Women of Letters – Anxiety and Shame

 

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I spoke at Women of Letters in October last year. The book is out today. Hooray! My appointed topic was ‘A letter to the thorn in my side‘.

Hey Anxiety, hey Shame,

Life is much better on the other side of you. If I didn’t call you out, you most certainly would’ve overtaken me.

So, I guess, thank you? Even though there were awful moments. And if I dig deep enough, I’d find the solution to the many ways you manifest. Then I figure out the very reason why you were around me in the first place.

And if I learn from you properly, you’re a lesson of Shadow and Gold.

Anxiety

The Shadow

Age seventeen, 2001. Melbourne suburbs. A fitting for my year twelve formal. The first time I ever had a panic attack. I was dry-retching in my dress.

Why was I not as excited as every other girl in my class? Why did I feel like a major killjoy? And why was my stale attitude towards this ‘celebration’ on par with a Maths Methods exam or the beep test in P.E.?

The Gold

My first proper gay-girl date. Age thirty, March 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She walked towards the cafe, coyly smiled, and gave a small wave. She looked like a young Alicia Keys. I almost died.

We stood in James Turrell’s centrepiece, ‘Breathing Light’. Hues of purple to pink to red shifted around us. And when I turned my head towards her, her freckles glowed. Her joy and beauty made me feel gooey inside.

No one can take that moment away from me.

That moment meant that my feelings were valid.

That moment meant there’s a place for me in the world.

And life, finally, made so much sense.

Shame

The Shadow

Kindergarten. Age five, sometime close to Christmas,1989. Art shame on a crafternoon.

It sounds so silly now, but it cut deep.

I shared my table with three other children; we were each given sheets of paper with an outline of a Christmas tree. And in the middle of the table were cotton balls, and bits and bobs, and glue.

We got to work. Minutes later, I looked up and noticed that everyone’s tree looked the same. A perfect zigzag of decorations, just like the very design the nun had held up in front of us earlier.

Then there was mine, a freestyle, joyful mess. Overloaded with cotton balls and glitter pieces and pipe cleaner. It was fabulous… to me.

I was told off in front of the other kids. The vibe: my pure idiocy. How could I have not known the instructions, especially if every other kid in the class knew? My creativity came to a sluggish stop.

It wasn’t until a routine doctor visit months later that the adults found out my ears were blocked and needed grommets. By then my creativity was dormant.

The Gold 

2 April, 2016 – a week before my thirty-second birthday. Mum’s house, Melbourne. Ella, my five-year-old niece, flies from interstate with my brother for a visit.

It was cold outside and I had few resources in the house. So I grabbed some coloured pens and sheets of paper from the printer.

Ella outlined our hands on two sheets and started to draw in one of her fingers.

I looked at the outline of my hands and asked myself, ‘How do I make this look good?’ Then I asked Ella, ‘What should I do?’ She shrugged: ‘You can do anything you want.’

I watched her. Swirls in one finger, polka dots in another, and the Tooth Fairy in her index finger.

Slowly, I became unbounded, liberated. Ella showed me there were no rules. I drew teddy bears and zigzags. She taught me how to draw snowflakes. She encouraged me and said my worked looked pretty. And I complimented her work in return.

This was a far cry from what I experienced at age five. It was fun, like how art and craft should be.

So you know, shame, I can’t stop drawing or making things now. And I’m crafting felt toys.

Life is better. Life is so much better.

I’m picking up from when I was truly me.

Love,

Faustina

On the way to equality, the baton passes on.

Hey friends, really trying to stay positive here. Felt the vibe was best when I delivered a speech at the launch of Australia’s first LGBTI Awards at the Sydney Opera House on Friday. Please take a read. Sending love.

lgbtiawards

I’d like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land. And Respects to those who have fallen on this Remembrance Day.

