Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 35, July 2014

The F Word:
Challenging Gender Norms, Performing Possibilities
and Celebrating Lesbian Relationships in Contemporary Fiji

Tui Nicola Clery

  1. Despite generations of women activists working to extend the boundaries, contemporary Fiji continues to grapple with many patriarchal, hierarchical, homophobic and militarised elements and norms.[1] Women and men with non-conforming gender identities—including lesbian, bisexual and trans women—experience multiple and intersecting levels of marginalisation, stigma and violence by both state and non-state actors.[2]
  2. In this paper I reflect on the gender equality work of Women's Action for Change (WAC), a feminist organisation that uses drama-based processes for supporting research, education and community dialogue. Their activist theatre practice weaves together, localises and contextualises a variety of participatory forms, styles and influences, to meet the needs of communities in the Fiji context. Following the work of Brazilian theatre activist Augusto Boal in Theatre of the Oppressed,[3] performance is conceptualised as a tool for engaging communities in processes of 'conscientization,'[4] as a way of beginning to think and speak critically about issues which are often silenced.
  3. Theatre becomes a practical tool for engaging communities emotionally, increasing empathy, and helping to create spaces and initiate dialogues which can assist communities in imagining, rehearsing, and acting for individual, communal and social transformation.[5] I argue that due to the playful, supposedly 'fictional,' and metaphorical nature of performances, theatre-based advocacy such as the F Word, has the potential to support people to 'safely' engage with challenging ideas and concepts in ways that more direct and confrontational forms of advocacy cannot address. As Audre Lorde explains, 'I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised and misunderstood…your silence will not protect you.'[6]
  4. The F Word production was written by WAC's Creative Director Peni Moore with the aim of giving voice to women's stories and experiences of gender-based violence, challenging gender norms, and celebrating lesbian relationships.[7] The F Word is based upon true stories shared with WAC actor/facilitators[8] by seventy-two Fiji women and girls across three storytelling workshops.[9] These are stories from women who are particularly marginalised in contemporary Fiji: women living in informal 'squatter' settlements, young women, lesbian women and sex workers.[10] Fiji women and girls shared their stories with the explicit aim of creating a rich and diverse performance grounded in real life experiences. Through purposefully telling their stories, community members contributed to a performance which they hoped would help challenge gender-based violence in all its forms.
  5. The F Word challenges dominant, polarised and patriarchal norms around gender, sexuality, and what constitutes a socially acceptable family unit within the public consciousness, thus revealing, as Gilbert Herdt tells us, 'all concepts of normality [as] culturally and historically situated definitions of sexual lifeways.'[11] It constitutes an attempt to both 'destabilize and localize dominant understandings of sexuality'[12] through a performance which hopes to 'alter the standard of vision, the frame of reference of visibility, of what can be seen [emphasis in original].'[13]
  6. Stories within the F Word are designed to act as a catalyst for dialogue with audiences about themes raised within the play. Each new discussion is unique, and extends and contextualises WAC's knowledge of gendered experiences in Fiji. The F Word exemplifies WAC's broader creative praxis and processes for working with communities, which involves using theatre and arts-based processes as playful and emotionally engaging ways of building empathy and understanding; stimulating dialogue, supporting activism around issues of social justice, and encouraging community development and solidarity.
  7. In 2010 the F Word toured and played to diverse audiences across Viti Levu including secondary schools, vocational colleges, higher education institutions, informal settlement communities, police training academies, and prisons. It presented a range of strategies that women use to address and transcend gender-based violence in their everyday lives, with the intention of having a transformative impact upon audiences.[14] Three months after the initial performances, the research team revisited audiences who had watched the play,[15] to explore their memories and perceptions of the performance. The revisits with audiences that are detailed in this paper focus primarily on the perceptions of secondary school students and their teachers.[16]
  8. I begin this paper by describing some of the methods used for this research, before reflecting upon the socio-cultural and academic silences surrounding talking and writing about lesbian lives and identities, with a focus on the Pacific context. I then describe the F Word performance in more depth, focussing particularly on two storylines which aim to depict lesbian relationships. The intended and actual impacts of the F Word in Fiji's diverse communities are considered through revisits and talanoa with audiences who had watched the play.

    Research methods
  9. Following the work of Melani Anae, who argues that methodological tools can be chosen, combined and invented to 'suit the interactions between cultural complexities, research questions and methods,'[17] I used both talanoa and arts-based research methods to work with communities from November 2009 to August 2010. Talanoa is a word found across many Pacific languages. It literally means 'talking about nothing,' however, talanoa is purposeful talk. As a methodological tool talanoa begins by offering participants broad themes to initiate open dialogue. Neither the content, the pathway of the dialogue, or the end of the conversation are fixed or predetermined.
  10. Talanoa is flexible and context specific. Participants in the talanoa are free to take the conversation in directions which are significant and meaningful to them, generating socially and culturally embedded understandings, and co-constructing meaning together through dialogue.[18] Talanoa functions to strengthen relationships between people and takes a constructivist approach to the generation of knowledge.[19] Mirroring everyday communication, talanoa reflects and respects the wealth of knowledge contained in 'Oceania's library' of oral cultures,[20] and the collective process of knowledge creation. After using playful processes to build trust, co-operation and communication with the audiences that we re-visited, participants were invited to choose whether they wanted to talanoa in Fijian, Fiji-Hindi or Fiji-English. They then split into smaller groups depending on their language preference, and each talanoa was facilitated in that language.[21]
  11. I argue here that the culturally respectful, discursive, unstructured, and non-coercive nature of the talanoa environment can help create 'safe' spaces which allow difficult words to be spoken. Focussing the talanoa on stories shared within the F Word performance also helped to ensure that communities can speak about challenging issues which resonate with their real life experiences and provoke discussion, debate and dialogue; without being directly confrontational, and risking traumatising, polarising or alienating audiences.
  12. Sexuality and gender are performative acts.[22] Women and men 'do' sexuality and gender through storytelling and dialogue, performing and re-performing gendered identities and norms through embodied acts and language.[23] Ideas about sexuality and gender are in an ongoing and continuous process of socio-cultural construction. Judith Butler's idea of gender as performative and constructed, encourages us to consider not only the different ways that gender is performed across cultures, but also how notions of gender might be 'undone' and 're-made.'[24]
  13. Herdt's work on culture, sexuality and historical change across cultures[25] supports the idea that in order for more inclusive cultures to emerge, separate and supportive social spaces to re-imagine norms around gender and sexuality are crucial. Herdt argues that 'the intentional actor in search of a new identity requires a separate social space; it is within this liminal space that culture is created and transformed.'[26] WAC uses arts-based processes to create such liminal spaces, working in creative 'groundbreaking and innovative ways'[27] to help support people to speak across heteronormative boundaries and barriers, and to consider alternative possibilities for being in the world.

