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Laws 2013, 2(2), 51-68; doi:10.3390/laws2020051

Sodomy Laws and Gender Variance in Tahiti and Hawai‘i

School of Law, University of Reading, Foxhill House, Whiteknights Road, Earley, Reading, RG67BA, UK
Received: 19 February 2013 / Revised: 3 April 2013 / Accepted: 3 April 2013 / Published: 9 April 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Legally Constructed Gendered Identities)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [213 KB, uploaded 9 April 2013]


In both Hawaiian and Tahitian, the central meaning of mahu denotes gender-variant individuals, particularly male-bodied persons who have a significant investment in femininity. However, in Hawai‘i, unlike Tahiti, the word mahu is now more commonly used as an insult against gay or transgender people. The negative connotation of the term in Hawaiian indexes lower levels of social acceptability for mahu identity on O‘ahu (Hawai‘i’s most populous island) as compared to Tahiti. The article argues that these differences are partly due to a historical legacy of sexually repressive laws. The article traces the history of sodomy laws in these two Polynesian societies and argues that this history supports the hypothesis that sodomy laws (in conjunction with such social processes as urbanisation and Christianisation) are partially to blame for the diminished social status of mahu on O‘ahu. A different social and legal history in Tahiti accounts for the fact that the loss of social status experienced by Tahitian mahu has been lesser than that of their Hawaiian counterparts. View Full-Text
Keywords: Hawai‘i; Tahiti; French Polynesia; O‘ahu; sodomy; mahu; transgender; gender variance; gender identity; sodomy laws Hawai‘i; Tahiti; French Polynesia; O‘ahu; sodomy; mahu; transgender; gender variance; gender identity; sodomy laws
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Zanghellini, A. Sodomy Laws and Gender Variance in Tahiti and Hawai‘i. Laws 2013, 2, 51-68.

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