they might think that it's all about them?

George: Exactly, yeah. Or maybe they just think that that kind of stuff is boring, but we don't think it's boring.

Hannah: So, you started up after New Year's, I guess.

George: Yeah. Yup. Well, sometime after that when we had a meeting and talked about what we were going to do. We started just having a couple meetings at my house, and then more people started coming so we got a real venue, which is very fortunate that we've got that because otherwise I don't know where we would fit all the people that are coming along now.

Hannah: So, how did it all grow? You had a few meetings and was it just word of mouth?

George: Yeah, pretty much. It just started with our friends and then we started inviting other people along and people told each other. I guess word of mouth, pretty much.

Hannah: And how many people come to the average meeting?

George: The last meeting we had, there were 13 new people as well as everyone else, and so that was pretty huge, but usually meetings are around 12 people, but that was a particularly popular topic.

Hannah: And what was that?

George: That was on polyamory; queer views of polyamory.

Hannah: I see, and what other topics have you [discussed]? Is it monthly, weekly?

George: We run once a month. We've been thinking about maybe running more often, but for now it's once a month on an evening.

Some of the other topics that we've been doing, the last one we had was polyamory, which was really popular. I guess everyone pretty much hates monogamy or something, or at least wants to talk about it, which I think is often the most important thing. Whether you do it or not is kind of irrelevant if you don't get the opportunity to talk about it most of the time.

Hannah: It's an option.

George: We had a really good one on fighting fat phobia, [and one on] women in history, which was kind of where people prepared something on a particular person. I did Tallulah Bankhead.

We had a discussion on the commercialization of identity and the pink dollar and that kind of thing, so we talked about gentrification and money and marketing and all that stuff.

We had a really hands-on thing with feminism and art, and so we all made a femmage and talked about feminists and did role plays and that kind of thing.

And we've had a couple of things on psychology and feminism, which is something that some people in the group are actually studying, so it's really interesting to talk about that and sort of the theoretical perspectives of feminist philosophies around psychology, I guess.

And we had a more fun one with a feminist that you don't agree with, so we ripped into, like, all those feminists from the '60s that now we completely don't agree with. [laughs]

We had one about lesbian identity and invisibility, which was a really fun one, and had some good discussions.

The feminism in medicine one was really well attended, as well. It's kind of interesting the issues that people think are really important.

Hannah: So, do people pick? Is there a core group or collective or something and you pick the next month's topic, or does it just kind of come out organically out of each session?

George: Well, we usually try to find people that are sort of interested in talking about something, so it's not always us that handle the talking to the group or facilitating every single meeting.

Hannah: So, you have a speaker usually?

George: Usually we just find someone who wants to arrange a group of people and talk about it and have some discussion questions and helps prepare a little bit.

Hannah: And so does someone do a talk and then you have a discussion?

George: Well, we've had quite different ways of running it, so each meeting is not like the last. We've been kind of experimenting with what works and what doesn't, and that kind of thing, and we've decided that it's a good idea if we chair our meetings now, so sometimes we have a chair. [laughs]

Hannah: Chairs are always good, aren't they? So, do the people that attend often agree with each other quite a lot or do a lot of sessions get quite heated?

George: I think it's pretty much that we all have different perspectives, but we all come from a background of feminism, or something like that, so we all are sympathetic to opening up our minds and that kind of thing. We do have disagreements but it's more like a sparking a discussion kind of disagreement than an I-hate-you-and-I'm-never-coming-back-to-the-group-again thing.

[laughter]

Hannah: I guess, obviously, you do this because you're really interested in all of the topics and having yarns about this. What have been some of the really, really interesting things for you that you've gone, oh wow, I never would have thought about that, or whoa, that's whack?

George: At the end of the last one we ended up having a really interesting sort of segue into some issues around queer politics and where people stand on that, and whether someone who isn't really political but is gay or lesbian is as queer as someone who is potentially straight but who supports queer politics. So we had a really long, in-depth discussion, which is really... I was quite surprised that people had actually really thought about it and had some interesting things to say.

Hannah: So what were some of the points of view that came out of that?

George: Some people think that people that sort of lollop off to Ivy every weekend, who don't really have any sort of politics or personal code of ethics for operating in the political world, there was the opinion that maybe they're not as queer as another gay or lesbian person who has queer politics – like, they do the opposite of heterocentrist values, kind of. We had the other shoe/foot scenario because there was the opinion that those people also are probably the most visible queers, as well, and so by even leaving the house they're sort of making a political move or something like that, [laughs] with their T-shirts and skinny jeans.

