Our world is consistently being defined by gender. Whether it is in relationships, the workplace or even in religion, there tend to be distinctions between and emphasis on binary genders. However, in Hawaiian culture, people accept that there is a place, called “mahu,” in between genders.
The film “Kumu Hina: A Place In The Middle” tells the story of two mahu. “Mahu” refers to people who have embraced both female and male characteristics and are sometimes transitioning to the gender they identify with. First, there is Hina, a teacher at a Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Hina tells the audience how much she has struggled with personal and social acceptance of herself. She recounts how she was teased in high school and how, even as an adult, some simply do not understand what it means to be Mahu.
Unfortunately, her own husband is one that does not understand. He expects Hina to take on the role as housewife and, according to the audience, verges on abuse. Hina resigns to staying in this relationship because there are very few people who want to be with a mahu, and she is still in love with her husband.
It was difficult for the audience to watch both Hina’s own husband torture her and her frustration with the lack of passion in her students. Luckily, this made it easy for viewers to root for her and experience her joy when she was surrounded by people who loved her.
Her story truly represents the struggle of those who do not identify with their assigned gender. However, Hina works extremely hard to teach the youth at her school the true Hawaiian values of aloha. She constantly stresses the importance of love, honor and respect.
This sets the stage for another mahu, Ho’Onani. Ho’O attends the school where Hina teaches and becomes her mentee of sorts. Although it is unclear what gender this child identifies as, Ho’O is able to find a community at school that is not present at home.
This corresponds with many experiences of transgender youth today. Many kids find it difficult to find support among their family but are completely supported by their peers. The mother of Ho’O made the audience shift in their seats as she completely disregarded the feelings of her own child.
The mother essentially said that her “daughter” must accept that they will always be a girl. This resonates with members of the LGBT+ community. Often, a family can hold antiquated prejudices and project them onto their children, making it hard for the kids to feel accepted and loved in their family.
Luckily, the school Ho’O attended provided a space in which they were able to be themselves. Ho’O becomes the leader of the boys’ hula group and guides them towards an amazing performance at the end of the year.
This movie, although not filled with dazzling pictures or crystal clear videography, provided the audience with something real. It is a story that many can relate to, despite being set in a place that is essentially its own country. Not only that, but it also provides an appreciation for Hawaiian culture. This movie is one that should be recognized and watched to understand, if not to appreciate, those that live on the margins.