Water Girl from Hell

Last weekend I went to Lalomanu to be water girl for that man who lives in the same house as me, while he competed in the Samoa Warrior Race Half Ironman. This necessitated:

  • leaving my bookclub early the night before, so we could pack the car with everything thats essential for doing such an event. (and for dragging one’s family along with you.) Including the gigantic trophy he won last year.
  • having the kids dress in their beach gear before they went to bed so they could sleepwalk to the car at 3am.
  • getting up at 3am and driving out to Aleipata. With whingey half-asleep children in the back seat, who were complaining all the way because they were squished amidst bike gear. And a gigantic trophy.
  • holding the torch while the Ironman set up his gear in the dark. Keeping an eye out for aforementioned whingey children who were then awake and baying for food.
  • cheering him as he started the swim. Trying not to show how freaked out I was by the dark ocean, windy conditions and rough swells. Praying he didn’t get eaten by a shark, or caught in a rip.
  • Concealing my freakout thoughts from the children who were worried about their Dad. Snapping at them when they kicked sand and it blew in my eyes…DAMMIT don’t you know I can’t take my eyes off your father or else he will get sucked down into a swirling vortex of chaos and confusion???!!!
  • Cheering him as he got out of the water, through the transition and on to his bike. Telling the children they could go swim because their Dad would be cycling for a couple of hours.
  • Running to help my screaming child who got stung by jellyfish. Picking tentacles off her back and arms and torso. Hiding my freakout because she’s allergic to all kinds of stuff and I envisioned her body swelling up, her throat closing and AM I READY TO STICK A PEN IN HER THROAT TO OPEN HER AIRWAY?? (the answer to that question, was of course – hell no.)
  • Getting surrounded by helpful people at the beach, who all wanted to help. So they peed in a container and poured it on her arms and back. While I tried not to look ungrateful or grossed out. While I told her it was ‘special medicine’ so she wouldn’t scream louder. Miraculously, the pee worked, because the swelling stopped and the pain died. She quit screaming and downgraded to sniffling and whimpering piteously.
  • Thanking everybody for their pee contribution.
  • Being appreciative of the dude who then came with a bottle of vinegar from the restaurant so we could use that on her as well. But thinking, ‘couldn’t you have come with this sooner and then I wouldn’t have had to put the urine of total strangers on my child?’ 
  • Driving children to the nearby hospital just to make sure she would be okay. Listening to her cry plaintively for her Dad, ‘cant you make him stop his race? I need him.’ Saying swear words in my head about stupid Ironman races at faraway beaches with stupid jellyfish that ONLY sting my child and nobody else.
  • Being grateful for the awesome nurse at Lalomanu District Hospital who gave us anti-histamines, pain relief etc.  Driving back to the race, but wishing we could just drive home already because the beach sucked. But then who would give him his ice, water and assorted crap Very Important Stuff?
  • Standing roadside in the blazing hot sun to give him water, gels, ice, and ice sponges every time he ran past. For two hours. Trying to stay smiley and cheerful when he complained…‘there’s too much water in this cup…I said gel this time, not water…Water not cold enough…Hold the cup up higher as I run past…‘ Thinking more bad words in my head about bloody ungrateful athletes, BUT not saying them!
  • Being patient with the child who had recovered from her jellyfish brush with death and now wanted to go play BY THE WATER, NOT IN IT, I PROMISE! Told her no, you stay in the fale and she flipped out. I resisted the urge to scream. To smash holes in coconut trees.
  • Cheering at the finish line when he finally came in. First. Again. Thinking in my head, we didn’t need to put that massive trophy in our car and be so squished. We could have left it at home dammit. 
  • Waiting a few more hours while he cheered for the other competitors. Waiting a few more hours while he chatted with the competitors and had the prize giving. The whole time I was thinking about how nice my air conditioned room was going to feel when i finally got home. And okay, let’s be honest, I was also thinking more bad words about athletes and triathlons in general. But not saying them! (That’s what counts. Keeping the bad words in your head.)

And then it was time to make the long drive home. With tired whingey children who were squished in the backseat. And yes, I suppose the person who competed for five hours was kinda tired too. Just a little!  But because this is #AllAboutMe (of course lol), let’s focus on how I was sunburn, sore, sandy and sick of eating beach snacks. Plus, I had exhausted my repertoire of bad words which made me want to start saying them all again – out loud. Thankfully, the Ironman husband  was able to pick up my very subtle musuBitchFace body language hints and he got us all steak and lobster for dinner on the way home. Which helped. A little.

In conclusion, I want to shout out to all the folks who support crew for athletes of any kind. Especially athletes who do super loooooooooooooooooong events that take all damn day.

Because I am the water girl from Hell for Samoa’s Warrior Race Champion – and it’s hard work.

Oh, and yes – congratulations to my shamahzing husband. We’re super proud of you!

Photo by Scottie T. Photography, NZ.

Photo by Scottie T. Photography, NZ.

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“Rainbows and Men on Unicorns” – Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series.

“I  made it my mission to oppress the shame….trying to satisfy every expectation and hope my parents had for me. I became the first person from my family to graduate from University. I took up the piano so I could play for our church. I strived to be the best netballer in the Men’s game as well as in Australia. I took on leadership and social roles in the EFKS Church Space as well as in my University space. I tried my best in all things and sought to fill the need for my parents to have their “golden child”…But oppressing and suppressing your truth can only last so long. You only delay the inevitable and start to hate yourself in the process. I hated who I was in the mirror…”

This is the 8th in the Own Voices Series where I share the stories of Pasifika LGBTQI from around the world. (Keeping in mind that the terms LGBTQI are a palagi world construct and don’t always fit the varied Pasifika concepts of gender and sexuality.) Today I welcome my awesome friend Junior Levi from Brisbane Australia. The Telesa Series brought us together – he was on the Komiti that helped organize one of my Griffith Univ book launches long time ago – and after my telling him he’s the tallest (7ft+!!)  Daniel Tahi lookalike I’ve ever met, we’ve been friends ever since. Junior is Samoan,  born in Auckland NZ and lived there until he was ten, when his family migrated to Australia. After graduating from Corinda State High, he did a Business degree in HR and International Management at Griffith University. He was President of the Griffith Pasifika Student Association. A brilliant athlete – he plays netball for Queensland and is also on the Australian National Netball team, helping to win the most recent Netball World championship.  (My first time having a World Champion on this blog woohoo!) Junior is also an exceptional musician (his band is amazing) and he’s a self-described “singer/dancer hybrid extraordinaire.” Thank you Junior for accepting my invite to participate in the Series. 

juniorevi

There was never a moment of realisation that I was “gay” growing up, I wasn’t suddenly blinded by some light as God blinded Paul in the New Testament, and told I would forevermore be attracted to men. I didn’t dream of rainbows and beautiful men riding on unicorns and I definitely didn’t wake up some morning making the choice to be gay. I was however, conscious early on that I wasn’t sexually attracted to women. Yet I loved to be around them all day, loved to watch my sisters in their daily workings, admired the domestic goddess my mother was in her wisdom and stern hand and through my schooling life, I made little cliques with proud respectful girls.

There was realisation though and this realisation I associated mostly with shame. Not shame of my sexual orientation but that of the worlds view on sexual orientation, my world’s view. My conservative Samoan household with my “word for worse than conservative” Church Minister Father and beautiful but deadly authoritarian Mother – my world said “NO TO GAY”, said no to anything outside the nuclear family construct of marriage between a Man and Woman. Those who were attracted to the same sex were painted as outsiders to society, aliens of the norm and were shamed.

