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February 2024 Web Images (2000 X 924 Px) (1)

Image description

Dr Huhana smiles into the camera. The image is overlaid on a blue and gold background. 

Queer tī with Aunty Hu

The Aunty with the Queer tea and kōrero pūrākau you never knew you needed.

  • Queer tī with Aunty Hu
    Huhana Hickey
  • Image originally captured by Taikura Trust.


    Beth: Kia ora, my name is Beth. I whakapapa Ngāti Porou, my marae is Mangahanea. 

    I will be facilitating this conversation today. I work at the D-List as a project coordinator, and I'll hand over to Dr. Hūhana to introduce themselves. 

    Dr Huhana: Kia ora koutou. Ko Waikato me Ngāti Ira me Ngāti Whakatōhea ngā iwi, ko Ngāti Tāhinga te hapū, Ko Weraroa te marae, Ko Karioi te maunga, Ko Whaingaroa te moana, Ko Huhana ahau.


    Beth: Right, so my first question actually popped up last week. I was on Instagram and I saw this post from a queer digital magazine talking about how a third of queer youth don't believe that they're going to live past 35. And that hit me because I think part of that is that we don't really see older queer couples in our representation. Like, you know, in the media, it's always about the fight for our rights, the queer struggles. In TV shows and movies, we're like the queer, funny side character that gets killed off for the plot, you know? 

    Dr Huhana: Yep. 

    Beth: And like, the first time I saw a queer couple, my parents' age, was at Big Gay Out last year, and I was sort of having a meltdown, so I wasn't paying that much attention. But like, when I saw this, [I think] we tend to focus on the horrible things that happened, which deserve their recognition. But I feel like we don't have space for queer elder joy. How does this sit with you? 

    Dr Huhana: Yeah, well, it's actually not just the queer space. The disability space does the same. A lot of young disabled don't know the history. And so they think they're breaking ground for the first time. And I'm like, "Oh no, baby, we were raising kids as  disabled adults, raising disabled kids as well. We did this and we've been fighting for accessible transport for 40 years. You've just come on board, you think this is new? Well, why didn't you win? I said, "You’ll find out." If you think it's that easy, you'll find out. And same in the queer movement, when I grew up, I didn't even hear what a lesbian was. My naivety was such, we weren't taught about our periods, nothing. So when I found out, it was like the name Lesleys, I was raised in a Catholic school, okay? 

    Beth: I was as well, yep, I feel that. 

    Dr Huhana: It was that they were Lesleys, were all lesbians, and that's what it meant. I didn't know what it meant. So, you know, we were naive as. 

    Beth: Yeah. 

    Dr Huhana: But I also had this journey where when I was young, I hated being a girl because of all the abuse I had experienced.  My nickname was Steve 'cause I used to beat up my cousins and all sorts of things when I was younger. I was a tom boy. So, you know, it was a way of finding myself, , you know, we used to all gather together at the local beach at  Taranaki, Opunaki , Urenui, and we'd go and beat up the other teenagers or they'd have teenage fights out on the beach, you know. I didn’t  think anything of it because, but I didn't know the nickname Steve was because I felt I was a tomboy. Today, we would identify as non-binary which makes sense, esp when young and working out our identity.

    And I've never been feminine, but every time they'd try and put makeup on me, 

    I'd be wiping it off. Mum had to hold me down to get makeup on me. 

    I hated makeup. I stopped [wearing] dresses at a young age because I hated dresses. She'd make our clothes and we'd all be in the same outfits. And I hated every bit of it. I got my first pair of trousers and I wore them till I was about 10, from the age of five and they became shorts.  But they were long shorts, but I wanted them because I didn't like dresses. 

    [You know, we were] hiding, pretending, in jobs, having the nurses coming out to me when I was in hospital as a teenager who, in a hushed voice wouldsay, "We are queer. "This is how we meet." and meeting in secret homes and spaces. That is normal. Today, you guys can do all that. 

    Beth: So is that how you found out about queer meetings? What did that look like for you? Because for us, we show up to like big gay out and we're like, "Woohoo, we're queer." 

    Dr Huhana: We had nothing. 

    Beth: What did that [look like], how did you get into that space? 


    Dr Huhana:  In rural communities like Taranaki, those places, very behind in a lot of areas, like racism, homophobia and accessibility, all sorts. So we hid. And then of course the AIDS epidemic came out. I was living in Auckland by then. I hadn't come out at that point, but I had a lot of friends. I purposefully [had]  my son, at that point, hug them, hold them, taught him that it was nothing to fear. And we were there, I was just in the background, you know, helping, but not a front line person. 

