Homosexuality in New Caledonia: One Kanak speaks out
If you’ve been following the news in Europe and the United States lately, you’ll know that same-sex marriage has been hotly debated. Should it be legalized (France’s president Francois Hollande promised voters it would be in the lead-up to his election), allowed, recognized? Several states in the United States said yes during its election rounds earlier this month. Meanwhile, France is having problems making gay marriage happen (having left it up to individual mayors, who are the ones with the authority to preside over weddings in France).
Zoom in on New Caledonia, one of France’s territories. When mayors here learned on 20 November of the French policy that mayors could decide to honour or not honour requests from same-sex partners to wed, arms flew up and flailed. One mayor declared:
“That’s totally against nature and I can tell you that will never happen here!”
“In any case, there aren’t any gays here.”
Yes, we are on a tiny island in the South Pacific, isolated from much of the rest of the world. And yes, we are in the 21st century. I assure you it sometimes feels like we’re living in the Dark Ages, locked forever in time.
Below is a translation of a story that appeared in the local newspaper today (with my thanks to Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes for having run it). It is the testimony of one young man who has dared to speak out, to tell his story. He is a Kanak and he is gay. As you will see, the views of one’s family and tribe are still so very important here, and it appears that homosexuals are not non-existent in New Caledonia, but silent.
Having worked with runaway and homeless youth in California in the early 1980s, his search and suffering brings back many a memory of youths who had left their families or been ostracized because of their “disease”. The number of hours my colleagues and I worked with these youth to help them come to terms with their sexuality were endless. Reading this man’s testimony reminded me that though we think we have come so far in making this world a safe, accepting and equitable place for people of all color, age, sex, religious belief, intelligence, and sexual preference, we still have a distance to go.
“I wanted to tell the story of my life, this life I lead and that is not really mine.” So starts the testimony of a young Kanak, the son of a tribal chief and homosexual, who has decided to come out, at nearly 30 years old, “to breathe normally and live normally.” It is also the occasion for this man, deeply rooted in his Kanak culture, to shed light on the facts, for all those (including some Melanesian mayors) who think (and have affirmed in our column) that homosexuality does not exist [in New Caledonia]. His testimony in ten points:
I had a wonderful childhood with caring parents who instilled my brothers and sisters and I with an education worthy of our success. It is in this context that I have always had respect for my family, my mother and especially my father, a highly respected chief of a tribe. I received all the love parents can give their children; I was very deeply loved. At the age of 14, like all young people, I started dating girls. I dreamed of having children, a house, and to live the life of the perfect couple.
But when everyone was celebrating the second millennium, I began to discover another part of myself. I was drawn to boys. I looked at them as if they were girls. I did not understand what was happening, but I thought it was, above all, some sort of phase. I thought everything would return to how it had been before. Without realizing it, my attraction to boys grew.
Denying the obvious
I developed a strategy to deny this attraction and to obstruct it. I stayed home. But the worst thing was that I always found more to say about the beauty of a boy than a girl’s. And with time, the balance finally shifted towards boys. I tried everything to deny it; I disgusted myself; I prayed to God to stop me being this way because I suffered so from it. I ran far away from home, into nature, to isolate myself, to cry, and to scream out my pain, my suffering.
Like a disease
At age 24, I heard about a person who could transform me, change me and erase all my bad thoughts. I accepted the person with all my heart, I was faithful to God. I was told that it was the evil spirit that was in me, that it was he who fed me with bad thoughts. I was happy, but even at church, I always had these thoughts. I ended up leaving the church so as not to soil it even further. I did not feel worthy to be there.
Ultimately, I came to understand that I was born like this, that God is a God of love, and that he should love me as I am. I could not ruin a girl’s life, and pretend to be happy.
One fine day, I met someone that has marked my life up to now. I met a guy with whom I felt good. For once in my life, I felt like myself, I was free. The chains turned into wreathes of roses. I always wanted to see him, we spent sleepless nights talking out in the middle of the square or in front of his house. I could go such distances for him. For once, I was happy in my relationship. The night of my first kiss, I burst into tears, of happiness, but also because I knew the sun would rise and that this dream would dissipate again for twelve hours.
Fear of what people would say
This lasted for months, until one day, although I still loved him, I left. I told him by telephone that it was all over. The only explanation I could give was that I no longer loved him, when in reality I was afraid of what I felt for him. I was afraid of what my parents, my brothers, would think.
The time of regrets
Today, I still think of him; I missed out on so much. I wasted years I would have liked to have spent with him. I have learned that he has found someone else, and I hope he is happy. I made my choice in favor of my identity, respect for my people, my tribe, my brothers and sisters, my mother and my late father.
If being gay is a disease, please bring me the remedy. I did not want this life. But if this is my destiny, I will follow it. I am proud to be a Kanak, of my culture, my traditions and for nothing in the world would I trade it. I am but a victim of my feelings. I need to be happy and live a normal life like everyone else.
I still want to bow, to lower myself, in front of my mother, my little brothers, who have had great respect for me all these years and have given me confidence. Continue in this way, my feelings for you have not changed. I love you even more. To my sisters who wanted to have a sister-in-law, I’m sorry I can not bring you this happiness. To my tribe, to my late father, who would have had the wisdom to understand me, but out of respect for him, and for his office, I tried to live a life of lies.
Yes, I am a Kanak and I am homosexual.