[CC BY-SA 3.0 US]
Photo of Mauna Kea
I am Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Japanese, Irish, Swedish, and German. Living in the Bible Belt throughout childhood and adolescence was turbulent and at times hostile for someone mixed-race, queer, and transgender. But the silver lining I found despite my turmoil were the numerous encounters I had with who I believe to be a living and resurrected Jesus. These transcendent experiences were what sustained me through 10 years of teaching and preaching that said while everyone “sins and falls short the glory of God,” people like me were especially sick, broken, something to be prayed away, managed, or erased. I embraced this hermeneutic despite what it cost: my physical safety, mental health, and overall spiritual well-being.
At a certain point realized I wasn’t the only person paying a price for the tyranny of these mainstream theologies. There were many other groups of people throughout history who’d experienced violence at the hands of the kind of piety I was internalizing and perpetuating. In 2013, ridden with anxiety that led to an auti-immune disorder and a heart condition, I took a leap of faith and began to imagine what it be like to be a Christian and read the Bible so I didn’t regularly wish I were dead. During this exploration I discovered Asian Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and liberation theologies. It was particularly through postcolonial theological reflection that I began to see the Jesus of my previous transformative encounters in a way that continues to speak to me today.
In Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, Kwok Pui Lan asks, “How is it possible for the formerly colonized, oppressed, subjugated subaltern to transform the symbol of Christ— a symbol that has been used to justify colonization and domination– into a symbol that affirms life, dignity, and freedom?” (Kwok, p.168)
Kwok suggests that Jesus/Christ is a quintessential “Hybrid Concept” in whom all people can find good news. Looking at Jesus’ hybridity calls attention to Him being from Galilee and being Jewish living under Roman occupation. It calls attention to Jesus’ bothness and names this as what got him in trouble and bridged the chasm between divinity and humanity.
Postcolonial Christologies invite us to resist simple dichotomies created by the colonialist perception of of insider or outsider, colonized or colonizer, east or west, masculine or feminine, not just in our theology but in our bodies.
In making a choice to change my body, I have relied heavily “in-between thinking” to try and uncover what healthy masculinity could look like in me.
While patriarchy predated white supremacy and colonialism, it took on a specific violent form but the wisdom of hybridity in postcolonial theology gives me the framework to speak back to that system. Because masculinity is traditionally reduced to only mean privilege and power and femininity is cast as fragile or less than, for awhile I assumed that honoring femininity happens by eradicating masculinity all together.
But what if masculinity didn’t have to be toxic? Is it possible to parse out the relationship between patriarchy, masculinity, and misogyny?
Patriarchy is a social ordering which believes that men are superior to other genders, that there are right and wrong ways to be men and women, and there are rewards for reinforcing these rules and penalties for violating them. Simply put, masculinity is virtue and femininity is vice.
I lived most of my life being read as a woman, and as a woman who was different enough from whiteness to be exoticized, but proximal enough to be considered conventionally attractive. I experienced harassment from strangers, friends, and even partners who felt an implicit sense of entitlement and access to my time, inner life, and to my body. Because this bias was so deeply unconscious, to this day it remains an unacknowledged splinter between me and others in my life unwilling to explore the way racialized sexism supports relating to people as property.
The manhood I saw around me, while not the only perpetrator of this logic, usually performed it in the most explicit ways. Consequently, with the exception of people like my dad, I did not usually see the kind of person I wanted to be embodied in many men.
When I started understanding my gender identity, I was terrified of testosterone and misled by pseudo-science that tells a person that their body and their psyche are going to be affected in hard, fast, and specific ways. I had people tell me how I was going to become more aggressive and prone to violence. I was told that I’d become self-aggrandizing and I’d lose my gentleness and compassion. I was told my libido would sky-rocket and “just like cis guys” I would objectify people I was attracted to. I was told I would be more competitive, I’d become more sympathetic to capitalist values, and there was no way I’d continue to be a committed feminist.
But I needed testosterone. I needed to affirm my gender, and at some point it occurred to me most of these transition stories were rooted in the Western obsession with medicalizing race and gender. If I was going to embody a contextually specific, theologically rigorous and different masculinity, then I needed to look to my ethnic lineages. I would have never felt the permission to explore my heritage though if the notion of Jesus’ hybridity wasn’t there to help me work through the feeling of not being “enough” Kanaka to claim my lineage and embrace being māhū. The example of Jesus caused me to resist colonial ideas of blood quantum and purity and in so I began to embrace a role of creating a safe future for other mixed Kanaka and Asian people and in so honoring the Image of God in and among “every nation, tribe, and tongue.”
In Hawai’ian, kāne (male) energy is about action, strength, loyalty, logic, and wāhine (female) energy is linked to intuition, nurturance, creativity, and collaboration. Traditional dance (hula) is one way culture is passed through generations. In hula men and women demonstrate what it looks like to balance femininities and masculinities in a physical and energetic sense. Hula grounds and balances the kāne and wāhine that live in everyone and has been a practice for Kanaka Maoli to create space for people like me who are māhū (the middle) to believe we aren’t just tolerable, but that we belong.
By foregrounding the way Jesus transcended ethnic, religious, national and geopolitical categories, postcolonial methodologies can create a new spiritual home, one where I can heed the call of the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2 where the writer beckons the church to “return to the love you had at first.” Jesus’ hybridity demonstrates ultimate solidarity and is in and through how we all can learn to integrate, embrace, and affirm all of our respective multiplicities.
Ed. note: Almost all of the images in this post are of the demonstration during the groundbreaking ceremony for the TMT on Mauna Kea on Oct. 7, 2014. Hawai’ian cultural practitioners, activists, scientists, and community members gathered in an effort to stop the desecration of a sacred site on ceded land. At the time of publication, efforts to protect Mauna Kea are still ongoing. Author Myles Markham says, “The Protect Mauna website has a list of 5-6 different organizations that are continuing the fight to protect the land.” Please consider supporting their work here: https://www.protectmaunakea.net/donate