    But we were there nursing and helping our friends as they were dying of AIDS. And it was then that I started to recognize I was questioning my own sexuality. But it was hard because just before my son was born, I was starting to question it [my sexuality] but then I converted to Christianity and it was the cultist form, you know, the evangelicals. And we had homosexuals anonymous. So while I was having my baby, They were doing the march up the street, and I was chanting with the other Christians, you know, against the homosexual law reform. Thank God it got through. 

    Yet, it made us question, and then my son was born, and in this church, they just, they dissed the fact that he was disabled. Told me I was imagining everything, and God clearly wasn't in my life enough. And six months later, Iwalked out at that point, and just try it alone, I felt guilty 'cause I was raised a strict Catholic. So I felt, it was almost like you're sweating blood leaving 'cause you know you're going to hell sort of thing. So it took a long time to reconcile it  for myself. And then of course the homosexual law reform came in and so the hero parade was happening. I was back in Taranaki till my son was six. 

    Then I moved to Hamilton and started my studies. And it was there that I came out. I had a girlfriend there who was violent and abusive. In the end, she knocked me unconscious in '96. And the police and the judges didn't do anything, and the queer community didn't support [me]. So, you know, there's a lot of this history that our younger community don't know. The queer community denied violent abuse within our community for a long time. 

    Beth: And they still do. 

    Dr Huhana: They still do. And yet we have evidence that exists, but our legislation doesn't recognize it that easily. It's all about cis heterosexual couples. And anyone outside of that doesn't fit that thing. Not even disabled people who maybe getting abused by carers. They don't consider that an intimate relationship. And yet it is intimate because of the cares that are done. It's very intimate and open to abuse. And they don't recognize it under the Domestic Violence Act. So, you know, queer abuse, disability abuse, they don't recognize it as easy. I think they do recognize queer a bit, but refuges are set up for abused women, they are als inaccessible and don’t accept male children from a certain age, even if they are disabled and rely on mum, but disabled who need carers also can’t access the refuge easily either. So we don't even look at abused men. And this happens, it's not as uncommon as we think it is. It doesn't happen as much, but we always center on the woman's stories rather than people abusing people regardless of gender, ability or sexuality. 

    But we don't center on non-binary, we don't center on trans stories. We don't center on stories that don't fit the nuclear family image of a man, a woman, and 1.5 children. 

    Beth: Well, like this is the issue that I'm having now with a lot of the stuff that's coming out in the queer community, because I feel like we're sort of, we dislike the heteronormativity stuff, but then we're still trying to fit in with the binary because then we're like, okay, so we've got gay men and we've got lesbian women and we're trying to fit everything around that. But if you're polyamorous, if you're non-binary, if you're gender fluid, like I'm gender fluid and I'm looking at a lot of the stuff that's coming out and I'm like, where do I sit with this? Where does this apply to me? 

    Dr Huhana: You know, some of our older generation, particularly some in the older  lesbian community, have come out as trans. Quite transphobic. -

    Beth: Really? 

    Dr Huhana: I was shocked. 

    Dr Huhana: These are  woman I looked up to for many generations. They're the older ones, again. 

    Beth: The ones that taught you. 

    Dr Huhana: Yeah, the ones in their 80s. I'm in my 60’s, I'm 62 now, as of last week. So those in their 80s and that are transphobic. And I just can't reconcile that because they've gone down the right wing  transphobic road and about the rights of women when it doesn't impact on them at all. I mean, we have one of our mokopuna transitioning. And at the beginning, she was non-binary last year. Then she admitted she started small doses of estrogen 'cause she hated hair and all the hairiness. And she is looking really good as a young person. She's not even 21 yet, but getting the hormones in earlier is better than getting the hormones in later. And we are supporting [her].I asked her last week when we were up North at Waitangi, are you happy? And she just looked at me directly for the first time, 'cause she's quite a diva, but the first time the diva was gone and she just looked me in the eye and said, I really am. 

    I said, well, that's all that matters. 

    I mean, one of my sons, is in a very stable relationship, but his partner is now exploring polyamory. I sat them down and I just said, there's two rules that you have. One is openness and honesty. Really, that's it. I said, if you can be open with each other, if you're uncomfortable, my son, tell your darling. If your feelings are changing, be honest and talk to them.. 

    Unless they are open and they are honest, then that honesty, that openness, it might suit you three quite well. 

    Beth: I think it's so beautiful. 

    Dr Huhana: They're not hugely sociable people. For them, they like being at home. They don't come to BGO or clubs anymore. They're old people now. 

