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Regional | Takatāpui

Gisborne advocate Jordan Walker champions rainbow rights as new Tairāwhiti schools co-ordinator

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Growing up in Gisborne as someone navigating their gender is difficult, but Jordan Walker, who identifies as takatāpui, has found their purpose. They share their story to help others learn what it can be like to be both queer and Māori.

“Gisborne is a hard place to be gay, let alone transgender or gender non-conforming,” Jordan Walker says.

Walker (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Te Rangi) identifies as being takatāpui, a term used broadly to describe the Māori queer community in all of its fluidity and whakapapa.

In te ao Pākehā and within the medical system, they would be referred to as trans-masculine.

Jordan’s transition started four years ago and has made them feel like the most authentic version of themselves.

“Lately people have been asking me if I have moved to he/him pronouns, or when I’d get to that point. but I don’t identify like that.

“I think it’s funny that people really need a definitive box to understand someone. That’s the limiting gender binary for you - I can tell someone I’m takatāpui, which they might need a descriptor for. But they’d ‘get it’ more if I just said that I’m a trans man.

“In truth, I don’t identify as being a man, but don’t mind using the term trans-masc, because to me it means I’m starting to adopt more masculine features, not, ‘I am a man’.”

They were assigned female at birth, but in 2020 at the age of 30, identifying as non-binary, they started the process to access hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

They’re two years in and couldn’t be happier.

“I honestly feel the most like myself - authentic.”

As a teenager at Gisborne Girls’ High School, they knew they were “into girls”. After high school they moved to Wellington, but ended up back in Gisborne a year later.

“It was a bit depressing to be honest, although trans and takatāpui people have always existed. I didn’t have any role models to look up to. I was out at 15 and one of only two ‘lesbians’ in town.

“I knew I needed to go away to grow into myself more.”

Jordan ended up moving to Auckland, and working as a bartender. They became good friends with a couple working there and who were moving off to Adelaide and offered Walker a job at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

“I was so hesitant to move. I thought about Adelaide and the festival, and imagined a bunch of tents billowing in the wind in the middle of a desert. The only knowledge I had of Australia was Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin.”

While living there for eight years, Jordan found their people.

“It helped open me up as a person and helped me understand more about my sexuality and my gender identity because there were more people like me in Adelaide.”

They fell into a heavy punk scene which was like a crossover of visual artists, musicians and a core lesbian group.

“They were a bit older than me but it felt like I found a whānau for the first time while living away from home. They really helped build me into the person I am today.”

Jordan would frequently fly back home to Aotearoa to visit whānau and friends.

In 2014, they cycled across New Zealand to raise awareness of youth suicide, a homage to their brother, Josh, who died by suicide when he was 13 years old.

“His death really propelled me into social justice, particularly around inequity. It’s another reason why I’m passionate about making sure we have safe spaces for our rainbow rangatahi, because we know that suicide stats hold many of them, too.”

When Jordan moved back to Aotearoa, they remember walking in a forest with their ex-partner and their friend.

“I remember feeling like I needed to tell her that I was having thoughts of transitioning. That I felt like I would be much happier if I were more masculine. So I did, but the response wasn’t really what I was hoping for then.

“She was a bit shocked and said she wasn’t sure she would want to stay with me. It made me shrink back inside of myself, and I stopped thinking about transitioning for a few years.”

When that relationship ended, Jordan picked up the processing again by becoming more vocal about it, sharing it on social media and telling friends and family.

“My social media has always been a bit of a journal for me. I figured if people didn’t like the way I used it then they would just stop following me.

“It was 2021, I told everyone there that I prefer they/them pronouns, and to please not refer to me as a woman. It worked, a mentor of mine called me a day after I posted it, apologising for not knowing or asking, and saying he would do better, and he did.”

Later in the year, when Jordan starred in the short film He Takatāpui Ahau, they discovered a different community and a term that bound their gender identity to their whakapapa.

“It was te ao Māori that really brought me back home to myself. Being in that space and sharing the mauri with other takatāpui in that short film was a blessing.

“Living back home here in Tūranga, reconnecting with the community and working for Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, that helped ground me in my whakapapa and helped affirm my identity as takatāpui.”

Jordan is awaiting gender-affirming healthcare through the hospital, a 9-12-month wait list just for a surgery consultation. This comes after they got counselling from OutLine Aotearoa.

“The surgery is hard to wait for, to be honest.”

After receiving counselling through OutLine, they joined the board. They’re also co-chair to Te Whatu Ora Te Tairawhiti Consumer Council.

“It’s nice that I can use my experience to be a voice for people within the rainbow community. My presence really has influence over services that support our wellbeing, and that feels pretty worthwhile.

“If you had told me four years ago in that forest that today I would be two years into receiving testosterone, have a strong career, a son, and influence within governance to fight for rainbow people, I probably would have left that relationship a long time ago.”

They have held many different roles which included being the Green party candidate, standing in the local body elections, working as line producer with Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, and then producer with Touch Compass, and recently taking up the role with InsideOut Kōaro — a schools’ focused rainbow organisation — as the Te Tairāwhiti Schools Coordinator.

Jordan encourages any schools, kura and organisations wanting to talk to them about their role with InsideOUT Kōaro, and how they might be able to support them, to get in touch.

This follows on from NZ First’s stance that relationship and sex education should not be a part of the education curriculum which would stop basic education on sex and relationships being taught.

In the NZ First coalition agreement with the National Party, it states there will be a refocusing of the curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal and replacement of the gender, sexuality, and relationship-based education guidelines.

“During elections and in candidate meetings, it seemed to me that people were coming from a place of fear and misunderstanding. The political parties fed on this, arguing that people’s children were being indoctrinated, which cracked me up for a few reasons; one, the RSE is teaching about gender identities that already exist and with many pre-dating colonialism, and two, if the fear is indoctrination, then what about colonisation?”

A school seeking Jordan’s advice has already participated in professional development to help teachers learn more.

“It was eye-opening for them - from those who knew nothing to those who knew the most. I like to think that it helped them prepare for better supporting their students.

“The assistant principal also shared that RSE was actually their students’ favourite part of the curriculum, probably because it’s relevant and aligning with other things they’re learning about society outside of school,” they said.

The school already has two non-gendered bathrooms and there have been students transitioning while there, which the school has historically supported.

“We saw a lot of people stand up for the rainbow community at the library protest, which was amazing, but instead of just the one-off event and pride being a one-off monthly event, we can do it all the time. Our community infinitely exists.”

Matai O’Connor, Ngāti Porou, has been a journalist for five years and Kaupapa Māori reporter at the Gisborne Herald for two years.

- NZ Herald

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