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Accept me for who I am Tyra and Fibby's story

Geraldine Panapasa
Sunday, August 26, 2012

"CALL us what you like, it doesn't make us any different from the rest of you" - that was the reaction from two contestants at this year's Adi Senikau pageant at the Vodafone Hibiscus Festival.

Sure they appear a certain way most wouldn't approve of, talk and walk a certain way most think makes them look 'silly' - but at the end of the day, they're humans with feelings like the rest of us.

I've worked with the transgender community on several occasions highlighting their various commitments and projects towards a non-discriminatory and equal society. This time around, I had the pleasure of meeting two very unique individuals - Tyra, 18, and Fibby Rounds, an 18-going-on 19-year-old first time participant.

Now these two I'm told are the youngest of the 12 contestants vying for the top title at the Bank of Baroda-sponsored event which will bring together contenders from Central and Western divisions, as well as the Cook Islands.

They certainly stood out from afar as they made their way to our meeting spot outside the Bulaccino Cafe at Garden City in Raiwai. The duo was accompanied by their photography-passionate friend who's studying graphic arts.

Tyra caught my eye first - wearing a loose somewhat Egyptian-inspired blouse over skinny jeans - it was definitely the hair that gave away that Tyra Banks look and flashy eyelashes.

Fibby also played it casual - a white T-shirt with MAN UTD in big bold prints over a pair of jeans and classy shades to match. It was a Wednesday and in two days, these two lads would have a totally different look, Goddess-like to be exact because of their sassy theme this year, "Bring out the Goddess in You".

When you think or hear Adi Senikau, automatically you picture a group of male cross-dressers prancing around the stage in glittering costumes. But they're not clowns to laugh at, they're actually human beings with 'real' issues that need to be addressed and understood by society.

Do they choose to be this way? Are their families OK with the way they are? Have they experienced bullying, prejudice or abuse in any form because of their personality? These questions and more were lashed out during our chat and both were surprisingly very vocal about their 'real' selves.

"This is just who I am. My family are very supportive of who I am. I don't try to be anyone else but myself. Being the youngest of seven siblings, I've never faced any sort of bullying for being me. When they heard I was joining Adi Senikau this year, they told me 'Go for it' and that's why I'm here," Fibby says.

"I can deal with the comments that people throw my way. It doesn't get to me because they're not buying my bread and butter."

Tyra, who finished high school last year at Ratu Sukuna Memorial, looked a bit sensitive to the issue but quickly livened up her mood with that 'stuff-them' expression.

"Some people have passed comments about the way I am. Those in our neighbourhood don't mistreat us or call us names. It's mostly those who are new to the area that calls us degrading names - though I haven't been physically abused, punched or beaten," he said.

"Some of those words are hurtful but I don't let it get me down. My own family have accepted who I am and they're very supportive. I look at my mom as my role model. Being like this in front of her is not an issue. I'm very helpful to her in terms of doing the housework and lending a hand when I can around the house.

"My older sister is married and I'm the youngest of three siblings. Some people think they cannot socialise with us because we're like this. For us, it's not an issue because we socialise with everyone and we don't discriminate."

Fibby adds, "Yes, when it comes to socialising, we can go there. The educated ones understand who we are but some uneducated ones refuse to understand or accept us the way we are."

Both have one aim in mind apart from the main title - they hope to spread awareness on equality and rights of the transgender community. You don't have to look beyond their outgoing personalities to know how talented they can be.

Tyra revealed before Friday's big event that he's hoping to take the first runner-up and best talent awards. Why not go straight for the main title, I wondered?

"I think I'll aim for those two first this year, and maybe next year I'll try and aim for the main title," Tyra said feeling content with her aim.

"Oh no! I'm going straight for the main title," Fibby quipped. "You know being called names or teased is not the only stigma we face.

"The new challenge is bullying from members of our own transgender community, telling us we don't have what it takes to join such pageants because we're young and don't have experience like they do on the main stage.

"We can do anything they can do. What do they have that we don't? That's the new challenge now but Suli Waqa has been very supportive and encouraging. Tyra has participated in our pageants. She's the reigning Priscilla that was held at Friends Nighclub and Bar.

"We faced criticism from the older googoos but there were some that encouraged us to do our best. We're contesting from Suva and the older ones say this year the title will go to the West. They underestimate our talent and our creativity - despite all that, we're still participating," said Fibby who later revealed his talent - entertaining the crowd in Filipino - "The googoo way of speaking Filipino that is," he later clarified much to our amusement.

Both had nothing but praise for former Hibiscus Queen Merewalesi Nailatikau who donated a couple of gowns and helped a great deal with their preparation.

According to Tyra who chose to be Goddess Aphrodite - the Greek goddess of love and beauty - the theme for Adi Senikau tied in well with their aim to advocate for love towards the transgender community by seeing the beauty within.

Fibby a.k.a Goddess Aurora from Roman mythology, is also the Goddess of Morning - an important factor to starting a new day with more understanding and acceptance towards their community.

A lot of people look forward to the Adi Senikau pageant which was spearheaded by Joe Gray in 1999 - it has grown to attract a lot of attention but if you're open-minded and appreciative like President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau who was chief guest in 2009, you'd agree that being at the Adi Senikau pageant is your own little way of showing our transgender community some 'love'.

Here's Ratu Epeli's famous line at the Adi Senikau pageant in 2009 that left the audience applauding with delight and appreciation:

"I know some of you are here tonight because you're maybe just a bit interested ... but majority of us who are here, we're here because we love this event - that's why we're here. We love this event and we love these people who are here.

"There are some people out there who don't agree with this but let me tell you this - the majority of people out there in Fiji love you all."

And with that, the Adi Senikau pageant came to close after a week of celebrating creativity, performance and wearable art from our transgender community.

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