    Breaking the silences?
  14. In contrast to the relative abundance of ethnographic literature on male homosexual relationships and gender liminality in the Pacific,[28] very little has been written about lesbian women in Fiji. The F Word claims public space for the stories of Fiji women and girls, thereby challenging the focus on male homosexuality that predominates both in the public consciousness, and in the literature about homosexuality in Fiji and the wider Pacific.[29]
  15. The absence of scholarship about female same sex relationships and lesbian identities means that gender-liminal women in Oceania 'embody a hidden discourse in both anthropological and local representations.'[30] Nico Besnier defines liminal persons as 'betwixt and between,'[31] as outsiders who are seen as socially marginal or inferior; but who may be able to gain power and social standing within certain conditional and bounded realms, such as within the performing arts.[32]
  16. Significant silences surround the lives of lesbian women in academic accounts of the Pacific. Norma Mogrovejo argues that the silences surrounding lesbian women within the social sciences are compounded by a lack of opportunities to publish in this area. Furthermore, a 'virtual absence of archives makes recording the history of lesbian movements all the more difficult.'[33] Barriers to remembering, writing and theorising are so significant that scholars and activists are left with bodies of knowledge that may need to be imaginatively reconstituted, as well as uncovered and remembered. In this paper I make a small contribution to remembering how lesbian identities are experienced, understood, performed and imagined in contemporary Fiji. As Mogrovejo reminds us, 'The task of re-writing the history of the lesbian movement…is not only a historical, anthropological or political task, it is also an archaeological task. It implies reconstruction of personal archives which may have been destroyed or are on the verge of disappearing. Hence the importance of the oral stories of the protagonists, some of whom we have already lost…. We have the historical obligation to save these stories in order to understand our own history.'[34]
  17. The study of sexuality has often been regarded as illegitimate. Researchers are not immune from the stigma and tabu often associated with this field of study; stigma which contributes to further silencing of issues surrounding women's diverse gender identities and sexualities.[35] Cynthia Rothschild describes such stigmatising processes as examples of 'sexuality baiting,' a process where ideas or prejudices about women's sexuality are used strategically to 'intimidate, humiliate and stifle the expression of women, thus discouraging women's organizing, control and independence.'[36]
  18. Researchers, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and community members working with people with diverse sexuality are often at risk of sexuality baiting. WAC's Creative Director explained that even an association with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community can lead to stigma being attached to CSOs working in this area, which in turn extends to the individuals and communities who are associated with them.
  19. Despite the gender and sexuality baiting that often accompanies their work, WAC continues to publically advocate for the rights of the LGBT community in Fiji.[37] In addition to sexuality baiting experienced in the Fiji context, work on sexuality rights has also had various organisational consequences for WAC; this includes receiving feedback from donors that their work with LGBT communities would be an obstacle to securing further project funding.[38]
  20. Such stigmatisation at local and international levels leads to both avoidance of issues surrounding LGBT rights and identities, and to significant levels of self-censorship amongst activists, CSOs, and the Fiji women's movement.[39] WAC's former Coordinator Noelene Nabulivou shared one example from 2005, at a time when the Methodist Church in Fiji was openly calling for the government to put all homosexuals in prison. A prominent human rights activist emailed Noelene to say that she would 'quietly' provide resources, but that her name should not be mentioned as a supporter of work challenging homophobia because this would risk compromising her 'wider human rights work.' Nabulivou argues that this stance,

      shows a lack of political will to engage, and also a lack of understanding that silences on gender identity and sexual identity actually compromise the effectiveness of all human rights work, including for women and girls. In this approach too much is made invisible and trivialised. Connections are not made from the body, to social spheres, and everywhere in-between.[40]

  21. Artists and activists in Fiji are working to find creative ways of speaking across barriers of silence, stigma and fear which often surround non-heteronormative gender identities, and to initiate processes of questioning and change which challenge the 'conspiracy of silence' surrounding same-sex sexual relations.[41] In this paper I will strive to do the same. Fear of social stigma and reprisals discourages many people in the LGBT community from declaring their sexuality openly, and this makes the need to find ways to counter such silences even more important.
  22. There are both pre-colonial and post-colonial tabu surrounding talking about women's sexuality.[42] These silences have also been reflected at an international policy level. It was not until 1995, during the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that Palsea Beverley Ditsie, a lesbian woman from South Africa, first spoke openly about issues surrounding sexual orientation.[43] Silences still abound. Important speeches made by prominent world leaders such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Archbishop Desmond Tutu which support equal rights and challenge homophobia remain marginalised and rarely surface outside of minority/specialist media.[44]
  23. In this paper I make a small contribution towards challenging this 'conspiracy of silence'[45] and counteracting this ethnographic vacuum. Despite the limitations of this paper—which focusses specifically on the portrayal of lesbian lives through a specific performance in Fiji, and upon audiences' perceptions of these representations—because of the virtual absence of literature addressing any aspect of lesbianism in the Pacific,[46] each piece of research which is published holds its own inherent significance as a way of 're-membering'; of bringing fragments of knowledge and history together, to create opportunities for voices and perspectives which are often marginalised or silenced, to be heard.[47]

    Finding new words?
  24. Finding ways, words and spaces in which to speak for understanding and equality across cultures is not easy. The words which are used to describe LGBT communities are socially, politically, culturally and historically situated, and do not necessarily translate.[48] Words which do exist to describe same-sex relationships are invented, adapted or chosen, in specific historical and socio-cultural contexts. These words have great significance both in terms of what they include, and what they exclude.[49]
  25. Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia Wieringa question whether categories such as 'homosexuality,' 'lesbianism' and 'woman' can have any inherent stability or coherent meaning across cultures.[50] The terms 'lesbian' and 'gay' are Eurocentric constructs which arose in the West.[51] Tom Boellstorff reminds us that although these terms remain in current circulation, they emerged as recently as 1993, and are historically and culturally embedded.[52]
  26. Current assumptions about gay and lesbian identities which dominate in the West include the idea that these words refer to fixed, stable categories of personhood, which are likely to be biologically/genetically predetermined from birth. Lesbian is a category which is 'forged in terms of sexed bodies.'[53] It generally refers to and emphasises a fixed sexual identity; however expectations and meanings may vary substantially across cultures.
  27. In a study of same-sex sexuality in Polynesia, Deborah A. Elliston argues that it is the performance of embodied gender roles, rather than sexual preference, which is the primary indicator of gender status and determinant of belonging to a gendered group.[54] Gender is constructed as being produced by experience; and gender role performance in turn produces sexuality. As Elliston suggests,

      Gender and sex body status are disaggregated, with gender difference made contingent on gender performance…it is, then, the individuals participation in or practice of particular gendered codes and behaviours that determines…inclusion in the gender categories.[55]

  28. The western tendency to openly politicise lesbian lives has complex consequences for women across cultures. The term lesbian often implies, indeed asserts, an openly political, activist commitment, based upon feminist and human rights principles. It assumes the necessity of 'coming out,' and engaging in the 'politics of recognition.'[56] However for many women, personal safety and societal tolerance may in fact rest on not being associated with the word 'lesbian.'[57] The 'walls of silence' which women may have built around themselves are often a practical necessity,[58] offering protection from everyday socio-cultural stigma and persecution.[59] Sue Farran cautions against unquestioningly imposing western values in the Pacific context, touching upon ongoing and important issues surrounding the need to contextualise human rights discourses:

      This is not only an issue of respect for sovereignty but also respect for difference. Unfortunately the internationalisation of human rights, the imposition of Western values from developed countries and the expectations that the less developed and least developed nations will aspire to the same values - including sexual values - may be little more than a form of neo-colonialism.[60]

