Imagining a world without diversity, culture and the full rainbow of gender identities is a very dull prospect. Recognising and celebrating the expression these human values attains us healthier and stronger.
A world without the colorful and ecstatic celebration that is Australia’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras? No thanks.
Cue the Tiwi Sistagirls. A transgender community of around 40 who reside in the Tiwi Islands, a small group of islands around 100 km north of Darwin and officially part of the Northern Territory.
The Sistagirls who have given themselves this name, as a sign of self-respect and the desire to shun a western label have overcome many challenges to generate for themselves a vibrant and supportive network where they now feel confident and safe.
Now they have set themselves a new challenge: Making a 3,212 kilometre( that’s 1195 miles) journey to Sydney, joining LGBTQ communities from all around Australia in the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras the world’s biggest pride parade. But to do it, they need the internet’s help. The Sistas are crowdfunding.
Though relatively close to the mainland of Australia, the Tiwi Islands have a unique Indigenous culture in comparison to the Aboriginal cultures and traditions of their closest neighbours. You can see it in their art and within their Dreaming.
Growing up in such a close-knit community of around 3,000 people who hold is not merely their cultures close, but also Catholicism coming out as a Sistagirl was never going to be easy.
Senior Sistagirl Sean Kerinainua, who lives in the community of Wurrumiyanga, recalls the experience of coming out as tough.
Above: A scene featuring senior Sistagirl, Crystal Love, from the documentary Sistagirl . “My experience coming out to my family first was challenging until they were trained. We are all Catholic on the island, so that induced it harder, they say it’s taboo to be homosexual if you are Catholic, ” Sean told Mashable .
“My Mum, known that she has a transgender child in her family went on to seek education and pass it on to my father, who was strictly the dominant male in my family line. My family now espouses the LGBTQI community.”
Sadly, this acceptance did not come as easy for other members of the Sistagirl community. Due to consistent verbal abuse and racism, several Sistagirls took their own lives in 2003 to 2004.
“It is the priority in our life that culture is a must for us, ” said Sean.
Knowing that there was a desperate need for education and adoption within the Tiwi community, and to prevent any more similar tragedies, the Sistagirls organised a special ceremony in 2008 to both honour the lives and the struggles of those who had passed on, and also let the community is recognized that enough was enough.
“The main focus was saying that for too long “weve been” subjected to discrimination and not accepted in community. We said ‘The more we don’t stand together, the more family members you will lose who identify as Sistagirl, lesbian or lesbian.’ Since that time, the main thing that is good is that there have been no suicides, ” Sean said.
Since that time, there has been a wider acceptance of what it means to be a Sistagirl living in a traditional society. Culture still comes first. “It is the priority in our life that culture is a must for us, if we don’t have our culture, we don’t identity ourselves within the community itself, ” said Sean.
And when it comes time to dance at ceremony, Sistagirls are able to choose whether they dance a male or female portion. It’s a change that they would like to see extend further in to their everyday lives, especially in the area of healthcare.
“There is still stigma towards us receiving health services. It’s very hard to access. If daughters want to transition, it’s hard to access hormone therapy. Having STI screenings we still have to use the male side. In the future we would like there to be services for all. Especially for the young ones coming up. We want them to have physical and emotional well-being, ” said Sean.
More senior Sistagirls take on a nurturing role now. “The most important thing that we do to keep ourselves strong as Sistagirls is coming together every Thursday, Sunday and Monday at the beach, we assemble round, we bring food, we come and share it amongst each other. We sing traditional anthems, we have traditional dancing, these sorts of bonding strengthens us to empower ourselves within the wider community as well.”
The Sistagirls are dreaming of experiencing this bond beyond their own community. Plans are in place for all of the Sistas to travel to Sydney for the 2017 Mardi Gras, where they will celebrate with pride of place among the countrys wider LGBTQ groups.
“Mardi Gras is such an all-inclusive place. I think it will be overwhelming and a culture shock for us, coming from a really small community to thousands and thousands of people in Oxford Street! ” Kerinainua says, “[ Being involved] will give us confidence in ourselves.”
What many of us take for granted, the Sistagirls are still hoping to experience for themselves.
“Our ideal life would one day be for one of the girls to walk in the community with their development partners, to be able to walk down the road holding hands with their development partners. Our community have accepted us for who we are but that other portion is missing, that connection with a soul mate.”
A fundraising party is taking place in Sydney this Friday night with a fabulous line up of entertainers, to help the Tiwi Sistagirls achieve their dream of being part of the 2017 Mardi Gras. Head along to party and donate, or visit their Go Fund Me page.