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  • Writer's pictureAshton Blyth

A Place in the Middle (Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, 2014)

In the Hawaiian language, kāne means "male" and wahine means "female".

But ancient Hawaiians recognised that some people are not simply one or the other.

Māhū, meaning "in the middle", was the name given to those who "embraced both the feminine and the masculine traits that are embodied in each and every one of us" (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu).

A Place in the Middle is a short documentary about eleven-year-old Ho'Onani Kamai, and their hula teacher, Kumu Hina (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu).

Kumu Hina (Teacher Hina) gave a name to the children who presented as both kāne and wahine at the Hālau Lokahi Public Charter School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she taught (school now closed) hula - kāne-wahine / wahine-kāne (girl-boys / boy-girls), so that when the kāne are addressed, and the wahine are addressed, they also know that there is a place for them in the middle. Kumu Hina created a place where these children are accepted for being 'girly' or a 'tom-boy', where the feminine and masculine traits that they embrace and exude are celebrated as part of their gender, instead of assumed to be because of their sexual orientation.

Knowing that Ho'Onani would want to be involved with any of the numbers she taught to the high school boys for the end of year show, Kumu Hina lets her join as - as she states to the group, they have a biological wahine amongst them because she has more ku (male energy) than anybody else around here.

Throughout the rehearsals, this is made clear, for the high-school boys' performance one of them has to be the chief, who leads the chants. You see several of them try, and their efforts pale by comparison to Ho'O's - she shows them what being a chief means, powerfully leading the chants with her ku.

Kumu Hina acknowledges the potential for backfire from the end-of-year performance, from placing a girl at the forefront of the boys performance, to be told by parents that she should be encouraging a girl to stand with the girls and a boy to stand with the boys. But, as Hina states, "that's not my role, my role is to take their young person and to help mould them into the best that they can be".

However, I believe any backlash from parents would have been immediately stopped by their children. Despite the high-schoolers being six or seven years older than Ho'O, when Kumu Hina is telling them how proud she is of them all before they go on stage, she starts to say "Our chief's not a boy but-" "He is." - one of them immediately says, "he"; these teenagers of 2014 are more understanding than most adults in 2022.

The performance - a chief, leading their men onto the stage, their ku paling by comparison to the ku she radiates. She appears fierce, and strong, she is a warrior. Everyday a battle for acceptance, and she shows why their should be a place in the middle. Power comes through in her voice, her stance, and her expression as she leads her hula troop, leaving no doubt in the audience's mind as to why she was chosen as the chief as cheers and applause are erupt from very proud families.

After, as the group gather to reflect, the boys tell Ho'O she has more guts than all of them, that she's like a Kumu to all of them, and she has more laho (balls) than all of them - bottom line.

This film was what inspired me to add a scene about Boys Brigade, the unwritten ending of Felt Right Then, Feels Right Now, how I was most likely the first girl in Boys Brigade -period. There I was treated as a boy, by the boys - I was a boy amongst them. It was accepted that I would sometimes carry the Boys Brigade flag, or lead the marches just the same as the rest of them, there were no complaints of "she can't lead us, she's not a boy" as I wasn't seen like that.

I respect the bravery Ho'O had to have to say I am also a boy, and I should be treated as such. I would also like the boy lei, to perform with the boys, to stand with the boys for as long as you'll let me until I can say I will stand with the boys, you can't stop me.


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