Brené Brown defines shame as an intensely painful feeling and believing that you’re flawed therefore unworthy of love and belonging. I remember one day when I was quite young, I walked past my mother in the hallway and she smacked me and said not to walk like that, like a “faafafine” (a man who has feminine qualities). That small interaction snowballed into feelings of internal shame. On the exterior I showed none of this, coming from a proud family I would shrug it off and carry on in life but inside the “shame” seed was planted and growing at an alarming rate.

Brown goes further comparing guilt and shame, guilt means “I DID” something wrong, whereas shame says “I AM” wrong, with me this was nothing but truth.

Growing up with this truth I then made it my mission to oppress the shame. I did this by trying to satisfy every expectation and hope my parents had for me. They demanded a scholar who excelled in the arts and on the sports fields too. I became the first person from my family to graduate from University. I had always sang but I also took up the piano so I could play for our church. I strived to be the best netballer in the Men’s game as well as in Australia. I became a presence in the community, speaking out and taking leadership and social roles in the EFKS Church Space as well as in my University space. I tried my best in all things and sought to fill the need for my parents to have their “golden child”. And why not? I love my parents. I dont believe unconditional love exists but what I have for them is close enough.

But oppressing and suppressing your truth can only last so long. You only delay the inevitable and start to hate yourself in the process. I hated who I was in the mirror. I started to wish with all my might that the “gay would go away” as I imagined that everything about me would be better if I wasn’t gay. I had visions of bringing home a beautiful woman and introducing her to my parents and completing their “golden child” needs. I never contemplated suicide but came close to it at times. I gained a lot of weight. I was very unhappy. Being the youngest of 4 children I watched my elder siblings go through life all married with children young, make questionable decisions and I didn’t want this for me, I wanted to give my parents the son of their dreams and a part from my sexuality I was about to give them all this but that’s not how life works. Everything came to an inevitable boiling pressure point when I graduated from Uni.  I could no longer distract myself from the fact that it was time to make decisions towards the rest of my adult life, like a family and a love life.

I finally decided to play it old school. I wrote a letter to my parents, telling them about my shame and my homosexuality, telling them I wouldnt return and bring that shame upon them. My netball team was going out of state for a national tournament and I had the letter delivered after I left. My plan was to leave home and start my life away from my parents. I figured that way, I would never have to face the shame of being gay in front of them, I would never have to face the failure my life had turned out to be.

My plan backfired (as everything in my life seemed to do at the time!) After the tournament, I found at least 100 missed calls to my phone and numerous messages and emails from family and friends all worried about my safety. It wasn’t that easy to disappear off the face of the planet!

I decided to speak to my father over the phone and after a week away I ended up at home, facing the reality of coming out. My parents weren’t the most receiving but they understood, and for a moment put their views aside to consider me. My family had been so worried about me and were just happy I was safe. I don’t think they understood what a huge weight was lifted just by them knowing. It didn’t matter so much how they felt, only that I was no longer living a lie. “Coming out to the world is nothing, its coming out to those who matter that does”. Life hasn’t super progressed, but I’m happy living in my truth and being open with my parents at the very least, baby steps for now but I’m glad God has given me this chance and I can only wait and see what’s in store.

I never felt like sharing the above until the Orlando Massacre. This blatant senseless attack on the lives of innocent people regardless of their sexual orientation should never ever be tolerated and not only America but the entire world needs to do a lot of soul searching, what do we stand for and as Humans what will we not tolerate? Reading through articles and watching viral videos online I went through a rollercoaster of emotions – anger, sadness, anxiety and emptiness – all running through my mind, in the end feeling empowered to do something. Perhaps sharing my story can help someone out there?
It saddened me that some media channels  focused on the attacker, his life, culture, beliefs and motives behind the attack. I choose not to acknowledge him as to do this gives power to his cause, gives him stance.  Instead I focus on the lives lost, the importance of LGBTQI rights and the right for anyone to live their truth and not feel afraid because of it.

When we talk about empowerment, we often think about our “Role Models and Icons”, everything from the parents who brought you into this world, to those who we use to help create our social construct. We rely on them to be our social and cultural compass. But rather than ‘role models’, I prefer to consider everyone in life a “possibility model.” The beautiful trans woman Laverne Cox says –  that rather than modelling our lives on someone else’s, we should instead live our truth out loud and by so doing, we can present to others, another possibility, hopefully for a better and brighter future.

In the wake of Orlando it’s important that as individuals  consider the possibility models that are before us. We must consider our choices and how others will look to us as a possibility if they make the same choices. As a community it’s important we stand up and give back and it can be something big like protesting, to something small like just being you EVERYWHERE. Having the courage to stand up and live your truth. Never be afraid to be the real you, especially in public. Be a possibility model to encourage those that can’t and educate those that don’t know.

Remember the impact you have on others is often the most valuable currency there is.

If you’ve reached here, sorry the above is so long, but I hope you’ve taken something  from it that might be useful! Take every small and every large realisation in life and learn from it, while living in your truth remember that others have their truth too so respect that.

Junior in action on the netball court.

Junior in action on the netball court.

 

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“I have accepted who I am.” Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series

“I came out to my mother and she had that disappointed/staunch look on her face. She said lots of things, like, ‘Oh no! you’re a lesbian?, I expected kids from you!, you can get diseases!, when did this happen?, why are you like this?, is that why you don’t go to church anymore?, can you get rid of it?, that’s why you like that cause you spend time on the computer! You should go back to church and pray more’.”

This is the 7th in the Own Voices Series where I share the stories of Pasifika LGBTQI from around the world. (Keeping in mind that the terms LGBTQI are a palagi world construct and don’t always fit the varied Pasifika concepts of gender and sexuality.) Today I welcome Letau Leilua from South Auckland, New Zealand. She’s Samoan, a registered nurse working in the public health system and also currently studying at the University of Auckland for her postgrad degree in Nursing. She’s a mentor for other Pasifika nurses and for Pasifika LGBTQI youth.  It takes courage to share one’s story and Im grateful for all those who have been able to participate in this series so far. Letau reached out to me after reading the first few stories in this series, inspired by their honesty and bravery. There’s great strength to be found in the sharing of our stories and a building of community. If you’re reading the Series and would like to share your own story, please email me at LaniWendtYoung[at]hotmail.com. 

Now, over to Letau!

letau

About family…

I was born in Central Auckland and raised in Mangere and Papatoetoe, South Auckland. Last time I went to Samoa was when I was eleven years old. The three things that give me joy are – my family, helping people, and being a nurse.

I was raised by my beautiful mother and aunty who have worked endless hours and showed so much love towards me and my older sister. I never grew up with my father and his family, he still lives back home in Samoa and I have seen him maybe four times in my life. Growing up I always pictured what my father looked like and what he did for a living, I had an image of a super hero because I heard he was looking after his sick parents. My mother and aunty showed me the meaning of love, respect and hard work. I grew up in a poor household, a strict and religious (Christian) family who have always been active in church and Samoan community functions. My mother and aunty have always said to go to church, to work hard in the home to do the house chores, and study hard to get a good education and a good job. Everything I have achieved is because of my family.

About being bisexual…

Bisexuality is having sexual feelings or attraction towards both males and females. Bisexuality is not necessarily having equal attraction, for example I identify myself as bisexual but mainly towards women.

About coming out…

I knew I liked both girls and boys at the age of 5 years old. I liked being around boys and girls which I thought was normal in my childhood years but it wasn’t until when I was maybe 10 years old I started to develop feelings beyond friendship for not only boys but girls too. By the time I was in high school I had a lot of crushes on boys and girls but did not act on my feelings.

