A WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A CATHOLIC BOY'S BODY
Statistics from the Williams Institute UCLA School of Law show that about 5 percent of Hawaii's population is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
“Being oppressed at such a young age, you learn to hide it,” Kapua said. “You go through school without trying to tell anybody, but because I was so feminine and flamboyant, I realized that I wasn’t able to act out; I wasn’t able to be who I was.”
At seven years old, Oahu's David Alexander Kapua, Jr, recalled that -- in the midst of praying during bedtime -- he had a specific request he wanted to be answered from above.
“My prayers were about waking up and being in the right body,” said David, who as an adult now goes by Cathy. She is a former employment specialist and peer educator at Kulia Na Mamo, a transgender social service program, helping people to embrace their true gender identities.
As a child, coming out to her parents, especially to her devoutly Catholic mother, was a difficult situation Kapua was not ready to face. She would play the part of being a good little boy, wearing a suit and tie to church. Her family, however, was not fooled by her lack of masculine interests.
“I think, with all my boy cousins, growing up, my family more so instilled boys sport," Kapua said. "I needed to play rough and do sports and do football and do surfing, but it really wasn’t my thing.”
In Hawaii, more than half of the adults (62 percent) believe in God in Hawai’i. For comparison, the most religious state, Alabama, is at 77 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. In the religious communities of Hawai’i, 285,800 adults are Roman Catholic, 157,190 are Mainline Protestants, 42,870 are Mormons and 14,290 Orthodox Christian,
with Evangelical Protestants the largest group,
with 357,250 adult supporters.
Despite her sister’s support and acceptance, Kapua’s own worst fears became a reality when at 18 years old, after finally gathering the courage to come out to her mother, the matriarch responded poorly and broke down into tears when she learned the truth about Kapua.
“I told her not only am I gay, but that I’m a woman and am already taking hormones to be a woman,” Kapua said. “And that was the hard-kicking part. She started crying ‘Oh, my goodness! You never gonna go to Heaven!’ And this and that.”
Kapua also said that coming out as gay person would have been a preferable truth to her mother. “It was different to be gay than trans. To be trans, now, the world would see that she had lost her son. To be gay, I could hide my sexual orientation and still be her son.”
Kunane Dryer, Kapua’s supervisor and director of Preventions Services at the Life Foundation, believes that religion plays a big part in confining LGBTQ individuals from opening up about their sexual identities.
“I hear the stories, and it just breaks my heart that here we are in 2017, and there’s still people who have issues,” said Dryer, who is homosexual.
“I was accepted by my friend’s family, but heaven forbid it be their child.” he said. “They were okay with me and my identity. I was the little gay boy that would come over versus if it was their child who came out of the closet.”
For a long time, Dryer did not understand why it was easy for his friend’s parents to accept him despite knowing how they felt about homosexuality as a whole.
“I couldn’t figure out why they were so friendly and loving to me, but it was different when it came to their child,” he said. “And that’s when I figured out that it’s okay when it’s not your kid, and also, I know that part of it was the religious background of the family.”
gLOBAL identity INFLUENCE
The numbers in Hawai’i are small but representative of the dynamic existing under the power and influence of Roman Catholicism across the globe. With more than 1 billion members, it is the largest Christian denomination in the world. While the Catholic doctrines and teachings do not see LGBT inclination as sinful, there is still a negative connotation toward it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “Homosexual persons shall be called to chastity,” but goes on to say, “Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
For Kapua, age had no limit when it came to being discriminated. “I was in elementary, and they were already telling me in the church that I wasn’t supposed to be dressing up as a girl," she said. "So my mother pulled me out of Catechism, which was fine by me, because I really didn’t want to go.”
The Catechism also states that: “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons, are against moral law,” which is interpreted as a jab towards individuals who desire transgenital surgery.
Such words from the Catechism and its teaching are causing great conflict within the Catholic church when it comes to the LGBT community. While many parishes have denied LGBT individuals and families membership, several Catholic communities have extended the hand of friendship. To this day, the Catholic Church does not recognize same-sex marriages, despite support from members in favor of LGBT.
“Who am I to judge?” said Pope Francis during a press conference in 2013. He would later elaborate more on his words within his and Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli’s book, "The Name of God is Mercy."
"On that occasion, I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized."
Father Lamarpine, a visiting priest to St. Joseph Church in Waipahu, the same church and school Kapua attended, says that preaching the word of God takes precedence over judging LGBT people.
