Spreading aroha to the takatāpui community

Growing up in Panguru as a young gay man, broadcaster Whatitiri Te Wake can say hand-on-heart that he was surrounded by aroha. “I don’t really have a coming out story – I was nurtured and cared for – and was as flamboyant or queer as I wanted to be, growing up.” 

“Most of the time, I was never, ever made to feel different. That was the beauty of being raised in that close-knit, rural, village-feel community,” he says. Even though he knows his experience isn’t always common in rural communities, Whati credits the inclusive strength of Te Ao Māori for why his upbringing was so open minded. “As huge as the Christian/Catholic impact is where I was brought up, there was this innate feeling of Te Ao Māori having a strong presence in our community. And with that comes the idea that everyone has wairua, everyone descends from the same ancestors as everybody else, so you’re pretty much treated equally.”

Whati says that in Te Ao Māori – before the influence of colonialism – there was a role for everyone and if anything, being someone that displayed the characteristics of both wahine and tane, female and male, would make you a revered part of the community. “A lot of people do seek refuge in Te Ao Māori because of that,” Whati says. “That’s what’s so special about the term takatāpui – it’s a modern term, coined by real pioneers of the Māori gay and trans world.”

According to Takatapui.nz, the historical translations of ‘takatāpui’ meant ‘intimate companion of the same sex’, and it was reclaimed by the Māori Rainbow community in the 1980s. It emphasises “one's identity as Māori as inextricably linked to their gender identity or sexuality.” It’s an incredibly meaningful term – and an incredibly inclusive community, Whati says. “If my sexuality and my gender identity – all of who I am – can be housed in my Māori identity, that gives me a lot of positive strength and pride.” 

Because Whati always felt welcomed in his community, he has worked hard to help other Māori Rainbow youth to feel that same freedom. “As a broadcaster and as a takatāpui gay man, I feel I’m in a privileged position to raise awareness on issues that impact takatāpui and the wider Rainbow community.” This mahi has always been important to him – before he was in television, he worked as the New Zealand Aids Foundation as Māori Community Engagement Coordinator. This meant taking the message of HIV prevention to Māori communities – schools, marae, universities, as well as creating wider conversations around Māori sexual identity and gender identity. One of the key events on the calendar was always Pink Shirt Day, Whati says.

“We’d always make a big deal out of Pink Shirt Day – use a sausage sizzle and a games day to bring whānau in and share information, talk to people about their kids and how they were going. We’d really use Pink Shirt Day as a vehicle to get that conversation started.” 

The theme for Pink Shirt Day is Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together and Stop Bullying. By embracing the Te Ao Māori belief of inclusivity and a place for everyone, Whati believes the takatāpui community can find strength and belong. “Being able to have a conversation about gender and sexuality through a Māori lens means being able to validate or reinforce the message that ‘You are worthy and there is a place for you in society – Māori society and general society.’”

“It’s my duty as a takatāpui to tell our stories – as a minority within a minority – and celebrate all the aspects of this community. I feel very privileged and humbled that I get to do that. It’s very rewarding to see how that can shift young people’s perspectives.” 

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“Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!”