On Wednesday May 23 2018, Fay Nass was a speaker at the City of Vancouver’s Year of the Queer launch – here is her speech.
I’m Fay Nass, the new Artistic Director of the Frank Theatre.
I want to thank the Coast Salish people, caretakers of this land, who have made it possible for me to be standing here. It is an honour to be a face for 2018: The Year of (the) Queer… Thank you to the City of Vancouver for their support and declaration of this year.
2018 is The Year of the Queer. I turned 34 this year, which isn’t a typically a meaningful birthday but it is to me.
I moved to Vancouver with my family 18 years ago from Iran. My mother was 34 when my parents decided to leave everything behind including all their privileges and their identity in order to provide more possibilities for me and my sister.
That crow which flew over our heads
and descended into the disturbed thought
of a vagabond cloud
and the sound of which traversed
he breadth of the horizon
like a short spear
will carry the news of us to the city.
that you and I have seen the garden
from that cold sullen window
and that we have plucked the apple
from that playful, hard-to-reach branch.
Everyone is afraid
everyone is afraid, but you and I
joined with the lamp
and water and mirror and we were not afraid.
we have found our way
Into the cold, quiet dream of phoenixes:
we found truth in the garden
In the embarrassed look of a nameless flower,
and we found permanence
In an endless moment
when two suns stared at each other.
I am not talking about timorous whispering
In the dark.
I am talking about daytime and open windows
and fresh air and a stove in which useless things burn
and land which is fertile
with a different planting
and birth and evolution and pride.
I am talking about our loving hands
which have built across nights a bridge
of the message of perfume
and light and breeze.
This poem is called The Conquest Of the Garden. It was written by Forough Farrokhzad, a pioneer of contemporary poetry in Iran. I used to know most of her poems by heart. This one was my favourite and I’ve always thought it was very queer–I always imagined it being about two women. Forough was a person who lived outside many norms, challenging patriarchy and shamelessly writing about love and sex at a time when it was rare even to encounter a female poet, much less one considered risky even for men.
I loved her.
In some ways she was my first crush.
I loved that like me, she was born in January – but for years I feared becoming 33, which was her age when she died. Forough introduced me to my inner life, which turned out to be very queer.
Growing up I used my imagination to flip every rigid, super-obviously-straight idea encountered–there were many–and reinterpret what these codes are I think this is what contemporary, scholarly, western society identifies as liminality. I was always there even as a kid in my home, my city, my country, my language. The feeling intensified when I moved to Canada where I encountered multiple new categories within which to be liminal. To me this is the most alienating but exciting space to be in, but perhaps I’m biased because it appears to me it might be the only place I’ve ever been. But it excites me because it is always alive and changing which means it contains the potential to become anything if we imagine and believe in it.
In Farsi we don’t use gender pronouns–there is no “he” or “she”, only 3rdperson pronouns.
Ooo leaves a lot of room for interpretation because gender becomes interchangeable. Not having gender pronouns was very freeing for someone who always lived in a neither/or zone of gender. It allowed me to identify with any character I wanted when I was reading or dreams. I became fascinated with writing and feeling I had a secret identity alive in a language full or metaphors and structural flexibility.
What I love most in The Conquest of the Garden is the image of the garden. The Garden is a space that embodies possibility, a physical place where for instance I could be free to make love to a woman. One day after reading the poem I decide to attempt skipping school in order to find the secret garden I imagined every day through the classroom window until I realized the actual garden I was staring at the small backyard of an extremely poor family.
In February 2000, my family and I said goodbye to our family and friends, got on the plane and in 18 hours we landed at YVR. Somehow in 18 hours everything changed and all we once identified with was gone. me a secular ESL Persian not-out-yet lesbian trying to fit in at West Van high, in Theatre no less, FOB what people called me…my classmates were quite rich compared to my family, even other immigrants which meant that even FOB meant something different among us, and cost us all different prices.
2 years later, I applied for the theatre program at UVic, and despite the language barrier I got accepted. At this point I was the only queer POC in my program. I never saw someone like me on the stage, or anything that I could remotely relate to. In 2006, I returned back to Vancouver as an emerging theatre director with $50,000 in student loan debt and no network.
I still remember the sensation of the day that I randomly walked to Homer street and saw a lineup of women with short hair, ties and dress shirts. I found the courage to get closer, and that is how I learned about Queer Film Festival. Not having any money, I decided to volunteer as an usher so I could see movies with queer presentations. It was as if I found the secret garden.
Eventually I learned about the frank theatre (formerly Screaming Weenie) and the Pride in the Art Society. Going to queer events became my refuge, these spaces helped me to dream again even if I was still a minority, a POC, an immigrant. They just felt like place to start a sense of belonging. Today I am standing here celebrating the frank’s 10th anniversary, Pride in the Art’s 20th anniversary and Queer Film Festival’s 30th anniversary. These organizations have created jobs, possibility and a platform for queer voices to exist, for queer bodies to be seen and for queer stories to be told. They have contributed immensely to the city’s cultural ecology, and every day they fight to create more space for inclusion, equity and cultural exchanges.
While I celebrate these great accomplishment, I know that there is still a long way to go towards equity. In many ways, I’m living a life my parents made possible for me when they dared to dream beyond their own reality, and leap into a new one without any safety or support or family. beyond their own dreams.
I think a lot about the importance of queer POC voices, and the importance of queer POC spaces for those stories to grow in. I think a lot about the stories that never got to be told, and have disappeared due to language and economical barriers, I think about Vancouver city, Vancouver arts community, whose intersection makes it possible for me to live out this hope but how I find myself, now, in 2018, the year of the queer… able to create a platform for new voices, like I found (in lower numbers, I must say) when I arrived, a hopeful and terrified young secular queer non-binary ESL immigrant (FOB!) from the scary land of Middle East. ABLE TO CREATE PLATFORM FOR NEW VOICES, FOR THE HOPEFUL AND TERRIFIED!
Merci. Thank you.