  29. Speaking out, like coming out, is a political act. Activists and academics may make arguments about the necessity of countering the silences surrounding lesbian lives, but it is clear that there are a range of possibilities and constraints across cultures, and that people choose to engage with the politicised aspects of sexual identity differently across cultural contexts and moments in history.
  30. In societies where there is no equivalent word/concept for lesbian, and within which the few words which do exist to describe same-sex relationships between women tend to be derogatory and stigmatising; finding and imagining words through which to speak out for equality and understanding is a challenge. Words can often become labels, which bind and restrict otherwise fluid identities. However Boellstorff argues that to avoid a 'de facto sin of omission' it is essential that 'each category of selfhood or experience: women, men, transgendered persons; gender, race, class, sexuality, disability; etc.' be named.[61] This argument follows the logic that our concepts are reflected and embedded in the language we use.[62]
  31. When considering cross-cultural ideas surrounding sexuality, it is important to think about whether there are local/indigenous words that can reflect concepts found in western human rights discourses. How might words/concepts from outside a specific socio-cultural context be incorporated and contextualised? In many developing countries, the categories of gay and lesbian are further complicated by their ongoing association with imposed processes of colonisation and globalisation.[63] Words may be used to claim a place, a community, and a socio-political identity for people from the LGBT community; but they can also become highly discriminating and derogatory labels. Many people remain understandably wary of the consequences of such categories, both those found internally within cultures and language groups, and those which are adopted or imposed from outside.[64]
  32. There is no equivalent word/concept for lesbian in the Fijian language. The word which is most often used to describe same-sex relationships between women in contemporary Fiji is panikeke, a Fiji-English version of the word pancake, which reveals its relatively recent, colonial roots. Panikeke is a derogatory word. It is used as a metaphor to refer to the flatness of female genitalia, and to refer to sexual acts between two women. This contrasts with a western notion of sexual identity as referring to a stable or ongoing category of personhood.[65]
  33. Although no words exist to describe the western concept of lesbian in the Fijian language, this does not make Fiji women in who choose to identify themselves as lesbians any less culturally 'authentic.' Boellstorff cautions against scholarship which presumes that people outside the West who identify as gay or lesbian are 'inauthentic: wealthy, connected to nongovernmental organizations, mobile and ultimately estranged from their own cultures.'[66]
  34. Finding words to describe LGBT identities, lives and experiences is arguably even more complex amongst the Fiji-Indian community. My search for Fiji-Hindi words to describe lesbian lives amongst research participants, F Word audiences, friends and relational networks yielded no response. My enquiries did not even reveal stereotypical or discriminatory words associated with the LGBT community, and the silence here appears to be thick and pervasive. This suggests the need for additional research, perhaps conducted by cultural and linguistic 'insiders,' in order to begin to reveal linguistic and conceptual constructions of LGBT lives amongst Fiji-Indian communities.

    Cultures of heteronormativity in contemporary Fiji
  35. Fiji has a history of military coups dating back to 1987. The most recent coup took place in December 2006, and Fiji is still under military rule. Under the rule of the unelected interim military government, in February 2010, Fiji became the first country in the Pacific region to decriminalise men having sex with men through the National Crimes Decree. Fiji's 1997 Constitution had contained provisions which aimed to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexuality; however, co-existing colonially inscribed clauses referring to the illegality of 'sodomy' and 'unnatural acts'[67] had ensured that the law could be continually manipulated to target and persecute gay men.[68] The National Crimes Decree affirmed the legality of consensual sex between adults.
  36. There is often a significant disparity between national policies and popular attitudes towards issues around gender and 'sexual orientation' in contemporary Fiji, and despite the legal provisions found within the National Crimes Decree, heterosexist attitudes often prevail within Fiji's communities.[69] Heterosexism is the assumption that everyone either is or should be heterosexual. Gere Goodman and colleagues define heterosexism as the 'belief in the inherent superiority of the dominant-male/passive-female role pattern' which functions to make heterosexuality compulsory, thus 'crippling the free expression and mutually supportive relationships of heterosexuals as well as of lesbians and gay men.'[70] Lesbian activist, writer and artist Luisa Tora describes the Pacific as 'a region riddled with patriarchal structures that assume that you must be heterosexual, that you must “marry and reproduce".'[71]
  37. Heterosexist opinions have regularly been demonstrated through public protests in Fiji's recent history. Openly homophobic statements have been made by some nationalist, conservative and religious communities.[72] These have included extreme calls for homosexuals to 'be put to death and destroyed.'[73] Slightly watered down versions of such vitriolic statements have also been made by leaders at the highest political levels in the country. Fiji's former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase made regular declarations that homosexuality is a 'sin.' Such statements are reflective of fundamentalist interpretations of Methodism in Fiji, and indicate some of the discourses which occur within this significant, politically influential and sizeable faith community.[74]
  38. The Methodist Church and the Fiji Council of Churches responded to provisions preventing discrimination towards sexual minorities within the 1997 Constitution by arguing that this legislation would be used to sanction same-sex marriage.[75] On Constitution Day in 1998, a march was organised to protest against this perceived threat, and public pressure resulted in the formal definition of the union of marriage as being possible only between a 'man' and a 'woman.'[76] In 2006 the Methodist Church in Fiji raised the issue of same-sex marriage again, holding a public rally in pro-active protest against this possibility, despite the fact that there was no provision for same sex unions within the Constitution. Their applications for a second permit to protest were rejected by the courts on the grounds that allowing further protests would be 'tantamount to encouraging hate crimes.'[77]
  39. Attacks against the LGBT community in Fiji are often justified on moral or religious grounds. In 2009 the head of the rapidly growing New Methodist Church, Pastor Atunaisa Vulaono, publically declared that homosexuals and lesbians are 'polluting the nation' and 'would not inherit the kingdom of God.'[78] Vulaono advocated violent punishment towards people with non-heteronormative sexual orientation, a public stance which has reportedly led to further verbal, psychological and physical abuse of the LGBT community.[79]
  40. Despite the presence of condemning and vitriolic attitudes, there are always alternative voices and perspectives, both locally and globally. Culture and religion are not monolithic, but fluid and constantly changing.[80] In a 2010 address to a conference on Ending Violence and Criminal Laws against LGBTI People, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about learning from the bitter experience of apartheid in South Africa that 'an injury to one is an injury to all.' He called for the 'wave of hate' towards LGBT people to stop, arguing that 'exclusion is never the way forward in our shared paths towards freedom and justice.'[81]
  41. In May 2011, Fiji broke new ground in the region by becoming the first Pacific Island country to celebrate International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, with an open panel discussion held in Suva, Fiji's capital, at the University of the South Pacific. During the discussions the Reverend Akuila Yabaki, a Fiji human rights activist and a Methodist minister, spoke about passages of biblical text which are often used to justify the persecution of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Yabaki offered the audience of over 180 people alternative interpretations of these verses, based on social justice and human rights perspectives. He also acknowledged the changing ideological positions of certain churches over time, often towards greater inclusivity for people of diverse sexuality.[82]
  42. In May 2012, Fiji activists organised events to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia for the second time. On this occasion they intended to take their celebrations beyond the confines of academic discussions at the University of the South Pacific, and on to the streets of Suva, Fiji's capital city. Event organisers successfully applied to the military government for a permit to gather, and plans were made to hold a ground-breaking march in the city centre. The permit for the march was revoked at the last minute however, after media coverage of the event led to vocal concerns being raised by the Methodist Church in Fiji about supporting the rights of the LGBT community. The official rationale for cancelling the march was that allowing such a gathering to take place might lead to conflict, thus jeopardising public order and safety. Fiji police also informed organisers that when the permit was initially granted, they had not realised that the event was a march for gay rights.[83] Despite this set back, events to mark the day went ahead as planned inside the confines of the University of the South Pacific.
  43. Much of the social justice and rights-based activism asserted by LGBT communities across the world is based upon the recognition that all forms of oppression are inter-connected. We are different but we are also indivisible, intimately connected in our humanity; and the rights and dignity of one part, inevitably affect the whole. We should not 'hide behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us, and that we so often accept as our own.'[84] As Audre Lorde so poignantly asserted,

      For not one of us will be free until we are all free, and until all members of our communities are free. So we are here to shape a world beyond sexism, beyond racism, beyond ageism, beyond classicism, beyond homophobia…we cannot separate our oppressions, nor yet are they the same. That not one of us is free until we are all free; and that any move for dignity and freedom is a move also for our communities' sisters and brothers, whether or not they have the vision to see it.[85]

