By Ashley Ellis
Marqy Kitione is the president of PacifiqueX, an organisation dedicated to celebrating, supporting, and connecting Pacific Island LGBTIQA+ communities and allies. Marqy’s bold story is about learning to be himself as a proud Pasifika gay man in a community whose conservative and religious ideals led him to feel disconnected, depressed, and like he didn’t belong. His is a story of courage, compassion, and a determination to support others and create spaces where they truly belong and feel valued, just as they are.
‘I feel like my experience growing up as a queer Pacific Islander would have been different if I had someone to look up to, had a place to go and a community I could belong to. Living in Melbourne and connecting with other Queer folk in the Pacific Island community has taught me how important it is to be visible, have safe spaces, and places for people that are looking for that connection and belonging.
That’s why my love language for community, and my love language for service is important to me, because I want to create that space here in Naarm, Melbourne for other LGBTQIA+ Pacific Islanders who are seeking a place to belong.
I grew up in South Auckland, New Zealand, in a conservative, religious community that taught culture to disapprove of homosexuality.
When you’re told repeatedly over your whole life that homosexuality is bad, you start believing it, and preaching it to yourself. It was constantly preached at church as well, so it was coming from all directions: my church, my family, and my community, and I didn’t feel safe to be myself. For a long time, I had to hide who I was. Tongans refer to queer people as fakaleitī, which translates as ‘assigned male at birth who has a feminine gender expression’, so growing up I would hear that word and just cringe, and think ‘that’s not me’, but I was so aware that if I did anything that might seem feminine, they would see it.
I eventually got to a place where I had to focus on myself and my own happiness because, for a long time I was depressed. I had, on numerous occasions, contemplated taking my own life because I was told homosexuals don’t have value in the world that we live in today.
When I came out to my mum and my brother, I felt such a burden lift. It was a beautiful experience to be able to be myself in my community for the first time.
It wasn’t easy though. When I first told mum, she cried, and I sat with her in that, and explained that I am glad she knows, I’m happy that I don’t have to hide who I am any more, and don’t have to struggle with suicidal thoughts.
I’m glad I had that experience, because it’s one that so many other people face in the Pasifika community, and I can use that experience to help other people navigate their own coming out journey, and the tricky dynamics within families.
It’s so important to share our stories, because we never know what’s going to resonate with people. I spoke on a panel at Queer Pasifika, which was an event held by Creative Brimbank. I didn’t feel like I had actually said very much, but someone came up afterwards to thank me and tell me that what I had said about family had resonated with him. I spoke about how you have your family, but you also have your ‘chosen family’, and they’re often the ones who pull up for you when it counts. This person had been kicked out of their family circle, but had a really wonderful chosen family who had been there to support them.
Sometimes when we share our stories, we internally disappoint ourselves because we feel like we haven’t said anything of value, but to have someone come up and say ‘oh my God, that was amazing, thank you for sharing!’, it changed my mindset, because I realised that every story, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, can have power and speak into someone’s life. That’s why I want to create spaces to facilitate the sharing of these stories.
A bold life is not a solo journey. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for people who I consider mentors. For me, these people are friends who I look up to, who have led the way for other people like me.
They’re the ones who are authentically themselves, and who are in spaces where they can contribute to the narrative, and say ‘it’s okay to be Queer, it’s okay to be Pasifika’. It’s definitely not an individual thing. It’s a whole community thing that adds to everyone’s ability to live boldly.
At PacifiqueX, we share in talanoa, which is a word we use to describe gathering together to have conversation, share ideas, and tell our stories. Every time we have a talanoa, it creates a kind of brainstorming situation, where everyone can bring their thoughts and ideas, and opens opportunity for some people who’ve been rejected by family or feeling a sense of misplacement in society to come together to share.
In Pacific Island communities, we have a high suicide rate among both queer and straight people, and there’s a lot of stigma, particularly for men, around ‘airing your dirty laundry’, or sharing your problems with other people, because by showing your faults or flaws, you expose yourself and family to ridicule. There’s also stigma around seeking professional help. But if you feel like you can’t talk to family, because they don’t understand or approve of the way you live, or there’s nobody else, those feelings don’t just go away.
There’s an old school mentality that has crept into our generation, that prevents a lot of people from being honest about who they are and sharing about their problems. I know for myself, I spent a long time pushing down my feelings and bottling them up, and there’s only so long you can do that. So, my message to people is to share your feelings. It doesn’t have to be with family or friends, you could talk to a stranger, it could be with a counsellor, or in talanoa, with other people who can listen, and help you on your path.
My motto is ‘love others and forget the rest’, and for me that means investing in and forgiving those who you care about and letting go of people and issues that do not add value to your life. Holding anger, and hatred uses precious energy that should be invested in people and things that deserve it.’
Bold Humans of the West is a collection of portrait artworks and interviews by artist and writer Ashley Ellis from her 2022 Bowery Gallery exhibition Bold Stories, Bold Lives – the culmination of a Creative Brimbank community storytelling project highlighting the bold stories of Brimbank.