At the centre of my identity exists two important markers that make up the core of who I am. My Pacific-ness and my Queer-ness. They exist in tandem with each other: building blocks that make me who I am. Along with these markers comes subscriptions to the communities they align with. I like to think I have strong ties and contributions to my communities. Being a member of the Pacific and Queer communities in Auckland makes me a wholer person. However, these communities often feel severed and separate from each other.
Despite me being both Pacific and Queer equally and fully, at once, it often feels as though I am walking between two worlds. One side likes certain parts of me more than the other. The other side embraces the bits of me the other refuses to. I think of nights out along Karangahape Road; it is not lost on me that some of the most infamous queer-centric and Pasifika-centric bars and clubs are stationed here. Walking along that road feels like my internal dichotomy. The way I act in G.A.Y could never be the way I act in Scorpio. My physicality shifts, the way I interact with those around me changes and I am hyper aware of the part of me that isn’t being acknowledged in this space. Queer spaces are typically more considerate of Pākehā, meaning my ethnic difference can feel so painfully exposed in the space. On the other hand, my friends and I joke that in Pasifika-dominated spaces, we are just trying not to be hate-crimed. I often walk away from different situations feeling fragmented. It can be quite laborious and confusing choosing which parts of yourself are more acceptable and comfortable to others.
Perhaps this is what comes with the territory though. This is part of the experience, of what it means to be Pasifika and Queer. In my short life, I have had many conversations with my fellow Pasifika Queers about what it means to inhabit such an identity. It is important to first note before I go any further that these interactions do not give me the authority to speak for my communities. On the same note, we do not exist as a monolithic group and have a strong diversity of opinions and experiences. However, these conversations have highlighted to me that much of the Pasifika Queer experiences does have similarities.
At the centre of most of our similarities exists the C word: colonisation… It really did a number on us aye? Let me give you a paraphrased history lesson. Pre-colonisation, our ancestors were sexy as hell. They were sexually free: binaries did not exist, monogamy was not a thing and heterosexuality? We don’t know her. However, down the line somewhere, some coloniser decided they were mandated by God to come to the Pacific Islands and reform us. As a result, promiscuity was out, and God, modesty and sexual repression was in.
It goes without say that the ramifications of this are felt today. Religion has long been a catalyst for the spread and indoctrination of unsavoury, discriminatory and disappointing views of queer people. This period of colonisation has produced a culture for Pacific people that is largely focused on religion and worship, with those upsetting religious beliefs about queer people part of the package deal.
I have heard some deeply saddening stories from my peers grappling with who they are. Many have chosen to not come out to their family for fear of their reaction, while others have been shunned from their Church. Many have decided to never come out or wait until their parents pass, while others have left their Church entirely. Personally, I no longer attend the Church I was brought up in; after spending upwards of decades coming to terms with who I am, I find it difficult to partake in an organised religion whose values do not extend to the person I am.
At risk of sounding like an apologist, I can understand why many Pacific people may hold these views against the Queer community. I don’t think these views are limited to a specific demographic, but I do believe that the dissemination of these views embraces a specific type of ‘tradition’ that is birthed out of colonisation. Colonialism is a disease that has never ended. It continues to exist, permeating our people still, existing in these false and inaccurate narratives about who and what queer people are. Heck, even our laws back home tell members of Rainbow+ communities that they do not deserve to exist freely. In Samoa, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Tonga, it is illegal to engage in homosexual activity. If the law reflects the values of a country, I refuse to blame individuals for their beliefs.
Obviously, I do not condone, tolerate or accept these views, but I think there is more nuance to this conversation than just ‘homophobic person = bad’. Ridding our community of these distorted views will be an arduous experience, but I have faith that if we offer our people the grace to understand us, we will in turn be able to understand them. This requires accountability and forgiveness and a commitment to building relationships and communities. If we, as Pasifika communities, value collectivity, we must rely on these relational values to help us enlighten our people (colonial pun), and take us all there together.
In the place of revolution, I offer grace. Feeling as though we exist as two articulations of ourselves, means we also have a beautiful self awareness that exists on the premise of empathy, relationships and love for our wider community. I think that we deserve to give our community the grace to unpack our colonial traumas, while also giving ourselves the grace to decide what it means to us to be Pasifika and queer. We may feel as those we exist between two worlds, but we are one whole being – a mighty force to be reckoned with, within our communities.