I firstly came out to my friends because I was too scared to come out to my family. I knew it would not go well as my family are deeply religious (Christian believers) and uphold strong Samoan cultural views. My friends reacted very well and were and still are supportive and loving towards me.

I was very nervous coming out to my mother, aunty and sister as I didn’t want them to feel I let them down in anyway and not feel like they have raised me in the ‘wrong’ way. I told my sister first and she said she still loves and supports me. When it came for me to talk to my Mother and aunty I deliberately told them separately because I didn’t want ideas bouncing around and I felt I could not handle their reactions all at once. I remember I was sweating and had uncontrollable shakes including my voice. I came out to my mother and she had that disappointed/staunch look on her face. She said lots of things, like, ‘Oh no! you’re a lesbian?, I expected kids from you!, you can get diseases!, when did this happen?, why are you like this?, is that why you don’t go to church anymore?, can you get rid of it?, that’s why you like that cause you spend time on the computer! You should go back to church and pray more’.

I expected this sort of reaction. I told her that I knew about my sexuality for a long time even when I attended church. Then she was silent and she went back to reading the newspaper so I walked out. My aunty’s reaction was no different.  She was confused and disgusted.  ‘so you’re a lesbian?! you can’t like girls and boys that’s not possible you either straight or lesbian!, why you like this?! You spend too much time with girls is that why you like this?, oh well its your life!’. I wanted to cry but I promised myself I wouldn’t because I didn’t feel the need to feel sad or bad about who I am and I did not apologize to my mother or aunty. It was hard though. Immediately I told my sister who was so understanding and loving.

Looking back I am glad I did it because for so long I have wanted to come out and I have tried praying and going to church but for me personally it didn’t work. I have accepted who I am. I love my family, but in all honesty I can’t and I won’t change who I am, even if they don’t want to accept me right now.

About Palagi vs. Pasifika reactions…

I personally found coming out to my Palagi friends easier than my Pasifika friends. I think the difference being religion and cultural norms of my Pasifika values and beliefs. My Palagi friends are not religious and very open to many sexualities. On the other hand, most of my Pasifika friends are religious (Christian belief) and have been brought up with the notion of one sexuality being ‘straight’ is the cultural norm. However surprisingly my Pasifika friends were open and did not judge me when I came out. They’ve been so supportive and encouraging.

About support groups, mentors and friends…

I have been fortunate to have met amazing individuals and support group/s who cater specifically for Pasifika LGBTQ in NZ. How this came about because I too did not know anyone who was like me or Pasifika LGBTQ at the time, I contacted GAYNZ and they linked me to two other Pasifika leaders who are active in the Pasifika LGBTQ community which included Phylesha Brown.  Phylesha Brown helped me so much to develop the Pasifika sisters group specifically for Lesbians and bi women but also linked me to Pasifika groups. I owe it all to GAYNZ and Phylesha Brown for being so supportive and helpful that I was able to meet other likeminded individuals and develop good relations and friendships. From this experience, it has developed my morale and confidence to come out and be me. It took a while but without the help and support not only from my friends and some family members but a huge part came from the Pasifika and mainstream LGBTQ community.

About faith, religion and bisexuality…

I agree Samoan culture is embedded in the Christian belief/value system as the governing foundation for daily living. I do believe God exists, in saying that in the past I have avoided going to church and hanging out with some of my Christian friends as I felt ashamed and embarrassed about who I am. This is because in Christian belief, relations between a man and woman is acceptable and homosexuality is considered a sin. I felt that I was two different people because many times I had to play the ‘straight’ woman when going to church or church functions and I did not disclose my sexuality as I wanted to be accepted and I did not want to bring shame to my family.

 Advice and counsel for other young Pasifika LGBTQI…

I would encourage you to talk to someone who you feel comfortable with being a friend, family member/s or leaders. From experience I questioned my sexuality many times and I struggled with who to turn to and I became depressed. I felt talking to an outsider away from my friends and family helped me because I didn’t feel judged and there were no cultural or religious boundaries.   I have gotten so much love and positive feedback reminding me that it will take time for my family to come around.

Alternatively get in contact with local or mainstream LGBTQ support systems via internet or word of mouth who can channel you to Pasifika LGBTQ support groups because there are many amazing Pasifika LGBTQ leaders and members who are so supportive and willing to help. There is the Talatalanoa group, Rainbow Collective and Village Collective who cater specifically for Pasifika youth LGBTQ and the Pasifika sisters group which is a support group for our lesbian/bi Pasifika women. You are not alone. There are many of us out here who can help you.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my experience as a Bi woman. I hope this will help many other women going through a similar experience. I am gladly here to help and support our Pasifika LGBTQ family.

Faafetai lava mo le avanoa. Alofa tele atu.

Letau Leilua.

For more in this series, click on any of the following:

Patrick Thomsen – “Where I draw my greatest strength and courage”. Samoan in Seattle Washington USA. 

Amy Tielu – “You Belong.” No Shame, No Apologies.” Samoan-Filipino in Auck NZ.

Leka Heimuli – “Be You, Be Comfortable, Be Beautiful.” Tongan in Utah, USA

Penehuro Williams – “You are Not Alone. You Are Loved.” Samoan in Nevada, USA

Princess Arianna Auva’a – “Fa’afafine means Freedom”. Samoan in American Samoa.

Phineas Hartson – “I love you no matter what.” Samoan in Sydney, Australia.

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“Where I draw my greatest strength and courage” – Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series

“We’ve all heard the phrase so many times over the past few days now [since the Orlando massacre] that it’s beginning to lose its resonance, but its truth is still nonetheless indisputable. Being gay is not a choice, but being homophobic is. The reason this has left me so numb and bewildered is that all I’ve ever done in my life is pursue love. Because that’s all I’ve ever been taught to do by my mother…by my family…by my culture where we openly give with all we have (and with what instant finance has) to make sure that everyone is taken care of. We are a modest people, who come from modest means, so when we give to each other, we do so out of genuine love for people, knowing that we are all connected to each other, and to this earth that is our home.”

This is the 6th in the Own Voices Series where Pasifika LGBTQI from around the world share their stories. (Keeping in mind that the terms LGBTQI are a palagi world construct and don’t always fit the varied Pasifika concepts of gender and sexuality.)  It takes courage to share one’s story and I’m grateful and humbled by their willingness to participate. Today I welcome Patrick Thomsen who writes in from Seattle where he’s on scholarship doing his PhD at the Jackson School of International Studies at the Univ of Washington.

Patrick is Samoan and grew up in South Auckland, attending De La Salle and Rosehill College. He graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in Political Science, was heavily involved in student activism, President of Auckland University Pacific Island Students’ Association. He went to South Korea for his OE, and ended up doing his Master’s in International Studies at Seoul National University – the first Samoan to graduate from their Graduate School of International Studies. He lived in Korea for 7 years, working as a teacher and then a researcher, before taking up his PhD in Seattle.

Me in front of the fountain

Trailblazing has a seductive quality about it that entices those of us who dare to seek more from life than our pre-assigned oppression.

I know that as a young Samoan kid from South Auckland, the weight of my intersectional identity was a source of both anguish and motivation early on. I wanted to succeed in an area where Pacific Islanders were notably absent from the public discourse.

But no one told me that it was going to be this hard.

My ethnic identity has always been my default one. I’ve always been Samoan first, and everything else second. Being raised Samoan gave me a strong foundation of respect, a predisposition toward generosity and a strong sense of social responsibility. All of which sets me apart from many people I have encountered across the globe.