Hannah: [laughing] Yeah. So, you identify as a lesbian. Talk to me about lesbian and visibility, because I think that was a term that was around a while ago. Does it still apply or how does it apply?

George: In that discussion we talked about how lesbians aren't the main voice of gay and lesbian and everyone else politics.

Hannah: The rest of the alphabet.

George: Yeah. So, people have stereotypes about lesbians, but they don't see lesbians when they're right in front of them, as well, so people sort of expect a big, butch dyke with cigarettes rolled into her T-shirt or something like that, but this is definitely not the case. And while there is a lesbian culture that has some of those stereotypical aspects in it, I think, especially for femme women we talked about how they sort of struggle to be recognized as queer and as outside of the – what's the word?

Hannah: Norm?

[laughter]

George: The norm! Thank you.

Hannah: Yeah. So, have you always known that you were a lesbian?

George: I think I always kind of felt that I was different, but I don't think I've always identified as a lesbian. I think a lesbian is something that reflects your culture identity as much as it does your sexual identity. I think being a lesbian, for me, is about being a part of a gay culture rather than anything about my sexuality, per se. Like, there's definitely a correlation, but it's kind of hard to describe. Being attracted to girls in high school, you're not like: I am this because I think that girls are hot. I think it's something that you have to try out the label and see if you can feel like a lesbian is an okay thing to be.

Hannah: So, a little bit like the difference between someone who is a homosexual, and someone who identifies as lesbian or gay and is involved in the queer communities or whatever?

George: Yes. Yeah. So, I think part of coming out to myself was being like: I can be a lesbian. And also, I think when I was first thinking about it, it was kind of like, a lesbian is something that I'm definitely not, because I just couldn't be a lesbian because of where I'm from and that's just not something...

Hannah: Well, did you give it connotations, or just in your head you were more, it looks like that, and I'm not like that?

George: Yeah, pretty much exactly that. Like, I just didn't feel like I had that otherness or something.

Hannah: Then how did that change? Was it to do with your interaction or partaking in queer or lesbian communities?

George: Yeah, pretty much. I think I sort of got more information about what being a lesbian, culturally, actually meant, and then sort of decided that my sexuality actually mattered in terms of how I was going to relate to the rest of the world, as well, and that was going to be something that would make me go down certain pathways or whatever it was.

Hannah: And so what were some of your early forages or interactions with the lesbian communities? Was it in Wellington?

George: I actually grew up in Kapiti, my parents are still living in Waikanae, so that's where I'm pretty much from, and there really aren't any gay people there.

Hannah: You can't see them.

George: Like, I'm sure there are lots, but they're invisible. Yeah, like, they're not telling, and I think not having any queer role models in that community was kind of maybe why I took so long to get my head around being a lesbian, as well. But yeah, I moved into Wellington and had a lot more influences from other lesbians.

Hannah: How did you find lesbians in Wellington? [laughs]

George: How did I find lesbians?

Hannah: Did you put an ad out? [laughs]

George: No, no, no. I lived with some lesbians while I was still very much in the closet, but I was living with a lesbian.

Hannah: So, did you find that flat in the paper? Was it accidental?

George: And she was like, all these things, and it was like, blah, blah, blah, and she would talk about what she did on the weekend, and I would think, ah, yeah!

Hannah: So, was it accidentally that you moved into a flat and it happened to be a lesbian, or you'd kind of talked around for flats and people were like, hey! How did you find her?

George: I don't know. I think she was just friends of friends kind of.

Hannah: Yeah, and through her kind of talking about what she got up to on weekends you saw that something existed and that you could be part of it?

George: Yeah, like finding out where people go and that kind of thing just from her, maybe, and having the option of getting involved in the community and meeting people and that kind of thing.

Hannah: So, you kind of struggled with imagining yourself as a lesbian. Once you kind of saw that there were ways to be a lesbian or that there were lesbians out there and they weren't completely invisible, did you have any struggle to accept that you were a lesbian then, personally, with yourself, or did it just kind of come along with that?

George: I think it was kind of a gradual thing. I think the hardest part was probably dealing with my own issues around what a lesbian would be, would mean for my friends and my family and that kind of thing.

Hannah: And how did they cope with you being a lesbian?

George: They're pretty cool, actually, but I was so psyched before I told anyone. I was like, "Oh, no! They're all going to reject me," and that kind of thing.

Hannah: And they didn't.

George: And they didn't, of course.

Hannah: [laughing] Well, that's good.

George: Yup, but you do sort of build it up in your head a lot. So, it's not as bad. Everyone come out. No one is going to hate you for it.

Hannah: [laughing] But it actually is real bad for some people though!

