‘’Home is where it all begins.‘’ 

“Always stand by your family”, people say.

These sayings are mainly focused on the pretty side of things. We pretend that there is no ‘’…BUT’’ at the end of the quote. In Fiji we talk a lot about how the first teaching a child gets is from home. We say how home is the place where every child and family member should be loved and cherished.

But I wouldn’t say that home is always ‘a place where we are understood’ because home for many of us in Fiji has never been about understanding. For many home is violent and awful every day. For others it is a place where we feel love, but also controlled and ruled.

In my home, it was okay for you if you stay in your place.  If you stay in your place in the family spectrum you will be considered a worthwhile child. Your chances of having a decent childhood and teenage life are good, if you do what is said is normal.

On the other hand, if you are branded as the black sheep of the family or someone that is always breaking the rules because you don’t feel safe, are troubled, or just feel different in your own beautiful self – then you are likely to miss out on having a good, safe, fun childhood, teenage and adult life.

When you lose hope on protection, care, love and comfort from family, the chances of maintaining self-esteem is very challenging.

When violence is a norm in a home, the expectation of having non-violent children is very low. When you are a child and you are still trying to learn about power, how to get around in the world or be with people around you, you learn patterns. When you witness how violence easily puts fear into people, you usually adopt the main house pattern thinking that it is an acceptable form of discipline, when it is NOT. You are harming and damaging someone with force and you might regret it, when one day you might actually take someone’s life, or ruin their self-esteem and mental health.

Family members are mainly the ones harming each other, mentally, sexually and physically. The amount of sexual abuse carried out by people who are known to a victim is so disturbing as I recently learnt from work, my community and the Fiji national EVAW Protocol work. Yet too many of us still work extra hard trying to keep all this stigma, control and violence from families under the table when we need to be working on the reality of our lives.

When I was younger I moved from house to house, looking for inner peace and acceptance because I didn’t feel it anymore in my home, the moment I came out to my family about my non-heteronormative sexual orientation. I knew that I was going to be treated differently from all my other siblings and family.

What almost broke me was being told that I was not to share utensils with other family members. All because I love differently to many others.

This made me ask a lot more questions about family – What really defines a family and a HOME? How is it we are so blinded from seeing through layers of bullshit and fake politeness in so-called homes? Why do we hold back from speaking truths in our homes? Why was my biggest fear going home after a hangout night with friends? Why did I lose the excitement of coming home after some time away?

What was it, that made it not feel like home to me?

I have now figured out, after much personal work and care from others, that home for me was like a trading market – where if you bring something good to the house you then get attention. But that is not love! Compared to attention of other siblings, you might just be lucky enough to be asked ‘How is your friend?’, not even ‘How is your life partner?’ No-one really cares how YOU are.

I now know and accept these realities of life and the relationships I was in, with my family. I had to heal, to restructure how I socialize around my family. This took some tears, heart break and confrontation. It helped me. Today I still love them, and we have a better understanding about how we want to live our lives. But it is still not easy to stand your ground.

Getting to know friends that experience similar situations in their homes, was affirmation that there is nothing wrong about me or the way I hold myself. I am just different from my siblings and my wider family – and it is okay.

All this experience pushes me to be bold and fierce and re-defining what is a home and family, for LBTI women in Fiji.  I take this from my collective and community, and put it back into my work in DIVA for Equality.

I know that home is not about having a luxury bed to sleep on. It is not about having a proper three meals every day. It is not about wearing branded clothes.

Home is where you can walk into the room and do not feel small or watched. Home is not violent – or it is not truly home.

Home is where you find genuine comfort and hugs.

Home is where you always run, when the world is coming down on you, and this can be as beautiful whether a double storey house or a ghetto lean-to down the street.

A happy home is where you can find love, regardless who is running the household, whether a mother, father or both, single mother or father, two women or two men, aunties, grandmothers, friends – What matters is not a title of ‘leader of household’ but who is really caring and ensuring that all family members are loved and accepted in the home.

In our homes and in Fiji and Pacific society we are seeing changes in how decisions are made every day. We see changes in what makes leadership.  We are questioning who gets to be responsible and who can challenge power when it is not equal.

We need to look at these changes in the eye, not pretending that these changes will not have an impact in our lives, in our relationships, in our homes.

Patriarchy is like a pool. You drop a rock in, even a small one, and the water moves, everywhere.

Homes and families and relationships will change only when we make them change. There is a big cost, as well as a big reward. Freedom.