“I Am Hawaiian First”

Aloha allows us to always have a commonality, regardless of our politics or gender expression.
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“When I advocate for the Native Hawaiian community—for our native rights, whether it be gathering rights or rights to practice our language and culture—I am by default advocating for gender equity and gender expression in a manner that is consistent with our culture.”

Photo courtesy of Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Above all else, I am Kanaka. Kanaka is the term for native Hawaiians. And what does it mean to be mahu? It just means that I am myself. My name is Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu. I have a decent head on my shoulders about my culture. I am a teacher. And I am Hawaiian first.

The fact that I would be labeled mahu is only important for people who need to label me as such. That label is still approaching it from an American, Western perspective on gender. I am Hawaiian first. The only reason I wear the label mahu is because I'm surrounded by Americans. And I can never get away from it. When I wear that label, I’m reminded that I am a Native in an illegally occupied country. Yes, the word mahu describes elements of my sex and gender. But it’s not about being mahu. It’s about being Kanaka.

Gender identity is secondary for me. It’s is a natural byproduct of what I do, but I’m not trying to put myself out there as a warrior for the LGBT cause. Instead, I’m putting myself out there as a Native Hawaiian, living in my homeland, standing up for the diaspora of things that require vigilance and attention in our community. When I advocate for the Native Hawaiian community—for our native rights, whether it be gathering rights or rights to practice our language and culture—I am by default advocating for gender equity and gender expression in a manner that is consistent with our culture.

But when I stand up for my community, people say, “Oh, there’s that transgender again. There’s that mahu again.” Anytime I stand up for something as a Hawaiian, I become an automatic transgender advocate. But I’m not trying to do my advocacy from the flat platform of being transgender.

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The Western perspective on sexuality and gender expression is unhealthy for my people. In the Western LGBT movement, you’re labeled according to your gender identity. Transgendered people are diagnosed by a doctor and, somewhere along the course of their lives, labeled as having gender dysphoria. And I don’t understand the purpose of that: to say that you have some sort of disorder or just say that you’re confused? That’s not a native perspective on gender expression. Or there’s this idea of coming out. Hawaiians don’t come out: We simply exist. We don’t necessarily have an expectation that one needs to choose a box to fit into or that one has to dress a certain way by a certain age. It’s up to each individual to determine at what point they are comfortable with simply being who they are.

It’s not about me being anti-American. It has everything to do with me being pro-Hawaiian. Aloha supersedes jealousy, it supersedes anger, and Aloha allows us to always have a commonality, regardless of our politics or gender expression.