Pre-colonial attitudes to sex and gender fluidity | On the Rag: Sex positivity

Tēnā koe, Elizabeth. Nau mai. Te pae tuatahi nō hea koe?
(First step – where are you from?) He mokopuna au o Te Tairāwhiti Ko Whānau a Kai, ko Ngāti Oneone, ko Te Aitanga a Mahaki ōku nei iwi. – So I come from the paradise of Gisborne, where I live now. Kia ora. – As Māori, what have we lost? What did the spectrum of sexuality and gender look like before colonisation? – We lost so much when the attack on our language and our culture. The loss of the gender fluidity
that we might have had, and the loss of sex positivity that still exists in
pockets around our country. I think I come from a
place pretty sex positive. But only recently have different
ones of us been taking up, saying, “Actually, this is as important. “This is as much of who
we are as our language, “and this is a part of our culture.” – Āe, ’cause this is something that shapes strength and identity, right? – Exactly right. And if we forget where we
came from and who we are, and we place all of this colonial… the homophobia, the
biphobia, the transphobia, on top of what that is, then we’ve completely lost and forgotten actually who our ancestors
were and how they lived. This was always a Māori thing. – What was the reaction when
you came out to your community? – I was living in Dunedin with
my mother when I came out. My family were really supportive. I hitchhiked from Dunedin
to come to Gisborne to tell my great-grandmother,
who was born in 1903. I had to try to explain
to her what lesbian meant. She’s never heard that word, and I had to try and say oh, I wanted to have a girlfriend. She goes, “Oh, yes. “I’ve got girlfriends.” Okay, no. To the point where I
had to say, actually no, I’m gonna try and find someone who’s willing to have sex with me. Don’t know who that might
be, but they’ll be a woman. And that’s when she said to
me, “Ah, like my aunties.” My aunties, my distant tūpuna takatāpui were living as couples inside our whānau, accepted and loved inside the whānau. And when I said to my nan,
what word did you call them? And she goes, “We didn’t have a word. “They’re just part of the family. “They’re part of the whānau.” And so that’s a really important thing. I want our kids today,
I want all of our people who identify in whatever
gender, sexuality, or their diverse sex
characteristics to just feel normal. – That all anyone wants. – Yeah, low bar. (laughs) Low bar, but apparently
really hard to achieve. – Yeah, really hard for some
of the nosier people out there. One of the stories in your thesis is about a young missionary
called William Yates who was sent home for “bad
behavior” with young Māori men. – Many Māori men. He was a missionary who was over here, and he got into trouble, actually got into trouble on the boats coming over, for his dalliances. He got taken to court, ’cause of course the British brought their laws that said now, this is illegal, something we had no problem with. So we pretty much ignored the fact that they thought it was illegal. And so when they went to court, the whānau and even those
young men themselves just did not have a problem with it. Two things we learned from that: One, that we didn’t
have a problem with it, but two, we had no punishment for it, and that’s how we know that
our people, it was accepted, and it was kind of a bit ordinary. – And I gathered from some of the things that I read that actually
being good at sex was something that people
took a lot of pride in. – That’s right. – Because you could practise
with different partners and identify how you wanted, so then you were like,
I’m a bit good at this. – Yeah, it’s a joyful thing
when you find a diary entry of some sailor complaining
because a Māori woman told them they weren’t good enough. (laughs) – That’s amazing. – Yeah, do some work, mate. – We don’t need any more proof than that. We knew what we wanted and how to get it. Did any of these narratives sort of end up in our raranga (weaving), our whakairo (carvings), other
mahi-ā-ringa (handmade arts), that we can see, visually? – Absolutely. Those stories, because we’re oral traditions. All our stories were
woven, carved, and sung. You go in any whare in this country, there’s sex positivity
happening on the walls. Recently I’ve found on one of marae at home is an example of someone who absolutely appears to be intersex. The carving very clearly
shows that up the top is male, and at the bottom is female. Those were the stories. This is the real life, and it is preserved for us in wood. – That is amazing. – It’s fully amazing. When I found it, I flipped out. – Awesome korero. I bet! – Flipped out! – I bet! -Yeah, it’s a big deal.

Stephen Childs


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