When I heard about the first annual LGBTI awards a few months ago, I was elated. I instantly thought, this is a much needed cultural event, and more thrilled as the awards also champions the support and care of our straight allies. This matters, as we strive for inclusion.

I’ve spent much of the past few years in the US and been out for just two years.

And I’m sure, like a lot of you, if not all, I’ve been making sense of the events over the year, the past few months, and particularly the past few days.

My views are through the lens of being a woman of colour. Seeing what I’ve seen, traveling through the south where the confederate flag still flies high, to seeing old slave shacks on former tobacco plantations. Then in more socially progressive states in the US, like marching at LA Pride the morning after the Orlando tragedy, all while being abreast of the news back home – like the delays in marriage equality.

It can easily feel like a burden being a minority. A struggle. And at times, very lonely. We all have our moments. And when “our moments” intersect with news so defeating it makes you numb. We want to throw in the towel. I had one of those moments this morning. But I told myself to show up.

I looked for hope. And a lot of what I was reading wasn’t helping. Soon, my mind turned to a play I saw in 2011 on Broadway called The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. The Mountaintop is based in the black civil rights era, and I often compare the movement with gay rights.

There are two characters in this play, Martin Luther King (who was played by Samuel L Jackson) and the motel maid, Camae (played by Angela Bassett). This play, fictional, though taken from real events is set the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Camae delivers a cup of coffee requested by Dr. King, they end up having an hour of deep conversation and (sorry to those who haven’t yet seen the play) Camae turns out to be an angel of death. She tells Dr. King that he’s to die the next day, and that she’s been sent to take him to the other side.

Dr. King pleads with Camae – saying how much work he still needs to get done. For his vision to be complete. Then, accepting his fate, Dr. King wants to see what the future looks like after he dies. He asks Camae, “Is the future is as beautiful as you?” Camae very wisely replies, “Yes… and it’s as ugly as me, too.” 

It’s then that Camae rips into a stunning monologue paired with images of the decades that follow – the good, the bad, the ugly of America and the world, of legislation, events (Katrina, Sept 11) African Americans (Spike Lee, Run DMC Tupac, Oprah, Biggie), slogans, “I’m black and I’m PROUD”, to a Black President! She exclaims;

“The baton passes on!
The baton passes on!

The baton passes on! 
The baton passes on!”

And so here we are.

We’re not at The Mountaintop. But when we look behind to see how far we’ve come in gay rights, a lot of baton passing has happened. Its passed from the people who were once silent and lives were taken, to those who risked their safety and their livelihoods in the first Mardi Gras gathering. To openly gay and thriving Australian politicians like Senator Penny Wong, the heart-felt apology from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, to gay formals for high school kids, to a rainbow Qantas logo, a gayer presence on mainstream media than we’ve ever seen, to cracker journalists like LGBTI reporter, Lane Sainty at Buzzfeed, to Benjamin Law’s literary genius, to seeing equal marriage in every English speaking country – to championing for our own. To our first LGBTI Awards. Every bit matters. Every person matters. The baton passes on.

So thank you to Awards Director, Silke Bader for accepting the baton once more, to adding to the celebrations, in the way the gay people know how. And thanks to you all for being here. There will always be ugliness but here’s to more positive change; where we can feel a lot less lonely, where we can live in the world as true equals. Any step forward by our LGBTI community is a shared victory. The baton passes on.

The first Inaugural LGBTI Awards is now open for public voting. You can vote here.

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My interview with The Pin

The Pin:

On The Pin today: Faustina Agolley – DJ FUZZY  who made a comment particularly relevant to the recent tragedy that occurred in Orlando.

“Being a visible member of the LGBTQIA+ community is important in a time where there is systemic, obvious and covert homophobia, where Australia is the last English speaking country to not have marriage equality, where LGBTQIA+ people are six times more likely to suffer depression and take their own life, where people purposefully inflict violence on LGBTQIA+ people.”

This has been my most gratifying interview to date. An open discussion about Race, Identity, Culture. Read it all here.

