Transphobia is Settler-Colonialism

First of all, a bow to my irawhiti/trans-whānau – you who have called us together, you who have braved so much, and continue to brave so much, to you and to all who showed up in Tamaki today, to send another fascist packing from our shores – he mihi. The voices of gender diversity who hold the line today, like Shaneel Lal:

And the legacy of those who have held this line before, like the inimitable Georgina Beyer:

And of course, going back even further to the strength and leadership of trans-activist Carmen Rupe:

Although I’ve long held the trans-rights movement in complete awe – I have never had to struggle with not-feeling-right in my body, I have never had to deal with the incessant messaging that I don’t belong anywhere, that I am inherently wrong, broken, or deviant. I can’t even pretend what it’s like for irawhiti whānau who face multiple layers of oppression. For that same reason, though, it’s important that I do stand in support of my irawhiti, trans-gender, and broader rainbow whānau in whatever ways I can, and even though today was a victory for trans-rights, it was also plain to see why solidarity with the trans-rights movement will still be important tomorrow, and every day until trans-rights are fully recognised:

This tweet illustrates why it’s so important to show up when you can.

The stand made today was powerful, first and foremost for the rights of trans-whānau on our whenua, and secondly, to call down the thinly veiled white-supremacy of these events. and while we have sent this particular fascista home – trans-oppression continues here in her absence, in various guises – and continues to require our attention. She may be gone, but the folks she attracted, and those who are referred to in the tweet above, they remain.

I’ve seen some people try to insist that trans-rights are an import, and an affront to our rights as New Zealanders, and even as Māori – so let’s start there. Obviously, looking back at the likes of Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender Minister of Parliament, and Carmen Rupe, who, in 1966 (three years before the Stonewall Riots), was standing for trans-rights in a courthouse in Wellington, it’s clear that Aotearoa has our own, proud history of trans-rights leadership that holds weight even on the world stage.

And in their day too, they were treated as if they did not belong, and were un-natural. As I’ve mentioned numerous times now, our own whakapapa, and the whakapapa of this whenua, and the moana around us, includes non-gendered ancestors and relations. The most senior levels of our ancestry are non-gendered.

The Māori world is one of whakapapa. Whakapapa, as a genealogy, connects us to sky, to the seas, to the land and all creature and natural phenomena within these spaces, including our many intersex, non-gendered and trans-gendered relations. The repository of whakapapa are our wharenui – and if you look to them, around the motu, they are replete with references to plant and creature species in an acknowledgement that they are our relations within the broad expanse of whakapapa. The vast majority of our plant species are hermaphrodite. Numerous creatures like the mata (pink maomao) change gender as they age. Native species such as our pūpūrangi (native kauri snail) don’t even need binary genders to reproduce. They all have a place in our wharenui, because they all have a place in our whakapapa. Gender diversity, gender fluidity are a part of the māori (natural) world.

So to say that gender diversity is un-natural, and to suggest that nature exists within a gender-binary is factually wrong from a western and Indigenous scientific perspective.

Now we have dismissed the suggestion that nature occurs in gender binaries, let us look to Te Ao Tangata – the human context. The suggestion that it is unnatural for humans to shift gender is also flawed, colonial and patently false. Within Te Ao Māori there are numerous cases around our motu of ancestors who shifted form, and shifted gender. Anyone who suggests that gender binaries are innate and universal, is further ignoring generations of social science findings that culture shapes gender. The very idea of what it is to be “masculine” or “feminine” is a cultural construct. Around the world, Indigenous cultures express being male, or female, differently. The behaviour ascribed to being male in one culture is how people might expect females to behave in another. We also know that right across Te Moananui a Kiwa, multiple gender expressions existed as a part of pre-colonial culture and were not only accepted and normal, but in many cases also revered.

The fires of colonization robbed us of so much. Thirty years ago, our understanding of Atua Wahine was minimal, it had been robbed through a process of cultural genocide, written by old white misogynist anthropologists who refused to see, or accept, the sanctity of wahine and their role in the Māori pantheon. A process which convinced us that Rangi and Papa only had seven male children. Through decades of work by the likes of Aroha Yates-Smith, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Leonie Pihama, Jessica Hutchings, and Ngahuia Murphy we have slowly but surely reclaimed the gems that have been held close and safe by hapu, and retained in carvings, in waiata, in karakia, to restore our understanding of the tapu of wāhine. This journey alone teaches us that decolonization is an ongoing cycle of revelation, and revolution.