  44. Fiji activist and scholar, Noelene Nabulivou, asserts that her rights as a lesbian woman are inextricably bound up with the rights of all women. She writes about the silences around lesbian lives and identities when she was growing up in Fiji during the '70s and '80s, and the lack of 'out' role models, even within the women's movement. Her own process of coming out was impacted on by these silences. Strong feminist Fiji women who were role models for Noelene, and who had managed to find ways and means of standing up against 'narrowly defined ethno-nationalism and patriarchal power' during the upheaval of Fiji's coups,[86] continued to remain silent about their own sexuality. If these ground-breaking women kept silent, Noelene questioned whether she would ever be able to declare herself within such a 'homophobic and suppressed space.'[87] She describes the willingness of the feminist movement in Fiji to support her voice as a younger Pacific woman, but pointed out that her rights and voice as a lesbian woman have been too often 'bargained off, they are sold off, compromised, negotiated and watered down.'[88]

    Performing possibilities through community theatre; reclaiming the 'F Word'
  45. WAC has been working with LGBT communities in Fiji since 1998, before any other organisation was openly tackling issues around sexual rights and wellbeing.[89] WAC supported the Sexual Minorities Project, the 'first programme of activities in any of the Pacific Island Countries to directly focus on the rights of people of diverse gender and sexualities,'[90] and the only LGBT organisation in the Pacific region outside Australia and New Zealand.[91] The project was established as a response to a widely documented story about a lesbian woman who was dismissed from her post at a theological college in Suva after she was publically 'outed' by a colleague.[92] This story acted as a catalyst for the creation of a group to advocate on behalf of LGBT communities in Fiji, and illustrates the importance of personal stories and empathy in terms of inspiring activism and change.
  46. As part of their continuing work on initiating dialogue around gender norms and gender-based violence in Fiji, in 2010 WAC decided to use the 'simple, but radical and subversive idea of placing Fiji women's stories at the centre of public performances.' Through performance 'women can speak loudly, proudly and strategically about issues of gender inequality, violence, survival, resilience and transgression in their lives.'[93]

      Imagining and then realizing both voice and audience are profoundly political acts that trump coercive silencing and break into enforced isolations–telling stories of indignity, tragedy, hope, involves the teller in acts of transformation: experience and identity become mutable. The story can have a different ending from the one we already know. You can 'hear' the story differently from me. We can compare. We can rewrite/re-enact/redraw and retell it again. The story becomes a way of remaking the world; being a storyteller in these contexts means being an activist.[94]

  47. WAC created the F word with the intention of supporting the re-making of gendered norms in contemporary Fiji. They recognise that the family, which is 'often imagined to be a loving and safe place of kinship, can actually be an 'F word' of oppression and violence for many women, girls, transgender people, and lesbian women.'[95] Women with non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity in Fiji experience multiple levels of marginalisation, violence and risk if they are open about their sexuality.[96] Processes of externally and internally driven silencing often render lesbian relationships almost invisible within the public consciousness.
  48. In contrast the F word performance 'proudly and openly shows lesbian relationships. This is very new to audiences in Fiji. People may have seen lesbian relationships in television and films from overseas, but to see an open representation by Fijian actors in the Fiji context is innovative and transgressive.'[97] The F Word does not simply replay discrimination or oppression, but seeks to show women as actors. As Nabulivou explained at a talanoa,

      The women who are part of the F Word have demonstrated that they are willing, ready and capable of dealing with complex issues of gender, sexual identity and diversity. This refutes the often-repeated notion that the Pacific is not ready or willing to deal with such issues. The women and girls participating in the F Word expect their stories to be told fully and accurately, and they want to see a range of sisterhood stories portrayed on the stage.[98]

    Performing lesbian relationships
  49. There are two stories in the F Word which portray lesbian relationships. The first storyline is about a young mother whose baby is taken away by her family members because she falls pregnant as a teenager, and because she is in a relationship with a woman. As the scene develops we see the relationship between the young mother and her father slowly improve, and feelings of compassion for his daughter lead him to return his grandchild to her mother. The young woman's lesbian partner is shown to be supportive, gentle and present throughout. The final scene of this story shows the couple and the baby reunited, exiting the stage together as a family unit.
  50. WAC's Creative Director, Peni Moore, chose to show this story through mime; using silence as a means of allowing audience members the space to find their own interpretations and meanings within the story. Communication experts assert that between 65 and 93 percent of all communicated meaning is non-verbal.[99] It is communicated through how we hold our bodies, our tone of voice, and facial expressions. Certain art forms, such as drama, have a 'unique aptitude and propensity for non-verbal expression, an important asset in peacebuilding work.'[100] Performative silence can point audiences towards alternative possibilities. As Jonathan D. Katz explains, 'The actor who doesn't speak their lines offers a very particular kind of eloquence, full of possibility and promise, the challenge and hope of an entirely different script.'[101] Indigenous Fijian scholar, Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, argues that silence plays a 'pivotal' socio-cultural role within Fijian communities, demonstrating forms of knowledge and understanding that are equally important as spoken forms of knowledge.[102]
  51. Katz argues that performative silence can also be a way of marking a distance from freedom of expression. This idea has resonance for the contemporary Fiji context. In 2009–2010 when the F Word was being created and performed, many forms of public expression were routinely censored under Public Emergency Regulations imposed by the military government. Silence can be used to communicate a broad 'continuum' of reactions which may range from 'total opposition' to 'complete support.'[103] Implicitly 'manifest[ing] resistance' without necessarily 'articulate[ing] the position or identity from which that resistance comes.'[104] As he argues, 'The presence of performative silence removes claims to meaning which are usually recognised and solidified through language and speech acts. Silence therefore allows us to reflect upon the ways in which we create and construct meanings and possibilities, and this reflective process involves the recognition that our socio-cultural constructions are always situated, conditional and partial.'[105]
  52. Despite these possibilities and intentions for the mime scene, revisits with audiences of young people who had watched the F Word performance showed that the absence of onstage dialogue had mixed impacts in terms of the audience's ability to understand, remember, and interpret this storyline. Across the audiences that we spoke to there was little or no awareness that this scene depicted a loving, supportive and caring lesbian relationship. This possibility seemed to be outside the public consciousness, reflecting how tabu lesbian relationships currently are, and demonstrating the need for more alternative, positive images of lesbian relationships.[106]
  53. Many audience members did not recognise the woman who was playing the lesbian partner of the young woman as a woman, but instead assumed that must have been 'playing' a man. Reflecting socio-culturally dominant understandings of gender in Fiji, audiences assumed that perhaps the female actor represented 'the husband,' or a 'supportive male' character. Some audience members thought that the actor herself, who was dressed in clothes which are commonly associated with male gender, was in fact a man.[107] The actor playing the lesbian partner in this scene wears her hair in a short style, which is a conventional marker of male gender identity in Fiji. Her character also dressed in gender ambiguous clothes. Because this scene was depicted through mime, audiences were not able to listen to her voice as an additional marker of her gender.
  54. Tora reflects on how much gender identities are affected, judged and understood in terms of outward appearances in Fiji.[108] She describes how binary understandings of gender dominate, meaning that people struggle to place lesbian women into a polarised understanding of either belonging to a male or a female gender stereotype.

