Lesbian Conference (Lesbian Feminist Treffin) in Cologne.


In June 2019 the 43 rd Lesbian Spring Meeting (LFT) met in Cologne. The theme was to look up at the stars, where we have come from, what can come and what do we wish for.
With two eventful years behind them there were almost as many topics as there are stars in the sky. A special small star (klitzekleine stein) was behind the L and the organizers felt they were on a tightrope walk with its critics on the one side who said they were too closed and the ones on the other side argued we were too open. The organizers did not want a meeting called “queer” since many of those groups exist. However they wanted to be open to women who may not call themselves “lesbian”.

The organizers wanted to preserve, keep up and even develop what has grown for a long timeand has been built by many women in the past. So they wanted a space for “women who love women”.


They planned for the LFT to be in a place where appreciating dialogues could take place about diversity and similarities where a march for diverse and solidarity of lesbians. The programme for the 1000 attendees was very full running from Friday evening until Monday 1pm. It all began with an official opening and a documentary film of the 70’s, a concert and then a Dance party.
After breakfast on Saturday there was an opening plenary by the organizers, then lesbian TV from the 90’s, the music from the 1978 “Flying Lesbians” (Charlotte Museum has a sound track) and preparation for the 2pm March with a DIY radical cheerleading workshop and placard making.


The workshops over the weekend included singing and voice training, your strong self in
relationship, the inner clown, the personal is political, Dyke Power, gender pay gap, fire
making, sex when older, theatre improvisation, post digital, lesbians going right wing,
pedophilic lesbians, gender as performance, feminist therapy, personal development, single lesbians, country lesbians, lesbian mothers, just juggling, feminist pornography for lesbians, radical feminist view of gender, safe sex, and the construction of identity.
There was a Weeds For Health Walk.
There were facilitated discussions on Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble’, You Make The World, Jewish Lesbians, Critique of Psychiatric Treatment (reading from a book), 1970’s and 80’s activism, Lesbian with children, Lesbians in Gambia and an intergenerational discussion.
In the evenings there were cabaret, performances, film on body shaming and a sexuality
documentary and then a Dance Party each night.


Activities for children were organized.

Stalls included crafts, the Tarot, Silverweed Matriarchal Culture, Dream Smoke, exhibitions, sculpture, natural healing, old lesbian songs, and a travelling house workshop. The conference was new to some and for others a great catch up reminding me of events at the Charlotte Museum.

The Importance Of Hands

By Miriam Saphira


The other day I noticed some very well manicured hands with short nails,
I realised my gaydar had been slipping. She smiled in an whimsical way and looked at my hands
Such importance.
We use our hands for so much of our lesbian lives.

Of late, my hands have been a sorry pair with cuts and scratches, chipped nails from working with concrete, and stained from my art practice. Now I am soaking and massaging my hands to make them soft.
When I came out and walked very nervously into the KG Club down on Beach Road the
women were friendly and made me feel at home. There was this special comradeship I had not experienced since my high school hockey team. They were rough and ready days of lots of drinking, of angry scenes, and yet we looked after each other against the OTHERS. Things are better now but there are still difficulties out there. Today, some younger lesbians tell you of dangerous taxi drivers, and how people think every girl they say hullo to must be their girlfriend.
So when we come home we have to look after ourselves.
I look at these large gnarled hands and try to kept them soft I can see how brilliant they are. Such strength, such endurance, yet at the end of the day when we close our window to the world outside I know that my hands will know just how much touch my girlfriend will like. For many, many years I did not have a girlfriend so I practised on my self. What a pleasure that was; practice makes perfect. My intelligent hands will give my girlfriend exactly what she likes.
Our hands are a valuable asset.

