“I tell people, oh, I’m organising Naked Girls Reading, and they go: whoa what’s that? and I’m like… Naked. Girls. Reading. How else can I put this?” – Genevieve Fowler
Last week I was hugely lucky to go to Naked Girls Reading in Wellington. I admit I originally only bought a ticket because my amazing amazing friend Pollyanne Peña was participating, but I’m so fucking glad I did, because it was really incredible.
Naked Girls Reading was developed in the US and has been adapted locally. The latest event was the “Pride edition,” so the women performing, and the readings, were representative of this. (I’ll include the full set list at the bottom because woowwww some of the stuff was just mindblowing.)
From the Facebook page:
The show is exactly what is sounds like – completely naked women reading literature aloud. It’s a sexy book club, a sapphic slumber party, a sumptuous and scandalous event sure to arouse, educate and entertain all at once. Come along to experience the ancient and beautiful art of storytelling – and also, you know, boobs.
This month we have an all-star cast of superstar queerdos and weirdos joining us from across the country!
– Medulla Oblongata (Auckland) – drag performer, responsible for the gag reflex.
– Pollyanne Peña (Christchurch) – 5ft, bi-furious and pregnant.
– Clarissa Chandrahasen (Wellington) – gay by day, dyke by night.
MC Genevieve Fowler was quick to acknowledge that the title ‘Naked Girls Reading’ is probably problematic. It reinforces gender binary, “girls” is possibly infantalising, etc etc. But the team is working within a set format, and they did amazing things with that.
This was the first NGR event that has completely sold out. It was standing room only – in fact, some people had to be asked to leave during the break because they’d snuck in. How’s that for popular.
Despite, or maybe because of, the at-times confronting material (I’m not going to say the nudity was challenging, because it wasn’t, for me personally, at all), everything felt so safe and so inclusive and so respectful. The audience was encouraged to participate, and we did, with loud support given over and over for the women on stage. I really did feel incredibly “proud” of my identity, though I tend to reject a lot of the events and celebration of Pride itself. I don’t really have a word for what I am. I don’t use queer, and bisexual feels complicated too. What I did feel was at home.
I also felt insanely, immensely, stupidly proud of Polly. I’m a pretty emotional person as it is, but the intensity of my reaction surprised me. When she walked up on stage and dropped her robe, showing her 7-months round belly, I burst into the hardest tears. I know how much her pregnancy has challenged her, so seeing her doing this, this thing for her, was just so, so amazing.
Some words from Polly:
In a nutshell,
1. I’m fucking thrilled to have taken the stage with other women of colour, and for that to be NGRs face of Pride. Too often that’s not what gets represented in our art and media and you did it so easily. My words aren’t so elegant but it was nice for it to be the Pride edition not the “WoC edition” you know? That’s what true intersectionality is for me – not token faces, not a token show but being deeply embedded in it all. Being the ones who get to represent.
2. It was so meaningful to have my partnership with a non-binary person be acknowledged as being a real queer relationship. It’s something I’ve worked through constantly since B has been moving through their own gender identity journey.
3.Being up there all swollen and pregnant was such a deeply meaningful thing too. My button mushroom of a belly was given some time out in the world. It comforted me and nourished me in a way that no other event could. It acknowledged a deep and scary truth about my body and its consumption as a pregnant person.
How’s that for some real talk?
After the event, we walked out of Fringe bar onto the streets of Courtenay Place on a Saturday night, and it was incredibly jarring to come from that amazing space into basically a cacophony of heterosexuality and toxic masculinity. It only served to reinforce how much we must continue to fight for our safe spaces, to support the women who are leading the way, to raise our voices wherever we can.
I’d really love to attend a “disability” NGR, in the same vein as this one being a “Pride” edition. Disabled women are so often left off the map, even when it comes to intersectional feminism. Our struggles are different and valid and personally I think it would be really, really empowering to see that represented in this format. Not saying that I’d take part myself – I do not think I’m capable of getting my kit off in public; damn, sometimes I can’t even look at my naked self in the mirror – which speaks volumes on its own, really. But I do think it’d be really great if something like that happened in the future.
Anyhow. Here, as promised, are the readings. (Probably not a surprise that my favourite was Hera Linday Bird’s ‘Bisexuality,’ and so great to get to see Polly read it. But all of them were very poignant).
Full set list:
‘Revenge’ by Elisa Chavez (poem) – read by everyone.
‘Stella Brings the Family’ by Miriam Schiffer (children’s book) – read by Pollyanne Peña
‘Decolonizing My Desire: How I came to grips with my attraction to white men’ by Jeremy O. Harris (editorial) – excerpts read by Medulla Oblongata
‘She Keeps Me Warm’ by Mary Lambert (lyrics) – read by Clarissa Chandrahasen
‘Orlando’ by Andrea Gibson (poem) – excerpt read by Pollyanne Peña
Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals & Their Clients Writing about Each Other edited by David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin Jr. (non-fiction) – excerpt entitled ‘Cherry’ written by ‘Dominick’ read by Medulla Oblongata
Maurice Williamson’s speech supporting the Marriage Amendment Bill, 2013 – read by Clarissa Chandrahasen
‘How To Make Love To A Trans Person’ by Gabe Moses (poem) – read by Hugo Grrrl
‘Bisexuality’ by Hera Lindsay Bird (poem) – ready by Pollyanne Peña
‘Misogyny In The Gay Community’ by Mic (video transcript) – read by Medulla Oblongata
‘Tipping The Velvet’ by Sarah Waters (novel) – excerpt read by Clarissa Chandrahasen
‘To all of the kick ass, beautiful fierce femmes out there’ by Ivan Coyote (poem) – excerpts read by Pollyanne Peña
‘I Want A Dyke For President’ by Zoe Leonard (art installation transcript) – read by cast.