Also, being Samoan, space exists for non-traditional gender identification. It is built into our cultural structures. However, as Christianity took hold, it created interesting contradictions for us. For example, we recognize the social and cultural importance of faafafeine, but do not confer institutional recognition to Samoa’s ‘third gender’. Only recently did the Samoan Parliament abolish a law introduced during the time of colonial subjugation that made it illegal for a man to wear women’s clothes.

For me, my sexual orientation was never really an issue growing up. I never had a ‘coming out’ per se, like what you see in the Hollywood movies. My family just kinda knew, and although it took some people longer than others to accept (someone who shall remain nameless, as they once threatened to kill me if I turned out to be gay, but now know that I’m the best thing that’s happened to our family in over two generations lol), the overwhelming force that kept us together was that of alofa, or love. The type of love that my family has for me is hard for non-Samoans, or non-Pacific Islanders to understand.

I’m not being culturally relativist at all (OK perhaps a little biased), but I challenge you to find another culture like ours, where we openly give with all we have (and with what instant finance has) to make sure that everyone is taken care of. We are a modest people, who come from modest means, so when we give to each other, we do so out of genuine love for people, knowing that we are all connected to each other, and to this earth that is our home.

So it’s particularly hard for me to be writing this knowing that the events in Orlando, just a few short days ago were motivated out of hate. Call it what you will, incite whatever narratives you wish, blame whoever you want, it’s inconsequential to the innocent lives that were lost on the weekend.

And it’s ripped me apart thinking about the helplessness of the victims, their families who have had to struggle so much already. Firstly, having to deal with the complications of a child that has identified with a non-traditional sexual orientation; these are complications that are due to society’s chokingly restrictive gender expectations.

But then there’s the added hate. The horrific scornful comments of people who cannot bear to have a world where someone does not comply with their notions of normalcy and what is considered to be the ‘right way’.

We’ve all heard the phrase so many times over the past few days now that it’s beginning to lose its resonance, but its truth is still nonetheless indisputable. Being gay is not a choice, but being homophobic is. The reason this has left me so numb and bewildered is that all I’ve ever done in my life is pursue love. Because that’s all I’ve ever been taught to do by my mother.

My reality though, has been one of being denied love and acceptance from the world around me. It’s something that I have come to accept as I’ve moved around the world. The crippling weight of intersectionality (being an ethnic minority and a sexual minority simultaneously), juxtaposed with the complicated nature of being a transnational subject (Samoan and New Zealander) means that the multiple iterations of society I’ve encountered and its norms can’t find a way to love me as I am.

My very presence in these foreign lands creates a system error that no one in the IT department or Department of Homeland Security is able to resolve in any meaningful way. I’m forced into restricting my agency in these spaces so that the fragile ego of the dominant hegemonic paradigm is able to feel at ease.

We all know what happens when that fragile ego feels threatened, the result is Orlando. Our attempted extermination.

This life isn’t one for the weak. Being intersectional, in a world where people’s perceptions very rarely deviate from a straight-line path, your mere existence is a threat. No space will ever be fully safe for you; no interaction will ever be one where power is shared evenly. You are always the lesser. Your colour, your sexual identity, your unique cultural heritage, world view will constantly be invalidated by those who do not possess the ability and even the wherewithal to ever fully understand you.

The enormity of this reality didn’t strike me fully until I left the safety of the love that my family and friends provided to me. Unknowingly, this has become my ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of the upper echelons of academia. It’s the flipside of this unique privilege that I’ve been given.

Internally, I often found myself wrestling with the question as to why someone so sensitive and so attuned to emotions would be handed this particular set of cards by the forces of life and nature. Gratefully, I’ve come to realize that it is also this space in-between, the intersections of minority identities where power to evolve is at its most intense.

Intersectional individuals possess a unique clarity of vision, in being able to strip away the layers of propaganda, tokenism, utilitarianism, discursive confines to be able to see the world as it truly is. So it is here, this space of my constant insecurity, where I also draw my greatest strength and courage.

Trailblazing will be an inevitable part of your life if you’re an intersectional individual. We are the future of this world, for all its growing pains, globalization will inevitably lead to more people like we, stepping up to the plate and declaring once and for all, why not me?

In the present, we take life as it comes to us in its pre-conditioned and pre-contortioned form. We plough through the torturous day of forced conformity, we navigate unsafe spaces online, discursively and so jarringly obvious of late, in public. Waiting for the day to come when being an intersectional minority, becomes a minor issue.

For all our heavy hearts of late, let the events of Orlando not harden us as a result of the hate that so audaciously attempted to steal our love – for at its core, intersectionality and transnational identity is born out of a transcendence of spaces and cultures, which came together when our forbearers chose to step outside the uniformity of their social contexts. They were motivated purely out of love.

And we, the intersectional transnational trailblazers, are the blessed successors to that love. Sprinkle that shit everywhere.

Me at Gasworks Park

For more in this series, click on any of the following:

Amy Tielu – “You Belong.” No Shame, No Apologies.” Samoan-Filipino in  Auck NZ.

Leka Heimuli – “Be You, Be Comfortable, Be Beautiful.” Tongan in Utah, USA

Penehuro Williams – “You are Not Alone. You Are Loved.” Samoan in Nevada, USA

Princess Arianna Auva’a – “Fa’afafine means Freedom”. Samoan in American Samoa.

Phineas Hartson – “I love you no matter what.” Samoan in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

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“You Belong” No Shame, No Apologies. Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series.

Pasifika and pansexual – “I have learned not to apologise for being born with the ability to love anyone regardless of their sex or gender, because that would disrespect the One who designed me that way…I would no sooner apologise for this than being born Samoan or Filipino. I didn’t choose those and I’m not ashamed of them, either.”

This is the fifth in the Own Voices Pasifika LGBTQI Series here on my blog. Phineas Hartson in Sydney Australia, Princess Arianna in American Samoa, Penehuro Williams in Nevada USA, and Leka Heimuli in Utah USA have all shared their voices thus far. It takes courage to speak one’s truth in a public forum, and I’m grateful to all our guest-writers. Today we welcome Amy Tielu in Auckland New Zealand. Samoan-Filipino (and pansexual), Amy is completing her Masters degree in Creative Technologies at the Auckland Univ of Technology (AUT). Daughter of a minister, she is active in her familys ministry of service at the Papakura Presbyterian Pacific Island Church. She’s also an exec member of the OUT Club – AUT’s network of LGBTQI+ students.

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Amy with her sister & parents.

“LGBTQIA+”, a term to describe the community that will not stop until it has collected the entire alphabet. See that ‘plus’ sign? That’s future planning.
When I was asked to contribute to this series, my first instinct was to ask my family if they would be comfortable featuring in an article on Pasifika LGBTQIA+. Their first and only concern was how much it could distract from my studies.

I’ve joked that my parents would sooner freak out about me leaving school or being job-less than for not being heterosexual. I love them for their priorities.

But we didn’t start out this way.

My name is Amy Talingting Tielu. I was born in Canada, the second of two daughters, to a Filipino mother, Grace Tielu, (of Cagayan de Oro) and Samoan father, Apelu Tielu (Moata’a, Salea’aumua, Lalomanu and Sauano). At the time, my parents were in Canada for postgraduate studies, and I spent my earliest years in the multicultural community of Guelph’s university town before following the family wherever studies or work took us.

My Dad has often said our aiga was founded on two principles: God and education. So, it’s not surprising that I’m now a minister’s daughter and pursuing my own postgraduate studies. I’m a business analyst and writer by trade, but when I decided to leave Australia’s Commonwealth Public Service, I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue a Masters of Creative Technologies with the Auckland University of Technology.
My research investigates how we can take our indigenous Samoan form of fāgogo online into the 21st century in a way that celebrates the strengths of our oral tradition and blends it with digital storytelling designed for participation. I’m aiming to finish in October 2016 (lol; pray for me).

