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Sodomy laws and gender variance in Tahiti and Hawai‘i

Zanghellini, A. (2013) Sodomy laws and gender variance in Tahiti and Hawai‘i. Laws, 2 (2). pp. 51-68. ISSN 2075-471X (Special Issue: Legally Constructed Gendered Identities)

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/laws2020051


In both Hawaiian and Tahitian, the central meaning of mahu denotes gender-variant individuals, particularly male-bodied persons who have a significant investment in femininity. However, in Hawai‘i, unlike Tahiti, the word mahu is now more commonly used as an insult against gay or transgender people. The negative connotation of the term in Hawaiian indexes lower levels of social acceptability for mahu identity on O‘ahu (Hawai‘i’s most populous island) as compared to Tahiti. The article argues that these differences are partly due to a historical legacy of sexually repressive laws. The article traces the history of sodomy laws in these two Polynesian societies and argues that this history supports the hypothesis that sodomy laws (in conjunction with such social processes as urbanisation and Christianisation) are partially to blame for the diminished social status of mahu on O‘ahu. A different social and legal history in Tahiti accounts for the fact that the loss of social status experienced by Tahitian mahu has been lesser than that of their Hawaiian counterparts.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Law
ID Code:33118
Uncontrolled Keywords:Hawai‘i; Tahiti; French Polynesia; O‘ahu; sodomy; mahu; transgender; gender variance; gender identity; sodomy laws


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