Back in the day of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I (18th century), a mahu (a man who lived as a woman, homosexual or transgender person) was considered lucky and assumed a respected role in his/her community. But when missionaries arrived with Christian moral standards, mahu became a pejorative term. After statehood in 1959, Hawaiian law condemned the mahu community. From 1963-1973, if a mahu didn’t wear his/her “I Am A Boy or I Am A Man” button (as a way for tourists, foreigners and military GIs to know who they were dancing with) he/she was arrested and fined $500.
Hawaiian filmmaker Connie Florez is working on a documentary entitled “The Glades Project,” which explores the cultural challenges endured by the marginalized minority of mahus from 1959-1985. The opening scene takes place at the famous cross-dressing nightclub the Glade Show Lounge in Honolulu’s “red light district” where the marquee read “Where Boys Will Be Girls.” When Florez finds a way to complete her film, it will speak to a different society than the one it documents. Today an annual transvestite beauty pageant, The Universal Show Queen, packs in crowds in mainstream Waikiki hotels. And Kim Coco Iwamoto, who is transgender, holds a seat on the state’s board of education — the highest office ever for an elected transgender person in United States.