Leitis in Waiting is a documentary about leitis, a gender minority in Tonga, and their changing status in Tongan society.
Tonga is one of the few Polynesian island nations that were able to successfully resist colonisation. They had an accord with Britain beginning at the start of the 20th century but always remained an independent country, and never faced the processes of deculturation that affected other countries in the colonial era. This preserved the place of leitis in Tongan society. But as American evangelical queerphobia is exported internationally, leitis face increasing levels of violence.
The other problematic element is leitis traditional place within Tongan society, which has been associated closely with domestic work, and hospitality work. This has been viewed positively by leitis, as it at least gives them a place in Tongan society, shelter from abuse and discrimination, and the work gives them a sense of self-respect. But it means that leitis are rarely in positions of power or decision-making roles. Another aspect of the export of American culture wars globally is that leitis are having to fight under the umbrella of LGBTQ, and although welcome as an ally, they don’t want to see their identity as Tongan leitis subsumed in this foreign concept.
Christianity arrived in Tonga in 1826 in the form of Catholicism. And of course, the attitude varies from church to church, but generally, there was no virulent anti-leiti movement. That might be partly because leitis did a lot of work for the church, organising and serving events, and facilitating churches as community hubs. There also was a general attitude in the church of tolerance, if not acceptance. “Crossdressing” may have been viewed as a sin, but we are all sinners, that’s what church is for. This attitude among the religious has changed in recent years, and queerphobic people in Tongan society have been financed and advanced wide-reaching platforms to espouse the American evangelical brand of Christianity, which is lobbying for the imprisonment of leitis, and even threatening violence against them.
Interestingly, leitis have chosen to handle this their own way, rather than model their approach on the combative fashion we see in Europe and America. They didn’t stand outside these evangelic churches with provocative or antagonist messages. They didn’t boycott businesses held by queerphobic owners. They instead invited the religious leaders to meetings, to speak their own truth and hear the leaders’ concerns. I think the character of island life lends itself well to reconciliation. These are their neighbours, and no matter how hurtful their actions, they are going to have to live with them. So there is more of an open-handed approach to finding a way to live peacefully, even if it is in disagreement.
Really interesting film.