Tonga tries to shut the closet door on '50/50 men'

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The Independent Online
NUKU'ALOFA - Days after Tonga held its annual Miss Galaxy Queen transvestite beauty pageant, an education official complained that the islands' schools were turning out too many 'fakafefine' or 50/50 men.

Tonga's Deputy Director of Education, 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, said her department was seeking more male teachers to discourage boys with such tendencies.

Most of Polynesia has a transvestite culture, known in Tongan as 'fakafefine' or 'fakaleiti', which means broadly 'a man acting like a woman'. In Samoa, locals translate the term as '50/50'. The culture appears to have its origins in a custom to even out gender numbers in big families with more boys than girls. Two centuries ago Captain Cook wrote vividly of a travelling band of transvestite entertainers in Tahiti.

Joe Mataele, vice-president of the association which organised the Miss Galaxy Queen competition, says that from childhood, he has grown up 'acting like a woman'. He, too, has noticed that there are more fakafefine boys.' They are becoming more open about what they are,' he said.

The Miss Galaxy Queen '93 beauty contest was timed to upstage tomorrow's female beauty contest, marking the annual Heilala Festival and the 75th birthday of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. This year's Miss Galaxy was Vivian, a hairdresser. Transvestites dominate Polynesia's fabric and tailoring trades. Many others are hairdressers and make-up artists.

Few Polynesian transvestites undergo sex- change operations, Mr Mataele said. He knew of only three Tongans who had done so. 'A fakafefine can be anything - lesbian, bisexual, homosexual, or heterosexual, but it seems mostly to be men who are homosexuals.'

He said that Tonga did not discriminate against men acting like women. 'Straight people seem to notice that we gays are much more helpful than normal people. We work harder and offer better service. Tonga is an example to the rest of the world.'