She was recently named as one of the hottest transgenders in the world, along with Carmen Carrera, a RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni. She was also recognized as one of the “famous transgenders from around the world” (sic). She is a fashion model and a budding actress living in Thailand.
What may not be as known about her is that she ran away from home at a very young age to do what she wanted to do: that is, to make a name for herself. And several years later, she succeeded.
Meet Fiona Solis, a transwoman who originated from Ormoc City.
Fiona calls herself as an “ongoing piece of performance art”. And this, with the countless things that happened in her life, only affirms who Fiona really is.
She grew up living with her grandmother, though she later moved in with her father. But because of the bitter relationship she had with her stepmother, Fiona decided to leave and start a new life on her own.
When Fiona was 15 years old, she was allegedly raped by three men. She recalled being asked to dance in front of them, and then she was forced to play with a 1.5 Coca Cola bottle in her ass, and then they abused her with guns pointed at her. But while it was a very traumatic moment in her life, Fiona used that situation to fight and become a better version of herself.
She worked in salons so she can earn a living. Eventually, Fiona discovered the world of beauty pageants.
“I was fascinated with the beautiful display of those women on stage. They are like gorgeous peacocks. And I identified very deeply with all the color and glitter,” Fiona said. “It might also have been a reaction to my mother dying when I was three months old. Perhaps I was trying to bring the femininity back into my life.”
Fiona first joined a beauty pageant when she was 10 years old. Luckily, she won the title.
It was in joining beauty contests that she “mastered the art of beauty” and used it to her advantage.
“Most of the transsexuals who were joining beauty pageants wanted their skin to be whiter, but I was not like them. I wanted to be who I am really. I’m proud of my skin,” Fiona said.
One of her achievements was when she joined Queen of Cebu, a prestigious transgender beauty pageant in the southern part of the country. She placed as one of the 21 finalists, chosen from over 100 participants. Even if she didn’t win the title, Fiona considers it as “the culmination of the display part of my life. It was a chance to be the ultimate peacock.”
For Fiona, “it was also a way to re-emphasize to the world how important it is to stand up and be yourself in the world.”
Aside from joining beauty pageants, Fiona is also active in the world of fashion. She has modeled for several brands internationally – in print, in TV, and in the runways. Some of her notable modeling appearances on TV include: a luxury paper bag in Italy, handbags, online poker games, and cosmetic surgery. She also did several runway fashion shows for some local and foreign designers.
“There have been many turning points in my career, and I hope there will be more in the future,” Fiona said. “I was very lucky to have a very supportive parent, my father.”
Although she already achieved and reached many successes in her life, Fiona still feels that “I have one more mountain to climb, which is the international pageant held in Pattaya, Thailand, the Queen International. After that, I hope to focus more on fashion and acting.”
She also noted that “I did grow up, we all have, in an environment where there is constant discrimination.” But instead of succumbing to the repression she encountered, she used it to reinforce her determination to stay in her course and to continue improving her craft.
“There have also been instances in government offices where I get odd looks from the officials every time they compare my appearance to the ones in my documents,” Fiona said, adding that for transgender people, “(we) have to go the extra mile just to be allowed to travel.”
Today, she lives and works in Thailand, juggling several jobs. She is a teacher and a tour guide, while she also waits for the agents to call her.
She said that the decision to live in another country was an “effort to escape the mild oppressive atmosphere of the Philippines when it comes to LGBTQ people.”
Fiona was also featured in several documentaries, and in radio and TV programs, where she discussed what it’s like to be a transgender. Here, she always narrates her experiences during her humble beginnings in Ormoc and Cebu, describing the ordeals of being a transgender.
She also posed for several photographers, depicting the “reality” of transgenders. One of which was by renowned photographer Ingetje Tadros, where Fiona was shot in full frontal, showing her genitalia.
“The (photography) project was a matter of being proud of who I am, all of me. I am a unique individual, head to toe. I am not ashamed of it. I am promoting LGBTQ awareness in my own little way, through my personal example,” Fiona said.
In a world where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is still pervasive, the likes of Fiona may be considered as unsung movers that do not always get recognition. But while she may be dismissed by many as just another pageant queen or a transgender model who is making her way in the world stage, in her journey, Fiona helps change perspectives by never forgetting who she really is. “I want to keep exploring this idea of personal creation and helping others do the same,” she said.
When asked what Filipino transgenders should do in times of repression, Fiona said: “We cannot let a set of outdated ideas on gender and roles dictate who we are, how we act, and what we do. Have personal integrity; love yourself first, not just the image in the mirror, but the person inside you as well. It is important for everyone to live a life that they can be proud of – that is the mark of success.”