In the early 21st century increasing numbers of Māori men and women embraced the term takatāpui to describe their sexuality. The term, used by Tūtānekai to refer to his relationship with Tiki, has been reclaimed from the past and is used to describe people who might otherwise describe themselves as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or intersexual. The term takatāpui is important to Māori because it acknowledges both the sexual and cultural aspects of one’s identity, and has both contemporary and traditional connections with the Māori community.
It is important to note that the term takatāpui embraces transgender men and women. As is the case with many indigenous peoples throughout the world, transgender people hold a revered position within Māori society. Transgender people play an important role within both the takatāpui community and wider Māori community as holders and transmitters of ancestral knowledge.
National surveys of high school students in New Zealand have shown that one percent of students identified as transgender and about three percent were unsure of their sexuality.
Contemporary ideas of sexuality
While concepts of sexuality were imposed on Māori by Western ideas, beliefs and attitudes, by the 2000s this had started to change with a renewed awareness of sexual diversity. This is reflected in the growth of organisations and events targeted at Māori within the takatāpui community. A television show, Takatāpui, first shown on Māori Television in 2004, was probably the first indigenous gay, lesbian and transgender television series in the world. In 2010 an exhibition consisting of five gay Māori and Polynesian artists, ‘Mana Takatāpui: Taera Tāne’, was shown at the City Gallery in Wellington. Curator Reuben Friend said the show explored what it meant to be takatāpui in contemporary Aotearoa. Hui Takatapui, a national gathering for takatāpui, is held annually.
The increased visibility of transgender people within contemporary society underlines the importance of ensuring the protection of the rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the case of Māori transgender people it is important to ensure access to culture, including language, tikanga and whakapapa, to provide a buffer against the negative social and health impacts that transgender people confront.
Acknowledging sexual diversity
The move to acknowledge and accept sexual diversity among Māori in the 21st century has been driven by a number of imperatives that include the promotion of health and wellbeing – sexuality is seen as an integral component of achieving good health for individuals and communities.
There are challenges related to sexual and reproductive health, including rising rates of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses, including chlamydia (for which Māori young people have a high rate of infection) and HIV. Sound health-promotion strategies to avoid these infections must be based on accurate knowledge about sexuality and sexual behaviour. For Māori, this requires an understanding of the role of ancestral knowledge, since this influences individuals today.
Māori Sexuality Project
Research as part of the Māori Sexuality Project undertaken at Auckland University in the early 2000s provided evidence that Māori society accepted sexual diversity. The team of researchers invited people of all ages and sexualities to share their understandings of Māori sexuality. Many respondents were able to recall examples of their kaumātua and kuia talking about people they knew who had a same-sex attraction or identified as transgender. Moreover, they all agreed that these people held positions of importance and status within their whānau and hapū. They were not rejected or marginalised, and were considered to be valuable members of their communities.