We do not often talk about sex. Often it is relegated to smutty jokes.
My favourite is; the definition of a butch lesbian – she kick starts her vibrator and rolls her own tampons.
A few jokes are fine but for every joke we need to have a conversation about sex. We do not talk about orgasm; the effects of certain medications, the effects of drugs, alcohol, and ill health on our ability to have an orgasm. If there was ever a good reason to get very fit and healthy it would be to enjoy good sex. It is no good waiting for good sex as we age it takes longer and much more effort.
The sad thing is lesbians probably have less sex than other groups yet the homophobes think we have had or are about to have sex with every woman they see us with! The trouble is we would be exhausted! What they don’t realise is that what their husband does for ten minutes once a week is not the same as what we do less frequently for three hours.
I remember the boss who after a few wines at the staff function sidled up to me and said – well what do you really do in bed.
My response; I feel very sorry for your wife if you have to ask me that question.

Yes our hands hold many secrets they have movements and subtleties we cannot explain but we know the ecstasy they can bring.

Edited from a talk given at eh West Auckland Women’s Centre in 1995.

Lesbian Community


By Miriam Saphira

The lesbian community is part of the bigger LGBTI community.  In the past the LGBTI community has come together in times of strife, such as advocating for law reform to improve  human rights equality.  Today many of these things have been achieved while a few activists continue to pursue public education of the public to eliminate homophobia. For the Lesbian Community which focuses on women’s issues, this can be a tall order when we still have arranged marriages in New Zealand and other pressures on girls to be straight or to hide their orientation. Some people come to the Charlotte Museum to gain support and are surprised that we have quite a herstory.

In times of personal difficulties some lesbians bewail their lack of community.  They nostalgically recall the 80’s when there seemed to be much more visible support than now.  This is the 21st century and many of us feel quite safe, not needing the support of a “Lesbian Community” as such.

I was rereading “The Day We Were Mostly Butterflies” by Louise King published in 1963.  The relationships are gay but not so clearly stated as they would be today but the lesbian role of a ‘femme’ Miss Moppet and her truck driver girlfriend, Lillian are as real as many of the couples I met at the Beach Road KG Club in the early seventies.  There was however a sense of community with the story. Not a community at the barricades shouting for reform but a quiet network of people who supported each other through homophobic and sometimes tragic times.  This is again what we have today – a network of friends to socialize with and lean on in times of angst.

The cover of the book shows two butterflies on a pansy with a wasp in the corner.  The author’s photo of the back shows a pensive young woman with sad eyes. With lesbianism seen as a mental illness in the sixties until 1973 the book is not so open about the lesbians or the gay man in the story.  In the 1960’s that is how it was.

Today Charlotte Museum Trust, thanks to a grant from Lotteries Environment and Heritage  Research, is  trying to capture women who loved women’s stories to gain a sense of the networks and supports lesbians used to get by in their day-to-day lives.  For this reason the Charlotte Museum records lives gone by providing displays and events related to  women from earlier times so women today can become aware of the rich culture lesbian have left behind and learn about the networks that supported them in earlier times .


Queerest Tea Party 2017 @Otago University


Kia Ora

My name is Rachel an I am one of the workers at the Charlotte Museum, but I am also an anatomy and genetics student at Otago University in Dunedin.

Every semester, the OUSA (Otago University Students Association) runs the Queerest Tea Party on campus, a celebration of diversity and friendship… and TEA!

The Tea Party ran on the 23rd August in the Main Common Room and included live performances from the Otago Dance Association Performance troop, Sacrilege productions, and a cupcake decorating contest, all coordinated by MC Andrew Wolff.

With unlimited tea, coffee, juice, cookies, slices and other snacks, the Tea Party offers a unique atmosphere to sit and chat and have fun with your friends, amid a day of lectures.


My cup of tea (milk, no sugar) along with two stickers and my cookie (which was delicious!)

A few friends and myself attended between lectures of enzymes and the cardiovascular system, sitting down amid banners and dancers for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Ribbons were been given, designed in the flags of the different pride groups, such as homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transgender and many more.

Stickers were also given out, encouraging students to embrace diversity and declaring Equality for all. These stickers are now stuck to the wall in my dorm room, adding nicely to the decor.


One of my stickers along with one of the tea cups with bows – the one on top is a bow made using the Transgender flag!

Aside from the free tea, cookies, badges and stickers, there was just this amazing atmosphere of students coming together as one to celebrate equality.  The tea party only went for a short two hours, but hundreds of students joined for tea and chats, interacting with new people and talking about dreams and wishes for the future, especially in regards to the diversity and community at Otago.

