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I am a gay Tongan man trying to figure out how we all fit in

I am a gay Tongan man trying to figure out how we all fit in

a man in traditional tongan clothes standing on a beach

I am a gay Tongan man navigating my way through so  many different spaces and communities still trying to figure out how we all fit in. Still trying to set an example for all the young ones coming up behind me.

The two stories that really stuck out to me from the Stonewall riots were those of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Two trans women of color whose stories we only until relatively recently, heard more of.

The gay liberation movement is still today dominated by a cisgendered white male narrative and whilst the fight against all injustices is an important one, sometimes the struggles of those other minorities are often forgotten or left behind.

a man being escorted by two security guards
Joseph being escorted from Australia’s Parliament House after staging a protest | Photo: Supplied

Fakaleiti and fa’afafine

In the Pacific it’s the Marsha P. Johnsons and the Sylvia Riveras that have led and continue to lead  the movement for LGBTI liberation and the fight for Human Rights.

It’s because of the fakaleiti and fa’afafine that have carried the full brunt of the fight that I feel, I can move the way I do in life.

Fakaleiti and fa’afafine are gender identities unique to the South Pacific Islands. Fakaleiti is a modern continuation of an ancient Polynesian tradition, known as fa’afafine in Samoa and mahu or rae rae in French Polynesia. The term fakaleiti is made up of the prefix faka- (in the manner of) and -leiti from the English word lady.

I’ve always drawn inspiration from that. Some of us can hide our sexuality and fly under the radar. But it’s those who can’t and don’t have a choice who have always been the most brave and courageous.

It doesn’t just take courage to throw the first brick in the face of injustice though. It takes anger, it takes fear, it takes passion. It takes someone pushed so far to the edge that the only thing left to do is act and throw that brick.

Injustice is a wall that society will continue to build. But that’s unless we are there throwing our bricks, smashing at that wall and tearing it down.

My activism was born out of these ideas. Like so many like me standing up to say something was never a question. It was necessity. It was survival.

And in my growth as an activist, I’ve come to learn of the complexities and nuances within myself and in our community.

a man in traditional tongan clothes at beach in front of a crowd, he is wearing a black t-shirt that reads stop adani
Joseph is a passionate climate change activist | Photo: Supplied

Climate change

I’m a Climate Change activist. A Pacific Climate Warrior.

I am driven by the love of my Islands, my culture and my home. I am driven by the injustice that  it is the people who have contributed least to the causes of Climate Change that are now facing the worst effects.

I am one of many LGBITQ First Nations people across the world fighting to protect home and country whilst struggling to deal with our place in a western world that was built to oppress us, and continues to do so.

I am the product of brave people like Marsha P. Johnsons and the Sylvia Riveras – the unsung heroes who have paved the way for all of us. I stand on the shoulders of the giants of the Pacific, the Tongan Leiti’s association, The Samoan Fa’afafine Association, Diva for Equality, The Haus of Khameleon, organisations filled with the people who prove that the mountains in our islands are our activists.

I can’t tell you where our community will be in the next 50 years. I can’t even tell you where I will be next week.

For some of us in the Pacific there is even a threat that our islands will be gone in that time and that we’d have to pack up and move. And that’s something we need to address today.

a man shouting into a microphone with one arm raised
Joseph protesting in Melbourne | Photo: Supplied

What I hope

I can tell you what I hope though.

I hope that our community branches out and intentionally reaches out to pull the marginalised communities in. I hope our communities venture out of the fashionable inner city suburbs with an understanding that it’s ok not to live there and that there is life outside of the cities.

I hope our community becomes more intersectional. I hope the historic fights that have been won over the last couple of years don’t just stop there but fuel the battle to fight the injustices being faced by everyone else.

I hope we don’t stop marching now our voices have been heard. I hope we all stand up and march for others. I hope to see the rainbow flag flying in all the rallies, a sign to show that we are there to support.

I hope we become a community built on empathy and  solidarity.

a man in traditional tongan clothes standing outside parliament house on a sunny day
Outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia | Photo: Supplied

Stonewall 50 Voices

Joseph-Zane Sikulu is a climate change warrior at 350.org.

Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from and focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community. They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.