srael Folau, Samoan Australian super rugby player, recently posted on Instagram that gay people should “repent or go to hell,” it hit a vein of grief and fear inside me. I watched the media frenzy: Australian Rugby praised Folau for his strong religious beliefs and leaders jumped to defend him.
I winced when the Pasifika GLBTIA community tried to combat the homophobia and transphobia with letters arguing that Jesus loves us too; that many Pasifika GLBTIA are Christian. These claims feel like we’re playing the model minority lottery for our lives. They’re part of how diasporic Pasifika communities try to fit an outdated colonial standard of behaviour (even though compared to other minority ethnic groups we are already misread as lazy with low socio- economic benefit to the country).
These GLBTIA appeals to Christianity mean those of us who are gender-queer, transgender, sex workers or non-monogamous get erased or abandoned by both the GLBTIA community as well as our communities of origin. For myself as Pasifika queer/gender-queer and non-monogamous there are many times where it is simply not safe to be out and I have family who have expunged me from their lives. Comments about hell-fire were usually accompanied by bullying, physical intimidation, or violence behind the scenes. Our communities celebrate the culturally rich performances that Fa’afafine often share whilst ignoring the violence perpetrated against transgender and gender-queer people. Against people like me.
Look at photos of me as a child and you see what looked like a little girl dressed in pink, smiling hesitantly. I learnt compliance early, a survival tactic. My inner experience was that of a little boy trying really hard to act like the girl they were expected to be: by the church, by my parents, by the world. At age four my favorite color was not pink, but black; a color I could disappear into, like the depths of the sea.
As an adult I continued to find myself in the incorrect gender. Coming out as a queer woman seemed like the answer. But sleeping next to my lesbian partner I’d suddenly find myself transformed into a gay man. The body dysmorphia I experienced was terrifying; a Rubik’s Cube failing to properly align.
The answers were not in the strict teachings of the church or the gender binary, they were in Pasifika history. Third gender people have always held an important role in Pasifika communities. The colonizers were unable to stamp out our Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Pinapinaaine, Mahu, Vaka se lewalewa. These fluid concepts relate both to sexual orientation and gender identity. Our pre-colonial ancestors were not monogamous.
Recently FAFSWAG hosted “Xhrome Xhrysalis”: a multi-dimensional space for Maori and Pasifika GLBTIA community to explore, dance, and play. Attending with a friend/lover who is tangata ira tane (a Maori transgender man) was a type of homecoming. It felt both futuristic and like an alternate reality where we had not been colonized, or shamed by cis/heteronormative Christian ideals. It paralleled the recent Black Panther movie in creating a non-colonized space rich with possibility. We need these types of media experiences to reclaim what we have lost and to resist pervasive colonialism.
I acknowledge that I had subconsciously blamed my gender-queerness on trauma before recognizing it as an integral part of me. It is my non-colonized reality, predating the toxic misgendering and sexual violence of my childhood. My sexual orientation and gender identity are genuinely fluid and this itself is a gift. I still gender switch between man/woman/both/neither and slide around the pansexual spectrum, but it is not something I hide.
Today, I know working on my trauma is a process of decolonization, erasing the internalized shame, the sense of wrong-being. I remain a shapeshifter. Like the stories my ancestors told of men who turn into sharks who turn into men. Warm soft flesh that turns rapidly into firm grey oily skin, teeth that regenerate, bone beyond bone. I hold darkness inside me, a darkness that has both fury and beauty, that is ageless, neither man or woman and yet both woman and man.
The only way for our communities to move forward is to move back to our roots, to decolonize ourselves from the Christian notions that cause untold harm. While bigoted sentiments from Folau are reckless and violent, media and stories by GLBTIA POC such as FAFSWAG allow us to experience multiple worlds, to open up alternative realities -- spaces both between us and within us. To find home. To find freedom.