Te Manahou Mackay first began modelling in 2016, with her debut into the fashion world soon followed by a flurry of news articles and TV interviews celebrating her status as “New Zealand’s first Māori transgender model.” While this newfound fame made her feel uneasy at first, she has since come to appreciate the importance of sharing stories like hers, especially to those in the rainbow community.
“I've now seen enough positive change from me sharing my story. Like families sending me emails, asking for advice about how to raise trans children. And I think that it is worth talking about, and it does make a positive difference. So I'm happy that I get to do that. It's a nice feeling. It's amazing.”
Growing up, Te Manahou faced her fair share of negative comments and disparaging remarks from others, but throughout it all she remained confident in who she was.
“I definitely was bullied, but I never really paid the bullies any mind. It was never something that haunted my nights…I was always pretty good at deciding whether someone's opinion was worth listening to and acting accordingly.”
“I remember in high school [some] boys would like call me, ‘poofter’ or something, and I would just laugh and say, ‘Yeah, it's true’.”
Te Manahou credits her strong relationship with friends, largely those in the queer community, for helping her build and maintain such a strong sense of self.
“Cultivating a strong group, strong people around you - I think it's really important. They say your five closest friends shape who you are as a person, so I think it's good to be really conscious that all of the people that are around you have attributes that you respect and you admire, because you will, just by nature, imbue yourself with these beautiful traits.”
For Te Manahou, the prevalence of queer people in the modelling industry has been a major bonus to the job. “What I love about my job is generally like nine times out of 10 there’s queer people on set. So it's just a really good environment.”
She also credits the support from her whānau for getting her to where she is today.
“I call my parents every single day. I'm not even being funny. Like every single day I have something to call them and talk to them about, which again is a privilege. I have family that are so supportive. And so there for me always, no matter what.”
Ultimately, the resilience and confidence that Te Manahou utilised against bullies in her high school years continues to serve her well against negative comments or criticism today.
“I think the key thing is recognising bullying only really has power if you give it power, if you give these people the ability to affect your internal space.”
“There's this quote I really like, I think it's by Socrates and it's like, I would rather suffer evil than commit evil because damage is done to the soul when you commit evil, or something like that. And I like that a lot... I feel that those that commit harmful acts, they are damaged more by them as a whole.”
Te Manahou decided to get involved in Pink Shirt Day this year as a way of giving back. “I definitely want to make sure that my life has a strong sense of community in it, because community is so important.”
For those trying to overcome bullying or discrimination from others in their personal or professional lives, Te Manahou’s journey serves as an important reminder that the best defence is to be truly confident in who you are - especially if who you are goes against the norm of mainstream society.
“It's very important to try and discover values and morals for yourself. Things that really align with what you truly believe to be good and enriching for yourself, your community and your world.”
“Never take for granted things we’re told to be the utmost truth, because I have found throughout the last few chapters of my existence, that society has it backward.”