In the short amount of time that I have been at Otago University, I have been consistently amazed at the acceptance and kindness practised by both students and staff to all. Not once have I seen someone being mocked for their appearance, gender or orientation.

While the Tea Party is only something that happens once a year, the feeling of that short time spent drinking tea with my peers will cling for a while to come, because it was truly something special.

For those studying at Otago, or just living in the general area, I highly recommend visiting the Queerest Tea Party in 2018 (It’s open to everyone!). I know that I will.


Nga mihi

Rachel 🙂



It’s all about you: finding community in a museum

Community, Herstory, History, Lesbian, Museums, Participatory Museum

There is no doubt in the mind of anyone affiliated with the Charlotte Museum Trust, that preserving lesbian heritage and culture is an important and powerful endeavour. The museum claims a slice of what Nestor Garcia Canclini referred to some time ago as a patrimony, it creates a symbolic turangawaewae for passing and evolving generations of lesbians, it celebrates communities while creating community.

During 2015 I had the opportunity to think about how we might best use this gendered, queer space, not just as a well-deserved commemoration of the lives of New Zealand lesbians who faced what was at times abhorrent treatment, but as a way of presenting the past fairly and inclusively. Also, because I am a supporter of Nina Simon’s ‘participatory museum’, it was important to me that my time at the Charlotte Museum present opportunities for community participation in exhibitions. And this is why I offered Invulved and Me Myselfie I as community exhibitions during 2015.

In Invulved I sought to supplement ubiquitous yet isolated stories about lesbian disenfranchisement within and from the military, with the clicking of knitting needles across a virtual community of lesbian and lesbian-friendly knitters. And this is the principle of a participatory museum – the idea that it’s not the museum’s job to teach, preach, or demonstrate to its public, but rather to facilitate the public’s creation of meaningful exhibitions and experiences themselves. It is, to be fair, suspiciously akin to performance art, and is also in many ways very similar to earlier approaches to women’s galleries, where the participatory museum as an ideal, acts as a catchment area for community expression and co-understanding. It aspires to be anti-hierarchical, where knowledge/art/meaning/history, is co-created within rather than by, a museum space.

My job then, was to design projects and exhibitions that would create meaning for lesbian culture and heritage by looking outwards, to you, as much as inwards, towards the collection. Admittedly I began upon this path cautiously, retaining a high degree of agency over what the final exhibition of knitted vulvae would look like – I arranged it into the shape of a fern and afterall, it was me who decided that we would commemorate women’s participation in World War One by knitting vulvapoppies in the first place. But each and every vulvapoppy we received was a part of each of you, and in knitting them you had become a community of lesbian knitters. That was a start. What I learned from that first show, was that not everyone knits: I had at my disposal a dedicated team of craftswomen rather than the lesbian community at large. The image heading this page is from an envelope that contained one of the vulva poppies sent to us in the post.

Which led me to the Charlotte Museum Trust’s selfography exhibition, Me, Myselfie, I. For this exhibition I asked for selfies. I also looked outwards in this exhibition, by allowing you to tell me where the edges of our community lay. I was asked the difficult yet timely question that amounts to, which kinds of lesbians are welcome to participate, to which I answered, anyone who feels that being lesbian is a significant or primary part of their sexual and/or gender identity. I let you tell me who ‘we’ are, by creating an exhibition whose edges were shaped by your own choices, not mine.

Looking outward as a way of creating communal identity and co-creating heritage and culture, creates an archive of the now for future generations. It is also, I believe, integral to ensuring that we do not streamline lesbian history, cleaning it of its stragglers, its misfits, its ethnic others, its outsiders. Which also means, that it is imperative that the stragglers, misfits, ethnic others and outsiders find participation desirable. Did Me, Myselfie, I succeed in doing this? We appeared to receive submissions from a pleasingly diverse range of lesbian demographics, old and young, butch and femme, Pacific, Maori, and Pakeha. But were any of my entrants the stragglers or misfits? That is, were they those who might wear the lesbian mantle loosely or alongside many identities, amongst many experiences? And I have to concede that I have no idea. Me Myselfie I wasn’t about life stories, it was about participation. You were allowed to keep your secrets.

