15 Jun “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.
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.
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.