Monday, July 15, 2013

Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing

Today I begin a series of “Arthur Answers” posts, each answering questions posed to me after my latest “Ask Arthur” post. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d get any questions, but I got quite a few—so many, in fact, that I’ll be separating them into different posts so they each get the space they deserve.

The first question today comes from Facebook, where Scott asked:

“What is the status of LGBT people in the Māori Community? [Were] they more accepting to LGBT people before the British invaded?”

As you might suspect, the answer to the second question is yes, but that doesn’t mean the answer to the first is negative, because it isn’t.

Most Māori, like most Pākehā New Zealanders, are accepting of LGBT people, especially their relatives. There are, of course, conservative Māori, mostly older and invariably religious, who are not as accepting. Some of them, in fact, cling to a myth that homosexuality didn’t exist among Māori until the arrival of Europeans.

However, the evidence is clear that homosexual activity and relationships existed in pre-European times. Māori had a term for such relationships, Takatāpui, which roughly translates into English as "intimate companion of the same sex" or as "devoted companion of the same sex". This is not to suggest the presence of homosexuality as we now use the term, however, and sexuality and relationships may have been more fluid than they are now.

The European missionaries who came to New Zealand brought with them their concepts of “sin”, and when New Zealand became a British Colony in 1840, British laws against sex between men also came into force (there was never a law against two women have sex). The laws against men having sex were overturned in 1986 in when Homosexual Law Reform was passed by Parliament.

Since 1986, Māori LGBT people have been reclaiming the term Takatāpui as an identity that is both Māori and LGBT. In some senses, the current common term “queer” is most analogous to the modern usage because it is meant to embrace a fluidity of identity, but it doesn’t entirely fit because Takatāpui is meant to celebrate Māori identity, too.

In 2004, the New Zealand Parliament considered the Civil Union Act, and the leading opponent of the bill was a Māori fundamentalist protestant TV preacher, who led marches through Auckland and Wellington. Parliament passed the law. However, by 2013, the opposition to the marriage equality bill earlier this year was mainly from white fundamentalist protestants and Catholics. They were no more successful than the TV preacher had been, and Parliament enacted marriage equality. In both cases, then, opposition is more accurately described as being based on religion, not race.

So, up until Europeans arrived, Māori had no condemnation of homosexuality. The European missionaries and, later, colonial law introduced condemnation and punishment where none had existed before, and that lasted for nearly a century and a half until Homosexual Law Reform in 1986, after which there was a blossoming of gay identity, including as part of the Māori renaissance of the time.

It’s also worth noting that discrimination was outlawed in 1993, Civil Unions were passed in 2004 and marriage equality this year. That’s a long way in a short period of time!

Here on the blog, Grant asked:
“So, Arthur, these questions aren't terribly imaginative, but I'm quite curious. As a Yankee living in New Zealand, what is it you miss most about living in the US? ...and, of course, I'd like to know what you miss the least, other than the government. :)”
It may be basic, but it’s also the thing that would-be expats most want to know as they think about whether they really could live so far from their homeland. The list changes over time—one adapts to wherever one lives.

What I miss most, not surprisingly, are people: The friends and family I left behind. It’s expensive and time-consuming to travel to the US (or from there to here), so I rarely see any of the Americans who are personally important to me. Some I haven’t seen since I left the US in 1995 (or before that…), but I’ve seen my family on three trips back (so far). The Internet, including email, Skype and Facebook, help a lot with keeping in touch, though.

When asked about things that I missed, I used to say food items, but many of them are now available here, as are many American fast food chains. If I want something that isn’t available here, we have a store in Auckland, Martha’s Backyard, that imports stuff I can’t get here otherwise (like root beer). I also miss the easy availability of American-style gooey pizza and also Mexican food, both of which require special trips to get. And the Cubs—I really miss the Chicago Cubs.

There are a few things I don’t miss at all: Aggressive religiosity of fundamentalist religionists is a big one (New Zealand is very secular). I also don’t miss the gun culture (guns aren’t easy to come by in New Zealand, and there are tight controls). I don’t miss the self-righteous prudishness of the US—no nudity on TV in the USA, but they’ll show graphic violence and gore? Most of all, I don’t miss the wilful ignorance of people who know nothing about the rest of the world, but who condemn things NZ has that work very well, like national healthcare, or things the rest of the world cares about, like fighting climate change. You may have noticed that what all these things have in common is that they’re traits of the USA’s political rightwing; most of the conservatives in New Zealand are NOTHING like that, having far more in common with Blue Dog Democrats than with Republicans, to put it in American terms.

Those are hardly comprehensive lists, but, like I said, the lists change over time. However, missing people and places in the US that were special to me, that never changes—it just gets easier to live with.

Thanks Scott and Grant for the questions!! Of course, I always welcome questions, and do my best to answer them, even if I don’t remember to often make that obvious. So, feel free to leave a question in the comments to this post and I’ll answer them as part of this series.

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