Our stories | Mipela tokstori

Reclaiming our rainbow cultural identities

Something I’ve been struggling with over the years is where my sexuality and gender identity fits in a Papua New Guinea (PNG) cultural context. I’m a proud mangi PNG (PNG kid) but terms like geli-geli (girlie-girlie), askan (arse cunt) and gay carry such negative stigma in Papua New Guinea that I myself am anti their usage.

The Pacific is a vast and diverse region, and Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally rich places in the world. Several of our fellow pacific island nations have such beautiful strong identities that are woven into the tapa of their culture like Fa’afafine of Samoa and Takataapui of Aotearoa New Zealand. Where are ours?

Generally speaking, these western terms – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender etc. – carry heavy stigma in PNG, and without any connection to our cultural heritage leave us isolated and struggling with our identities. As pointed out in a recent article ‘Hobgoblin’ logic on Pacific gay rights has distinctly Western roots, colonisation has all but erased or demonised parts of our identity – particularly identities our PNG LGBTI community could be embracing today.

In recent years a Tok Pisin term Palopa was coined by gay and transgender Papua New Guineans of Port Moresby as detailed in Name, Shame and Blame: Criminalising Consensual Sex in Papua New Guinea. Likewise there is a documented third gender identity of the Sambian people kwolu-aatmwol (male thing-transforming-into-female thing) as described in The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. What other identities are out there? And like many western LGBTI communities that have reclaimed Queer and turned it into a positive, powerful, umbrella term, we need to do the same.

We need to reclaim our rainbow cultural identities of Papua New Guinea.

How do we go about this? Who can help?

Written by @clintyminty