Button from The Glade

Button from The Glade

Artist: Unknown
Media: Button
Date & Location: 1960s-1982
Where can I find this item?: Unknown (will update when found)
Source: QueerMusicHeritage.com

Significance to Queer Art History:

Genderfluidity, trans* identities, and queer love have long, positive histories in Hawaiian culture. A term that is currently being reclaimed by queer, Indigenous communities in Hawaii is māhū. As Carol E. Robertson writes the term māhū “defies reduction to any of the notions of gender” that are accessible through colonial languages offering a history of queer lives beyond those captured in the LGBTQIA2S+ acronym.

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu recently curated a show at Bishop Museum that puts this button in conversation with the long history of māhū people in Hawaii. Wong-Kalu describes a māhū person as someone who “straddles somewhere in the middle of the male and female binary. It does not define their sexual preference or gender expression, because gender roles, gender expressions and sexual relationships have all been severely influenced by the changing times. It is dynamic. It is like life.”

Māhū have historically had reputations as healers who are known for their compassion and creativity. One of the most sacred sites in Hawaii is on Waikiki beach where four stones (called Nā Pōhaku Ola Kapaemāhū ā Kapuni) said to have once been four māhū healers are celebrated to this day.

Māhū history is also closely connected to the history of hula (often performed by men before colonial gender roles were enforced) and hula itself continues to be seen by many practitioners as an androgynous tradition. The deity of Hula, Laka, is themself/herself sometimes seen as a non-binary figure.

Kaiulani (1875 – 1899), the niece of Queen Liliuokalani, on one of the stones before they were restored. Photographer unknown.

After colonization, māhū were persecuted. For nearly 10 years, they were made to wear buttons that declared the gender they were assigned at birth. The Glade Show Lounge was a place where māhū could find community, safety, and work in the second half of the 20th Century. The film producer Connie Florez says “I have old pictures of signage that say ‘no māhūs’ allowed in this restaurant, ‘no māhūs’ allowed in the pool hall…. and yet we have this going on right here in Hawaii within our own indigenous culture of mahus.” She describes how The Glade was “a haven for a lot of gays and māhū during the time.” 

In our own moment when trans* people and drag performers are the target of so much harmful legislation by colonial governments, there is a lot to learn both from The Glade and from the long history of the celebration of queer communities by the Indigenous communities of Hawaii. As Carol Robertson writes “these rituals come alive in the ever-changing web of gender and spirituality, and they bear witness to the belief systems that have allowed the māhū to survive and flourish in the creative context of performance.”


Robertson, Carol E. “The Mahu of Hawai’i.” Feminist studies 15, no. 2 (1989).

Dillon Ancheta. “Hawaii’s ‘Glades era’ was glamorous. But it was also the darkest time for LGBTQ+ performers.” Hawaii News Now. 2022.

Queer Music Heritage (website). 2000-2015.

The Healing Stones of Kapaemahu. Last accessed 17-April-2023. **Highly recommend this one as a starting place**

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