Trans behind bars: Tama's story
10th May 2017 - 11:17 am
This is part one Tama's
He related it during an emotional discussion which took place
in a NZ women's prison, following GayNZ.com 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 GayNZ.com, Tama spoke about his life from childhood until the
present day. These are his own quietly-spoken and at times deeply
"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extremely withdrawn.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
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
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
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
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.
© Copyright GayNZ.com