An Open Letter in Response to an Open Letter

When inclusion is exclusive.

Dr Pihama’s open letter to Aotearoa from Takatāpui and LGBTIQ whānau

Dear Aotearoa,

We write this letter to voice our profound concern at the hatred and abusive bullying that continues to be targeted at Takatāpui and LGBTIQ people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Over the past few months we have seen continued homophobic and transphobic attacks upon our communities. We should not have to, and will not, tolerate such abuse.

We ask those that live on these lands to stand with us against all oppression that is targeted at people who do not conform to outdated views of sexuality and gender identity. We ask that you do not tolerate hatred in any form and to speak up when you see and hear it.

We ask you to remember we are your mokopuna, grandchildren, tupuna, grandparents, whaea, papa, mothers, fathers, tuakana, teina, tuahine, tungane, sisters, brothers, cousins, whanaunga, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

We wish to speak now to Takatāpui and LGBTIQ people who, like us, live with the homophobic and transphobic comments that are made by people who want to do us harm. In signing this letter we are voicing our aroha for you all, for us all.

We stand visibly so that you all know that we are here. So that those rangatahi and young people who are looking to see people who will stand up for Takatāpui and LGBTIQ rights know that we are here.

We stand visibly so that those who may be struggling with issues of acceptance know that we are here. That we are Takatāpui and LGBTIQ. That you are not alone. That being Takatāpui and LGBTIQ is something that is beautiful, strong, political, cultural, social, fun, loving, caring, intelligent, sacred, honoured, and powerful.

We stand visibly so that you see that we are from all over the country, that we are from all cultures and ethnic groups, that we do all kinds of work and that we are everywhere.

We are visible so you see us and so that you know we are here and we will speak back to all that continue to perpetrate pain and trauma on Takatāpui and LGBTIQ people because of who we are and who we choose to live our lives with as lovers and partners.

Being visible at a time when there is an increase in homophobia and transphobia is an important stand to take by those that can take such a stand.

One of the key aims of such abusive bullying is to silence those who are victimised by the impact of the hatred. But we will not be silenced. Nor will we let such views go unanswered.

If we are to make this country safe for Takatāpui and LGBTIQ people and their whānau then we must say no to homophobia and transphobia, and we must do it now.

