Deconstructing Gender And Sexuality: FAFSWAG Vogue

Conversations around gender and sexuality in New Zealand typically center on privileged Pākehā (non-Māori) voices and disregard the voices of marginalized communities. People of colour who also identify as members of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community are underrepresented in media and the creative sector. FAFSWAG Vogue – created by the FAFSWAG collective, a theatre group of indigenous artist practitioners who identify as L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ – is a piece that highlights the vogue battle scene in South Auckland.

At its roots, a vogue is a form of dance from Harlem in the United States, celebrating L.G.B.T. communities of colour. Vogue originated with large-scale sophisticated drag competitions (balls), which then evolved to dance battles like those we see in FAFSWAG Vogue. Throughout the 1960s-80s, these drag competitions were the foundations of vogue, which aimed to illustrate gender as a social construct and/or performance through the art form of dance and elaborate costuming.

Vogue battles, as a style of contemporary dance, show fast-paced, finished looks with heavily choreographed dance moves. Through a digital platform, FAFSWAG Vogue allows the viewer to choose their path through the Auckland vogue battle scene in a concept, not unlike a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Viewers choose a dancer, a location to compete at, and a winner of the dance battle to gain access to the winner’s personal story. These stories take the form of short documentaries and focus on various elements of the vogue scene, discussing the individual’s experience with the style and how it expresses their gender and sexuality. These behind-the-scenes shorts add contrast to the polished dancing, showing the preparation, commitment, and dedication dancers have to the art form and the community.

Through expert scenography and technology, viewers are instantly transported to an exclusive dance battle. The use of changing and varying camera angles, from close-ups, pans, and tilts to low angle and wide shots, places viewers in the battle, rather than watching it from the outside. This careful filming highlights the dancers’ power and how vogue allows them to express themselves. The night sky contrasts with whitewash lighting, creating a layer of shadows and amplifying vogue’s contemporary movements. This expertly engages viewers and helps to demonstrate the dancers’ point of view. The performances are set in low-trafficked areas like the Southern Underpass and Ōtara Court because vogueing does not fit the prescribed roles gender and sexuality have in our society.

The deliberate choice to make the piece a digital medium is significant. FAFSWAG taught that vogueing focuses on community. By using a digital medium, FAFSWAG creates a larger community to educate, provoke thought in, spark social change through, and normalize Pasifika L.G.B.T.+, while providing an equitable and accessible platform for deconstructing gender and sexuality with an intersectional lens. FAFSWAG Vogue’s digital existence can accommodate Pasifika L.G.B.T. youth in South Auckland, who, because of socio-economic difficulties, stigma, and cultural backgrounds, may not be able to access the vogue community or the wider L.G.B.T. community through traditional methods. Furthermore, because of its digital platform, FAFSWAG Vogue can be accessed by non-Pasifika to learn and become better allies without creating emotional labour or invading Pasifika L.G.B.T. safe spaces. This makes it an excellent activist and educational tool.

User functionality and interactivity are placed at the heart of the experience. Viewers can navigate the platform to slow down dance battles, pause or skip video functions, and access all five stories.

In one of these stories, dancer Tamatoa describes vogue as a way for Pasifika L.G.B.T. to “take ownership of themselves and their bodies.” Because colonization has not created space for gender-diverse people, particularly gender-diverse Pasifika, vogue allows these communities to examine the elements of masculinity, femininity, and how these traits are perceived, enhancing the possibilities of who they can be as people.

Vogue can be a safe space for exploration, discovery, community, and identity. Each of these dancers’ stories allows for a new, enlightening perspective on what it is like to be both Pasifika and a part of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community.