Sefanaia Waqabaca is a 'feminine' or 'gay'. A hair stylist in one of Suva city's most frequented hair salons, he's not hiding the fact that he is.
"Not a problem! Shoot, I'm very open," he reassures me of my asking if he doesn't mind being asked personal questions about his lifestyle.
With his short styled bleached blonde hair, jeans, tee-shirt and a scarf, Sefa (as he prefers to be called with due respect to his namesake) says he wouldn't be caught dead in a skirt or dress for that matter. And he doesn't go by some chic nickname either.
Tall, slim, humble and always polite, he describes himself and others like him "feminine". Feminine in the sense that he walks, speaks and acts like a woman.
Sefa says he always felt girlish as he was growing up. "Even though it was something new to me, I felt comfortable about it. To me, it was a case of "follow your heart."
"I take my lifestyle seriously. It's not some experimental game I'm playing or whatever - it's something I treasure, it's not vakasabusabu kind -of-stuff.
"I was feminine while in school - I did play rugby once in secondary school, but I was more into volleyball, but that didn't mean I did not mingle with the guys in school.
Sefa grew up with family and relatives who were in the military. He was respectful of others and his elders and mindful of his actions around them. And contrary to people's beliefs, "I don't lust after every guy I see."
"Being gay is something that I treasure, I don't throw myself around. I prefer a stable long term relationship with a partner," he says.
Sefa says he has questioned himself about his lifestyle many times. "Sometimes I wonder why I'm like this, especially when I face criticism and taunts from people I pass on the street. I don't like being called names like qauri, pufta, get sworn at ... it hurts - you just wish you could explain to them that 'hey, it's not my choice to be this way, but something that's in me. I grew up with it!"
"We don't like to be called names - nobody wants to be humiliated in public. I wish people would just open their minds and understand that we're human beings just like them."
Sefa says although he's comfortable with himself, it's the name calling that hurts. "Maybe they say 'qauri', 'pufta' it's the same as me calling them karokaro backside or something." Sefa prefers to smile away insults instead of replying with smart, sarcastic remarks - a common reaction from "sisters".
"I don't blame people for being close-minded about gays because society has hammered it into their heads that we're evil and bad. That mindset is hard as a rock in people's minds now and its so hard to break.
Sefa says he is a Christian. He grew up in a Methodist family. He believes in God but says a person's choice of lifestyle is their own.
"Who are they to judge?" he asks of people who say it is against the laws written in the Bible. "If God says he created us in his image, how come we are like this?" Sefa says only God should judge him, and no one else.
Sefa was part of a christian youth program once but he says that doesn't change who or what you are.
"We prayed and asked for forgiveness, but that doesn't change who you are, or what you are. The biggest downfall is that when you try to move on and there's brothers sitting over there trying to do something on you, and you're like "I thought I came here to see the light?"
"I would understand why Christians would go against this kind of thing because they're basing it from the bible."
"I'm a positive thinker - I take what I think is right and drop what I think is wrong with me. But deep down, I know that I'm right with the decision about myself, ha!ha!" he laughs. "No! I couldn't help it!" - he says with finality about being gay.
Sefa reckons there's a scientific explanation to a male behaving feminine. They just have more female genes than masculine.
Although he knew his parents noticed his odd behaviour while growing up, they never did sit him down to ask him what was going on with his life and emotions, or try to advise him out of it. Only, once in a while, one of his uncles would blurt out "E, vakoukoua tiko!" (Hey, be strong like a man!);
Sefa says there must have been disappointments because there were already preparations for him to get married and build a house.
"I did the unexpected."
"I felt that what I was doing was acceptable to my family. When I finally had a partner and took him home, no one said anything."
"People use gay people for fundraising drives and a good number of us are very active in social, voluntary assistance works and human rights campaigns, so when people talk about this "equality" thing, then how come gay relationships don't get recognised?" he comments.
Sefa says being in a gay relationship whether it's male or female is "one's own choice". "To me, a gay relationship is no different from a normal heterosexual relationship. It's not only a physical thing but also our feelings and matters of the heart," he explains.
Sefa believes gay marriage should be legalised in Fiji because there are advantages.
The other night, he went home and thought about how when he was younger, he would be sitting with his aunts talking, and when one of his "queen" cousins walked past, his aunts would ask one another "Isa, who will look after him when he's old?"
"Marriage is about looking after each other. Till death do us part - let's grow old together kind of thing."
"Gays should be allowed to get married and look after each other. Then maybe, relatives would stop gossiping, judging and criticising."
Sefa says people generally see gays as triple "F'" (Fix, F and Forget). "I'm sure this thought has crossed the minds of parents of gay children and youths. They fear a lifestyle of diseases and multiple sex partners - so marriage is a good way to prevent or reduce this."
"Marriage would also boost the economy through gay tourists choosing Fiji as their holiday and wedding destinations.
"Legal marriage would also bind a couple together which would mean less promiscuous sexual behaviour."
Sefa himself broke off a five-year love relationship because both felt it was going nowhere. He says, when two people who love each other very much are not married, break-up is inevitable, as both don't feel responsible to commit.
"Being legally married is a form of recognition to the public that a couple belong together and is a good enough reason for the couple to stay faithful and committed until death," he says.
Ruby Taylor-Newton (Fiji Times) - 21 March 2010.