Ngā manaakitanga,

1. Associate Professor Leonie Pihama, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Māhanga, Ngā Māhanga a Tairi, Director, Te Kotahi Research Institute
2. Dr Alison Green, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ranginui, CEO Te Whaariki Takapou
3. Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, Whānau a Kai, Ngāti Oneone, Te Aitanga a Mahaki. Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Founder/Chair, Tiwhanawhana Trust
4. Usufonoimanū Pesetā Betty Siō
5. Annette Sykes, Ngati Pikiao Ngati Makino, Te Arawa, Activist Lawyer
6. Julia Whaipooti, Ngāti Porou, Senior Advisor, Office of the Children’s Commissioner
7. Dr Tawhanga Nopera, Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa
8. Sharon Hawke, Ngāti Whatua
9. Maree Sheehan, Ngāti Maniapoto-Waikato, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Musician/Composer
10. Associate Professor Mera Penehira, Ngāti Raukawa, Rangitāne, Ngai Te Rangi, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi
11. Phylesha Brown-Acton, Director, F’INE Pasifika Aotearoa
12. Te Ringahuia Hata, He uri nā Te Whakatōhea, Tūhoe, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui
13. Renae Maihi, Filmmaker
14. Gina Cole, Writer
15. Laura O’Connell Rapira, Te Ātiawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whakaue, Te Rarawa, Director of ActionStation
16. Joel Walsham, Artist
17. Frankie Hill — Musician and small business owner
18. Kristin Smith, Co-director Kūwaha Ltd
19. Lexie Matheson ONZM, Academic Equity Leader, AUT University
20. Sarah Jane Parton, postgraduate student, Victoria University. Tongareva (Cook Islands), Tahiti
21. Scout Barbour-Evans, parent, student and youth worker, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa and Ngāti Porou
22. Geraint Scott, Train Driver
23. Sally Dellow, Senior Scientist Engineering Geology
24. Manisha Morar, student, Tauiwi
25. Emilie Rākete, Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa. Postgraduate student and community organiser
26. Kendra Cox. Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Te Whakatōhea, Ngai Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou. Community organiser and social work student
27. Sandy Hildebrandt, BA, BSc, PGDipSci — Environmental Management
28. Kate McIntyre, community organiser
29. Merran Lawler, Kaiarahi, Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/National Network of Stopping Violence Services
30. Chaz Harris and Adam Reynolds, co-founders of Promised Land Tales
31. Aatir Zaidi, Chairperson EquAsian
32. Kassie Hartendorp, Ngāti Raukawa, ActionStation and Tīwhanawhana Trust
33. Whetū Bennett, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Hāu, Tainui
34. Fetū-o-le-moana Teuila Tamapeau, Makefu (Niuē) , Fagaloa (Sāmoa), Content Publisher Auckland Council and Freelance Digital Moana Navigator
35. Henry Laws, community organiser
36. Tabby Besley, Managing Director InsideOUT
37. Toni Duder, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu and RainbowYOUTH
38. Morgan Butler, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tainui and Te Rarawa
39. Anne Waapu, Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Ātihaunui a Pāpārangi
40. Nishhza Thiruselvam, Eelam Tamil, postgraduate student, community organiser, Tauiwi
41. Hans Landon-Lane, Performer & Communications Advisor
42. Jack Byrne, human rights researcher, TransAction
43. Will Hansen, history postgraduate student and Lesbian and Gay Archives of NZ trustee
44. Bell Murphy, Feminist Self Defence Teacher and PhD Candidate in Gender Studies
45. Kay Jones, Independent Contractor, Facilitator Wellington Bisexual Women’s Group
46. Angelo Libeau, Crisis Support Worker & Development Coordinator — Rape Crisis Dunedin
47. Max Tweedie, New Zealand AIDS Foundation
48. Tommy Hamilton — re.frame project collaborator
49. Stace Robertson, All of Us Project + re.frame
50. Anya Satyanand, The Prince’s Trust New Zealand
51. Nicole Skews-Poole, activist and campaigner
52. Robyn Vella Facilitator Auckland
53. Sam Sutherland, Computer Analyst
54. Philip Wills (Kāi Tahu), Student
55. Bronte Perry, Technician
56. Val Smith, Educator and Artist
57. Christian Rika, Digital media specialist, Ngāpuhi me Ngāti Porou
58. Associate Professor Dr. Taima Moeke-Pickering, Ngati Pukeko/Ngai Tuhoe, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
59. Murphy, Journalist
60. Dr Clive Aspin, Ngāti Maru, Suicide Mortality Review Committee
61. Matai Smith, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Taamanuhiri, Ngāti Kahungunu, Broadcaster
62. Steve Lovett, Elam School of Fine Arts
63. Elizabeth Wiltshire, Cross-Agency Rainbow Network
64.Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, Lecturer/Researcher, University of Otago, Wellington School of Medicine, ​ Ngāti Kahungunu; Rongomaiwāhine, Rongowhakaata; Ngāi Tāhu; Ngāti Manawa; Ngāi Tūhoe; Ngāti Pahauwera; Ngāti Irakehu, Ngāi Tarewa, Samoan, Tahitian
65. Ricardo Menéndez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator
66.Dr Huhana Hickey MNZM MInstD, Crown director, consultant and advocate, Tainui (Ngati Tahinga),Whakatohea
67. Matt Jackson, HR Manager
68. Te Miha Ua, Ngāti Te Kanawa, Ngāti Uenukukopako, Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Ngāti Rakaiwhakairi, Wairarapa Moana Hapū, Te Runanga o Awarua, Ph.D Candidate and Public Servant
69. Peter R F Thomas, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi
70. Eriata D Peri, Te Mahirehure
71. Dr Donna Campbell. Ngāpuhi and Ngati Ruanui, Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato
72. Dr. A.W. Peet, NZ citizen, Professor of Physics, University of Toronto
73.Riki Anderson Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tamatea, Ngāti Marau, Lead Te Atakura Coach, Te Pae Mātauranga ki te Ao
74. Wetini Paul, Community Based Researcher, Te Whāriki Takapou, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Tūhoe
75. Dr Lynne Russell, Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Senior Research Fellow, Victoria University of Wellington
76. Samantha Higgs, Early Intervention Teacher, B.Ed, Dip. Tchg. ECE, Grad Dip. Ed Psych, Grad Dip. Early Intervention, Pākehā/Tauiwi
77. Creek Waddington, Ngāti Pākehā /Tauiwi (Irish, mostly), radio presenter with Quilted Bananas collective
78. Suzi Paige MBA, Operations Manager and Entrepreneur
79. Zoë Elizabeth Hayes, Ngāti Uoneone, Ngāti Tautahi, Ngāpuhi, Funding and Resource Coordinator at Rape Crisis Dunedin
80. Associate Professor Terryann Clark, Ngāpuhi, University of Auckland
81. Lex Davis, Te Rarawa, Trustee Kauhkura Charitable Trust
82. Dr Nathaniel Thomas Swire, Medical Practitioner