“First of all, people are people.” Lamarpine said. “We preach the word of God, although we do have some principles, and that’s what we do. … We follow the principles of the Catholic Church.”
Lamarpine says that his goal as a professional counselor is to assist people in whatever needs they have, and that turning away straight or gay people is “not what the gospel teaches.”
THE TURNING POINT
Despite the painful memories of her mother’s initial reaction, Kapua fondly recounts the time when she snuck into her mother’s bedroom to play around with the matriarch’s makeup and accessories, including marching around in her high heels inside the closet. Kapua will never forget her mother’s expression upon discovering what her daughter, who was her son at the time, did.
“She began reprimanding me and scolding me, asking 'What are you doing with my stuff?’ So it was an awkward conversation.” Kapua said. “I didn’t get abused or physically hurt, but when she told my father, he had a long talk with me. ‘That’s not what boys do,’ he said.”
At age 17, an enthusiastic transgendered drag queen right next door from where Kapua worked in Pearlridge Mall showed her the meaning of being happy with who she really was by sneaking her into a bar, where she had her first experience of watching transgender people dancing to energetic tunes. It would be their carefree and comfortable attitudes towards themselves that awakened something positive within Kapua.
“I got to figure out who I was by seeing other people who were born like me and are now living a beautiful life,” said Kapua. “And I said, ‘Oh, my God. If that’s what they are, then that’s what I am.’ That’s how I figured out I was transgender.”
But fear had won over Kapua’s resolve to come out to her mother, whose Catholic beliefs and faith stood in the way of the closure Kapua needed.
“It was more harder to tell my mom, believe it or not, because I was so close to her,” she said. “And I felt like that religious barrier would have put a deeper wedge between our relationship.”
After telling her mother the truth, Kapua began making a living off of working at a bar in a club, although she was underaged, in order to pay for her cosmetic surgery. Eventually, she would resolve to selling drugs for the money. She was also a college student but dropped out.
At 19 years old, Kapua was arrested under the convictions of promoting dangerous drugs in the first, second, and third degree with a “maximum indeterminate sentence: 35 years” an “extended maximum indeterminate sentence: 70 years” and a maximum fine of $85,000.
“But because I was underaged, they gave me a deal and said that they’d condense it all to seven-year terms,” she said. “Four years in prison, three years out on parole.”
It would take Kapua’s time in prison to change her mother’s opinion about her daughter’s identity. “That’s what got my mom’s eyes open,” said Kapua. “That’s when she realized she’s gonna lose her child altogether unless she accepts that her child is gonna live as a woman.”
LIFE IS GOOD
After coming out of prison and going back to college, the love and support that Kapua’s family bestowed upon their daughter and sister was a welcoming reprieve, especially from her mother, who now is not ashamed of introducing Cathy as her daughter. “She would be like, ‘this is my child,’" Kapua said. "She’d say things like that to her Catholic friends.”
Kapua was also happy that her father had become more open about his daughter’s identity. “I remember somebody telling me the story, my aunty or uncle, was telling me ‘oh yeah, your father would introduce you, and say ‘my son is gay, but it’s the girl kind and she’s a pretty girl; she’s not like the ugly kind.’ And I took it as a compliment.”
In 2003, Kapua began working at Kulia Na Mamo, the workers inspired by her story. In 2005, she was hired by the Life Foundation as an HIV counselor. After seeing that the transgender people were not a priority for funding against HIV in 2012, Kapua, alongside the Life Foundation, was able to convince the state legislature and other organizations to provide funding for women and transgender people, creating the Ku’uana Project.
“The project has been very successful,” she said. “I’m hoping that one day there are no issues with transgender people.”
The Project has also made it possible for transgender people to legally change their Hawai’i birth certificate for $3, as well as get medical insurance for sex reassignment and gender-confirming surgery without hospitals questioning the person’s gender identity.
As the current program coordinator for the Ku’uana Project under the Life Foundation, Kapua reflects that coming out to her family and religious mother was the best decision she had ever made and is happy that she is now closer to her mother than ever.
Although she has not attended church or confession in many years, Kapua continues to practice her Catholic religion on her own according to what she was taught as a child.
“The belief in a higher power I continue to grasp,” she said.
After initially participating in this story, Kapua later declined to answer several follow-up questions prior to this story’s publishing. She also said she would not release the names or contact information of her family and friends as well as any photographs affiliated with her and anyone close to her.
For more information about Kapua’s work, though, visit www.lifefoundationhawaii.org.