For a long time, there was a degree of severance between my queerness and Pacific-ness. Both impacted the way I saw the world but felt like they could never cross paths. They were like hats; one comes on, as the other comes off.
I’ve always known I was queer. From a young age, I questioned why young people were forced into romantic feelings of the opposing gender. It wasn’t until I read a copy of Seventeen magazine when I was in my early teens that had Ke$ha proudly announcing she was bisexual that I finally felt like I was understood. “That’s how I feel,” I thought to myself. I kept it to myself for a while.
Then, in Year 7, I decided to tell my friend group. I used the words of Santana Lopez from Glee: “I feel the way about girls that you’re supposed to feel about boys” and added that I think I also like boys in the same way. I was shut down and told to keep it to myself.
When I was 14, I decided it was time to tell my mum. She needed to know. She had lots of questions but took it well. I think her embrace of my older brother, who identifies as gay, made it easier for me to come out.
My queerness, besides that coming out moment with those friends and a few other off handed comments that are a little bit funny because of their ignorance but still really sting, never really impacted on the way I see the world.
If you could choose, which one would you choose?
You’re just confused.
You just need a man to straighten you out.
However, it was my Samoan-ness that was targeted, fixated on and ripped apart.
Throughout my life, that was the aspect of my identity that was constantly questioned. According to my palagi peers, there were only a few ways one could articulate their Pasifika-ness and even though I often didn’t fit into any of those tropes (I’m not funny, not sporty, etc.), I was still victim to racist jokes and comments. Even working in retail, customers could identify I wasn’t white and would make the strangest comments about it.
Of course you eat KFC, you’re Polynesian.
You’re so smart, for a Samoan.
You’re dark, like my granddaughter.
Even now, as a Pacific Studies major, people are quick to judge: what do you even do in Pacific Studies? Well, what do you do in chemistry, breather? Having your knowledge processes and methodologies questioned cuts like daggers; I don’t think it’ll ever get easier.
It wasn’t until last year that I really realised my queerness. During lockdown, I, much like everyone, downloaded Tik Tok and the first hashtag I looked up was “bisexual” and then it was like the world became all lit up again. These were my people; they did the same things I do! I really was queer! And I finally stood the chance of being understood!
But there was always that extra uneasy feeling. All the people making content on Tik Tok, they’re all palagi, or at least not Pacific Islander. I went through an identity crisis – did sexually-fluid Pasifika people, like myself, even exist? Where could I find them? Any prominent Pasifika person who inhabited a queer identity seemed to be cis gendered gay men. I was confronted with a feeling I knew all too well, that one that struck me when I came out in Year 7: isolation.
It’s not that queer Pasifika women don’t exist, it’s that we’re not seen. And like a lot of other queer Pasifika people, regardless of gender identity, you have that feeling aforementioned: You enter a queer space, the Pacific hat comes off; you enter a Pacific space, you have to go back into the closet for a little bit. It’s incredibly confronting and internally conflicting to feel misunderstood, or to even be unsure which parts of you are fit for activation in specific spaces.
For a really long time, I prided myself on being a good Samoan woman. Not rocking the boat, getting good grades, always being kind and inhabiting modesty. Then, I realised I couldn’t possibly not rock the boat, because of that inherent difference that sits within me. If I was ever outed, my conservative family members would have words and prayers for me. However, on the other hand, it is almost as if my existence is a personal protest to queer/Rainbow spaces, which are predominately palagi-centric.
I am slowly on the journey to find peace in that uncomfortable space. I feel that severance of my identity markers less. I have come to realise that no matter the expression or who I’m with, I’m Samoan and queer in all spaces. That, in itself, validates me and is proof I do exist. I’ve come to understand that I do see queer Pacific women all the time. I see her as soon as I get out of bed in the morning. She smiles back at me in the mirror.