Nothing quite tastes as bad as bullies being lauded as heroes. No matter if it was the class meanie getting an award at assembly when you were a child or one of the nastiest New Zealanders on the internet receiving Queen’s Birthday Honours, it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth and an indignant feeling of injustice.

I write to you today, New Zealand/Aotearoa, as a lesbian who is sick of seeing bullies speaking on our behalf in condescending tones that drip with hypocrisy and then seeing them patted on the back for it.

On April 23rd the above open letter addressed to you, was posted online and signed by many notable New Zealanders. I hold on to the hope that many of them have no idea of the double standard in which they were taking part, but certainly some of them did. It is essentially a letter asking you, the people of Aotearoa, to be nice to “Takatāpui and LGBTIQ whānau” and not perpetuate, endorse, or stand by hate directed at these communities. A noble gesture, no doubt, if it were not for the subtext and years of context that make the inclusion of the letter ‘L’ in that acronym an insult and a joke.

Many of the people who have signed the letter have been directly involved in abusing, bullying, and ostracising anyone who doesn’t agree with their entire world view. In particular, their treatment of lesbians in this country has been appalling. In fact, just last night the author of the Open Letter appeared in my notifications to express her displeasure at a tweet I had written differentiating between the gay/lesbian rights movement and the transgender movement. The brief interaction was characteristically cut short by Dr Pihama deleting some of her tweets and blocking me. Nevertheless, it illustrated the nature of discourse around the so-called ‘LGBTQ* community’ and the extremely selective criteria they have for who is deserving of protection from the “hatred and abusive bullying that continues to be targeted at Takatāpui and LGBTIQ people.”

My original tweet and the beginning of our conversation. Due to Dr Pihama deleting tweets the order of replies is a bit messy.

I was not calling Dr Pihama’s credentials into question by suggesting she read the Tavistock report. I understand that she is a respected scholar and has earned that respect. What I was trying to do was to have a conversation and encourage her to see other perspectives. This is such a fraught set of issues and it is crucial that we find a way to talk about it. Shutting down certain voices and preferencing certain narratives contributes to the hostility and abuse Dr Pihama speaks of in her letter.

How this manifests is apparent in the screenshots below which show someone called Kera joining my conversation with Dr Pihama and rapidly becoming emotional and divisive. All though she has no legal recourse to remove me from New Zealand, this person repeats the vaguely threatening line that I should “remember whose land I am on”. The conversation left me with no doubt that trans people come first, my experiences as a lesbian are irrelevant, and that these women believe that the colour of my skin dictates whether or not I am entitled to speak on my own behalf. Kera correctly assumed that I am not Māori, but to be quite frank I am not sure exactly what she is insinuating the consequence of that is. There are a number of Māori who agree with me on this issue — should they remember whose land they are on too?

‘Whenua’ = land.

Perhaps taking inspiration from Kera, this morning Dr Pihama, Associate Professor at Waikato University, decided to also announce that (presumably) I should remember whose land I am on. Then began an ugly descent into race politics during which Dr Pihama asserted that on several occasions that white women were not entitled to have a voice on this issue.

When we divide ourselves along increasingly narrow identity-based lines we only provide a mirror for our differences, so we only see that which makes us oppositional and are blind to our commonalities. Calling for an end to hostility and abuse towards people you agree with while still propagating it in the direction of those with whom you disagree is awfully hypocritical and only bound to cause more conflict. There are a growing number of New Zealanders who - while being proponents of diversity and inclusion - are sick and tired of divisive identity politics and being told that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and nothing in between. We are diverse in culture, race, personality, perspective, opinion, beliefs, religion, sexuality, interests, style, and so much more. Enforcing one way of thinking and over-litigating speech is not the way to a healthy society. We must promote a society that encourages diverse thought and opinions. Let’s protect our liberal ideals rather than allow a small number of people to define prescribed acceptable thought.

