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September 10, 2018 | by  | in Opinion Splash Te Ao Mārama |
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Takatāpui

Takatāpui is generally defined by most sources as a way of putting Māori identity first, while still acknowledging and celebrating your queerness. There is a lot of pressure in this title, especially for those of us for whom Māori identity is uneasy, or difficult to access. Takatāpui, despite being a title I identify with, is not one I identify as. I am still in many ways uncomfortable with where I sit as a Māori person; I look white, and while my dad cut most of his ties with our iwi after a dispute over land shares, I lost access to the few left I had left when I in turn cut ties with him due to him being a massive dickhead. As I process how to place my identity as a Māori person, I don’t want to claim takatāpui out of fear; if somebody were to question my right to call myself takatāpui they would be not only pulling my Māori identity out of my hands but also my much more comfortable queer one.

It seems a bit ridiculous then for someone like me to be out here telling you about takatāpui. But despite my misgivings with takatāpui as a personal identity, the importance of it is not lost on me. And even if I can’t help spread knowledge of takatāpui by claiming it as mine, I can still talk about it. I’m damn good at talking.

I grew up hearing the phrase “Māori can’t be gay” way too much, which is to say at all. My parents weren’t explicitly homophobic –  in fact they claimed acceptance, and apart from the regular societal slips they were mostly fine. But my father was always flabbergasted at the concept that somebody could be Māori and gay. We fought about it several times, the last of which lead to my unintended and tearful coming out to my mother. I realised eventually that all the examples he was so shocked about were of men, and that it was the hypermasculine expectations placed on Māori men that was the root of his struggle to understand it. The idea of what a gay person looked like in his head was someone who couldn’t possibly match it –  the campy white boy in rainbow garb spilling lispy “yasss girl”’s like strawberry daquiri’s on the floor of a gay bar. Or maybe something less detailed and in depth than that, but the same white twink that most people associate with gay people. It was still a ridiculous thing to say – one of the few people he still talks to from our iwi is his cousin who is a lesbian! But it was the lack of normalisation of gay people who fit anything other than that twink that let his misgivings go so unquestioned.

I see takatāpui qualified a lot by its historical, precolonial roots, and of course it’s good to know that there has been a time in Māori history where we were accepted and unquestioned, that queerness isn’t some colonial import as some might claim, and that it is in fact possible to be both Māori and queer. But should it really matter? Don’t we have an inherent right to exist as takatāpui, as Māori and queer? Why should we have to justify our existence with historical anecdotes, more so than white queer folx? These historical ties feel more like something we should aim to revitalise and renew in the present than something we should be using to persuade people that we have a right to exist, and takatāpui at times straddles that line. But hearing and knowing the word is the first step to finding your own way to embody it.

Certainly there are bigger fights than simple representation. But sometimes we don’t realise the effects that the passive things have, how they can fuel non-passive ideas. That’s why I’m not going to shut up about takatāpui, even if I’m not choosing to use it for myself yet. I cried when I saw Māori at my first pride, tīwhanawhana walking in the parade. I cried twice more when they led the pōwhiri into Out in The Park and later when they sang waiata up on stage. Sometimes Māori and queer is enough, regardless of if we bring takatāpui into it. But it sure would make things easier if it was as common place a word as queer is.

Nā Ariel McLean-Robinson

Te Aitanga ā Mahaki

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