Allowing for anonymous participation is one way that we can grow our community involvement in these kinds of shows – sure we now have a series of beautiful selfies in the museum’s collection, but there was an option on the entry form to choose to not have a photograph made public online, and an artist’s statement about the photograph was optional. While we know what some of you look like, we know nothing about how you got to be in our show. And for me, that anonymity within visibility was a powerful aspect of the exhibition.

Dr Nadia Gush

Vanishing Lesbians? Dr Alison J Laurie considers the history and significance of lesbian spaces

Feminism, Herstory, Lesbian

Are lesbians vanishing?

Or has the way we understand visibility changed?

World wide, it seems that there are very few lesbian bars, clubs or public meeting places that survive. Even in Paris, there are now no lesbian bars. The few once lesbian bars that survive, are now for gay men. In the US, in city after city, lesbians report the loss of bars, clubs, and bookshops.

Here in New Zealand, there are now no lesbian clubs, and in many cities, no regular meeting places. In Auckland, the Charlotte Museum holds lesbian events, as does the Lilac Library in Wellington. There are occasional women’s dances, regular lesbian walks in Wellington, lesbian potlucks on the Kapiti Coast, and some other places. Some lesbian magazines continue to survive, in Auckland and Christchurch, and a few newsletters. The Wellington Lesbian Radio Programme continues, now for 31 years. The Lilac Library, Radio Programme, and some lesbian events, are financially supported by the Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians. The Women’s Bookshop remains, as do some women’s centres, but of course these are not specifically lesbian.

There are bars, meetings, and other gatherings, in the main centres for the Rainbow communities that include a range of people. And it does seem that in the big, wide, and ever-expanding alphabet soup of LGBTQI there is a less noticeable presence from lesbians. Public events like the Hero Parade remain dominated by gay men.

What has replaced the former physical meeting places for lesbians now seems to be the Internet, with a myriad of lesbian web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter connections etc. A virtual world, for discussion, dating, contacts. In this, younger lesbians are no different from others in their age group. And older lesbians are learning to do this too. Though many sites are also rainbow inclusive, and not only for lesbians.

We have always struggled for inclusion in mixed groups with gay men. In the 1960s, “kamp girls” as we called ourselves then, could not be members of kamp men’s clubs, like the Dorian Society in Wellington. New Zealand was a highly sex segregated society, especially following the return of two generations of men damaged in overseas wars, who established the RSAs, the custom of men only public bars, and much besides. Gay men and lesbians are products of the cultures in which we live, and gay men were no more used to socialising with women present than were heterosexual men. After the extension of licensing hours to 10pm in 1967, many hotels set up mixed bars, though public bars remained men only for some time.

Eventually lesbians responded to being excluded, by setting up our own clubs, the first being the KG Club in Auckland, and Club 41 in Wellington. Following the introduction of Gay Liberation, lesbians worked with gay men, to gain human rights and to change the criminal law against male homosexual acts. As these groups expanded, the sexism of many gay men meant that lesbians embraced the new ideas of lesbian feminism, also introduced from the US. Lesbians formed our own groups, soon joined by women coming out through Women’s Liberation, lesbians leaving gay liberation, and lesbians from the old kamp culture. For the heady years of the 1970s and 1980s, lesbians established clubs, magazines, lesbian centres, bookshops, organizations, summer camps, and held many events, including dances, conferences, and much more. All for lesbians only. Safe spaces, where lesbians could meet, talk, relax, and develop a lesbian culture. Lesbian separatism was one response to the male exclusivity and separatism of New Zealand society generally, and especially of the more conservative gay men.

New Zealand lesbian culture became inclusive of race, class and disability, and was politically active around anti-racism, peace and employment issues. Many lesbians worked in coalitions, and worked with gay men, leading up to homosexual law reform in 1986. During the law reform and human rights campaigns, it was difficult to have the word “lesbian” used by the media, or by gay men, many who thought “lesbian” could be subsumed under the term “gay”. We did achieve specific inclusion in the Human Rights Act 1993, arguing that “homosexual” was mostly understood as referring to men, and that “lesbian” needed to be specified to make it clear that women were also included, and that “bisexual” also needed to be specified.