In the spirit of opening up discourse, I, a lesbian, wish to remind New Zealand and the co-signatories of Dr Pihama’s letter of who we are. We are the silent letter tacked on to the front of the alphabet soup that the rest of the acronym ignores. I want to show you how seemingly small changes to our language and society are having a huge impact on lesbians. Then I will make visible some of the hate that the signatories of Dr Pihama’s open letter have perpetuated despite passionately condemning it. The hypocrisy makes the bullying that lesbians have received “because of who we are and who we choose to live our lives with as lovers and partners,” even more painful.

Lesbian

[ lez-bee-uh n ]

adjective

of or relating to Lesbos.

( usually lowercase ) of, relating to, or characteristic of female homosexuality.

noun

an inhabitant of Lesbos.

( usually lowercase ) a female homosexual.

Lesbians are female homosexuals; same-sex attracted females. The world seemed to understand this when we could not marry each other, when we were forbidden to love one another, when none of us could vote and were expected to marry men and bear their children. We have been treated like deviants by society because we dare to love other women. Called perverts for our sexual attraction to each other’s bodies, it has been fine for men to fetishise every inch of us, but taboo for us to spend even a moment in mutual sexual engagement.

But now, just as society was catching up and it became the height of cool to attend a gay or lesbian wedding, our own “community” has pulled the rug out from under us. Now, they say, same-sex attraction is “gross,” “vagina fetishism,” and most crucially “transphobic”. Unless lesbians are willing to deny their sexuality and accept that men too can be female homosexuals (penis, balls and all), we are not welcome in the whanau that Dr Pihama and co describe in their letter.

Lesbians have been redefined by organisations that are supposed to be advocating for us and protecting our interests. RainbowYouth, an organisation that has a huge amount of influence in New Zealand and provides “educational resources” to the Ministry of Education, no longer refers to same-sex attraction. They prefer to obfuscate and use the word “gender” as it does not refer to biological sex and allows them to change the word “lesbian” entirely to include those who simply decide they are lesbian whether they are female or not. Even political parties have adopted this new language (see definitions from the Rainbow Labour Handbook). By simply swapping the word “sex” for “gender” they redefine “sexuality” to be about stereotypes and identity rather about sexual attraction to either the same or opposite sex.

Note that gay/lesbian is defined as being “attracted to [the] same gender”
From the Rainbow Labour Handbook

Those of us who have refused to see ourselves defined out of the realms of acceptability have faced intense hostility from others in our so-called “Rainbow Community”. The simple act of stating that we are attracted to female bodies and so are not attracted to transwomen is treated as a serious crime for which ostracism and bullying are deemed appropriate punishments. For a number of examples of this please check out the LRAA Receipts page.

Small groups of people have changed the meanings of these words without the consent of those of us who are described by them. This has led to sanctioned bullying and abuse even by those who should be working to protect the rights of women and lesbians to establish boundaries around their sexuality. MP Golriz Ghahraman has weighed in on the topic more than once and despite having taken on the role of championing ‘hate speech laws’ has engaged in some pretty awful conversations about lesbians. I ask the Green Party and MP Ghahraman if the below screenshots show acceptable treatment of a sexual minority.

I stated my same-sex attraction. I said I was a lesbian. Continued below.
MP Golriz Ghahraman joins in. I’m the mediocre and white one apparently.

It is these attitudes that see lesbians plagued by messages that reinforce that rejection of penises is “bioessentialist bigotry”. Articles that push the idea of transwomen as lesbians, and condemn the ‘evil TERF lesbians’ who pushback, are common place. Sexually explicit pieces emphasise the need to do everything in your power to not only satisfy transwomen but also to ensure you don’t offend them. Appropriators of lesbianism are now so confident in the support they will receive from purported feminists and the wider LGBTQ* community that they publicly taunt lesbians using hashtags like the recent #LesbianDayofVisibility one.

