I, like everyone else, was distressed/distraught/flabbergasted and disgusted by the front-page article about #BeautifulJeanine. I was also taken aback by a Think A Minute article called “Coming out of the Closet”: it was blatantly homophobic, really depressing and was the kind of article that actually drives people to committing suicide.
I have lots of friends who have committed suicide or become drug addicts because of bigotry, and I truly believe bigotry comes from people who are uneducated and/or totally delusional in their backwards belief systems. There isn’t much I can do through words to talk someone out of their delusions (that’s a whole ‘nother article), but I can try to educate, and I can only do this from a loving space.
If you’re reading and you aren’t sure you fit into the very small box of being a fa‘afafine or fa‘afatama – please know, there are so, so, so many people all around the world who are in your plight and stand with you and support and love you, many of them here in Samoa.
Even though many people have a habit of thinking of only 2 genders with matching sex, gender and sex are not the same, and there are a lot more than 2 of each. The term sex refers to genitalia, what our bodies look like, and not all bodies fit into only 2 categories. What is gender? Gender is what we act like according to our culture, and different cultures say different actions or appearances are “masculine/male”, ‘feminine/female’, and more. Some cultures have 5 genders! Gender is something that we perform, and that can change throughout our lives, if we travel to a different place, or if we take on a different role in society.
What does LGBTQI mean? Let’s just spell it out!
L is for Lesbian, a female who is attracted to females.
G is for Gay, a dude who loves to love men.
B is for Bisexual, a person who is attracted to either males or females or anything in between.
T is for Transgender and is someone who changes their gender – this person can be in many stages from changing their clothing to surgery, and they can be attracted to the opposite or the same sex.
Q is for Questioning or Queer: this person is at a stage where they are figuring things out with their gender and/or sexuality, they may also be happy somewhere inbetween. Ambiguous.
I is for Intersex, this person is born with a possible broad spectrum of male and female characteristics, they can be born with ambiguous genitalia or what seems like “normal” genitalia at birth but something else may come up in the puberty years. I’ve a friend with AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome), she was a born a girl with a vagina, and when she got to 14 and never started menstruation she found out she had testicles inside her body where her ovaries would usually be found – AIS happens in around 1 in 20.000 people (that’s quite a lot when you think about it).
Why does it matter? If you were born with clearly defined genitalia that ‘fit’ with your culture’s definition of one sex and one gender, and that sex/gender assignment matches with how you feel, then great! But not everyone is like you.
It is estimated that people who are either born or identify/experienced as LGBTQI make up about 23% of the worlds population – That’s a huge chunk of people.
And now to pronouns... One thing that really bothers me is misgendering people, calling them a boy when they identify as a girl. If someone is in transition from one gender to another, or if they are just happy being ambiguous, we should use correct pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns. This is something that is being taught through schools all across the world. I used to volunteer with Headpsace in Australia (Headspace is a national mental health foundation that offers support and wellbeing to young people) They offer education and support to families, schools and individuals. One of the programs on offer was the pronouns workshop, which is a lot of fun to teach and to learn.
A thing that really struck me about the #BeautifulJeanine article was her misgendered pronouns, it left me thinking that it is simple things like pronouns that can really send someone over the edge, especially someone who has gender dysphoria (a condition where someone is debilitated by thoughts of their body not matching their inner truth)... So here we are, in unity – learning. I hope you’re taking notes. She, her, hers and he, him, his are the most commonly used pronouns.
Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because, for example, not everyone who uses he feels like a “male” or “masculine.” There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear: (1) They, them, theirs (Sina ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun…. And yes, it can in fact be used in the singular. (2) Ze, hir (Lani ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
(3) Just my name please! (Toa ate Toa’s food because Toa was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead. Never, ever refer to a person as “it” or “he-she” (unless they specifically ask you to.) These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals. Ze and Hir seem to be more widely used in Europe and They and Them used in Australia, America and NZ...
I try my best to use “They and Them” for everyone. It’s just easier that way, and yes you can use They and them in the singular – one of the wonderful things about the English language. I don’t speak Samoan yet, but I’m sure there is an equivalent. (All modern dictionaries have gender neutral pronouns explained)
It is important for us to come together to support the estimated 23% of humans who identify as LGBTQI, you never know who is around you that is suffering in silence. We can only go so far as a species on planet Earth if we’re going to keep pushing each other down.
Everyone deserves love and there are more pressing issues on planet Earth that need your disdain, like the destruction of the environment, human and animal injustices and your health... look after your health and just be nice. In saying all of this, I’d like to offer up my email address: If you have any questions or are looking for support in any way regarding LGBTQI, I’d love to hear from you. You have a voice, and there are many many people in Samoa who are here for you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Rachel Laulu is a yoga teacher who offers private yoga classes to corporate groups, schools, retreats and individuals from the YOGA JUICE studio or at your workplace or retreat. If you have any inquiries, regarding classes please feel free to contact Rachel via email at email@example.com or add her on facebook through her Yoga Juice Samoa group page