FaustinaThePin

DJ Fuzzy’s Oprah Tour Mixtape x Thump x VICE

I made a mixtape of the ‘An Evening Oprah’ Tour.

Thank you Thump for saying it’s “banger after banger.”

You can find the mix here.

And here’s the full interview with Thump’s Editor, Issy Beech.

What was it like DJing for Oprah?

More than my dreams come true.

From being glued to the tele, watching Oprah as a kid, then to fast forward fifteen years later and see Oprah in the flesh, dancing and twirling and asking for the volume to be turned up on choice cuts had me saying to myself, “Is this for real?! Is this really happening right now?! Cause I’m about to lose my marbles. Scream joy on the inside, Fo-Fo.”

Then to play a broad range of party songs and anthems to thousands of joyous Oprah fans while also giving Oprah the best possible lead-in – it was so humbling and such a privilege.

What is she like in person?

Graceful and full of love. When you’re in her orbit she gives you her full attention. And she gives the best cuddles.

Did you get an idea of her favourite song or genre or anything?

Personally, based on the time Oprah was born and the guests she’s had on the show, I knew Oprah particularly liked Motown.

I researched Oprah and found out that Paul Simon’s Graceland is one of her favourite albums.

Oprah loves Adele’s 25, particularly the song, “Send My Love To Your New Lover” so that got played in every city.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Higher Ground” are songs that Oprah personally chose for the show. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was played right before Oprah hit the stage.

And Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” was Oprah’s entrance song. It’s what Oprah is all about. “Going to keep on trying, until I reach my highest ground.”

And what are her fan base or VIP fans like?

Put up to 15,000 people, dressed to the nines in an arena anticipating seeing Oprah for the first time – or for some, the 7th or 17th time – the excitement is palpable.

Her VIP session was with fans who came in early to have a personal Q&A, take photos with her and sit up close to the stage for the show. They reminded me of how influential she’s been over decades – some of the fans opened up to Oprah to thank her for helping them overcome enormous personal struggles. It got emotional.

One cool moment – a man proposed to his girlfriend at the end of the Auckland show.

Big love to Issy at Thump, Josh at Vice, the Harpo Famly, Dainty Group, IMC, P-Money for his NZ intel, Nina Las Vegas for her ableton hot tip, KLP for her sister “rising tide” vibes and Caro Meldrum-Hanna for her awesomeness and filming the Oprah party in Sydney.

Sunday Life Article: “It’s My Party”

Dear friends,

In the lead up to co-hosting SBS’ coverage of the Sydney Mardi Gras, Sunday Life asked for me to write a piece about coming out in the age of social media. Please enjoy! Love, Faustina.

Sometimes the smallest action can set off a powerful chain of events. If I hadn’t chosen to dine alone one summer’s night two years ago, I may not have come to the realisation that I am a lesbian, nor have had the confidence to come out at a time when equality is still an issue in Australia. I’m sure my dinner for one was the reason why Brenda, then a stranger – with friends Michelle and Helen – initiated a conversation.

I had returned to London, the city where I was born, for work. The UK is renowned for creative television and I wanted to explore my options. My initial encounter with Bren, Mich and Helen was brief, but the instant connection I felt led us to make plans for later that week.

While Mich and Helen bailed, Bren showed up, a bright, direly Irish red heart with blue, jewel-like eyes and a chatty vivacious demeanour. And with the comfort of my anonymity, I felt secure to completely open up.

Bren had just come out of a relationship with a woman. I was shocked. Up until that point I assumed she was straight. Then she told me about Mich and Helen, a couple who had been together for almost a decade. The shock and surprise gave away to a sense of belonging. As she swiped through photos on their Instagram, particularly photos of Mich who, like me, is mixed-race, I thought “These are my people! This is me!”

