23 Jun “I have accepted who I am.” Pasifika LGBTQI Own Voices Series
“I came out to my mother and she had that disappointed/staunch look on her face. She said lots of things, like, ‘Oh no! you’re a lesbian?, I expected kids from you!, you can get diseases!, when did this happen?, why are you like this?, is that why you don’t go to church anymore?, can you get rid of it?, that’s why you like that cause you spend time on the computer! You should go back to church and pray more’.”
This is the 7th in the Own Voices Series where I share the stories of Pasifika LGBTQI from around the world. (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.) Today I welcome Letau Leilua from South Auckland, New Zealand. She’s Samoan, a registered nurse working in the public health system and also currently studying at the University of Auckland for her postgrad degree in Nursing. She’s a mentor for other Pasifika nurses and for Pasifika LGBTQI youth. It takes courage to share one’s story and Im grateful for all those who have been able to participate in this series so far. Letau reached out to me after reading the first few stories in this series, inspired by their honesty and bravery. There’s great strength to be found in the sharing of our stories and a building of community. If you’re reading the Series and would like to share your own story, please email me at LaniWendtYoung[at]hotmail.com.
Now, over to Letau!
I was born in Central Auckland and raised in Mangere and Papatoetoe, South Auckland. Last time I went to Samoa was when I was eleven years old. The three things that give me joy are – my family, helping people, and being a nurse.
I was raised by my beautiful mother and aunty who have worked endless hours and showed so much love towards me and my older sister. I never grew up with my father and his family, he still lives back home in Samoa and I have seen him maybe four times in my life. Growing up I always pictured what my father looked like and what he did for a living, I had an image of a super hero because I heard he was looking after his sick parents. My mother and aunty showed me the meaning of love, respect and hard work. I grew up in a poor household, a strict and religious (Christian) family who have always been active in church and Samoan community functions. My mother and aunty have always said to go to church, to work hard in the home to do the house chores, and study hard to get a good education and a good job. Everything I have achieved is because of my family.
About being bisexual…
Bisexuality is having sexual feelings or attraction towards both males and females. Bisexuality is not necessarily having equal attraction, for example I identify myself as bisexual but mainly towards women.
About coming out…
I knew I liked both girls and boys at the age of 5 years old. I liked being around boys and girls which I thought was normal in my childhood years but it wasn’t until when I was maybe 10 years old I started to develop feelings beyond friendship for not only boys but girls too. By the time I was in high school I had a lot of crushes on boys and girls but did not act on my feelings.
I firstly came out to my friends because I was too scared to come out to my family. I knew it would not go well as my family are deeply religious (Christian believers) and uphold strong Samoan cultural views. My friends reacted very well and were and still are supportive and loving towards me.
I was very nervous coming out to my mother, aunty and sister as I didn’t want them to feel I let them down in anyway and not feel like they have raised me in the ‘wrong’ way. I told my sister first and she said she still loves and supports me. When it came for me to talk to my Mother and aunty I deliberately told them separately because I didn’t want ideas bouncing around and I felt I could not handle their reactions all at once. I remember I was sweating and had uncontrollable shakes including my voice. I came out to my mother and she had that disappointed/staunch look on her face. She said lots of things, like, ‘Oh no! you’re a lesbian?, I expected kids from you!, you can get diseases!, when did this happen?, why are you like this?, is that why you don’t go to church anymore?, can you get rid of it?, that’s why you like that cause you spend time on the computer! You should go back to church and pray more’.
I expected this sort of reaction. I told her that I knew about my sexuality for a long time even when I attended church. Then she was silent and she went back to reading the newspaper so I walked out. My aunty’s reaction was no different. She was confused and disgusted. ‘so you’re a lesbian?! you can’t like girls and boys that’s not possible you either straight or lesbian!, why you like this?! You spend too much time with girls is that why you like this?, oh well its your life!’. I wanted to cry but I promised myself I wouldn’t because I didn’t feel the need to feel sad or bad about who I am and I did not apologize to my mother or aunty. It was hard though. Immediately I told my sister who was so understanding and loving.
Looking back I am glad I did it because for so long I have wanted to come out and I have tried praying and going to church but for me personally it didn’t work. I have accepted who I am. I love my family, but in all honesty I can’t and I won’t change who I am, even if they don’t want to accept me right now.
About Palagi vs. Pasifika reactions…
I personally found coming out to my Palagi friends easier than my Pasifika friends. I think the difference being religion and cultural norms of my Pasifika values and beliefs. My Palagi friends are not religious and very open to many sexualities. On the other hand, most of my Pasifika friends are religious (Christian belief) and have been brought up with the notion of one sexuality being ‘straight’ is the cultural norm. However surprisingly my Pasifika friends were open and did not judge me when I came out. They’ve been so supportive and encouraging.
About support groups, mentors and friends…
I have been fortunate to have met amazing individuals and support group/s who cater specifically for Pasifika LGBTQ in NZ. How this came about because I too did not know anyone who was like me or Pasifika LGBTQ at the time, I contacted GAYNZ and they linked me to two other Pasifika leaders who are active in the Pasifika LGBTQ community which included Phylesha Brown. Phylesha Brown helped me so much to develop the Pasifika sisters group specifically for Lesbians and bi women but also linked me to Pasifika groups. I owe it all to GAYNZ and Phylesha Brown for being so supportive and helpful that I was able to meet other likeminded individuals and develop good relations and friendships. From this experience, it has developed my morale and confidence to come out and be me. It took a while but without the help and support not only from my friends and some family members but a huge part came from the Pasifika and mainstream LGBTQ community.
About faith, religion and bisexuality…
I agree Samoan culture is embedded in the Christian belief/value system as the governing foundation for daily living. I do believe God exists, in saying that in the past I have avoided going to church and hanging out with some of my Christian friends as I felt ashamed and embarrassed about who I am. This is because in Christian belief, relations between a man and woman is acceptable and homosexuality is considered a sin. I felt that I was two different people because many times I had to play the ‘straight’ woman when going to church or church functions and I did not disclose my sexuality as I wanted to be accepted and I did not want to bring shame to my family.
Advice and counsel for other young Pasifika LGBTQI…
I would encourage you to talk to someone who you feel comfortable with being a friend, family member/s or leaders. From experience I questioned my sexuality many times and I struggled with who to turn to and I became depressed. I felt talking to an outsider away from my friends and family helped me because I didn’t feel judged and there were no cultural or religious boundaries. I have gotten so much love and positive feedback reminding me that it will take time for my family to come around.
Alternatively get in contact with local or mainstream LGBTQ support systems via internet or word of mouth who can channel you to Pasifika LGBTQ support groups because there are many amazing Pasifika LGBTQ leaders and members who are so supportive and willing to help. There is the Talatalanoa group, Rainbow Collective and Village Collective who cater specifically for Pasifika youth LGBTQ and the Pasifika sisters group which is a support group for our lesbian/bi Pasifika women. You are not alone. There are many of us out here who can help you.
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my experience as a Bi woman. I hope this will help many other women going through a similar experience. I am gladly here to help and support our Pasifika LGBTQ family.
Faafetai lava mo le avanoa. Alofa tele atu.
For more in this series, click on any of the following:
Patrick Thomsen – “Where I draw my greatest strength and courage”. Samoan in Seattle Washington USA.
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.