As we have moved into more recent times, “lesbian” is always included in the alphabet soup. But more often as a letter, than as a reality. For example, there is little attention given to lesbian health issues, such as the high incidence among lesbians of breast cancer. Or of the importance of pay equity to lesbians, who remain disadvantaged, as are all women in New Zealand, by the pay differentials between male and female wages, compounded by the additional factors of race, class, age and disability. Same-sex marriage has brought some relief to lesbian mothers and co-parents, but the issues of maternity leave, breast-feeding in the workplace, child-care, and leave to care for sick children have not been resolved. Men in the alphabet soup show little interest in these issues.

Among rainbow youth, “Lesbian” may be regarded by some as an old-fashioned, unpopular, unattractive identity, despite all the Ellens and Hollywood stars coming out. Famous people have always been allowed to be different, and it may not change things that much on the ground, in schools, workplaces, families, and all the many places where lesbians fear discrimination and exclusion. It remains difficult to live as lesbian, in a society where women who refuse to be sexually available to men threaten the gendered structures of patriarchy. However, there are increasing numbers of young women who do live as lesbians, marry, have children, and socialize only within their family groups. Perhaps they no longer have any need for lesbian spaces, events, or cultures.

So – are lesbian spaces vanishing from the physical world, into the safer spaces of the virtual world? Can lesbians retain visibility within the alphabet soup, or do we need to move away and rebuild more lesbian spaces like the Charlotte Museum and the Lilac Library? And to what extent should we welcome others from the alphabet soup into our lesbian spaces? Would these others take them over, dominate, so that these places could become rainbow areas, mainly reflecting the interests of men. As girls and women, we are taught to put the interests of men first, to make them feel comfortable, and look after them. And not to make them angry, for fear of the consequences. It’s hard to break this socialisation. And those who have been socialised as boys and men, can speak with such authority and confidence, that it seems natural to defer to them, and to put their interests first. A Rainbow Museum might be financially sound, if men supported it, but would it still display adequate lesbian material among large new Rainbow collections? And, the Charlotte Museum advertises in a blog post, that a “lesbian-feminist transwoman may be the most radical of us all”. If they were many, and a critical mass, what kind of “lesbian” culture and history would be reflected? Alix Dobkin sang, “every woman can be a lesbian”. Today, perhaps “everybody can be a lesbian”. Otherwise, there are Rainbow events overseas and in New Zealand, with an ever-increasing alphabet soup of genders and sexualities, dominated by gay men, queer men, flamboyant and keen to prioritise their own visibility and their own issues.

These are all questions to consider for the future. Will lesbians vanish? Become more visible? Move in completely new and unimagined directions?

Dr Alison J. Laurie, 2015.

CMT experiment crop


“Am I changing into something of a monster or am I just claiming back my rights?”

Feminism, Herstory, Lesbian

Could violence be liberating? Not a commonly posed question concerning women’s relationship to the serious issue of domestic and related violence in New Zealand – and for good reason. Police are currently called to an average of 200 domestic violence situations a day, and that figure is estimated at a fifth of the total incidents of domestic violence in New Zealand. That’s at least one call out every seven minutes. But in the late 1970s in Wellington, lesbian feminists reflected upon this very question, reflecting on their own use of violence, wondering: “Am I changing into something of a monster or am I just claiming back my rights?”

Articles on this theme published in the lesbian feminist magazine Circle document a range of attitudes towards violence, both violence between lesbians, and violence between lesbians and heterosexual men. What is clear is that ‘fisticuffs’ were prevalent in late 1970s lesbian life, so much so that women began to reflect upon the politics of throwing a punch. From a 2015 perspective where relationship violence as it impacts on lesbians and others within the Rainbow spectrum is only starting to garner thorough attention, I was surprised to find this politics of aggression being critically presented in 1979.

