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Trans behind bars: Tama's story

Wed 10 May 2017 In: People View at Wayback

This is part one Tama's story. He related it during an emotional discussion which took place in a NZ women's prison, following expressing interest in interviewing a transgender prisoner. The choice of interviewee was made by the Department of Corrections and one of the Department's female media relations team sat in. Tama seemed comfortable with her presence and she was genuinely moved by his story and solicitous of his well-being during difficult parts of our discussion. What follows is not Tama's complete life history. There are gaps due to time, legal and privacy constraints and emotional blocks. And, in order to comply with the Department's requirement that Tama not be able to be identified, we have changed his name and omitted some elements of his life story. With some prompting along the way by, Tama spoke about his life from childhood until the present day. These are his own quietly-spoken and at times deeply emotional, words. "I was a rural kid, brought up in old-school ways... tradition... religion was pretty hard out too. As a kid I was extremely withdrawn. I did everything I could to blend in even though I felt completely alienated. I was the only fair-coloured child in my family so I was treated differently. The community back in the day was a bit racist so I had that kind of pressure. My nana was extremely protective and she rarely let my sister and I out of the house... we were pretty much kept inside the house or inside the boundary of the... Until I was eleven I was [educated] in the Maori part of the local school. I was bullied a lot for the way that I was, for being fair and for being quite boyish as well. One of my uncles was the coolest. He spent a lot of time surfing and doing sport with his mates and I really looked up to him and decided I'd like to be just like him. He was the youngest of my nan's children so he lived with us for a while. I wasn't educated [about life] at all by my nan. She didn't explain to me much at all as a child. We were just allowed to play, taught not to steal or hurt others. We weren't taught anything about being female or male or that kind of thing. So I noticed that... how can I explain this... that I was attracted to the same sex at a very young age. I thought something was wrong with me. I was sexually abused by an older boy when I was around five and I didn't know how to process that either. So I hung out with kids older than myself and we used to play games. I'd be the male figure in those games, like the father role... they treated me like a boy and that for me felt natural, that was normal for me. Anything to do do with girl stuff, which my nan just naturally treated me as if I was, it was just forced on me... she didn't pay much attention other than to the food she provided and the clothes she put on us. She didn't have much idea about emotional well-being. So I was neglected if I was sticking in the corner or pulling back from other kids or was shy. But I knew I was a boy... I was missing something... my body was wrong... I was brought up religious so I remember saying to God walking home from the shop one day 'if you don't change me into a boy... I'm going to kill myself!' That's how I felt. How lost I was. I tried to express that to my mum a few times and she pulled down my pants once in front of a group of people to show that I... I... [At this point Tama, already emotional, began to sob and we stopped recording the discussion until he felt ok to continue] I 100% believed that I was a boy. I grew up as a boy even though my grandparents and aunties would call me a tomboy, a boy is who I was. And when puberty hit my world just turned upside down. That was when my depression started. Years later I first figured out that I was transgender when a friend posted his story online. He was transgender. We'd hung out together up here in Auckland but by then I was back home and he was up here transitioning. And I was like, 'whoah, I didn't even know that that existed!' I really wanted to pick his brain about it... about how did you do it, to ask about being a dude trapped in a woman's body, what can you do, what's happening. He was able to answer some of my questions. I was able to put two and two together and it made sense to me. I expected my journey to be a lot like his... but it's been completely different. When I hit the rock-bottom of my life, a few years ago, I went to see a tohunga and she told me that 'you've been bullied your whole life for being who you are, you need to be who you are.' It took me a while to figure that out. 'What do you mean?' She said 'when were you the most happiest in your life?' and I thought 'shit, I haven't been truly happy since nine or ten.' I'd spent the last twelve or thirteen years of my life trying to be something I wasn't in every single way possible. I tried to embody, to live, as a woman. I've had kids, boyfriends, I've tried in so many ways... I can't explain it." Then I realised who that little [nine or ten-year old] boy was... and that's me... that's who I need to be to be happy... to embrace it. In Part two of Tama's story he talks about how the pressures of life exploded up one night and he ended up in prison... and his experiences as a young man trapped in a women's prison.     - 10th May 2017


First published: Wednesday, 10th May 2017 - 11:17am

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