George: I know, but like, in my experience it's fine, [laughs] so I recommend it.

Hannah: If you had come out at school, what do you think the responses there would have been like?

George: I don't know. I was sort of like an almost-popular kid – not quite like popular.

Hannah: Almost popular?

George: Like, I think people might have changed their attitudes to me just because... I don't know; it's kind of like a rightwing school. Could I say that?

Hannah: Yeah, I think you're allowed to say that. Do you mean that they all would vote National if they were of voting age, or do you mean kind of conservative homophobic or whatever?

George: I mean conservative values like they think that homosexuals are strange people with sort of criminal activities and that kind of thing – like untrustworthy or all these negative stereotypes that they would say about gay people or something.

Hannah: [laughing] Untrustworthy homosexuals.

George: You know, it wasn't like a positive thing that you called someone. You weren't like: [sweetly] Oh, that's so gay!

And particularly with guys they always are casting doubts upon the other's sexuality, and I think maybe it was picked up.

Hannah: As a way to insult people you mean?

George: It didn't feel like a very comfortable... But yeah, I remember having lots of debates with my music teacher about gay people and how they were okay.

Hannah: And your music teacher was...?

George: Even though I was like, "I'm not one!"

[laughter]

Hannah: Ah, Tyrick and Bay are okay. And so your music teacher was saying that they weren't okay?

George: Pretty much, yeah. Yup. Oh, dear! Yup.

Hannah: [laughing] The music teacher who shall remain unnamed. So, do you think with all the homosexual law reform and this that and the other, and queer people on Shortland Street and The L Word and whatnot, do you think there's still homophobia in our society today?

George: I think the difficulty is there's just nowhere for young people to really see positive gay and lesbian role models in the community. I think maybe if there were just more people that were out and lived sort of okay lives, they would be able to see that there's a future in gayness without all the sort of negative stuff.

Hannah: So, you think that doesn't happen enough?

George: Yeah. I think that if the gay characters and stuff weren't automatically like sex-crazed maniacs, or they're always in like cop dramas and stuff in supporting roles, and that's good, but...

Hannah: So it's a bit stereotyped and token.

George: ...it could be a bit more varied and have some actual positive stuff associated with it.

Hannah: So FQBG is part of your community work, but is that also a way to kind of generate change and get people thinking and moving and acting?

George: Well, like when we started it we really didn't envision it as a political thing or that we were going to change the world or anything, but I think just being able to talk about it is pretty cool.

Hannah: Yeah. So the Feminist Queer Book Group, that's some of the ways that you're involved in queer communities or gay and lesbian communities. What other things do you do to be involved, apart from going to Ivy with your T-shirt?

George: Oh yeah, I was going to say go to bars, say hi. [laughs]

Hannah: And do you think there's a need for gay bars and queer bars?

George: Oh, totally! I think one of the best times I've had in Wellington was at Our Bar. I used to go there a lot. That was when I was like: I can go to town and talk to people by myself, and I don't need my friends to come with me, and this is all okay. It was just really good to sort of have a place to go and just be around other gay people. I think it's really important. It would be cool if it wasn't always an alcoholic establishment that you had to meet the people in, because you end up having regrets.

Hannah: [laughs] Drunken regrets?

George: Which I will not talk about now.

[laughter]

Hannah: So, you'd like to see more visibility or more representation that isn't just token, of gay and lesbian queer people. How are you treated in society?

George: I don't really notice any more as much.

Hannah: Do you think that's because it's changed or you just block it out?

George: There are some times that I do feel kind of uncomfortable, and that is particularly in women's bathrooms. I think people are really suspicious of me.

Hannah: Oh! I always get that. Do you mean funny looks?

George: Yeah. Like, the evils of people actually asking you what you're doing in there, or mostly they'll just make jokes about it or something, and you'll be like: I feel really uncomfortable now, when you just want to urinate. It's weird that that's so defended as a place where you sort of have to be so, so female.

Hannah: Why do you think that is? Do people just feel funny about their wees?

George: I don't know! If I tried to struggle with getting into the mindset of people that look at me strange, I think I'd probably go crazy because I just don't really understand that. I just don't think that having a solely-your-gendered space is necessarily a valuable goal, and I think a lot of women will try and police what a woman is, anyway. So my message is: Just everyone relax.

Hannah: Take a deep breath. So are there other things that you'd like to change in society?

George: I would like....

Hannah: World peace?

George: Yeah, world peace.

Hannah: Why not?

George: I think in terms of my feminism it's kind of like everyone-just-get-out-of-each-other's-way feminism, and create a space where you can just express yourself freely and that kind of thing. Is that really airy-fairy? I think it is.

