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Global Roundup: Native Hawaiian Māhū, Protesting Misogyny in Poland, Gender-Neutral Hair Salons, Honouring LGBTQ Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Kenya, Celebrating Queer Love and Activism with Art
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu. Photo by Mahina Choy-Ellis via them.us.
Native māhū—the Hawaiian word for a person of dual male and female spirit—are reclaiming their history through a monument to Native Hawaiian culture that is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood.
Known as Ka Pōhaku Kahuna Kapaemāhū, or “the healer stones of Kapaemāhū”, four stones hold a powerful and misunderstood history in Hawaii. These ancient stones represent four respected healers who were māhū. The māhū association has been overlooked for centuries as a result of colonial forces and Christian missionaries that arrived on the island more than two centuries ago.
The mo’olelo (story) of Ka Pōhaku Kahuna Kapaemāhū tells the story of four Tahiitians visiting O’ahu, a story which has been passed down for more than 700 years. The māhū were described as having feminine and masculine manners, and were openly embraced by the island’s native people. They provided support healing injuries and sicknesses and supported the community in O’ahu. At the time of their departure, four human-sized boulders were carried to the beach – symbolic of where the four māhū took their first steps in O’ahu – to honour their generosity and care. The story ends with the four māhū healers transferring their names (Kapuni, Kinohi, Kahaloa, and Kapaemāhū – and their mana (powers) to the stones, and then vanishing forever.
In 2020, activists and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a prominent kumu (teacher) and māhū in Hawai’i, created a film which detailed the sacred history of the Kapaemāhū. Wong-Kalu transitioned in her early twenties, and has since emerged as a leader within the intergeneraitonal movement to reclaim the role of māhū people in Hawaiian culture.
To be māhū is greater than the gender binary—male, female, those are the ordinary people. I can see the world from two different sides, I can do things from two different sides. And so can a lot of other māhū. – Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
The term “māhū” was often used as a slur or a punchline, but the name has slowly and increasingly become a source of power and pride for many māhū in their adulthood. Western stigmas about gender identity and sexual orietnation took over, and changed the landscape of the queer experience in Hawai’i for generations.
Wong-Kalu has been at the forefront of many movements and events that have raised awareness about māhū people and offered support in a number of unique ways. A number of other māhū activists and creatives have also emerged at the forefront of this movement to reclaim māhū history. Through song, films, hula, other forms of dance, activism, and events, māhū people in Hawai’i have begun to have their stories and experiences recognized and validated. Erased from history for too long, māhū people have been using creative outlets to reclaim their history and rewrite what was stolen from them generations ago.
Image: Michal Dyjuk/AP/picture alliance. Photo via DW.
The home of the leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party became the scene of a protest on Monday as women's rights group opposed his recent remarks regarding the country's low birth rate. Jaroslaw Kaczynski had blamed the low number of births on young women drinking too much alcohol.
The prominent rights movement Women's Strike gathered some 300 people outside Kaczynski's Warsaw home to protest the remarks and the general erosion of women's rights in Poland under the PiS government. Those who showed up expressed disappointment at the relatively low turnout.
I am terrified to see that we agree to all these policies, because so few people turned out today. I'm afraid that a majority of people have gotten used to the way the things are and they don't see any point anymore in protesting. – an individual from the protest
The real reasons for the low birthrate, Women Strike said, are factors such as a lack of general sexual education, a de facto ban on abortion, a housing shortage, and a lack of childcare facilities. Additionally, women lack basic sexual and reproductive health rights and services (i.e. no state funding for in-vitro fertilization services) and the LGBTQ+ community has been poorly treated as a result of discriminatory policies.
Poland has frequently butted heads with the European Union over the treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community within the nation, but to no avail. The conservative government remains rigid in its stance and its approach to women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, however Polish advocates have never backed down from an opportunity to dismantle the patriarchy within Poland.
For the LGBTQ+ community around the world, hair has always been an expression of one’s true self, something to have full control over; however, this implies having access to inclusive barbers and hair salons, something which many queer people lack access to. Around the world, a number of organizations have helped queer people find gender-affirming stylists and salons in their areas using maps and directories of the city, as well as other educational services.