For one Circle writer, lesbian feminist violence was a means of empowerment. Echoing the ethos of self-defence, she claimed that fighting was just another thing that women needed to learn. But this was not the politics of knowing how to keep safe when approached on a side-street, so much as a politics of fighting like the boys. This writer describes instances where she initiated fights with men on the street, noting that she would be more likely to pick a fight when she “didn’t like the look of him and knew he wouldn’t retaliate. That’s a lot of when I do things – working out if they look as if they’ll hit me back (none of them really has yet).” She then reflected, “There’s a lot of shit about “we’re going to find a better way of doing things”, “we’re just like them” but for me that’s bullshit. Some middle class woman saying to me “I cut them down with words” or “I stay away from them”, well I’m no better with words than those men are and I’ve no car to get around in anyway else and they’re my streets too.”

Lesbian-Feminist Circle, 'Lesbian's Ignite', 1079, p.18For another Circle correspondent the violence in the Wellington lesbian scene was the symptom of lesbian oppression and resulting fear and frustration. However she also noted, “What is disturbing though is that the violence that should be directed outside is so often diverted into the lesbian community and finds expression against other lesbians in the same form as male brutality and cruelty.” Lesbians threw punches at bars, but they also threw punches at home, while some stayed away from lesbian and feminist meetings for fear of the backlash if they threw a punch in a public forum.

Google for ‘feminism +violence’ and you’ll get a plethora of hits concerning feminist campaigns against domestic and sexual violence. None will argue for the feminism of physical hits. Google ‘lesbian +violence’ and you’ll find a similar array of sites against physical and sexual violence, and a few links to porn sites to boot. Which leaves me to wonder, does the feminist politics of lesbian violence remain?  Were we monsters or freedom-fighters?

The Charlotte Museum Trust holds copies of Circle within its research library.

Why not a lesbian museum? Miriam Saphira reflects

Herstory, History, Lesbian, Museums

In 2001 a small archives group was set up in Auckland to try to encourage people to write their stories and send them to LAGANZ (Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand). In February 2003 I took a T-shirt quilt and the badge collection to the Outlines conference, and thought they would be great at LAGANZ, but they could not collect objects so back in Auckland the group  thought, ‘What about all those lesbian art works that relatives will never understand or know what to do with? – Why not a lesbian Museum?’.

Quilt made from 48 T-shirts from the 70s to early 90s for the Outlines Conference 2003, by Miriam Saphira

Lesbian history has been lost. Lesbian culture was always hidden and available only to a few lesbian academics. With a history of discrimination, violence, and hospital incarceration there is little trust in the straight world knowing about lesbian culture or viewing it. In the 1920’s there were several group of lesbians who mixed socially in New Zealand e.g Tuesday Club in New Plymouth. Apart from a few hearsay references and photos we have very little information about their lives.  After the backlash from World War Two in the late forties and fifties,  lesbianism became classified as a mental disorder. It was not until the seventies that there was a renaissance of lesbian culture. This material was becoming lost.

I did a feasibility study – not knowing anything about museum standards or what was involved, and I set up the Charlotte Museum Trust with Nicola Jackson, Christine Hammerton, and Paula Wallis. We put some money in and began fund raising. In 2007 the Charlotte Museum held a Poster show in conjunction with Marco Trust under the title REMEMBER THIS ONE. The exhibition was held throughout the Hero festival and was very well attended with over 800 people viewing it. We got registered with the Charities Commission in May 2007. As founder of the Museum and as Secretary of the Trust, I would not have put my hand up if I had known it would involve writing 86 policies to become a real Museum with Museum Standards…

But hey, we did it!

One of the failures of modern society is to provide safety for our young people. Lesbians still have a higher than average rate of suicide. The stories of several lesbians who have been incarcerated in mental hospitals and subjected to invasive treatment in attempt to change their sexuality needs to be in the public domain.

Information of lesbian culture is now available for the first time to the public, especially to young people who might be questioning their sexual orientation or wanting to understand a friend’s orientation. The many songs and poems the museum hopes to preserve are part of the stories of women from many different walks of life and education. The Charlotte Museum Trust collects and preserves artifacts of lesbian culture such as labrys, music, theatre, film, literature, art and other memorabilia from early lesbian life in New Zealand / Aotearoa. Currently we have a collection of 800 lesbian cultural artifacts: Labrys (in bone, glass and silver), domestic ware, lesbian ceramics, 2100 lesbian books and many of the early magazines from both New Zealand and overseas.