When I joined the university and was looking for community, one of the first clubs I joined was the OUT@AUT network of LGBTQIA+ students. With love to my peers, one of my first impressions was #StudentsSoWhite; where were the Asian and Pasifika students? I was surprised how this suggested students might still perceive this as a palagi space, just for Caucasians. As we know, culture(s) is(are) largely to answer for that. Not too long ago, I misunderstood in the same way.

My earliest memory of lingering in hugs from other girls was when I was about five, on the grounds of Robert Louis Stevenson School in Samoa. Everything is innocent at that age, and in the 90’s context of Samoa, we were taught romantic relationships only existed in one way: between a man and a woman.
So, it wasn’t until I moved with the family to Australia, and I started recognising myself in new stories, that I began to worry.

By the time I had a fair idea of what was going on, I was pretty irritated. Wasn’t it enough that I was afakasi: too brown for the palagi, too Western for my Samoan and Filipino communities? God didn’t think it was enough that I was mediocre at every classical instrument; that I was preoccupied living up to academic pressure?
Now I had to realise that girls were beautiful, too?
And not just the kind of “beautiful” where you’re cheering on your girls because they look fierce, they’re kicking goals with grace and humility, and you want them to succeed; but the affection that forms on top of all that where you realise, “I would like to kiss you.”
To make matters worse, I was pretty sure guys were still fair game.
Girls and guys, oh, why me, Lord?

When I finally broke the news to my parents, my confusion didn’t help their initial apprehension. We were a strong Protestant Christian family. Contemporary Filipino and Samoan values effectively mirrored each other when it came to gender and sexuality. It was suggested that I was confused and no doubt influenced by all my Australian friends with their different ways and ideas.

I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service shortly after. I was so sure it would burn when the minister placed the sign of the cross on my forehead. I expected the sacrament to scald my throat. It didn’t.

After a typical childhood of siblings barely tolerating each other, my sister became my unexpected hero. Her Resting Unimpressed Face would become the grounding theme and reality check to my recurring panic: “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re being stupid.”
Through my disavowal of women at eighteen: “You’re being stupid.”
Through my vow to only love women around the mid-twenties: “Why are we still talking about this? Why can’t you just be whatever you are and stop worrying about it?”

For me, it is impossible to talk about my journey without talking about family.
There is no way I would have achieved what I have in every aspect of life, if I hadn’t reconciled all the parts of myself. I couldn’t have found peace of mind without my champion of my older sister who stood and fought for me against my parents before I even understood what was happening; without my parents’ unconditional love that made them dig deep to understand and negotiate their misgivings; without the steadfast support of friends who became the extended family of my heart while all my aiga were abroad.
The source of — and answer to — all my challenges was love; compassion.
How much energy does it take to re-evaluate all your assumptions about an unfamiliar community: the rainbow (LGBTQIA+) community, ethnic circles, the church?
And why would you bother?

I believe that my life is a loan from God, and it’s my charge to leave this place a little better than how I found it. I believe that service and reciprocity are the most underrated and selfless expressions of alofa. I believe that everyone is created equal and deserving in their own right to be safe, whole and happy.
I learned each of these lessons from each of these communities. I learned it was all connected.

I learned not to apologise for being born with the ability to love anyone regardless of their sex or gender, because that would disrespect the One who designed me that way. Apparently it’s called ‘pansexual’ – distinct from ‘bi’ which means ‘two’ and refers to attraction to both male and female genders, but only these two. In contrast, ‘pan’ means ‘all inclusive’, recognising other genders and our peers who flow between genders. Brave new world, right? Well, it’s not new, but our understanding might be.

I don’t worry too much about labels because, who knows? In a few years the language may change again. I won’t. Trust me, I tried. So hard. I tried. Now, I would no sooner apologise for this than being born Samoan or Filipino. I didn’t choose those and I’m not ashamed of them, either.

Some would contest this is all a test of my faith and cultural identity. I agree! A lot of my non-Samoan or non-religious friends also asked why I didn’t just walk away from all the prejudice and intolerance. In answer to all of these people, one more time for those up the back – you can’t choose the soul and mind you were given or where you came from, you can only deny it or work to accept it. The test was set, and I discerned the challenge,
“Can you love yourself enough to accept and learn about yourself? Can you persevere to express Jesus’s love and the love of your ancestors, for all of this opposition: your church, your ethnic communities? Your extended family? Yourself? How much love do you have to give?”

I can’t say I didn’t punch anyone along the way, but we’re all works in progress. Now, I know the source of that love is limitless.

In the Pacific Ocean, while our nations are distinct, our cultures are mutually famous for our compassion, fierce loyalty and hospitality. This reputation is no accident. This is what I want to appeal to, because this is what saved me.

To my Pasifika community: I guarantee you know someone who is too frightened to share their truth for fear of losing you, or fear for their own safety.
We love you. If you truly love us, too, please open yourself to the idea that we could choose kalo or rice, we can even choose not to go to church, but we cannot choose this. It can only be denied and that self-hate is a path to self-destruction that poisons every relationship. Everyone loses in that scenario.

We don’t have all the answers. We’re still learning about this aspect of our identity; I don’t know if there’s an equivalent Samoan or Pasifika concept for ‘pansexual’ beyond simply being human. However, we can’t underestimate how sophisticated Samoan culture is and understood itself before Christianity was introduced. Make no mistake, I love my Lord, but our London Missionaries and the legacy of colonialism have a lot to answer for in displacing the value of our indigenous knowledge. I would not be surprised if cultural studies reveal Samoan aganu’u already understood gender and sexuality in deeper ways, or ways we might think were invented by the palagi (refer: “fa’afafine” vs “transgender”).

Friends and family, I want you to remember any struggle you endured when you were young. Please be the person you needed in your youth. Listen to understand. Think, speak and act from a place of compassion. Ask your questions with patience and consideration. Malo le onosa’i.

It does get better. I’m so blessed to say that, today, my family are closer and happier than we have ever been. We used to struggle to say I’m sorry or I love you. Not a day goes by now that we don’t remind each other we love each other. In spite of expectations, it never gets old.

In partnership with my family in ministry at the Papakura Presbyterian Pacific Island Church, and as a leader now in my university’s rainbow community, I hope my presence and research will help our Pasifika youth find courage to become active in our communities, build their confidence, discover their God-given talents, and live their purpose. Our people are amazing and the world is going through dire challenges, we’re all needed, and we all have something to contribute.

So, to the youth who are still questioning their place: you belong everywhere and anywhere. To the youth wondering what’s wrong with them: nothing — you’re on a journey to know yourself and change is always uncomfortable. Keep going. To the youth thinking of giving up: you’ve survived every day so far, which is a 100% rate of success. You are stronger than you know. You are loved, you are worthy, you are not a burden.
And you were never alone.

And just because Lani thought it would be a good idea, here’s some dating advice (I can hear parents roaring already; peace, and let they who have never needed advice be the first to raise their salu): if you’re bi or pan, and you don’t know if someone’s into you or not… if you’re gay and can’t tell the straights from the fellow gays… just assume everyone’s into you, until proven otherwise. The rest is pretty much the same for anyone, whatever you are (with obvious exception of culturally-specific customs): whatever moves you pull, just let respect guide you. Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking neurotic or abusive relationships are characteristic of the rainbow community. No, that is just characteristic of bad relationships, and you don’t have time for that.

But you’ll struggle to love anyone until you accept and love yourself first (get your own house in order), so that’s your priority. And finish your schooling.