      As soon as you come out, people assume that if you identify as a lesbian, you must therefore want to be a man. And if you were to, in fact, move quite freely within the spectrum and wear combat boots, jeans and an oversized shirt to work today, and come to work tomorrow with heals, a black skirt and a top, you would get…comments like…'oh you're a woman today?' when, in fact, you were a woman yesterday and the day before and tomorrow as well.[109]

  55. Our talanoa showed that as audiences watched the mime scene they wrote an internal story which often differed significantly from WAC's intentions for this scene, and instead fitted closely with socio-culturally dominant stereotypes about gender roles and relationships. Perhaps the silence within this scene mirrored too closely the societal and self-imposed silences surrounding lesbian relationships and identities, and had actually functioned to reinforce this for some audience members.
  56. The second storyline in F Word which features a lesbian relationship tells the story of a character called Ruby, who is abused and rejected by her family because she dresses and behaves in ways that do not conform to female gender stereotypes. After being repeatedly told she is a 'tom boy' who should start behaving like a 'real girl,' and that she is 'stupid, bad, trouble in the family,'[110] Ruby is forced to leave her family home and she goes to live on the streets. After struggling to survive and to find enough money for food, Ruby falls into crime. She is arrested and imprisoned. Upon her release from prison Ruby chooses to return to the streets and to the support of her friends rather than going back to the bullying and abuse she had experienced at home.
  57. Once again the outward appearance of the community actor who played Ruby did not conform to gendered norms. Despite this, and perhaps helped by the presence of dialogue in this scene, most audience members did recognise that she was playing a female character. They remembered Ruby's character as pushed out, rejected and unwanted at home (o koya dau biliraki), because she was viaviatagane, meaning that she wanted to be like a man.[111] Audiences acknowledged that Ruby's rejection by her family, her subsequent life on the streets, and falling into crime, were intimately connected.[112]

    F Word as a catalyst for dialogue and empathy
  58. Although the extent to which F Word audiences recognised the lesbian relationships they saw within the production did vary, revisits with audience members led to interesting discussions about attitudes towards gay and lesbian people in contemporary Fiji. Watching the production was a catalyst for safely talking about issues of gender, sexuality and discrimination. A range of opinions was shared, and most of these discussions used faith and moral judgments as central reference points. Some young people shared their understanding that 'God has made everyone exactly as they are,' and consequentially we should accept people as they are.[113] Others felt that 'God says there should be no lesbian or gay people,' regarding lesbianism as 'completely unacceptable on religious grounds.'[114] Despite their strong stance, this group also recognised that there were lesbian and gay students within their school communities, and spoke about feeling that these students should be treated 'with respect.'[115]
  59. The stories within F Word provided audiences with an opportunity to talk about gender and sexual identity in a way that was intimate and relevant, without being directly confrontational. The true stories shared in the production spoke to the realities of the Fiji context and resonated with audience's everyday experiences. During revisits with audiences young people talked about the different relationships shown in the play, and began to critically explore issues of gender, sexuality and sexual identity.
  60. As a feminist theatre company, WAC utilises women's stories and experiences as pedagogy; to inspire empathy, solidarity, healing, and community development. Mirroring the F Word process of sharing personal stories of suffering and survival to support others and to facilitate critical dialogue and social transformation, young people who had watched the play offered their own stories and experiences as a way of challenging each other's attitudes and perspectives. During the talanoa one young woman explained that she empathised with Ruby's story because her sister is a lesbian who had been forced to leave home due to family pressure about her sexuality.[116] She argued that we should not be against people of different sexualities, and spoke to her peers about the ongoing impacts of discrimination. Through sharing her story she was able to connect with her peer group in new ways.[117] Another young woman bravely came out about her own sexuality during discussions about storylines and characters within the play.
  61. Other young people shared that they had been raised with the idea that lesbian and gay relationships are 'totally wrong' on religious grounds. Although their perspective had not changed radically since watching the performance they described an increased understanding and empathy for people with non-heteronormative gender identities after watching and reflecting on the performance. One young person commented that they 'hadn't realised what lesbian and gay people went through' before watching the play.[118]
  62. Through the F Word performance, audience members began to better understand the impacts of their actions, words, and attitudes upon others, thus revealing and affirming storytelling as a catalyst for empathy, which in turn is a pathway to peace. Hal Pepinsky explains that 'empathy is the feeling and awareness people have when they transform and transcend violence. Empathy is the emotional glue that binds people together in respect and dignity. I call the way that we relate when we exchange empathy "peacemaking".'[119]
  63. Through listening to each other's stories, audience members were able to recognise commonalities across their different experiences which transcended boundaries of geography, poverty, class, religion and race. Empathy is a pathway to peace. Through sharing stories, listening and reflecting, it is possible to bring the structures of oppression into our consciousness. Tora argues that, 'The key to building a healthy community (in mind, spirit, and body)…is engaging in the gender-identity dialogue through a wide and inclusive community-based discussion. This means bringing the discussion to those who are most greatly affected, and giving voice to their stories.'[120]
  64. The F Word seeks to depict stories that may have been silenced or marginalised, to support audiences and communities to consider alternative possibilities for how gender relationships are imagined and constructed. The performance seeks to initiate and support processes of consciousness raising, activism, and social change at personal, communal, and political levels.
  65. Relationships and empathy can be supported through using theatre and arts-based processes as tools for creatively communicating stories, messages of peace and equality, and for supporting dialogue. Through empathising with the stories of others, diverse perspectives and ways of relating are discovered and imagined, and new ways of belonging to one another have the potential to emerge.

  66. In this paper I have described the multiple constraints surrounding speaking about LGBT lives and identities in the Pacific context, with a focus on how lesbian relationships have been written, described and represented. I have also presented the F Word process and production as a way of remembering, representing and performing gendered realities and possibilities in contemporary Fiji.
  67. The production seeks to problematise and re-constitute gendered norms though revealing their socio-culturally situated nature, and through performing alternative possibilities. The performance privileges the stories of women and girls which are often either silenced or marginalised and claims space for their stories. I have argued that performances can create playful and liminal social spaces through which we can consider how gender is socio-culturally situated and performed, and in which we are able to transcend such norms, imagine new possibilities, and rehearse for social change.
  68. Talanoa with audiences showed that hetero-normative socio-cultural norms surrounding gender and sexuality often continue to dominate within the public consciousness in Fiji. In this paper I have also argued however, that for many audience members, the F Word acted as a catalyst for open discussions around the usually tabu subject of sexuality, thus encouraging a greater understanding of gender norms, and an increase in empathy for LGBT individuals and communities in Fiji.


    I would like to thank Noelene Nabulivou, Peni Moore, Jacqueline Leckie, Jenny Bryant-Tokalau, Luisa Tora, Cresantia Francis Koya-Vaka'uta, Peter Sipeli, and Marta Fernandez-Campa for their thoughtful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. This research was funded by the University of Otago and New Zealand Postgraduate Study Abroad Award (NZPSAA).


    Allan Alo, 15 April 2010. Creative Director, Oceania Dance Theatre, Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji.

    Ba Provincial College, 23 April 2010. Talanoa with teachers and Form 4 students, Lautoka, Fiji.

    Fiji National University, 21 April 2010. Ethics Students, Namaka Campus, Nadi, Fiji.

    Josua Gonewai, 19 March 2012. Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

    Peni Moore, 18 December 2009. Creative Director, Women's Action for Change, Waimanu Road, Suva, Fiji.

    Noelene Nabulivou, 25 April 2011. Former Coordinator, Women's Action for Change, Suva, Fiji

    Nadi College, 21 April 2010. Talanoa and tiko with Form 7 students, Nadi, Fiji.

    Mr Singh, Principal of Swami Vivekananda College, 22 April 2010. Nadi, Fiji.

    Swami Vivekananda College, 22 April 2010. Talanoa with Form 3 students and teachers, Nadi, Fiji.