It took a few more hours to drum up the courage to admit it out loud. As Brenda suggested we go and check out some men for me, I found myself saying, “I haven’t really told anyone his before but… I’m gay.”

No men entered our orbit that night other than the waiters who plied us with espresso martinis while a deep and meaningful conversation ensued til 3am. I had made a true ally and a friendship with a woman I felt I had known forever.

I went home and cried waves of emotions into my pillow, an outpouring of 30 years of repressed feelings. Elated, but also frustrated that it had taken so long. My mind was connecting all the dots; the feelings towards women when I was a kid and how I shut it down because I didn’t think it was right. All the gay slurs I’d heard – and even used myself – during my ignorant high school years.

I was making sense of all my social anxiety. The random – yet clearly intentional – gay girl dreams in my mid-20s; the steams of thoughts I’d never dare entertain. Then a bigger wave hit me – the overwhelming relating of having to tell my family and friends. What would they think of me? What did I think of me? I was realising the truth, hurt and emotion that comes with being a “minority of one”.

This idea is summed up succinctly in Magda Szubanski’s memoir, Reckoning “The crucial difference between Lesbian Gay Transgender Bisexual Intersex and Questioning people and other minorities is this: in every minority group the family ashes the minority status. In fact, it is often something that unites them. But gay people are a minority within the family.”

I wanted that summer with Bren, Mich and Helen to last for an eternity. They became my tribe. Life finally made sense. In their company, I felt whole. And never in my life had I felt so alive.

In LA, while armed with this new-found sense of self, I was apprehensive – no, terrified of dating. I delayed the obvious next step and borrowed a lesbian-living-how-to-guide from the library. When I told Bren she was bewildered. “What are you doing with an A-Z of lesbianism? Put the bloody book down and get out there!”

I told my family and a handful of friends. In the week leading up to my birthday I considered using the occasion to come out. I knew that being vocal in some way, would allow someone, out there, to feel the same sense of support. To extend the strength that Bren, Mich and Helen had given to me. And, in this small-worldly digital age, I also wanted to ensure the message came from me.

So in a gorgeous neighbourhood cafe in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, I got together with a small group of friends to celebrate with a rainbow cake. After the birthday party, I posted my coming-out blog on my site, then an image from the night on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. By then, it was late afternoon back in Australia.

The response was breathtaking, with Snapchats and direct messages on Instagram from young girls and boys caught in a time I had just left. The tribe had expanded. They told me they felt included, more comfortable with who they are, some even wanting to celebrate with their own rainbow cake!

I’ve met incredible, intelligent women over the past year. Women who counsel gay youth on suicide prevention lines (in a time where LGBTQI people are much more likely to suffer depression and take their own lives than heterosexuals), journalists, academics and writers with impressive and inspiring bodies of work, to teachers and lawyers.

I’ve learnt about the evolution and need for events like the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, now in it’s 38th year. I’m grateful to be out at a time when equality has become the centre of political and cultural debate. Not all of it is pretty, but every inch toward an equal society helps. My small decision to accept an offer of conversation from strangers helped me in ways I could never have imagined. How incredible would it be if we all acted, in some small way, to help eradicate the notion of a “minority of one” and instead foster acceptance for all.

My small decision to accept an offer of conversation from strangers helped me in ways I could never have imagined. How incredible would it be if we all acted, in some small way, to help eradicate the notion of a “minority of one” and instead foster acceptance for all.

Allow yourself time to think

Allow yourself time to think. Imagine. Even when being alone with your thoughts is difficult.

When we are kinder to the way we think, our worries can ease away, we can problem solve and allow our imaginations to take over.

This article may be useful to you.

Decisiveness

Decisiveness is an admirable quality in a person.

You give clarity to a situation after thinking it through.

You’re honest with the way you feel.

Decisiveness is respected in others because you don’t string them along or leave them wondering.

Though on tender decisions, those that involve matters of the heart, requires a way to articulate yourself in the kindest and empathic way possible.