Organizations such as the Dresscode Project, Strands for Trans, and Hair Has No Gender UK have helped closes the gap in the lack of access to trans-inclusive barbershops and salons by offering training and support to help educate and empower stylists on inclusive language, and by sharing the gender-diversity-awareness training with other stylists. These organizations also provide recommendations on charging based on length of a client’s hair, rather than their gender.
The conversations I’ve had with friends here, a lot of the hair stylists are just wondering what might be next and how we have to be able to keep this up…while the Supreme Court and government are trying to block a lot of things when it comes to healthcare services, it would be really hard for them to legislate hair. – Kristin Rankin, head stylist and owner of Fox and Jane in Toronto, and founder of the Dresscode Project on women and queer rights in the US
Although hair might seem like a small aspect of one’s identity, it speaks to the autonomy and character of a person. For far too many years, queer people have been subjected to unnecessary discrimination in common places such as their barbershops or hair salons, but there is hope that this movement for equality within the hairdressing space will be successful and will continue to support queer people around the world.
If every salon and every barbershop, you know, got it and changed their menus to reflect hair, not gender, their spaces would automatically be inclusive and accepting and welcoming. And honestly, that would be amazing. It would just be time well spent if we were able to do that and help change an industry that didn’t even realize it needed changing at first. – Kristin Rankin
Photo courtesy of Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health). Photo via Blade.
Earlier this month, Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance were recognized and celebrated by many around the world. In Kenya, two LGBTQ rights groups used these events to honour trans refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
The Refugee Trans Initiative and Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health hosted an event on November 20th in Nairobi, aimed at celebrating Trans Awareness week – although the organizations had initially wanted to host the event at the Kakuma refugee camp, the conditions of the camp were deemed unsafe. Instead, this event was attended by many former residents of the Kakuma refugee camp.
The event was to celebrate Trans Awareness Week for trans refugees and asylum seekers and we invited other individuals who are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ refugee community. We had time to reflect on the memory of our friends we have lost and most recently Francis, who was murdered in Uganda. – Vanilla Hussein, Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health Director
Nearly all LGBTQ+ and intersex people living in Kakuma have experienced some form of discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. However, according to the UNHCR last year, Kenya is the only country in the region that provides asylum to individuals fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Although some organizations and government entities have demonstrated a commitment to supporting queer and trans refugees and asylum seekers, the overall problem lies with the government’s commitment to ending violence against queer people, as well as the sentiment towards the queer community. Like the rest of the world, monumental change is required and systems must be dismantled and rebuilt so that queer and trans people can have full access to their rights, free of violence and discrimination.
We all have the right to live with dignity and respect. As we just marked and celebrated the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of transphobic violence, and as we continue to celebrate Transgender Awareness month until the end of November, we remember those in the transgender community who have lost their lives due to violence brought by hate and ignorance and we honor, celebrate, and advocate for the respect of the rights of transgender and gender diverse communities. – Alvin Mwangi, reproductive rights activist
Angel Alvie Anjos, “Reborn Against Blossoms”. Photo via Xamara Aleman and The Mesa Press.
A recent art exhibition at the San Diego Mesa Art Gallery is celebrating stories and experiences within the LGBTQ+ community. The exhibition, which opened at the end of October, presents the art of 25 multidisciplinary artists from a number of different backgrounds.
The exhibition, Pride and Protest: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Love and Activism, allowed artists to carefully and creatively express their own experiences growing up queer. One artist, Angel Albie Anjos used vibrant depictions of queer mythological and religious icons. She painted a woman sitting curled up in a valley of purple blossoms. Named “Reborn Amongst Blossoms”, Anjos’ painting created a line of cultural continuity and drew on notions of sexuality and gender, topics which are rarely discussed in the context of religion and mythology.
Another artist, Scott Gengelbach, had two pieces on display at the museum, named “Love is the Definition of Marriage”, and “God Hates Haters”. The former was made of toys, wood, and spray paint. The latter (made from paper, ink, pastels, and a mirror) uses a mirror as a reflection for the observer of the art. It allows individuals to reflect on the conservative and religious views that have been inflicted upon the queer community. Gengelbach’s piece speaks to the pain that the queer community has endured for generations in order to gain acceptance.
Although the exhibition formally closed in November, the messages conveyed in the artwork was both powerful and inspiring.
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.