Joey Joleen MataeleQualia Folk

Joey Joleen Siosaia Mataele (born 1964) is a leiti, a Tongan identity that corresponds with transwoman. She is an activist for HIV & AIDS awareness and LGBTIQ issues in Tonga and the South Pacific. She is also a personal assistant to Her Majesty, the Queen Mother of Tonga.

“Leiti” is short for fakaleiti, becoming or acting like a lady (“leiti” is taken from the English word, “lady”).

Mataele put together the annual Miss Galaxy Pageant, a fundraiser to provide scholarships to young leitis for advanced education. She is also the co-founder and Executive Director of the Tonga Leiti’s Association (TLA), an organization for all LGBTQ in Tonga, and the co-founder of the Pacific Sexual Diversity Network (PSDN), a network for Men Seeking Men (MSM) and transpeople.


I have witnessed first hand the harassment and discrimination suffered by many leitis in the region. Given the culture of the Pacific which is open to humour, song and dance, I founded the Miss Air New Zealand Galaxy Queen Pageant in order to raise awareness and visibility and to support the leiti community.

Special Awards

1996: Silver Jubilee Medal by His Late Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou 1V – Humanitarian Work with the Disability and Sexual Minority Groups.

2008: Awarded with the “Order Of Queen Salote” Medal

On Being Fakaleiti in Tonga

I am a high school dropout. I left high school because I couldn’t handle the daily Physical and verbal abuse that I got from some of the teachers and older students so I decided to leave high school when I was 14 years of age. Started working at the International Dateline Hotel as a Housemaid, then to the Front desk(Reception) as a tea Lady then one day the phone operator left for the ladies and the Phone rang and I answered it and to my surprise it was the General Manager of the Hotel calling from his house and just from that answering of the phone I got promoted to be a telephone operator and sang at night at the same hotel during the dinner time. After 3 years Winner, I won the First Company Excellence Award – 1979 and I earned enough money and left to NZ to search for something more and fortunately a relative of mine connected me to the right person and I Graduated from School of Hair and Beauty, Manukau Institute of Technology [in Aukland, New Zealand].

“Tonga Leitis Association (TLA) President Joey Joleen Mataele waves to a friend in Nuku`alofa, Tonga. Ms Mataele says that among other things, Pacific Islands HIV and STI Response Fund support has enabled annual HIV testing for each of the association’s members. ‘We want the rights of TLA members to be protected by the law, by the police. When people are raped, the risk of HIV is definitely there. There have been cases of rape and many haven’t been reported,’ says Ms Mataele.”, August, 2015.

On the Stigma of Fakaleiti

[Fakaleiti] situates them [laitis] outside the normal Anga FakaTonga [Tongan ways] mainly because their distinctive behaviours are perceived as falling outside the Anga FakaTonga awareness of acceptable behaviour and attitude. It positions leitis as “children of the devil.” They are variously described as being at-risk, vulnerable, stigmatized, and lacking agency. Moreover, their lives are equated with having a lack of hope and mobility so they are seen as being on a pathway that leads to poverty and isolation from normative model and space in Tongan society. We recognized that through positioning outside the normal Anga FakaTonga, there is a tendency to perceive them in a simplistic way and thus treat them as a marginal community…

Joleen along with the President of Fiji Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Actress Laxmi and Dr JVR Prasada Rao in Thailand at the International Congress of AIDS and AIDS Prevention 2011

Acceptance in Her Catholic Parish

I am very much a Catholic and a true believer in my religion. I am one of the first soprano singers for Nuku’alofa Parish Choir and it has been a great experience coming from one extreme in life to the other, and to be accepted in my Parish as a leiti is something that I would never thought it would come to this. Growing up in a country that is so rich in culture and religion, it is a milestone that we come to an understanding and that I am able to work with my parish in peace and harmony – and as a leiti.

Identity as a Woman

I refer to myself as a woman because I sleep, work, and do everything in my daily life as a Woman but because our National IDs still says “male” and our government still won’t give us the right to choose which gender we would prefer to be called we use the term “leiti” as our identity which is taken from a later Western research word “fakaleiti” or “like a Lady.” We do not use the term “Trans” at anytime in our daily lives. We use “leiti” all the time because its sounds more appropriate.

Every sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is spiritual because we are all created by God. No one in this forsaken world will tell me that I was created by Satan because I do not have a Satan body nor a Satan face.

– Joleen Mataete and Mickey Weems
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