“It’s also important to call out the disgraceful views of a small number of lesbians, who oppose rights for trans people and will try to hijack this Lesbian Visibility Day. Their bigotry was highlighted at Pride in London last year, when around ten anti-trans lesbians gatecrashed the front of the parade, claiming that “transactivists erase lesbians”.”
The appropriation of female and lesbian sex terminology and the switching between correct male anatomy terms and female ones makes this article a confusing read: “Yet, as Allison Moon writes in Girl Sex 101, “For some girls, too much glans stimulation can feel annoying. This can be especially true if she gets erections.” In this case, Moon recommends “small licks about an inch down from the frenulum, on the ventral [under] side of her clit.””
As hard as it is to believe, these are not satire.
An admission that gender and biology are being redefined. Oh and slur thrown in.

This is despite psychology and neuroscience determining homosexuality as not only the attraction to the same-sex, but feelings of repulsion towards the sexual organs of the opposite sex. Dr James Cantor (psychologist, researcher, and professor of atypical sexualities) describes this in his interview with Benjamin Boyce. It is unreasonable to demand that anyone deny their true sexuality in order to spare someone else’s feelings. It is really unacceptably manipulative to paint this as hatred and bigotry.

Lesbians tend to be a pretty staunch bunch. We’ve put up with a lot of crap over the years, but all we have asked for is to be treated like anyone else. We fought for decriminalisation and same-sex marriage all the while seeking to simply take our place in the wider New Zealand community. We achieved that (mostly) and that is why this Trojan-Horse-style attack from within our own community comes as such an unpleasant shock. I want everyone to be free to love who they love and support transwomen’s right to consensually love and have sex with whomever they like. However, redefining lesbianism to include them is not fair to those of us who it has always described. We have a right to our definition and our identity and to differentiate ourselves from heterosexual women who are attracted to male bodies. If you deny us, shame us, bully us, and ostracise us, it is YOU who is being hateful.

It is wrong that in asserting our sexuality and protecting our identity lesbians are excluded from Dr Pihama’s call for kindness and aroha. Our place in the community and support from allies should not be contingent on us lying about our sexuality and putting up with gaslighting. It is highly hypocritical to write an open letter calling for tolerance and support for the LGBTQ* community and then initiate an attack on lesbians who are simply living their lives according to the definition of lesbianism that has always existed. It is pretty brazen to demand people behave in a way you don’t yourself. Drawing up a web of conflict with every identity marker you can imagine is only going to result in a community that sees difference as threatening or a way to score points.

I have edited Dr Pihama’s original open letter in the hopes that seeing her own words used to reach out to and protect lesbians she might consider that our resistance comes not from hate. There is room for us all if we make it, but sacrificing one group for another isn’t an option.

I write this letter to voice my profound concern at the hatred and abusive bullying that continues within the LGBTIQ community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Over the past few years we have seen continued misogynistic and homophobic attacks upon lesbians. We should not have to, and will not, tolerate such abuse.

I ask those that live on these lands to stand with me against all oppression that is targeted at women who do not conform to sex stereotypes and heteronormativity. I ask that you do not tolerate hatred in any form and to speak up when you see and hear it.

I ask you to remember we are your mokopuna, grandchildren, tupuna, grandparents, whaea, mothers, sisters, cousins, whanaunga, friends, colleagues, neighbours.

I wish to speak now to lesbians who live with the misogynistic and homophobic comments that are made by people who want to do us harm. In writing this letter I am voicing my aroha for you all, for us all.

I stand visibly so that you all know that I am here. So that young lesbians who are looking to see women who will stand up for lesbian rights know that I am here.

I stand visibly so that those who may be struggling with issues of acceptance know that I am here. That we are lesbians. That you are not alone. That being a lesbian is something that is innate, valid, beautiful, strong, political, cultural, social, sacred, honoured, and powerful.

I stand visibly so that you see that we are from all over the country, that we are from all cultures and ethnic groups, that we do all kinds of work and that we are everywhere.

I am visible so you see me and so that you know I am here and I will speak back to all that continue to perpetrate pain and trauma on lesbians because of who we are and who we choose to live our lives with as lovers and partners.

Being visible at a time when there is an increase in misogyny, homophobia, and pressure to include males in our sexuality, is an important stand to take by those that can take such a stand.

One of the key aims of such abusive bullying is to silence those who are victimised by the impact of the hatred. But I will not be silenced. Nor will I let such views go unanswered.

If we are to make this country safe for lesbians and their whānau then we must say no to misogyny and homophobia, and we must do it now.

Ngā manaakitanga,

Ani O’Brien

Gender-critical lesbian radical feminist. Support me https://www.patreon.com/aniobrien