Peter Joyce: Gay Maori Christian.
Interviewed by Julian JR Victor.
We had arranged to meet at the Family Bar, the Secret garden would be usually quiet at 5pm on a Sunday and conducive to the interview that I had planned. I got there a little early but the open air Garden was cold and wet, instead I ordered a Pinot Noir and sat at the high backed leather chairs at the Saloon close to the electric fire place below the TV screen that played Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. Peter came in soon after and on seeing the fire said almost to himself “te muramura o te ahi ” he translated it for me “…….the flames were dancing in the fire……a happy feeling” , he smiled warmly, his eyes twinkling and said it again slowly for my benefit “te muramura o te ahi” the melody of the words and the deep meaning of the simple phrase warmed me and I felt a glow surround us. It was the opening prayer to a rather interesting interview.
On the occasions that I had met Peter at church I was always struck by his welcoming smile and the naughty twitch that played around his mouth. We had spoken a few times and he was always unassuming yet forthright and jovial. I was glad that Peter would be the one I would interview for the bulletin’s first spotlight on an ARCC member.
Peter does not drink alcohol so we decided to move to somewhere else where he could get a cup of coffee. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce him to my favourite Malaysian restaurant Uncle Man’s opposite the road where we could have a glass of teh tarik and Roti Chanai but Unlce Man’s was closed for a private function and we ended up at my other favourite spot on K’road, Verona. There, our coffees were served by a handsome young man from America with reggae locks and after the obligatory flirting with the waiter we settled into our conversation.
“I am a Gay Maori Christian” Peter said with pride, an identity that he wears comfortably and is glad to share with others. “I grew up in Otara which in my childhood was the “hood”, he laughs, but he only knew of his Maori roots when he was eleven while attending the Tangi (funeral) of his great grandmother. Although it was unfamiliar and strange Peter felt a sense of connection to the community.
“I have been confused and in the closet for a long time both as a gay man and as a Maori. My father was a European and my mother was half Maori and I did not speak the language, but that is the past” Today Peter speaks fluent Maori, is studying the language and is passionate about Kiwi’s learning Te Reo Maori.
He tells me how happy he is when we occasionally say the Our Father in Maori during service and I ask him sheepishly if he gets annoyed when people like me mispronounce the words. “Oh No” he is quick to reply “I hear the Lord’s Prayer and I embrace it”.
Peter has a cherished relationship with St. Mathew-in the city, not only was his great great great aunty married there, he and his ex partner were the first gay marriage in that church in March 2014. “It was a lovely wedding with the church bells ringing”. His partner however became a born again Christian and believed that he should be straight. Peter began attending the ARCC services 3 years ago. “It was my shelter from the pain of a nine year broken relationship, a safe place where I could tell my story to the others and to deal with my emotions, a refuge where I could be gay and Christian, and it has not changed, it’s still my safe space”.
“I love the church” Peter continues, “it is such a beautiful building, the architecture; I had such a buzz going up the turret once to watch them ring the bells. I look at the way the white blocks are arranged and in summer the light through the stained glass, it just speaks to me, I love the ARCC community and a big outcome for me is that I feel safe in the church and it makes me angry when individuals are disrespectful and challenge this experience of safety”.
Peter speaks about how happy he was that ARCC hosted World AIDS Day and he was able to perform during the event with his gay Kapa Haka troupe “Akakoa te aha” (It does not matter) that supports the gay community. Ahakoa te aha he tangata he tangata, it does not matter who you are, we are one people, he explains.
Last year for the first time Peter joined the Gay Pride Parade, “It was exciting, unfortunately I could not be in two floats, I was singing with my Haka group but was thrilled that ARCC members were in the parade with their costumes and lights, and even if I was not marching with them, I was with them”.
Peter hopes that ARCC would have more younger people and be a bit more informal. “It’s great to meet and hear the stories of new people, but why don’t they come back?” he wonders. He is happy that ARCC has decided to revamp its website and have more of a FB presence.
Peter has come a long way, in terms of his identity as a Gay Maori Christian. “Not knowing my roots, being in denial, being in a straight relationship for many years and having adult children. I had the opportunity to accept my sexuality and being Christian, accepting of my Maori beliefs, and acknowledging my ancestors. I now embrace all of me. I am single again and I am happy it has all worked out”.
Peter beams gratitude and happiness. “He kokona whare e kitea, He kokona ngakau e kore e kitea” he says ending the interview with a whakatauki*. “The corners of a house can be seen, But the heart of a person can’t be seen” (Don’t judge a person by his/her appearance) I smile back, it was the closing prayer and I felt enriched from speaking with him.
*a whakatauki (proverbs) play a large role in Maori culture. They are used as reference points in speeches and also as spoken guidelines from one to another.