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Listening at dawn: Trans* storywork for all my relations

This is a love letter to trans* people: a reminder of our place and legacy of trans*formation. In the form of collaborative and ceremonial research, this PhD with creative practice component is an affirmation of embodied, elemental storytelling as a necessary practice for unearthing and grounding the traditional knowledge that Indigenous-Trans* (Indigi-Trans*) people carry within our body-spirits. This creative practice (co)research uplifts liminal states of being, as given to us by our elemental ancestors, in the decolonial project of Indigenous (encompassing Black and Trans*) body-land reclamation and restoration. By recognizing and nourishing the power of the between, this thesis remembers practices of place that are rooted in the body, often our last piece of ancestral land as displaced and diasporic Indigi-Trans* people. Spanning the coasts of Aotearoa-NZ to the west coast of Ixtlán (Turtle Island-US), this creative project listened to the somatic presence of Indigi-Trans* creators (co-researchers) who are in varying states of connection to their ancestral lands and traditions. To account for sudden and extreme shifts in safety and access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I created online and on-site rituals to sustain connection and retrace our ancestors’ techniques of time and space travel. By engaging with body-awareness practices or ritual performances offered in this project, co-researchers and storytellers were able to experiment with ‘knew’ ways of engaging the ancestral power of place. As a member of the communities contributing to this project, I witnessed an important transformation within co-researchers from a sense of landlessness to a sense of infinite place. This transformation gave co-researchers and storytellers a new source of power, strengthening their spiritual-mental capacity to receive and grow (especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic). In a political climate of increasing backlash to trans* and Indigenous sovereignty, this creative project is a unique contribution to the kete, or basket of knowledge that we offer to the coming generations of trans*formational practitioners and scholars. Situated within the realms of Indigenous, Queer, Xicana and Critical Black Trans* Feminist theories, this creative project also draws upon performance, sound, and poetic practice to hatch another creative methodology that centers place-based ritual. As I created this thesis in a liminal waterscape, crossing back and forth between Aotearoa and Ixtlán, colliding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I opened myself to theories generated by the lands that nourished me. Thus, a Kaupapa Māori and Mana Wahine informed approach emerges as the prow of this banka, or canoe that carries other Black, Indigenous and Trans* lineages of scholarship. From this fluid place of theory, my practice as an Indigi- Trans* ritualist, poet, and sound artist grounds these theories in my body and the body-lands of my co-researchers. Together, we create a Kappi (Ilocano crab motif referencing Maui’s fishing up of our islands) methodology, or the underwater reflections of celestial movement as mapped by Indigi-Trans* freedom strategies. As the co-researchers and storytellers of this project demonstrate, many Indigi-Trans* people are (re)birthing and (re)creating life and possibility just by existing. Our power of place, in body and land, can link and strengthen all Indigenous sovereignty movements when our communities take up the call to foster each person’s fluid potential. Although this entire project is creative, as a PhD with creative practice component, this project is an ebb and flow of written and other media components. Most of the ‘creative component’ occurred during the co-research stage of this thesis and has been documented via photographs, video, participant testimony, soundscapes, and poetry on a separate, companion website (https://transjoy.cargo.site/). These artifacts of ritual research are also discussed within the harvest (data) section of the written portion, but reader/listeners are encouraged to view the website in tandem. Poetry, narrative, and soundscapes (hyperlinks or bone icons) weave throughout the written portion to create a multi-sensory experience that privileges my roots in aural tradition. Together, the performances, website, poetry, and soundscapes constitute roughly thirty percent of the final thesis, weighing more heavily on a written portion of seventy percent. Listener/readers are encouraged to experience the written and multi-media portions in tandem, cycling back and forth in a playful spirit as the next step of creative practice: listener participation. Please enter this project with the care and excitement invited of all listeners when the storyteller asks, “are you ready to hear a story?”
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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