In another form of ethnic-cleansing, colonialism also erased our histories of gender-diversity, replacing it with the Christian cis-hetero norms that are toxic in so many ways. In the recently released “Ki te Whaiao, ki te Ao Marama” Report by the Human Rights Commission, it was noted how both Māori and Pasifika experience bigotry as a from of colonial oppression, and voiced their vision for a future Aotearoa:

”Some participants noted the importance of education being intersectional. They spoke about living in a future society which embraced different cultural understandings of gender, and male and female roles, without the fear of being judged or discriminated against, which led to people being “double marginalised in society”.

One participant commented:

“The Western understanding of gender is only one way of understanding what gender can be. But if you look to the Pacific, and of course in te ao Māori as well where historically gender has been a very differently understood concept, much more fluid. There is a lot of mana in that, learning about those kinds of histories. Fa’afafine is one example of many in the Pacific that we can draw from to say there are so many other ways of expressing gender. This idea of “either or”, you know either male or female, as introduced through colonisation is very unhelpful. I’d like to see where histories like that are taught to see we have this bigger whakapapa with the rest of the Pacific. Our ideas of gender and our ideas of sexuality are not confined to just within Te Ao Māori, but we have cousins within the Pacific region.”

Some participants believed the concept of colonial masculine and feminine roles were often enforced in conservative New Zealand:

“If I think back to primary school, because I grew up partly in the South Island, there was lots of heavy conservatism there. From a young age those ideals of masculinity, particularly colonial masculinity in terms of what a man should do, and what a man should be, and equally so what a woman should be.”

As much as TERFs might try to deny it, their racist dimensions are evident in the support they receive from neo-nazi groups, white supremacist media organisations and other far-right conspiracist groups. Their conspiracy theories operate upon the same themes of manufactured threats to women and children, scaremongering around a “takeover” and a general idea of a degrading society. They use the same tactics, spread through the same channels and networks, because it is the same phenomena. If you attend the “Stop Co-governance” roadshow events, or listen to a Destiny Church sermon. you’ll hear many of the same themes.

It’s not by chance that the rise of the far-right is coinciding with the rise of TERFs. It’s not by chance that nazi groups feel comfortable enough to brazenly display themselves at TERF rallies. Nor is it by chance that a Christian evangelist is attempting a national Anti-Māori roadshow at the same time as a colonielle attempted her own 2-stop tour. Fundamentally, these are manifestations of the same issue – white, colonial opposition to human rights progress.

Whereas diverse genders have a home and a history here, on and from this whenua and in this region of the globe – transphobia does not. It was brought here on a boat, along with white supremacy, and is rallying now, alongside its sibling of white supremacy, for its survival.

Today, those who showed up to oppose these forces demonstrated that transphobia and white supremacy are losing, and for as long as we continue to stand in solidarity against transphobia and colonial hate – it will have no place in our future. Because Trans rights are human rights, Indigenous rights are human rights, and transphobic settler colonialism is dying.

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3 thoughts on “Transphobia is Settler-Colonialism”

  1. Tēnā koe Tina Ngata. Thank you for weaving these threads together and reminding us about Carmen Rupe and Georgina Beyer. I have been thinking of them since I heard that Civic Square was the Wellington venue for this rally. Just around the corner from Carmen’s Balcony … Kia kaha.

  2. Relevant point about the continuation of damaging colonial perspectives.
    The examples of gender diversity in nature are so relevant too!

  3. My sisterinlaw and I attended the rally at Albert Park and it was a real education for us to see TERFS in action or better put inaction. They assumed because my sisterinlaw was wearing a manawahine tshirt we were supporting them. They were cheeky enough to approach us trying to confide their distress at the noisy vigilance of the trans suporters. It concerned us that they were using however badly mispronounced Māori kupu like wharetangata and manawahine to justify their support for Rosie Parker wearing sparkly tshirts with Let Women Speak blazed across their backs and chests. They are actually quite dangerous.

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