Straight people who have visited the museum are astonished by the early women who had female companions and the women orientated works we have on display, while lesbians visiting us talk about a sense of pride.

Dr Miriam Saphira

Self Love

Contemporary Art, Lesbian, New Zealand art, photography, Selfies

I am not sure I even remember my first selfie. It was definitely taken on a 35mm semi-automatic film camera, and definitely using a timer. It probably involved precarious balancing – both of the camera, and of me. I was probably 19. While I may have taken self-portraits at most twice a year, millions of people now take multiple self-portraits daily. As a genre, selfography bloomed in the 2010s. It found a home in social media, travelling from MySpace, to Facebook and beyond. But it’s not the internet that makes today’s selfies different from the self-portraits I took as a young woman; its little things like face recognition, auto-focus, and the ability to reliably take photos at close range.

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

The bathroom or public toilet has become a ubiquitous setting for selfographers worldwide. Well lit, often private, with a nice big mirror. Why weren’t we all taking photos in bathrooms when I was in my teens? Because most of us couldn’t afford the macro lenses that allowed you to take a photo in such a small space, and even if you could, you never knew what the camera had focussed on while you were smiling hopefully into its big black eye. Digital cameras and their user-friendly technology have created a new genre in photography that plays to the advantages of auto-focus, auto-exposure, face recognition, and close range. Selfies quickly became a visual style, where subjects often photographed themselves looking upwards at the camera creating a flattering distortion of the face. Then came the duckfaces.

With informal, popular standards for selfie taking, comes the possibility for selfie subversion and selfie play. For at least my first year as a facebook user, I rebelled. I tried to look bad in selfies to break the monotony of smiling eyes and strategically blown out complexions. I used tomato sauce and chicken feathers to create a Halloween selfie for my profile picture that was also a tribute to Anne Noble’s photography. And I don’t even celebrate Halloween.


Tribute to Anne Noble, 2009

In 2013 the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, at the Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair in London, became one of the first exhibitions to take selfies seriously. Two years later the Charlotte Museum Trust is doing the same with our ‘Me Myselfie I’ exhibition, due to open at the Charlotte Gallery on 16 August.

As many in our community know all too well, lesbians don’t always get the opportunity to define themselves for the world: to put their real selfies forward. Lesbians have been medicalized, stigmatised, pathologised, categorised, and misunderstood for years. In 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing published Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study where he identified lesbianism as pathology. For Kraft-Ebing, sexual inversion (the reversal of gender roles) was the result of poor breeding and poverty. A little later in 1897 Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion. Ellis associated lesbianism with sadism and bestiality as sexual deviations. For Sigmund Freud, who began writing at about the same time, all humans were born bisexual, where proper healthy psychological development resulted in heterosexuality, not homosexuality. When teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme conspired to kill Parker’s mother in New Zealand in 1954, their apparently lesbian relationship was used as evidence of a medical illness during the trial. Internationally, this postwar period saw women who loved women medicalised as promiscuous, predatory, and psychopathic. Many of us live and have lived under this shadow.

In a world where others have always had the job of defining us, the Charlotte Museum Trust believes the selfie is an awesome medium for reclaiming ownership of what it means to be a lesbian.

And selfies are also a whole lot of fun. Let’s not forget the fun.

And thus The Charlotte Museum Trust wants your selfies! As an added incentive we are also offering a tidy little competition. Our judge Jac Lynch will select two selfies to be professionally printed and mounted by Imagelab, to be sent to the winners at the close of the show.

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Entries for both the exhibition and the competition close 29 July. Email us at charlottemuseum@gmail.com for an entry form, but do be quick!

Open to New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply.