    [1] Audre Lorde defines homophobia as, 'The fear of feelings of love for members of one's own sex and therefore hatred of those feelings in others.' See Audre Lorde, 'Scratching the surface: some notes on barriers to women and loving,' in Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, Freedom CA: The Crossing Press Feminist Series, 1984, pp. 45–52, p. 45. See also Mosese T. Waqa, 'Approaches to conflict resolution in Fiji,' Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 58–61.

    [2] See Tui Nicola Clery and Noelene Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity: playful and transgresive processes for peacebuilding in Fiji,' The Journal of Pacific Studies, vol. 31, no. 2 (2011): 163–82, p. 176.

    [3] Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed. New Edition, trans. A.M.L. Charles and E. Fryer, London: Pluto Press, 2000 [1974].

    [4] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. M.B. Ramos, London: Penguin, 1972, p. 15. Freire describes 'conscientization' as a process of 'learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against oppressive elements of reality.' His influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was a direct influence on Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.

    [5] Augusto Boal, The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy, London and New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 13.

    [6] Lorde, Sister Outsider, pp. 40–41.

    [7] Peni Moore founded WAC in 1993, after leaving her role as Coordinator of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement. Through WAC Peni hoped to work with communities in a more grounded and direct way, and to use creativity as a tool for expression and empowerment. WAC received training from Vanuatu's Won Smolbag Theatre, and this included training in writing plays. Peni has been the primary playwright for WAC since the collective was founded. Her plays address diverse themes including: history and colonialism, racism, child abuse, family violence, mental health, suicide and family violence.

    [8] Seven actor/facilitators were employed by WAC at the time of this research: three women (Seruwaia Rosi Saumatua, Litiana Veronika Suluka and Taina Volausiga) and six men (Jona Robaigau, Paul Daveta, Pita Raloka, Ben Iliesa Ramode, Isimeli Wainiqolo and Shajendra Jeet). Only one of the actor/facilitators at WAC is of Fiji-Indian descent, but two of the company speak Fiji-Hindi. WAC intentionally seeks to subvert the often dominant politics of race in Fiji, instead choosing to unite around a common commitment to feminism, and advancing the rights and wellbeing of women and girls. Many of WAC's staff became involved with the company through participating in youth projects which WAC had run in their communities before joining the collective themselves. Their stories can be found in Tui Clery, 'The art of peace: performative and arts-based peace practices in contemporary Fiji,' Ph.D. thesis, University of Otago, 2013, pp. 209–72. WAC actor/facilitators were joined by four community members who had been a part of the original storytelling workshops for the 'F Word.' These community actors helped the collective portray their stories to audiences across Viti Levu, and supported the facilitation of post-performance discussions alongside WAC's core staff.

    [9] The 'F Word' storytelling process involved women who were already a part of WAC's community networks. They were either known to the company directly, or through the involvement of their family members in the WAC collective. The relationships which were established before the project, and continued after its completion, helped to ensure the emotional and psychological safety of women and girls involved, ensuring that ongoing support could be offered as needed. The success of the project was arguably founded on this relational approach, which helped to mitigate the potential for the storytelling processes to be overly exposing or re-traumatising for participants.

    [10] Clery and Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity,' p. 170.

    [11] Gilbert Herdt, Same Sex Different Cultures: Exploring Gay and Lesbian Lives, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997, p. 29.

    [12] Tom Boellstorff, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology,' Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 36, (4 April 2007): 17–35, p. 21.

    [13] Teresa De Lauretis, 'Sexual indifference and lesbian representation,' in The Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance, ed. Lizbeth Goodman and Jane De Gay, London and New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 276–81, p. 279.

    [14] As a travelling theatre company, WAC Theatre Unlimited perform to diverse audiences in all sorts of places, adapting their performances to the spaces available and to the size of audiences, which are often not known in advance. Sometimes a school might have a formal stage, but most of the time WAC Theatre Unlimited use a fabric backdrop tied up with string, to create a front and back stage. Flexibility is key and as such WAC has experiences of performing in classrooms, cafeterias, church halls, between houses in villages and settlements, and underneath trees out in the open air.

    [15] Joining me in the research team were; Mere Tuikoro, a peace activist, retired teacher and school principal with teaching experience in schools in Taveuni, Ba and Suva; Rinu Shyaam, a student in Media and Communication and a volunteer at the community media centre FemLink Pacific who works on Fiji-Hindi translation for community radio programmes focussing on the stories of women and girls; and Pasepa Toga a community actress with WAC who had been part of the initial F Word storytelling workshops and who subsequently joined WAC as a community actress during the F Word tour of communities across Viti Levu.

    [16] Revists were made to audiences from three schools and two higher education institutions in Nadi, Lautoka and Ba. Each school used different methods to decide which students would participate, and this decision was left to them. In some schools teaching staff decided which students would participate, and in other schools young people who had watched the play volunteered to be a part of the talanoa sessions with us. The level of active engagement and interest in the talanoa process was noticeably better amongst groups where children had volunteered themselves. The only criteria we stipulated for participation was that they had previously watched the F Word. In two of the schools we revisited we were also able to talanoa with teachers who had watched the play. The largest group we worked with involved twenty-nine Form Seven students, and the youngest group we worked with involved Form Four students. Both girls and boys were present in all the schools/colleges we revisited. The ethnicity and gender of the students who participated generally reflected the overall composition of the schools themselves and that of the local communities that they serve. Fiji's education system has historically developed along racial lines and despite recent moves to counter overtly racial affiliations many schools are still regarded as predominantly serving either 'Fijian' or 'Indian' communities.

    [17] Melani Anae, 'Teu le va: research that could make a difference to Pacific schooling in New Zealand,' paper commissioned by the Ministry of Education for the Symposium, Is your research making a difference to Pasifika education? Wellington, 2007, p. 24.

    [18] Shadow NGO Report on Fiji’s Second, Third and Fourth Combined Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for submission to CEDAW’s 46th Session, 2009, online:, accessed 16 July 2014. See also Tui Nicola Clery 'Extending the talanoa: weaving Pacific and performative methods for peace research in Fiji,' in Talanoa: Building a Pasifika Research Culture, ed. Peggy Fairburn-Dunlop and Eve Coxon, Dunmore Press, New Zealand, 2014, pp. 105–128; Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, Knowing and Learning An Indigenous Fijian Approach, Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, 2006; and Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, 'Decolonising framings in pacific research: Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework as an organic response,' AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, vol. 4, no. 2 (2008): 140–50.

    [19] Timote Vaioleti, 'Talanoa research methodology: a developing position on Pacific Research,' Pasifika Symposium, Hamilton: Wilf Malcolm Institute for Educational Research, School of Education, University of Waikato, 2003.

    [20] Subramani, 'The oceanic imaginary,' in Pacific Epistemologies, Monograph Series 1. Suva: Pacific Writing Forum, 1993, pp. 1–5, p. 3.

