A Profile in Māhū Liberation
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
June was International Pride Month. As we feature the island of Kaua‘i in this issue of The Hawai‘i Herald, the 5th annual Kaua‘i Pride Parade and festival was Saturday, June 3. The Kaua‘i Pride Parade promotes and celebrates peace, acceptance and unity for everyone on Kaua‘i island regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or background. This year, the celebration was bigger than ever and brought together family, friends and loved ones to celebrate the diversity of love and gender on Kaua‘i.
This Pride season, I had the opportunity to chat with Bianka Tasaka from Hanalei on Kaua‘i. She is a long-time leader and advocate for the māhū community on Kaua‘i. She has worked for many years with Malama Pono Health Services and Ka Aha Māhū. This year she was a member of the Kaua‘i Pride Planning Committee.
CM: Aloha, please introduce yourself to our readers. Can you tell us your name, where you are from and a little bit about yourself?
BT: Aloha, my name is Bianka Tasaka. I live on the island of Kaua‘i on the North Shore, which is called Hanalei. I have worked in public service for our LGBTQ+ and the larger community for over 20 years. I currently work as an urgent care receptionist in Princeville. I’ve been out as transgender living as my authentic self after finishing high school. At that time, I grasped more deeply who I truly was inside, and it wasn’t a gay male — it was a female. I had to live as a male up until high school but then I had the opportunity to explore who I am as an individual and who I am presently. Today, I am proud to have gone through my journey to self-acceptance. Today, I have ingested a culture and community that embraces who I truly am. I have the chance to live my authentic self. It makes it easier for me to live authentically in the space where I am on Kaua‘i, a space that embraces me for me.
CM: You do a lot of work for the LGBTQ+ and māhū community on Kaua‘i. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspires you to do the work you do today?
BT: I have worked for Malama Pono Health Services for many years at the forefront of our LGBTQ+ and māhū communities doing HIV and hepatitis prevention and transgender outreach. We had in-house and mobile services, and I had an amazing journey there and am very grateful for that and the connections and community I have now where we can build spaces for support. One organization that has grown from it is Ka Aha Māhū, which strategizes for social justice for the “T” in the LGBTQ+ community. It does education, healthcare, name change, gender change and policy advocacy for our māhū community here. We are connected with the Kua‘ana Project at Hawai‘i Health and Harm Reduction Center on O‘ahu. Kua‘ana Project is an amazing organization. They helped me. They helped me change my name and my sex at birth and that was very liberating.
CM: What did that change mean for you personally? How did it feel?
BT: It was big. You know, to be honest, being Asian, being Hawaiian-Japanese in Hawai‘i, and from a military family, it was very hard for me to express myself as trans or māhū. That is why I had to wait until later in life to express myself. In my experience in Japanese culture, it was very disrespectful for your son to express as feminine or female. However, with all of the years I have been in the community, I have shown my family through all of the good work I have done, what a good person I can be. Who I am in society makes me feel good because I can see my parents’ expressions of acceptance. For me that is liberating. It is aloha. It is supportive. Now my mom is my biggest fan. She even comes to almost all of my drag shows! So yes, changing my name was a big deal because when I was growing up, māhū still had shame in the 1980s. Nowadays, I am glad that you will see us more in the community in nine-to-five jobs. All of this made the name change even more significant. It represented all of the changes in society and in my family that allowed for me to be accepted for who I am.
CM: What does it mean to be māhū to you?
BT: Māhū is a combination of male and female in body, mind and spirit. It is quite liberating because of our kūpuna allowing us to express who we are today. We can talk about who we are as a community and educate about who we are and how we live. It is an honor and a responsibility.
CM: What advice would you share with anyone struggling with their gender or sexuality?
BT: What I would tell my little self is to be brave, to be patient and to know that you are loved by somebody. We will get through it. We might make mistakes but we will gain knowledge and power. Look to build your networks of support — look to the houses where drag mothers create wholesome lifestyles for the youth like the house of Ashton or Del Rey. We all have the opportunities to be role models to future generations and you deserve that support.
CM: What are some of the most important issues facing the LGBTQ+ and māhū communities on Kaua‘i?
BT: We need to continue to look out for the health and well-being of our LGBTQ+ and māhū communities. Prevention services are very necessary now, more than ever. Also, Ka Aha Māhū advocated for gender-affirming care to make sure that insurance companies will cover procedures. Previously, insurance companies were denying payments for a lot of gender-affirming procedures for transgender patients saying that they were not medically necessary. This victory was important to provide access to healthcare for our transgender community. In addition, jobs and housing are very significant issues for our community.
CM: What are the biggest things to celebrate on Kaua‘i for the LGBTQ+ and māhū communities?
BT: Well well well … I’m glad you asked! We just had our Pride on Kaua‘i a couple of weeks ago with the parade down Rice Street, starting at Vidinha Stadium and ending at the Historic County Lawn. The festival was on the County Lawn after the parade from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. We had a lot of businesses come out and support our LGBTQ+ community, such as Alaska Airlines, Malama Pono Health Services, Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa and Humana. I was glad to be part of that celebration and part of the planning committee. I got to perform as a female impersonator for Kaua‘i Pride and that was a huge honor.
The feeling for the pride event was electric. It was aloha. Our community came out and showed their support for their loved ones. It was great to have a drag show and dancing to end the festival and celebration where family, friends and loved ones were present. I love to be a supporter for my community and be present and express who I am whether it is performing drag or hula. It is liberating. I have the chance to be my true authentic self and share that with the world. It reminds me that I always say, “Love yourself and love everyone that you surround yourself with.”
Camaron Miyamoto is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Queer+ Center and tenured faculty in the Division of Student Success at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. As a Yonsei, Mexican and Filipino American, Mr. Miyamoto has served on the boards of the Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation and the Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Chapter, where he advocated for marriage equality in Hawai‘i. Mr. Miyamoto continues to learn from his students at UH Mānoa and is fueled by the belief that by being grounded in our culture and community we will create a better future through compassion, education and a steadfast commitment to social justice. The Hawai‘i Herald is a cornerstone of that future.