Jumping on board the flag wagon: union jacks and rainbow stripes

flag, union jack

Flags are an excellent way of identifying things from a distance – Raleigh Choppers parked at the end of a suburban street – for example. Flags are especially excellent ways of identifying things that can change ownership – like castles, parliaments, borders – anything of strategic significance during times of warfare, times when you need a rough and ready way of letting people in the distance know who is now inside the building (so back off), or on the other side of the border (or we will shoot you). White flags of surrender are also useful. But these days, what flags seem to be really good at, is attracting controversy.


‘Colours of NZ’, Designed by: gaygamesblog from Auckland, submitted as a new flag design by Lisa McFarland.

For reasons unknown and unfathomable to a large percentage of the New Zealand population, we as New Zealanders are currently being asked to design a new national flag. The current flag was first used on New Zealand ships in 1869 and became New Zealand’s official national flag in 1902, and there are great reasons for keeping it as it is. It’s an honest depiction of our past, for one thing. But does it really represent contemporary New Zealand? Or is there a better way of depicting our bicultural past – or of symbolising our multicultural present? While these issues are gaining traction, the most controversy a flag has brought to New Zealand was probably in 1845, when Hone Heke cut down a flagpole displaying the British flag – and it wasn’t because he didn’t like the design.

Oddly in synch with New Zealand politics, the USA is also debating flag appropriateness, but for somewhat different reasons. When Dylann Roof recently killed nine at the African American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he did so in an attempt to reignite the American Civil War. He did so to honour the ‘confederate’ flag, a flag flown across America, and a flag which is a relic from the American Civil War. As Sidney Blumenthal describes it, the confederate flag is an “ensign of a slaveholders’ republic, revived a century later as the symbol of massive resistance to civil rights, [which] became an iconic code for the Republicans’ Southern strategy.’ That is, the ‘confederate’ flag is associated with racial oppression, and as such Americans are currently arguing for its removal from public buildings.

In response to the push to have the confederate flag removed, Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, recently declared ‘if we come to the point where we say any flag that represents bigotry, any flag that represents hatred, any flag that represents slavery or oppression needs to be removed, then I want to suggest to you that the next flag to go ought to be the rainbow flag of the Gay Reich.’

The rainbow flag has, of course, become a widespread symbol of pride for LGBTIQ communities. The Charlotte Museum Trust has a rainbow flag within its collection. But who knew – or remembers – that “hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.” Rather than being uniquely ‘gay’, or collectively queer, the rainbow flag was designed to symbolise the kinds of things that any 1970s free-spirit would aspire to embracing. The flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in the late 1970s to replace the pink triangle popularly used at the time. The pink triangle, much like the confederate flag (and Bryan Fischer’s remarks), has its origins in oppression and hatred, where the pink triangle was the symbol used by Nazi Germany to stigmatize homosexual men. While the pink triangle had been reclaimed by gay communities as a symbol of identity, the rainbow became the official symbol of gay activism after San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978.

While our government insists we reassess our national flag here in New Zealand, I wonder if we might reassess our LGBTIQ flag in New Zealand too. Like any exercise in rebranding, the shift to a rainbow flag in 1978 obscured one thing in favour of another – it shifted our gaze from the pink triangle of bigoted hatred, to a rainbow of joyful resistance. Changing the flag of course, didn’t actually make bigoted hatred go away.

Moreover, since the rainbow flag became widespread, variants appeared for bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality, among others. Lesbians have also used interlocked female symbols on their flags instead of rainbows. The Charlotte Museum Trust has one of these, too.


Asexual pride flag

bi pride

Bisexual pride flag

However the full rainbow flag remains the symbol most synonymous with LGBTIQ pride across New Zealand. Any regional festival proves as much. But should it? Does a rainbow of joyful resistance still work in 2015?

And more importantly, does a flag originating with 1970s American gay activism, best symbolise LGBTIQ pride in New Zealand in the 2010s? Is it time we jumped on board the flag wagon and reassessed our own symbols? Or should we keep the rainbow… just so people like Bryan Fischer can see when the Gay Reich have stormed the castle.

The Charlotte Museum Trust welcomes information about flags used in New Zealand as part of lesbian activism over the years, if you have photos, even better! Contact us at charlottemuseum@gmail.com if you have information to share, and don’t forget to follow us on our facebook page.