The academic Brené Brown notes that community and dialogue are the antidote to isolation, shame and division. Thank you, Lani, for providing us with a platform to come together and talanoa.

Fa’afetai, fa’afetai tele lava. Ia manuia

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Stretch marks Are Useful!

Bella – I want a baby. But I don’t want a husband. Or a boyfriend.

Me – Don’t worry. There’s ways you can get around that. Let’s chat.

Her Dad (horrified) – YOU DON’T WANT A BABY! YOU’RE ONLY EIGHT YEARS OLD!!

Obviously we have different parenting styles lol.

I’ve blogged before about how Bella wants a baby. She’s obsessed. I suspect that’s why she was so determined to have a puppy. But then Simba grew up and became this rambunctious rowdy big dog that knocks her over when she’s trying to play with him in the yard, so she’s back to wanting a little human. Never mind that little humans also grow up and become big dogs that are rambunctious, rowdy, eat everything and sometimes knock you over with their nuisance-ness. She maintains that baby humans stay little for much longer than puppies do.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do in such a situation, when faced with an eight year old who wants a baby. Sooner rather than later.

I showed her my C-section scar. That stolid centipede stamped low on my abdomen. And my stretch marks. Allllllllllll of them.

The stretch marks horrified her way more than the stitched centipede did.

“Growing the baby made lots of rips in your skin??!! And not just on your tummy, but on your back too??!!  And on top of your legs??!!”

Her Dad said helpfully, “Show her the ones on your chest.”

Bella was awe-struck. “Susu’ing a baby makes your susu’s stretch big and those are the marks there forever??!!”

I was beginning to get musu at the extreme exclamations about my stretch mark collection. I mean, dude, they aren’t THAT BAD. Most of them are pretty faint, and in the darkness right light, you wouldn’t even know they were there. Dammit. The husband’s “helpful” commentary and tour-guiding for aforementioned stretch marks was getting on my nerves too. Especially when he added, “You can’t blame the babies for ALL of her stretch marks. You get stretch marks when you eat too much and get fat really fast…”

EXCUSE ME??!!

He amended, “Or get skinny really fast.” Then he tried covering up. “See my stretch marks from when I was doing lots of weights so I could be a bodybuilder?”

Bella was impressed with HIS stretch marks. Because they were an indication of his big muscles or some such nonsense. Eh.

But my marks? Nope. Unimpressive and downright depressing.

They had the desired effect though. Bella doesn’t want to have a baby anymore. Because it looks way too painful. And permanent.  “I will adopt a baby instead,” she said. “After  I get back from my expedition to the Amazon with Violani. And after I go to the Eiffel Tower. And when I’m done having a ice-cream shop.”

See, stretch marks can be useful!

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“Be You, Be Comfortable, Be Beautiful.” Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series

“My greatest challenge was being comfortable with myself and learning to love myself for whom “God” created me to be…”

This is the fourth in the #OwnVoices Series here on my blog where I share the stories of Pasifika LGBTQI from around the world. (Keeping in mind  that the terms LGBTQI are western concepts and do not always ‘fit’ our Pasifika  often non-binary cultural understandings of gender and sexuality.)    Phineas Hartson wrote to us from Sydney Australia, Princess Arianna Auva’a in American Samoa, and Penehuro Williams from Vegas USA.  It takes courage to share our stories in a public forum and I’m grateful for all those who are willing to participate in this series. Today’s guest is Leka Heimuli in Salt Lake Utah, our very first Tongan in the series! I met Leka on my 2015 author visit to Utah, she was instrumental in organizing the SLCC Pacific Islander students association events and official welcome for me, via her role as the then President of the PUA club. I’m thrilled to have them on the blog.

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Alláh-u-Abhá, Malo E Lelei, Faka Alofa Lahi Atu and a big “Talofa Lava”! My name is Tevita Uanga Heimuli but everyone knows me as Leka or Leksi (Beyonce to some and Shakira to some LOL). I prefer the pronouns he/his, she/her/hers or them/they/theirs. I am the oldest child of six and my parents are Sione Kaihau Heimuli of Vava’u, Tonga and Soanataake Malieta Pole-Heimuli of Vaini, Tongatapu. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and I am 31 years of age. My religious or spiritual background is Baha’i. I was raised up in the Baha’i Faith (it’s a legitmate religion..lol) in the great of state of Utah, USA where some people believe “only Mormons and white people ”exist – which I find hilarious. All of my family is Baha’i.  I have so much profound love, respect and passion for my religion/spirituality and what it has taught me. Currently I am finishing my studies at the Salt Lake Community College and transferring to the University of Utah. I’m also in  an internship with the LGBT Resource Center at the University Of Utah. I am majoring in social work and minoring in performing arts. My career goals with social work, is to work closely with our Pacific Islander community and the LGBTQI community. My Ultimate dream job would be to work for the United Nations or be an actor!!

About fakaleiti…

Fakaleiti’s in Tongan culture is considered the third gender. I didn’t know that at first and from my perspective growing up here in the USA,  the phrase “fakaleiti” is a term you will hear from time to time used and mostly referred to males who act very feminine and dress in women’s clothes, wear makeup or “act” like a girl  and even refer to themselves as girls or women. Fakaleiti, literally translates to “like a lady,” or “ways of a woman” They take on the certain roles of women in the Tongan society, being the care takers of their family, kainga (aiga), cultural educators, choreographers, designers and all around entertainers.

I realized at a young age that I was different; I didn’t know what it was. But I knew there something that set me aside from the other boys. It wasn’t until me and one of my girl cousins as kids were sitting in her room, listening to Mariah Carey and trying to sing her notes, although we were off tune, I turned to her and said, “You know what, I am supposed to be like you! I am supposed to be a girl, and not a boy.” To this day, I still remember that, being young, and just  coming out of the closet and owning it.  It is true what they say about kids being innocent and just flat out saying the truth, and that was my moment.

10440207_10152751809711917_5096726489574518374_nFakaleiti in the USA…

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.  Fakaleiti was a term that was used in a negative manner. For me, every time I heard the term uttered, it made me cringe and angry on the inside because I did not know any history behind the term. Some years later in my teenage years, things started to shift when I met a dear family friend who is like an aunty to me, turns out she was a fakaleiti. Through that auntie, I met other beautiful souls and started becoming more exposed to fakaleiti’s and it made me feel more comfortable to be myself and express myself authentically. In my opinion and I don’t speak for all, I feel that fakaleitis are accepted and not accepted in certain aspects of the Tongan community in Utah. I mean, you can’t miss us, we are the life of party, center of attention and we are fierce and beautiful beings. In all honesty, it depends on how open families and others are about fakaleitis as people.  You have those, that love and adore us, then you have those that just don’t like us, and strongly believe we can be cured, healed from being “SICK.”  Then you have those people who are strictly religious and use that vigorously

Many assume incorrectly, that fakaleiti is the same as gay, but it’s totally different. Again going back to translation of the term fakaleiti is “like a lady or ways of a woman.” Some Tongans  use fakaleiti as a term for  gay and categorizing it in a way that is familiar, where we can comprehend it.  Perhaps because there’s no official Tongan term for ‘gay’! (That I know of.) You can use other phrases like “manako tangata!” meaning “likes boys” or “boy crazy” But even with that catchphrase; there is a whole different implication to it.  I think  in our beautiful vibrant Polynesian culture, fa’afafine/fakaleitis/mahu’s are much more culturally accepted, respected and they are a part of the society. With a gay man it varies depending on how open and willing loved ones are with that individual and also how society views them.