Hannah: Oh, it sounds great! Has your feminism and your politics, or I guess setting up a group to have yarns about really important things, has that kind of come out of doing gender studies? Was it women's studies or gender studies or both?

George: I did one paper on gender studies, but it's always been something I've been really interested in. I used to always incorporate it into whatever I was writing about in my history papers or whatever – something about gender or, like, selecting lesbian erotica as my history reading or something. That was pretty cool.

Hannah: And the other people that are a part of the group that go along regularly, has their feminism or politics or the stuff that they like to talk about been influenced or shaped by also going to university and doing gender studies?

George: Yeah, I think that's another reason why we started the group was just because we'd all graduated and didn't have people to rant at anymore.

[laughter]

George: Yeah. We just kind of wanted to be listened to, in a way. I'm really smart! Here are my ideas.

Hannah: Ah, yes. And so, one of the topics that you had at the FQBG was, what were you saying, like old-school feminism or '60s feminism and a feminist you don't agree with.

George: Oh, yeah. We had a feminist you don't agree with.

Hannah: And so are most of the people who go to the group kind of younger, as in not around in the '60s?

George: We do have a couple of slightly older people. Yes, we are not exclusively 20-somethings.

Hannah: And what were some of the big disagreements with feminism from the '60s that younger feminists are disagreeing with?

George: Yeah. We talked a bit about Sheila Jeffreys.

Hannah: Tell me about Sheila Jeffreys.

George: Sheila Jeffreys wrote about how transsexuals are really a bad thing and they're people who just dress up in fake clothing, and she also had an issue with butch-femme lesbianism. So, she had this great sentence about mutant femme birds or something like that.

Hannah: Oh, dear! It sounds like a good name for a band.

George: People are just replicating the patriarchy, and stuff, and you can certainly feel her passion, but I just kind of think it's misdirected and it's just directing it against, you know, people whose life is hard enough.

Hannah: Is she still saying that today, as in, not in the '60s anymore, she's still saying that?

George: Yeah, something to that effect. So, we talked about that and some other feminists that we didn't agree with. I don't really remember exactly every one.

Hannah: So, do you think feminism has changed? I guess it still gets a bit of a bad rap, or it gets a rap that it's been done. It got done in the '60s and '70s, why are we still talking about it now?

George: Yeah, and now we almost earn the same amount as men do, so it's probably all okay. That's the theory.

Hannah: So it's still relevant for you today, why?

George: I think it's definitely still relevant. I just don't think women are as valued as men are, and I think that people need to sort of look at feminisms of the past and try and adapt them to our current, messy, globalized world, because I think that feminist ideas are important. Like, I'm almost lib-femme.

Hannah: Tell me about what lib-femme is.

George: That whole equality of pay, fair deal thing. But I think that why women don't get paid as much is because they have to take time out to have kids and because there's not really enough provision for having kids. Because we're set up so that men don't have to look after the kids, women end up missing out on sort of the center of their career and they never recover from that – well, often don't recover from that.

And also, industries which are dominated by women, for no apparent reason get less money, and you can't just explain it away with economics. You'd have to be like, something's got to change. Maybe it's got to change from the top or maybe it's going to change just from everyone. But it's interesting to think about.

Hannah: Yeah, so have you thought about that stuff because you plan to have children or is it something that you've just seen statistically or with your friends?

George: I just think that it's one of the unfairnesses of society that keep people doing the same things – one of the things. I guess it's more complicated than just getting paid as much.

Hannah: Yeah, so it's still relevant.

George: Yes.

Hannah: Do you think societal attitudes have changed?

George: Yes, I think so, but I think that you get all of those old ideas and all of the new ideas and tolerances of people, and you get them all kind of mixed up together in society, and it kind of still seems like a battle to be accepted half the time, you know?

Hannah: Yeah. What about queer communities? How do you feel about Wellington queer communities? Does it exist? [laughs]

George: Oh, I like the gays in Wellington, and the lesbians in Wellington, and I think they're pretty great people. I think people do complain a lot that there's not enough on or there's nowhere to go or that everyone at the bar is the same, but I think that people do sort of need to remember that they actually have to participate in their community for it to even happen. So, I think if people didn't watch season three of Heroes all winter, and went out and organized some parties or something, the community would be better off and everyone would have such a great time.

Hannah: So, if I was a person interested in coming along to the FQBG and having yarns, how would I find you all?

George: You can email fqbgpost@gmail.com or you can find us on Facebook, or you can just hit me up if you see me around and just ask me about it. Yeah, that's basically it.

Hannah: Great!

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