    Beth: I feel that in my soul. 

    Dr Huhana: And so maybe in a way, this is what works. I don't know. I have my trepidation, but it's always existed. And I remember, this is what young people don't realize. They think they're inventing something. We may not have had the same words but it's always existed. The androgynous people which was really me a few years ago, I was more androgynous and now non-binary and I think I am still quite non-binary because I'm not butch, I'm not femme, I'm just me and it's the same as pronouns. I don't use pronouns and people go why? I said because Māori didn't have pronouns we were ia and ia is all I need to be. I've been meaning to ask you about this. 

    Because labels, labels bug me. It's like, oh, Dr. Hu, the MSer. You know, yeah, I'm not my disability. I'm not my wheelchair. And I'm not my gender. I am simply Huhana. 

    And I'm comfortable with ia because that's all you need to know. And that's because Māori were very fluid. And this is what blew away Cook's doctor when he made comments about our people. They were healthy. They lived longer on average than their people were in Europe because we had a good, healthy lifestyle. 

    They were fluid in their sexuality, fluid in their gender. We had women take on warrior roles, men take on caring roles. It was what it was, disabled, intellectually disabled, fed, cared for, the babies, the children, the old people, the disabled. There was a role for everybody within the Pā. And in our queer community, there's a role for everybody. But young people forget the older people. And maybe now I'm at that age where the Big Gay Out is becoming loud, becoming very young and becoming very disconnecting. 

    Beth: Could I just, I just like wanna segue in here because this is something I'm really interested in, especially because so many rangatahi aren't living near their marae, and a lot of them, when they hit 18, they move away to university. And as queer and disabled people, it's hard to learn from your queer elders or from your disabled elders because you don't have that connection, and you don't have that connection to your marae. So, especially because a lot of the way we teach is through oral storytelling, you know? How do you think this fits with the disconnect that is felt between the older queer community and the younger ones. 

    Dr Huhana: I was adopted, knew nothing of my real whānau or any of them, I mean, I grew up being too scared to join anything Maori because it was Māori. And being a Catholic school, there were favourite students and non-favourite students among the nuns and priests. And there was this Māori whānau, the Ruakere , and I was far too scared because they were good at kapa haka, waiata, and I was like, "Are they going to laugh at me?" I think for young people, it's this peer pressure issue that comes along and you want to be part of [it] We can be very judgy and the queer community can be just as judgy. The focus is on the guys, it's always on the body, you know, and it's all about the buffness. 

    I mean, in the past , you had this feminist movement where you had the two female symbols and you could tell who were the radical lefty lesbians and who were the ones that were a bit more closeted. But these days, it's all over the place, you can't tell. But young ones do need to understand that there is wisdom among the aging. We've got life experience. We've had all the movies. I remember watching one that had Marielle Hemingway on it, I think. Muriel. "Ma" - oh, I can't pronounce her name. But it was the first lesbian one I'd seen. Now, it's tame as by today's standards. But when you saw that kiss as a teenager, it's like, "Oh my God!" You know, , and then I started falling in love with every older woman I saw that was a feminist or lesbian thinking. And I realized I was looking for that role model. I was looking for that image. 

    Beth: That connection to your community. 

    Dr Huhana: And there was nothing. They were all in hiding. So you might see the subtle little necklace with the things or a little badge with the two women and that would give it away. But other than that, you couldn't tell. I was very careful about not hitting on women that were straight or whatever to the point that I had to wait for them to hit on me because I was too scared. 

    Beth: And then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

    Dr Huhana: Well, my wife laughs at me because it took three years for me to get up the courage. Luckily, she was in the office across from me doing work  when I was doing my PhD. And over that three years, we got really close as friends around coffees. But she still laughs and says, she was hinting, and  flirting and you didn't go there. And I'm like, I was respecting and not wanting to be disrespectful. And you've got to be brave. But you see, I grew up with bad words and bad imagery. So for me, it was always, oh my God, I'm going to see that pervert side coming out or whatever it was that they called it. Whereas these days, door's open, a lot more open. But people aren't taught how still, or even withholding sex to build a relationship first, any of those things. The old saying that if you're a lesbian, they come on the first date with a U-Haul. Well, it wasn't the first date with the wife, it was probably the second, and she moved in. But we'd been friends for three years, so it wasn't that new. 

    Beth: I didn't realize that the U-Haul lesbian stereotypes been around that long. 

    Dr Huhana: Yes, it's been around for decades. It's not new. 

    Beth:  I think first or second date and I was like, do you want to get married? 

