Wong-Kalu said that while Hawaiian culture is way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to accepting LGBTQ people, it still has a long way to go.
“Beginning with the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, there was a tremendous effort and great success in reclaiming many aspects of our culture and traditions – our language, the hula, songs and songs, navigation and travel and so much more,” she said. , adding that the LGBTQ people involved are often not credited for their work.
For example, she said, the plaque that accompanies the Kapaemahu monument “does not even mention the word māhū or acknowledge that these traits of gender duality were intrinsic to the talents and skills of healers.”
Wong-Kalu said she hopes Hawaii’s history and contemporary commitment to reclaiming it will offer hope to the LGBTQ community in these turbulent times. In March, state lawmakers across the country proposed a record 238 bills in 2022 that would limit LGBTQ rights, and nearly 670 of those bills have been introduced since 2018. according to an analysis of NBC News data from the American Civil Liberties Union and the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans.
Turning the documentary into a children’s book
When Gale stumbled upon the documentary in 2016, she knew she had to make a children’s book out of it.
“Ho’onani just knocked me off balance because of her inner strength that I really saw coming out, and she’s such a strong young person, and she was so unusual for that,” Gale said. “Her parents were so supportive of her, and her teacher and her peers, and it was just amazing. … With the support of her family, she could be whoever she wanted to be.
Gale said that while she was unfamiliar with Hawaiian history and the Māhū community in particular, she relied on her Maori heritage since the two cultures share Polynesian roots.
“Ho’onani is who she is thanks to her family, friends and teachers, while Hawaii’s culture and history are also a part of her,” she said. “This is true for everyone and helps us all recognize parts of ourselves in a complex story.”
Gale said she researched as much as she could to respectfully set the right tone. “I preferred the gender aspect to be subtle but strong, just like I imagined the Mahu once were in their communities,” she said.
Another big challenge was “distilling the first 40 words of the story until they showed Ho’onani as a person and his biggest obstacle,” Gale said.
Wong-Kalu and Gale said the main point of our existence is to experience life and joy while learning along the way with others.
“I saw it in Ho’onani: what brings him happiness is playing the ukulele,” Gale said. “And even though it’s considered a gendered activity – men only play the ukulele – it brings her joy. So she does it.
Gale said her book’s message can be as simple as this: do whatever creates joy.
“Step back and (see) the joy of being together,” she said.