Sydney’s Tommy Misa creates as a writer, actor and performer with a growing list of fantastic venues, collaborations and projects in play, and identifies as Fa’afafine.
From film and theatre to contemporary art, Queer club culture and music festivals, Tommy’s work is informed by their lived experience. He's performed on the stages of Belvoir, Sydney Oprah house, Sydney Mardi Gras and collaborated on performances for First draft gallery, the Cuban Biennale and the 2020 Sydney Biennale.
We’re very chuffed Tommy found some love for our Island Culture series … and sat down (or maybe it was then that they were running in the rain!?) to share an insight into their fabulous, intentional, social world with us and what it’s like to be Fa’afafine in Australia, in 2020.
Firstly, Tommy... WE LOVE YOU!!!
Please tell our Boom tribe a bit about yourself...
“I'm Tommy Misa- A human who feels a lot of feels. I am driven by personal experience and the wild ride that is life.
“I'm at home in Sydney right now and covid has turned me upside down but today is a good day because my veggie patch is blossoming and I got caught in the rain whilst on a run this morning. These small things remind me daily that life always goes on and I'm grateful to be here.
“I love sunflowers and bright colours and mostly the colour yellow. For me it is a colour that reflects all my moods.”
What lights you up, creatively?
“Experiencing art that my friends and chosen family are creating that is raw and authentic. Stories that speaks to an intended audience that is inclusive and funny even in its most serious moments.
“I am lit up by the act of life itself it's so dramatic!
“A small interaction with a stranger or a light bulb moment of connection to a TV series, a song or the sprung of spring can be sources of creative inspiration.
“Right now I'm loving watching 'Schitts Creek' and 'This is us'. Between them they make me laugh A LOT, cry A LOT, think about my own privilege and understand other people’s perspective.
“I'm reading a visual book called 'When This You See Remember Me' of the life and art of an iconic Queer Australian visual artist who passed away from AIDS and his work is camp, political and devastatingly beautiful and his legacy lives on.
“I am listening to the vitamin string quartet a lot (their cover of Madonna's 'Like a prayer' is a top pick) and local Queer Maori artist Jamaica Moana.
“I am loving early morning walks in Sydney park and taking it in as it blossoms with life in spring and I'm getting nourished by the relationships in my life that mean the most.
“All these are, at present lighting my creative spark at a time that I lean heavily into inspiration to keep me going.”
How does your connection to Island Culture show up in your daily life?
“In so many different ways: it is through the way I engage with family both logical and biological- They are my kin and I am only as powerful as the village of people around me.
“It shows up in the way I engage with food - Islanders love food as a unifier and social activity as much as we enjoy eating food itself.
“My culture shows up in my aesthetic - I love bright colours on my clothes and earrings, bags etc. it is a way of connecting to the colour and loudness of the land and life that is Samoan culture.
“It is also in the way I tell stories - Oral storytelling is part of Indigenous cultures and you cannot have story without the strong influence of life and vice versa.
“Finally, though I could go on... It is in my longing for music - I don't have any particular genre that I swear by but my connection to Samoa is through the beat of the island - singing, evening prayer, the sounds of the markets, the repetition of the Ocean... I love music that says a lot about the environment of the musician.”
What’s it been like living with that connection to culture while in Sydney?
“Being part of a diasporic culture has its up's and downs.
“I feel connected to my culture perhaps more through a spiritual and individual connection to the land. I am of Samoan, British, Chinese and German heritage so although I feel strongly connected to the Islands that is also heavily informed by all the parts of me and the way they intersect.
“It's interesting because generally people are interested in my Samoan culture and that is what I have always gravitated towards but on my mother’s side - My white Australian ancestry dates back to Henry and Susanna Cable who came over on the first fleet.
“So my connection to Sydney is one of different stories of immigrationb- this has been something I have struggled with especially when I get the "where are you from" question.
“It also shows that there are truly a multitude of ways of being Australian and I believe is what makes Australia a truly multi-cultural nation.”
Do you have a favourite Samoan saying?
“I have a favourite word - Aiga, which simply means family or extended family and is used loosely in Samoan because it is more about your connection to that person than the blood you share.
“I think it speaks to one’s individual concept of family. I consider my Queer family as much a part of my lineage as I do my biological family.”
What’s an aspect of Island Culture that you love the most?
“ I couldn't possibly choose one thing I love the most, but one thing that feels the most unifying for me is the shared connection we share with other people of the Pacific.
“To be an Indigenous person of the great Pacific Ocean says I understand you and I see you and we are Aiga of the Moana - The ocean is mother!”
How do you think your connection to Island Culture informs your creativity?
“It informs the stories I tell - I believe that we are the sum of all those around us and those that came before. So my story is not my story alone but is a part of lineage of all the people and moments that brought me here.
“I also use Talanoa in creation of work which is the shared conversation and dialogue between people which is grounded in the respect for each other and our shared experience. This is important for me because it also puts focus on the wellbeing of the artist as an equal and informative part of creating and allows there to be a formal understanding of the expectation to hold all people as equal in the process.”
How did your experience of Fa’afafine first show up for you?
“I lived in Samoa as a child and go back often and because Fa'afafine is a commonly accepted part of Samoan society it was embraced by my family before I was even aware of it.
“Coming back to Australia though I lost so much of that power I was born with that would have been embraced in a very different way if I remained in Samoa.”
What do you think is an element of Fa’afafine that is largely misunderstood?
“Because of the dominating ideas of gender in a western construct I think the biggest misunderstanding of what it means to be Fa'afafine is that it is tied to gender and sexuality and that if one is Fa'afafine then one must be transgender or present in a certain way.
“When in fact being Fa'afafine I believe is more about your spirit and how that guides your physical existence and the role in your community and family... It comes with a certain power and understanding that you can be limitless.
“I am Fa'afafine and not Non-binary, though that is a difficult thing to explain outside of Samoa.
“But I have comfort in knowing that my spirit and existence has a long history and respect within Samoa.”
What's a secret super power of fa’afafine you’d like to known?
“Hmmm secret superpower I think would be the limitless power that we have when we are free of the expectations of the binary.
“I love that we can be masculine, feminine, fluid, strong, soft and sexy all at the same time and that I feel beautiful in a dress as much as I do when out in the garden chopping wood (jokes, I don't know how to chop wood but I would be comfortable with it regardless)!”
If the world could adopt one aspect of Samoan culture, what would you love that to be and why?
“Respect for each other - which in turn means respect for ourselves.
“I think this is a traditional concept that also can be revisited in Samoa communities but I feel like returning to that will allow us to love deeper and lead with love.”
And finally: what does it mean to you to live a Big, Beautiful life?
“A big beautiful life for me is having a deep love for one’s self. I am trying to fall more and more in love with myself and all the parts of me.
“I would also love to live a life that is free of labels and the expectations they come with. I am me, and I'm the only person in the world who is. (so cliché but truuuth!)”.
Tommy wears our fun and fabulous Farah Pants in Reo, from our Pacific Queen collection ~ BUY NOW!
Keep an eye out on our socials for more images to come of Tommy and his BOOM looks - We can't wait!