    [21] Each talanoa session began by making a circle and introducing ourselves to the students, both as people and as representatives of WAC, as well as introducing the research and our reasons for visiting the school that day. Mere, Pasepa and Rinu all introduced themselves in both English and Fijian/Fiji-Hindi. In all the talanoa sessions we began by playing games with the groups, to build trust, co-operation and 'warm up' before beginning the talanoa. The use of play to prepare students for dialogue draws directly from WAC's pedagogy for working creatively with communities. During the games the research team was able to assess how well the groups were communicating and cooperating with one other. The games we offered were shorter or longer in duration depending on the needs of the group and their ability to interact with one another. If students were engaged, participating and co-operating then we played for a shorter time. If the students found it difficult to play with one another—for example if they were frequently laughing at each other's mistakes, leaving the circle, not able to stay engaged with the group, unable to make eye contact with each other or to take turns, then we played for a longer period until the group began to feel more at ease, have fun and to co-operate respectfully and appropriately. We found that a group's ability to work together and play co-operatively was nothing to do with their age. Young people who were present at the sessions were asked to choose a talanoa group based on language preference, and they remained in those groups for the duration of the session. Rinu Shyaam facilitated talanoa in Fiji-Hindi. Mere Tuikoro and Pasepa Toga facilitated talanoa in (Bauan) Fijian. Some young people chose to listen rather than share themselves. Although students were able to choose to be present but not actively participate in the talanoa, it would have been difficult to remove themselves altogether from the sessions as this was a scheduled part of their school day.

    [22] Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, New York: Routledge, 2004.

    [23] Beatrice Allegranti, Embodied Performances: Sexuality, Gender, Bodies, London: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2011, p. 17.

    [24] Allegranti, Embodied Performances, p. 5.

    [25] Gilbert Herdt, 'Introduction,' in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Herdt, New York: Zed Books, 1994, pp. 21–84, p. 79.

    [26] Herdt, 'Introduction,' p. 79.

    [27] Talanoa with Mahendra Singh, Principal at Swami Vivekanand College, Nadi, Fiji, 22 April 2010.

    [28] In many parts of the Pacific, male homosexuality is 'tolerated' as part of a cultural practice of gender liminality which involves men 'borrowing' stereotypically female socio-cultural mannerisms, attributes and symbols. See Nicole George, 'Contending Masculinities and the Limits of Tolerance: Sexual Minorities in Fiji,' The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 163–89.p. 165; Allan Alo, 'Life patterns: the fa'fafine epistemology,' in Dreadlacks Vaka Vuku Spaciela Issue: Proceedings of the Pacific Epistemologies Conference 2006, ed. Mohit Prasad, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji: Pacific Writing Forum for The School of Language, Arts and Media, 2006, pp. 80–81). Such 'tolerance' is, however, often superficial, conditional and sharply bounded. George, argues that the socio-cultural tolerance of liminal gender identities in the Pacific does not extend to men who assert an openly consistent, politically assertive and fixed gay identity. See George 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance,' p. 165. In the Fiji context she notes that 'hypermasculine' and highly militarised notions of maleness continue to be celebrated, and 'the limits of tolerance regarding acceptable masculine ideas remain narrowly defined. George, 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance,' p. 182).

    [29] George, 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance: sexual minorities in Fiji.'

    [30] Nico Besnier, 'Polynesian gender liminality through time and space,' in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt, New York: Zed Books, 1994, pp. 285–28, p. 288.

    [31] Besnier, 'Polynesian gender liminality through time and space,' p. 287.

    [32] See; Besnier, 'Polynesian gender liminality through time and space,' p. 317; and Nico Besnier, 'The social production of abjection: desire and silencing among transgender Tongans,' Social Anthropology, vol. 12 (2004): 301–23.

    [33] Norma Mogrovejo, 'Sexual preference, the ugly duckling of feminist demands: the lesbian movement in Mexico,' in Female Desires, Same Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia E Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 308–34, p. 308.

    [34] Mogrovejo, 'Sexual preference,' p. 309.

    [35] Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia E. Wieringa, 'Sapphic shadows: challenging the silence in the study of sexuality,' in Female Desires, Same Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. by Saskia E. Wieringa and Evelyn Blackwood, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 39–63, p. 39.

    [36] Cynthia Rothschild, Written Out: How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women's Organizing. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Center for Women's Global Leadership, 2005, p. 42, online:, site accessed 14 March 2014.

    [37] Noelene Nabulivou, 'Feminisms, identities, sexualities: a personal journey,' Development, vol. 49, no. 1 (2006): 30–34, p. 32.

    [38] Noelene Nabulivou and Peni Moore, Women's Action for Change 2008 Organisational Report, unpublished, Suva, Fiji, 2008, p. 5.

    [39] Talanoa, Moore, 18 December 2010.

    [40] Talanoa, Nabulivou, 25 April 2011.

    [41] Herdt, Same Sex, Different Cultures, p. 15.

    [42] K. Kendall, 'Women in Lesotho and the (western) construction of homophobia,' in Female Desires, Same Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia E Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 157–78, p. 165.

    [43] Blackwood and Wieringa, 'Introduction,' p. 26.

    [44] See for example, Ban Ki-moon, 'UN Secretary General says “the time has come",' All Out: Equality Everywhere, May 2012, URL:, site accessed 3 May 2012; and Desmond Tutu, 'Address to Ending Violence and Criminal Laws Against LGBTI People ,' Geneva, 17 September 2010, online:, site accessed 24 April 2011.

    [45] Herdt, Same Sex, Different Cultures, p. 15.

    [46] See Nabulivou, 'Feminisms, identities, sexualities: a personal journey'; and Luisa Tora with Carlos Perera and Cresantia Francis Koya-Vaka'uta, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community, 2006, online:, site accessed 27 March 2014.

    [47] bell hooks, Art on my Mind, New York: The New Press, 1995, p. 64.

    [48] Herdt, Same Sex, Different Cultures, p. 5.

    [49] Herdt, Same Sex, Different Cultures, p. 6.

    [50] Blackwood and Wieringa, 'Introduction,' p. 2.

    [51] Blackwood and Wieringa, 'Introduction,' p. 19; see also Besnier, 'Polynesian gender liminality through time and space,' p. 300.

    [52] Boellstorf, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology, p. 18.

    [53] Deborah A. Elliston, 'Negotiating transnational sexual economies: female Mahu and same-sex sexuality in "Tahiti and her Islands,"' in Female Desires, Same Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia E. Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 232–52, p. 243.

    [54] Elliston, 'Negotiating transnational sexual economies,' p. 244.

    [55] Elliston, 'Negotiating transnational sexual economies,' p. 238.

    [56] Boellstorf, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology,' p. 18.

    [57] Blackwood and Wieringa, 'Introduction,' p. 28.

    [58] Blackwood and Wieringa, 'Introduction,' p. 28.

    [59] In a study of the transgender community in Tonga, Besnier argues that leiti macron are often anxious to distance themselves from 'gay/lesbian-style equal rights and liberatory politics' for fear that in the Tongan context these would 'provoke a social backlash that currently does not exist in any organized fashion.' Besnier, 'The social production of abjection,' p. 315.

    [60] Sue Farran, 'Pacific perspectives: fa'afine and fakaleiti in Samoa and Tonga: people between worlds,' Liverpool Law Review, vol. 31 (2010): 13–28, p. 23.

    [61] Boellstorff, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology,' p. 19.

    [62] The 'logic of enumeration' on which this argument is based is problematic in that it effectively defers theorisation, discouraging critical examinations of how the social world is produced and reproduced, with all its complex inclusions and omissions. See Boellstorff, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology,' p. 19.

    [63] Elliston, 'Negotiating transnational sexual economies,' p. 240.

    [64] Farran, 'Pacific perspectives,' p. 13.

    [65] Talanoa, Gonewai, 19 March 2012; Moore, 2 April 2012.

    [66] Boellstorff, 'Queer studies in the house of anthropology,' p. 23.

    [67] See Shalveen Chand, 'Same sex law decriminalised,' Fiji Times, February 2010, online:, site accessed 30 March 2011; and Jacqueline Leckie and Aquilla Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' Fijian Studies: A Journal of Contemporary Fiji, vol. 3, no. 2 (2005): 451–54, p. 451.