    Dr Huhana: Should we marry now?  (laughing) I've just happened to have a civil celebrant here. (laughing). Oh look, some roses, there you go. 

    Beth: This is like the kind of history and like conversation that I wish we could have as young queers, like the things we could learn because we don't know it. 

    Dr Huhana: Well, that's why Charlotte Museum started, [it] was for the lesbian community. But we actually need a really queer one because I find that limiting. I'm one of the ones that would like to have a papakainga in the city set up for our elders, but I don't want a lesbian one. I want an elders one. As a Takatāpui wahine, I want the joy and energy of our queens, the joy and energy of our bi’s, our trans. I want to live among that community. I don't want to live with a whole bunch of women who get quite bitchy sometimes. I actually don't get on really well with a lot of lesbians. I prefer the guys and I prefer the trans because they're far more real in a lot of ways.

    Beth: I have one more question for you. 

    Dr Huhana: Yes. 

    Beth: And this is something that's more for me than for The D*List because I wish that I'd been taught queer history in school and like all the things we've been talking about, I wish someone like you had come in and we had an hour a week to just chat and learn rather than being talked at and like learning the Treaty of Waitangi stuff every year for four years and not even like the proper stuff like the whitewashed government stuff. 

    If you were writing the curriculum today and you could include three of the most important moments in queer history that you've experienced in Aotearoa, what would you include? And this can can be like a conversation from last week that you had with your partner, it can be like an event you attended when you were 20, like what would you include if you could? 

    Dr Huhana: Well, our students are lacking civil rights history and civil laws, so when they come out of school they don't know that there's a civil duty to vote, they don't know there's a reason behind that and the reason behind what is democracy. We're not teaching our kids how to understand critically and how to analyze critically at the young age they are. They're not stupid. I mean I teach all of this. I used to teach. So you know, to educate people means you give them the power to be able to go out into the world and be able to understand the world. 

    I taught sexuality and gender to health students and I used to say to them, 

    Get rid of your prejudices, your biases, your antis, because on that job, you are not the individual you're representing in the hospital.

    You are using your skills to save a life. 

    Beth: So for you, it's more about teaching people how to engage critically with things rather than [specifics], oh, I agree, that's so important. 

    Dr Huhana: You know, it's about recognizing your own, everyone's got it, I've got it, we've all got biases. We all do. Some of us have it through an experience that may have taught us, you know, some of us may have had it through, just through prejudice that we've been raised with. 

    You need to question everything about yourself. If you wanna know yourself, it took me a long time to do that. 

    So, I just encourage people to find their own energy that works for them. Whatever it is, whether it is in religion, whether it's through poetry or writing or song, do what works for you and make that be your routine when you're not coping with the stresses. Identity is huge and it takes time to find it because everyone's different. Some people have got a lot of trauma around it. Some people have had a lot of support. 

    So there's a lot of brave people in our community that deal with trauma, come out of that trauma, but need us to affirm them, need us to help them find themselves. And we can. And that's the connection between the oldies and the youngies. You know, that little connection of we can support you, you can support us, you know? It becomes a two-way thing. 

    'Cause one of the things in the lesbian community in the '70s, and why we ended up losing a lot of female carers is because they use that as a woman's thing and low paid and everything else, but they use it as a bad thing to be a carer. So we lost a lot of our carer aides over that time because feminism told them that being a carer was a bad thing. It's low paid. Now it's not low paid. And in actual fact, it would be wonderful to have queer caregivers in my life, but I don't. And I would prefer that because then I feel the community is caring for us as we age. And that's the one thing I miss a lot is that connection there. Because as we aren't so active in the community, it would be nice to have those that are. Because then it becomes more like family. You're taking the nannies out to, but like taking them to the marae, you're taking them out to Big Gay Out or whatever. Or let's take the nannies to a diva night or whatever. You know, just that connection, connect with us, talk to us, have a relationship with us. 

    But we're different too as queers, we're different as disabled. Don't look at us in the same way that able-bodied look at us. You know, [the] queer community know what it's like to be different. How about accepting us and making that a little easier too? 

    Beth: Slay.

    Thank you so much for coming today. I've loved talking to you. It's very, it's very affirming for me to talk to you because I've never had anyone who can share this stuff with me. I've loved hearing it so much, and hopefully we can have another korero in the future at some point. 

    Dr Huhana: Anytime. 

    Beth: Thank you. I'll keep in touch. 

    Dr Huhana: We will, take care. 

    Beth: Bye, have a good day. 

    Dr Huhana: You too, bye.