About living authentically…

At first, I identified as a gay man.  But it really didn’t feel authentic to me. It was later, when I learned more about the term fakaleiti that I have come to embrace it and I identify as it.  Even though at times, people would use the term in a derogatory manner to belittle somebody. My Family was my source and my strength and support through some of the difficult times. But some of them did make it hard for me growing up because I wasn’t “MAN’ enough!” or “I need to be a man and do it like a man.” Like where? How? In the beginning I know  both my parents did not like it, somewhere in their mind they hoped it’s a phase and I will grow out of it. As time went on they started seeing that I haven’t changed in that aspect and started being more open to it.  My greatest challenge was being comfortable with myself and learning to love myself for whom “God” created me to be. It took me to attend College at the age of 20 to start realizing and loving myself and living authentically as possible. The other big challenge, I did not want to disappoint my family in being gay/fakaleiti. But I soon realized that if I wanted to be happy, I need to embrace myself. My supporters are my parents, my sisters, brothers, aunts and some uncles.  But what helped me embrace my sexuality more, was having really good and loving friends, who saw me for who I was and loved me regardless.

13417570_10154110889536917_4587160263243972165_nAbout being a student/community leader for Pasifika…

I learned my leadership skills from Tyra Banks, because she is fierce!!! Lol. Okay, on a serious note! I learned my leadership skills from my parents. Because without them, I don‘t know where I would be at this moment in my life. I’ve learned that life is going to be life and we have the power to change it and make it better. But we have to be willing to put the work in to empower, encourage others to be the best they can be.

About dance, choreography, culture…

I can’t tell you, how much, I love to dance! Dancing is my ecstasy!! I come from a family of performers who are also very musically talented as well. I learned dance traditions from my parents teaching my sisters at an early age. I caught on real quick and fell in love with Tongan and Polynesian dancing.  Dance has given me an outlet to express myself and be creative using my body to illustrate the story that the music is telling. Also with dance, it has kept me connected to my roots, the past, grounded in the present and enthusiastic about what the future will bring. Dance has encouraged the importance of a loving nature, respect and reverence and humility.

10427261_10152749517256917_5269796189219072785_nAbout PRIDE…

For the past 3 years, I have participated in Salt Lake City’s Pride Parade and Festival. The first time is when I was competing for Miss City Weekly back in the summer of 2014. Miss City Weekly is a pageant that highlights the craziest, outrageous drag personalities in all of Utah. According to one of the organizers who happen to be Polynesian (Samoan), I was one of the first “Polynesian” queens to come and represent on the Miss City Weekly Stage which was really cool. Although I didn’t win the contest but the experience was awesome and I definitely left an impression on the audience who was in attendance. Then last year and this year, I have marched in the Pride with Salt Lake Community College (#inclusivitySLCC). During the parade I am on cloud 9, dancing and rejoicing. It’s just all about celebrating life and living it authentically. All I can say is it fills my heart with joy to see people who support LGBTQ+ community and come out to show love and support for their loved ones.

My family is very supportive of me and my activism for LGBTQ+, but they are very cautious for my safety.

13312724_10154107000616917_3143760204847654949_nWords for other Pasifika LGBTQI…

My personal motto is, Be you, Be comfortable, Be beautifulWe all need to be comfortable in our own skin regardless of what others might think or say. Love yourself, know your flaws and limitations and embrace them. Let it be your guide and not hinder you from achieving your goals. Don’t let others have the satisfaction of defining you. You set the standards and live by it. Be Beautiful: Treat others the way you want to be treated and take care of yourself first and foremost. Live authentically with dignity, reverence and love. Lastly, always surround yourself with positive and uplifting people who will influence you to be your best and those who bring positive vibes into your life. Be you: meaning, be you to the best of your ability, live and love authentically as you. Keep in mind that you don’t need to put on this disguise or mask or be anyone else. Just be you and own it.

Words for parents of LGBTQI youth…

Not to be fie poto (fia poko)!! I want the parents to keep in mind that there is this stigma that being gay or anything that is not the binary of a female and male is just a phase in life and eventually the youth will come to their senses and “act” right. But that’s not the case here. Parents, please listen to understand and not listen to react. Simple as that! I believe if parents can take this step, it would definitely help ease a lot of tension and it can be a stepping stone for families to effectively communicate and for LGBTQI youth to have a sense of trust, stability and a sense of a safe place

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Bella’s Shop is Open!

Just a quick note to say that I finally figured out how to put Buy buttons on here and upload a bunch of stuff from Samoa that you may like. In other words, YAY WE HAVE AN ONLINE SHOP!!!

What’s it called? It was supposed to be some deeply symbolic and thought-provoking name, but Bella insisted it be called Bella’s Shop. So there you go.

What does it sell? Books. Real ones (as opposed to digital pretend fake ones haha.) All of my titles (of course) and then any and all books I can get my hands on written by a super Samoan. I’m particularly interested in getting local writers and poets up on the shop. So you can get Audrey Brown-Pereira’s second poetry collection ‘Passages In Between Islands’,  Nina Netzler’s collection ‘Counting Her Gold’ and soon I hope to get poetry books from Rev Ruperake Petaia, Enid Westerlund, Momoe Malietoa Von Reiche and more.  Also listed are Sieni A.M’s novels, ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’ (warning, you will CRY!) and ‘Illumine Her’. As well as my all-time fave, ‘Girl in the Moon Circle’ by Sia Figiel.

But the book that’s literally FLYING off the shelf, is this tiny pocketbook guide, ‘Say It Easy in Samoan’. It’s a nifty handbook of everyday phrases and words, and a great way to kickstart your Samon language for only $6.00 NZD. Bella loves it, so it comes with her #BellaStar rating of approval – its basic and easy enough for kids, but let’s be honest, some of us adults could use it too. Its the most popular item in store – I just packaged up EIGHT copies for an order from a grandmother in Hawaii buying them for her grandchildren. We’re working on making a similar pocket-book of Samoan proverbs and their translations and meanings. Watch this space!earringswThe shop also has vibrant language posters that are good for kids learning Gagana Samoa. And lots of jewellery and accessories from Plantation House. There’s beautiful coconut earrings from the Savalalo Market too.

So you can be assured that when you buy from Bella’s Shop, you’re buying Samoa-made products and supporting (us) local artisans, writers and poets.

Got any suggestions for what YOU would like to see (and buy) from Bella’s Shop? Leave a comment below and be in to win ONE gift copy of ‘Say it Easy in Samoan’.

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“You are not alone, you are loved.” Pasifika LGBTI #OwnVoices Series

“I reached a point where I could no longer tread the water of lies; I could no longer maintain the facade; I could no longer be an imposter to myself. I was alone in the vast ocean of lies I had formed, and I was drowning.”

This is the third in the #OwnVoices Series here on my blog where I share the stories of Pasifika LGBTI from around the world. Phineas Hartson wrote to us from Sydney Australia, and Princess Arianna Auva’a in American Samoa. It takes courage to share our stories in a public forum and I’m grateful for all those who are willing to participate in this series. Today’s guest is Penehuro Williams, who lives in Las Vegas Nevada. I’m extra buzzed to welcome him because Penehuro is my cousin – and not in that vague way that we Samoans are often #cousins (where you have to recite a complex family tree of extended branches to find the link…) – but super close cousins, as in his mum and my dad are siblings. Having said that, Penehuro and I have never actually met in person, so I was thrilled he accepted my invite to come on the blog.

Penehuro was born and raised in American Samoa. He joined the US Air Force in 2009 right after high school and was a meteorologist with them until he got out in 2015.  He now works at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He’s also going to school, majoring in cellular and molecular Biology.

