These are my notes from a talk I gave on a panel called Takataapui Perspectives at Beyond: Discussion and action on gender and sexual diversity. This was a conference organised by Queer Avengers and held in Wellington this weekend.
Everything I’m talking about today is kind of a follow on from a talk I gave at clitfest a couple of months ago, so if you weren’t there, and you want to know how this starts, you can look at the post of that talk.
I was born a few years back, and I was given out for adoption. My mother is Pākehā, and my father is from Kāi Tahu. But my adoptive parents, who are Pākehā, were guaranteed that I am fully white. That meant I had no access to part of who I am and how I relate to this land. I’ve met my birth father, and he is undeniably not white. So I asked my birth mother if she knew he was Māori, and she said no, she hadn’t thought about it. As we talked, it became clear that it was because she saw my father as normal, and when you grow up in a culture that doesn’t talk about culture, and whiteness is normal, even though visibly he is clearly not white—he is undeniably brown—that meant she thought of him as white. Just like all the other non-white people she knew. That’s not her fault—that’s white culture.
White culture makes whiteness normal and invisible, and it means we understand everything that is not obviously different and exotic as normal, and therefore also white. This really hurts people, because we feel like we have to perform to be recognised as who we are. It pushes us into extremes on a spectrum, and for Māori especially, that’s dangerous, because we always get the shitty end of any dichotomy. My father would have been recognised as Māori if he behaved angrily, or like he was poor and uneducated, but he was a smart well-spoken, nice young man—clearly white.
I’m sure you know all this, intellectually, especially in relation to heterosexism and queerness. Unless we announce our sexuality in some way, everyone assumes we’re straight. It’s the same thing. So why am I talking about this?
I was asked to speak on this panel called Takatāpui perspectives, and the first thing I noticed is that there is no panel called white queer perspectives. There is pretty much never a panel on white perspectives about anything, and that’s because the word we often use to describe white perspectives is ‘reality’. I have an opinion on a lot of what is in the programme, or of other things I would have liked to see on the programme. I’m sure the other people on this panel do too. Today I could be talking about gender binaries, or queer parenting, or marriage, or homophobia, but instead I’m talking about Takatāpui perspectives. I don’t even know what that means.
I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you about whiteness and Pākehā culture. Just because you don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It exists, we are soaking in it, it isn’t ‘just the way things are’, and the invisibility of it is damaging. This siloing of Māori, and sidelining our realities into perspectives, is a safe way for you to learn about our lives, but it isn’t safe for us.
I want to talk about this word takatāpui.
This panel is called takatāpui perspectives, so for the record, I should say that I don’t identify as takatāpui. It’s a word I’ve become interested in, but I’m yet to be convinced I need. It’s a label that seems to resonate more with city-folk, than provincial or rural folk. And on another day, I’d love to talk to people about whether they identify as takatāpui, and what it means to them.
The reason I don’t identify as takatāpui, is the same reason I don’t like talking about queering Māori communities, which is a phrase I hear every now and then. I’ve talked before about how our creation traditions include gender and sexual diversity, reflecting that our tūpuna considered that diversity to be normal. I talked about how colonisation brought homophobia and fixed binary gender roles. In a culture based on whakapapa, I don’t think we need a word for people who aren’t heterosexual. I don’t need to set myself apart from my heterosexual whanaunga. The usefulness I see in the term takatāpui is in acknowledging that the queer scene is otherwise dominated by pākehā. And I wonder if that’s why it tends to be used more by people living in cities, where there is a queer scene.
How does that relate to talking about queering Māori communities?
The reason the queer community started using the term queer is partly about taking away an insult, but also because of the meaning of queer as in ‘queering the pitch’, meaning to spoil or disrupt. If tikanga is already inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, then it doesn’t need ‘queering’. Any ‘queering’, in the sense of disruption, happened with colonisation and the introduction of western hang-ups. If there are Māori communities that are not inclusive, and we know that there are, they don’t need queering, me tōtika—they need straightening, they need putting right.
Some of you probably think this is just playing with language, but it’s important—the strategies we use in Māori communities where homophobia has become normal, should be really different from those in homophobic Pākehā communities. The problem in Pākehā communities is that sexual repression is part of Pākehā culture, so that culture needs to be messed with or queered. Whereas the problem in Māori communities is that our culture has been messed with by colonisation, and we need to return to Māori philosophies.
So queer as a term works for Pākehā, but when we use it for Māori communities, we’re making colonisation invisible. And when we use it for everyone irrespective of culture, we’re again privileging Pākehā as normal and Pākehā culture as invisible.
So I guess that’s what this talk is about—visibility and invisibility.
On that note, I put this challenge at clitfest—to support tangata whenua and to prioritise indigenous culture. The solution to including Māori in conferences without us feeling token starts with Māori organisers and advisors. You don’t put together a programme and then look for Māori (or anyone) to speak on those topics, but you make a programme that reflects what Māori want to speak or hear about.
I appreciate the visibility and centrality of trans people and issues in this programme. I assume that that’s come out of connections and relationships. That’s what it needs to make it safe for people from marginalised communities to participate and contribute—commitment. What do I mean by commitment—I mean building genuine reciprocal relationships—not just asking people to get involved in your projects. Support their projects. Māori, for example, have a long history of generosity, of giving our time and knowledge to other people’s stuff. Many of us here are stretched really thin on all the projects we’ve been asked to support. This country is literally built out of Māori generosity. How are you paying it back? If you don’t have relationships and connections with Māori communities, then make that your priority. You have all the time in the world to show us that you are genuinely interested in supporting us on things that matter to us. And I look forward to seeing you have my back.