Tahiti has a strong “rae-rae” or transgender culture. There are no known or official LGBT groups in Tahiti because there’s simply no need for it. Not only is gender equality high, but the acceptance of homosexuality and transgender(ism) is in the culture. Many historic versions explain that it was the Tahitian culture long ago to raise one of your sons as a girl. While this is not common anymore, most of the transgender population of Tahiti enjoy a happy lifestyle without job or social discrimination.
The check-in staff of the Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island looked at our booking, then glanced at her desk calendar. “Ahh, Mr & Mrs Lim, you are just in time for the Miss Poehine pageant tonight!”, she beamed.
“Bora-Bora’s annual beauty pageant“, she explained, tucking a frangipani flower behind each of our ears. “I hope to see you there!”
We then spent the entire day snorkelling and swimming. I was ravenous and tired by the evening I just wanted to order pizza and sleep.
I glanced towards the main island of Sofitel Bora Bora and saw light shows from a distance. “The pageant!!! We must go!”
We immediately called for the speedboat transfer (which was on-demand) and asked to be taken to the main island to watch the show.
The evening was cool and as the speedboat neared the main island, I can hear the music and drum beats getting louder.
One of the first things that struck me upon reaching the island was the smell of grilled/smoked seafood. It was marvelous. We followed our nose to find a big feast being prepared Polynesian style, which is to cook /smoke the food inside a hole in the ground.
And minutes later, this was presented:
And then an announcement came via microphone. The pageant is about to start and everyone was urged to get a table.
As the contestants were introduced one by one to the stage, I saw a quiet group on the side. I looked at their sashes.
They were last year’s winners!
She spoke only french but graciously agreed to have my photo taken with her.
Back on stage, Rihanna’s “Te Amo” was playing. A very slender and graceful figure sashays across the stage.
“Contestant number 4 comes from the island of Huahine. She likes fishing, and spending time with family and friends.”
Then there was a talent segment. Most of them danced. And an interview segment, which was mostly in French.
Soon winners were announced, and I came over to congratulate everyone. Runners-up, organisers, and the newly-crowned Miss Poehine 2012 herself.
French Polynesia may not be the most advanced country. Yet we can all learn from their celebration and acceptance of transgenders. The pageant wasn’t treated like a drag show or some novelty. It’s a regular, normal pageant no different to any Miss (female) Tahiti pageant.