This is his story.

Penehuro .

I distinctly remember the moment I first thought to myself that I could be gay. I was about 8 or 9 years old, and was walking to my 4th grade classroom one morning when the thought made its grand appearance in my head. It was a peculiar thought – one that made my heart beat rather swiftly – but it was not unwarranted. I was not like the other boys in my class; most of my friends were girls, which was odd at that young age where boys and girls seemed to stick to their own gender; I did not enjoy sports, which nearly every other boy in my class did; and, most importantly, I developed an attraction for a particular boy in my class, an attraction that eventually became my first crush. I do not know how I came to learn of the word “gay.” At the time, I do not think I fully understood what the word entailed. What I did understand of the word, however, was enough to know that it was taboo – a topic discussed in scandalous whispers by adults behind closed doors; it was different – not something seen in the everyday bustle of life; and most importantly, it was unnatural and hence, inherently bad.

With these definitions of the word “gay” in mind, I spent the next 6 years suppressing this unnatural part of me. And it was not until another 5 years had passed that I began to achieve self-acceptance. Overall, it took 11 years of internal struggle before I finally began to love myself.

Growing up in American Samoa, where strong, cultural values and an irrevocable faith in God are foundations of society, I had more than enough reason to stay in the closet. The biggest reason was fear – fear of being unloved, fear of being disowned, fear of being an outcast, and fear of rejection. These fears motivated me to consciously adjust my mannerisms to convey a more masculine appearance – sit up straight, keep your head up, widen your stance, cross your arms. I figured if I was more like the other boys my age, the less suspicious I would seem. Every day I woke up in the morning, and just as natural as it was to brush my teeth and get ready for the day, it was second nature to smile and lie through my teeth to everyone around me. After years of practice, the lies eventually became such a part of me that they fell from my lips as seamlessly as the rain fell from the clouds. And like a constant downpour of rain, the lies accumulated, gradually building in a pool of water around me. Eventually I reached a point where I could no longer tread the water of lies; I could no longer maintain the facade; I could no longer be an imposter to myself. I was alone in the vast ocean of lies I had formed, and I was drowning.

My life line came in the form of a beautiful and intelligent girl I met during high school. We connected over similar interests and over time developed the best of friendships. During my sophomore year, I decided to come out to her. Something in me compelled me to open up and to let her in. I anxiously awaited the entire day, getting more nervous as the hours dragged by. Finally, at the end of the school day, I asked if she wanted to accompany me to the library because I had something to tell her. When we finally found a quiet table and sat down, my heart was just shy of beating right out of my chest; never in my life had I been so nervous. I was so nervous, in fact, that I could not speak. I could not bring myself to say out loud the words that had been eating me up inside since I was in the 4th grade. I resorted to grabbing the nearest book, flipping to a random page, and began pointing out the letters instead: I… A… M… G… A…. But before I could finish, she jokingly said, “You’re gay?” and laughed, obviously thinking that it was some kind of ruse. My response was utter silence. And in that silence, I broke. Tears streamed down my face and dotted the book I was using. I looked up, expecting to see some form of disgust or admonishment, but instead was met with a pair of warm, teary eyes. I do not remember what all was said after that point. The only thing I can recall is the overwhelming feeling of relief that swept through me that day. She accepted me exactly as I was, and by doing that, she saved me from myself; she saved me from drowning in the lies I had so easily become accustomed to; she saved me with a hug, with love, with friendship, with understanding, with an open heart and an open mind. Out of all the amazing and wonderful things she did for me that day – things I cannot even begin to describe – the most important thing she did was give me hope.

The newfound hope I received  invigorated me to find, heal, and build myself – my true self. I was able to leave high school happier and more content than I thought I would ever be. And when I joined the United States Air Force, serving across the continental United States and abroad in Europe, I found even more hope in the widespread acceptance from my fellow airmen.

Contrary to the fears that plagued my 11 years of internal struggle, the reactions I have received thus far have been overwhelmingly positive. This is not to say that I have not had my share of negative reactions. About a month ago, I attempted to donate blood but was rejected due to my sexuality. It was a harsh reminder that despite recent accomplishments made in the name of equality, there are still every day aspects that can render one feeling like a second-class citizen – rejection is definitely one of those aspects. And that rejection is one of many.

Diversity is one of the many beauties of life, and through it, people will have a variety of views. Many people, from close family to strangers, have and will continue to disagree with my life. Armed with a repertoire of Bible verses, a lack of understanding, and maybe even an ignorance to understand, people will criticize and judge as if I am not my own biggest critic; as if I did not spend little more than a decade tormenting and trying to understand myself; as if I did not spend years begging God to change me; as if I did not become so distraught that suicidal thoughts were regular occurrences. My sexuality is as much an innate part of me as the very flesh and blood people see, and I can no more willfully change that than I can the color of my eyes. Ultimately, I have worked too hard and for too long that, quite frankly, no amount of criticism, prejudice, hate, or ignorance will ever put me back to those miserable years I spent in the closet. I am happy.

So to the young boy or girl struggling to come to terms with his or her sexuality; to the young boy or girl navigating the complexities of adolescence and puberty, struggling with his or her gender identity; to the young boy or girl who does not fit the social norms of society; to the young boy or girl suppressing an identity out of fear; to the young boy or girl who may be drowning in his or her own pool of lies, desperately gasping for a breath of understanding, know this:

 You are beautiful, you are not alone, and you are loved. Courage comes in many forms, and by simply existing and dealing with struggles most people will never encounter, you exemplify a form of courage. In all honesty, your struggles may not disappear entirely. Someone, somewhere, will always dispute your truth. And that is fine, because your struggles are not entirely yours. They are shared amongst hundreds and thousands of people across all oceans, over all continents, and from all walks of life. Though the world may seem immensely harsh and cruel, there are people out there who support and believe in you.

My name is Penehuro Williams, and I am one of those people.

Posted in PACIFICA, Pasifika LGBTI Own Voices Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Library Fantasies.

Confession – we were living in Auckland when the Telesa books were first published. The library was my happy place when I was a kid, namely the Nelson Memorial Public Library in Apia Samoa. So its always been a dream of mine to see my book on the library shelf – so I kept going to the library closest to us in Auckland and searching for Telesa. In a very  SUBTLE NONCHALANT IM-NOT-A-WEIRD-1ST-TIME-AUTHOR kinda way.

The day it came up on the computer log was a happy day…BUT I still couldnt see the books because they were always out. Yes I was happy people were borrowing them but frustrated because I WANT TO TAKE A PICTURE DAMMIT. I even contemplated sneaking in some copies from home so I could place them in a strategic prominent place (where REALLY AWESOME POPULAR BOOKS go 😜) and then take a picture…

Dont worry, I never did that. And I never did get to see my books on the shelf at the Henderson Waitakere Library *sad sigh*.

But since then, fabulous readers have indulged my #authorDream and sent in pics of my books on their library shelves, from libraries in NZ to Australia to Hawaii to Samoa and more. And every one of them – makes me happy. Thank you! Please keep them coming.

Libraries and fabulous librarians have been awesome supporters of me and my books over the last five years since Telesa first came out. Both community AND school libraries have not only acquired my books, but also hosted book signings and author talks.

Libraries rock.
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This beautiful shelf of (awesome thrilling hugely-in-demand books auuuuu 😎)  is in Otara Library. 💜

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Northcote Library, Auck

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Book signing at a school library in Sydney Australia.

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Kelston Girls High School in Auck NZ

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Victoria University Library, Wellington NZ


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Lefaga High School library in Samoa has Telesa.

Does your library have my books? Please send me a pic!

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