    [68] See Leckie and Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' p. 452; and Tora Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community. Definitions of sodomy can be traced back to seventeenth-century England. They refer to sexual intercourse between men and bestiality. Sex between women was not made illegal, as it was neither referenced nor acknowledged within this definition. See Randolph Trumbach, 'London's sapphists: from three sexes to four genders in the making of modern culture,' in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt, New York: Zed Books, 1994, pp. 111–36, p. 126. Severe punishment for sodomy and 'unnatural crimes' including death sentences, were prevalent in England during the decades of sustained first contact with Polynesian communities. See Besnier, 'Polynesian gender liminality through time and space,' p. 293. No formal prosecutions were made under the penal code in Fiji from the 1960s until 2005, when an Australian male and a Fijian male were sentenced to two years in prison for homosexual acts. This sentence was subsequently overruled on appeal by High Court Judge Gerald Winter who ruled that engaging in consensual homosexual acts in private was not against the law. See Leckie and Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' pp. 451–52.

    [69] The Sexual Minorities Project in Fiji emphasised that even where sexuality is a protected ground from discrimination, the LGBT community and LGBT human rights defenders have been particularly vulnerable to intimidation and harassment. A 2011 survey of men in Fiji also found that overall Fiji is not a safe place to express a minority sexuality or gender identity. The survey found that transgender people and gay men were the most likely to experience abuse, discrimination or stigma, and to have experienced sexual violence in their lives. The survey highlighted the utter lack of counselling services for people who have experienced abuse or trauma associated with diverse gender or sexual identity, homophobia or transphobia. See B. Bavinton, N. Singh, D.S. Naiker, M.N. Deo, M. Talala, M. Brown, R.R. Singh, S. Dewan, and S. Navokavokadrau, Secret Lives, Other Voices…A Community-based Study Exploring Male-to-Male Sex, Gender Identity and HIV Transmission Risk in Fiji, Suva, Fiji: AIDS Taskforce of Fiji, 2011, online:, site accessed 5 July 2013.

    [70] Gere Goodman, et al., No Turning Back: Lesbian and Gay Liberation of the 80's, Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1983, cited in bell hooks, Feminist Theory From Margin to Centre, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000, p. 152.

    [71] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community.

    [72] Leckie and Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' p. 451.

    [73] Women's Action for Change, 'Sexual minorities project press release,' 2005, cited in George, 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance,' p. 166.

    [74] See George, 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance,' pp. 166–67; and Leckie and Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' p. 452.

    [75] George, 'Contending masculinities and the limits of tolerance,' p. 167.

    [76] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community.

    [77] Coalition of Women's NGOs, Shadow NGO Report on Fiji's Second, Third and Fourth Combined Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, for submission to CEDAW's 46 Session, 28 July 2009, pp. 22–23, online:, site accessed 9 April 2014.

    [78] Coalition of Women's NGOs, Shadow NGO Report on Fiji's Second, Third and Fourth Combined Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, p. 23.

    [79] See 'Churches react strongly against homosexuality,' Fiji Times Online 26 February 2010, online:, site accessed 30 March 2011; Coalition of Women's NGOs, Shadow NGO Report on Fiji's Second, Third and Fourth Combined Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, p. 23.

    [80] Drodrolagi Movement, 'An Open Letter of Support for the Drodrolagi (Rainbow) Movement,' 22 February 2011, online:, accessed 27 March 2014.

    [81] Tutu, Address to Ending Violence and Criminal Laws Against LGBTI People.

    [82] Drodrolagi Movement, 'An Open Letter of Support for the Drodrolagi (Rainbow) Movement.'

    [83] See Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 'Fiji,' Human Rights and Democracy 2012 – the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report, online:, site accessed 5 July 2012.

    [84] Audre Lorde, 'The transformation of silence into language and action,' in I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audry Lorde, ed. Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnetta Betch Cole and Beverley Guy-Sheftall, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 39–43, p. 42.

    [85] Lorde, I Am Your Sister, pp. 208–09.

    [86] Nabulivou, 'Feminisms, identities, sexualities: a personal journey,' p. 31.

    [87] Nabulivou, 'Feminisms, identities, sexualities: a personal journey,' p. 32.

    [88] Nabulivou, 'Feminisms, identities, sexualities: a personal journey,' p. 33.

    [89] Talanoa, Singh, Swami Vivekananda College, 22 April 2010.

    [90] Nabulivou and Moore, Women's Action for Change 2008 Organisational Report, p. 5.

    [91] Leckie and Yabaki, 'Rights of sexual minorities,' p. 452.

    [92] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community.

    [93] Clery and Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity,' p.169.

    [94] Rickie Solinger, Madeline Fox and Kayhan Irani, 'Introduction,' in Telling Stories to Change the World Global Voices on the Power of Narrative to Build Community and Make Social Justice Claims, ed. Solinger, Fox and Irani, New York and London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2008, pp. 1–14, p. 6.

    [95] Clery and Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity,' p. 170.

    [96] Clery and Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity,' p. 176.

    [97] Clery and Nabulivou, 'Women's collective creativity,' p. 176.

    [98] Talanoa, Nabulivou, May 2010.

    [99] Micheal Shank and Lisa Shirch, 'Strategic arts-based peacebuilding,' Peace and Change, vol. 33, no. 2, (2008): 217–42, p. 235.

    [100] Shank and Shirch, 'Strategic-arts based peacebuilding,' p. 235.

    [101] Jonathan Katz, 'Performative silence and the politics of passivity,' in Making a Scene, ed. Henry Rogers, University of Central England, Birmingham: Article Press, 2000, pp. 101–23, p. 103.

    [102] Nabobo-Baba, Knowing and Learning, pp. 94–95.

    [103] Nabobo-Baba, Knowing and Learning, p. 96.

    [104] Katz, 'Performative silence and the politics of passivity,' p. 101.

    [105] Katz, 'Performative silence and the politics of passivity,' p. 101.

    [106] Post-performance workshops with communities, and the F Word DVD which were produced by Women's Action for Change as a part of this project, contribute to this important work.

    [107] Talanoa, Nadi College, 21 April 2010; Fiji National University, 21 April 2010; Ba Provincial College, 23 April 2010.

    [108] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community.

    [109] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji's GLBT Community.

    [110] Peni Moore, 'The F Word,' Women's Action for Change, Suva, Fiji, unpublished, 2010.

    [111] Talanoa, Nadi College, Fiji National University, 21 April 2010.

    [112] Talanoa, Swami Vivekanand College, 22 April 2010.

    [113] Talanoa, Swami Vivekananda College, 22 April 2010.

    [114] Talanoa, Ba Provincial College, 23 April 2010; Nadi College, 21 April 2010.

    [115] Talanoa, Ba Provincial College, 23 April 2010.

    [116] Revisits to audiences who had watched the F Word drew upon WAC’s playful processes for working with groups. After introducing ourselves we began by playing games to develop communication skills, co-operation and trust within groups before the talanoa began. Each talanoa began by offering the group a broad theme for discussion. Students were asked what they remembered about the F word play. There were no preset questions or time limits on the talanoa. Because the discussions were student led, each talanoa reflected issues and concerns in individual schools and locations, and the information shared was context specific.

    [117] Talanoa, Nadi College, 21 April 2010.

    [118] Talanoa, Ba Provincial College, 23 April 2010; Nadi College, 21 April 2010.

    [119] Hal Pepinsky, 'Empathy and restoration,' in Handbook of Restorative Justice A Global Perspective, ed. Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tift, London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2006, pp. 188–97, p. 188.

    [120] Tora, Masculinity, Gender Identity and Fiji’s GLBT Community.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Last modified: 19 July 2014 0921