Roymata Holmes taps into his Cook Island Maori roots to explore his gender fluidity through drag queen Miss MarToya

Home Arts Roymata Holmes taps into his Cook Island Maori roots to explore his gender fluidity through drag queen Miss MarToya
Roymata Holmes taps into his Cook Island Maori roots to explore his gender fluidity through drag queen Miss MarToya

It takes about three hours for Roymata Holmes to become Miss MarToya.

But for the 30-year-old performer, the transformation has been a lifetime in the making.

“Oooh Miss MarToya … I think she’s always been there. She’s definitely a lot sassier than me. She’s a lot more confident in terms of getting what she wants,” Roymata said.

At 185 centimetres tall – and even taller in stiletto heels – the drag queen stands out in a crowd.

With a full face of make-up, sparkly silver jumpsuit and curly wig, the sassy Miss MarToya is almost unrecognisable from her creator.

Miss Martoya arrives at a show in a silver dress.
Miss MarToya arriving at a showing of Kinky Boots in Townsville. (ABC News: Lily Nothling)

“When I got into drag … it really reminded me how much I had been kind of hiding within myself and suppressing that fun-like energy I had when I was a kid,” Roymata said.

“It’s liberating being Miss MarToya on stage.

“There’s just something about letting go that I find I can do in Miss MarToya, because there’s no boundaries with a drag performer.”

While the glittery diva is the ultimate scene stealer, her creator Roymata Holmes is a little less flamboyant but no less engaging.

His presence fills whatever space he’s in – be that a dance studio or a warehouse gym.

With natural athleticism and a dancer’s poise, his demeanour is one of calm confidence. His comments are considered.

Roymata – Mata to his friends – is a performer, a dancer, a fitness instructor and a massage therapist.

It’s quite a mixture of roles – and he loves them all.

Roymata Holmes lifting weights
Roymata identifies as gender fluid.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

Roymata’s preferred pronouns are changeable, as is his gender expression.

“In Cook Island Māori culture, we definitely have a fluidity within our masculine and feminine energies,” he said.

“I identify as gender fluid, and for me I find that just makes sense for who I am.

“Some days you might feel more male. Some days you might feel more female — there’s no real rule.

“I’m comfortable accepting both … it’s allowed me to not be so much in my head or too caught up in thinking how I should be acting, or the way other people expect me to act.

“But I wouldn’t say I’ve found myself. I’d definitely say it’s still a daily process that I’m having to check in with myself.

“I find sometimes we want to be included in certain social groups that we have to act a certain way to be welcomed. But I find if you just be yourself, then you’ll find the right people … just by being authentic.”

Roymata looking into a mirror while applying makeup.
Roymata says Cook Island Maori culture has a fluidity within masculine and feminine energies.(ABC News: Lily Nothling)

‘I’ve learnt and put it in a big mixing pot’

Miss MarToya (an anagram of Roymata) was created during the 2020 COVID lockdowns in Brisbane, when Roymata’s hopes of developing a dance career were shelved while the performing arts sector was shut down.

“Since that journey, she’s definitely evolved into something strong, something powerful, who can stand up for others if they’re feeling vulnerable or need a bit of guidance,” he said.

Roymata Holmes applying makeup.
Roymata Holmes says Miss MarToya was created during COVID lockdown.
 (ABC News: Lily Nothling)

Miss MarToya made her debut through Brisbane’s drag scene last year and has gone on to perform at festivals in Sydney and Byron Bay, with a one-person show Roymata wrote himself.

The show, I am King I am Queen, shows his transformation from a child in league-loving Townsville to a dancer and the evolution of his drag persona.

Miss Martoya in a sparkling pink dress.
Roymata says Miss MarToya has “always been there”. (ABC News: Sally Eeles)

Through dance, poetry and music, Roymata explores his cultural roots, his religious upbringing, his sexuality, love and vulnerability.

“It’s a fun way to incorporate my dance and performing background and interject that into this drag character that can take all the skills and knowledge that I’ve learnt and put it in a big mixing pot and throw it out on stage – a feast for the audience,” he said.

“It’s such a beautiful story and so educational … a powerful piece,” director Tess Hill explained.

“Roymata is one of the most creatively fascinating people I’ve ever met – coming from a dance background but with such wonderful instincts for storytelling,” she said.

“He has such range as a mover and I think it’s really beautiful to watch – the change from King to Queen.”

Tess Hill and Miss Martoya at a rehearsal in a dance studio.
Director Tess Hill says Roymata has storytelling instincts. (ABC News: Sally Eeles)

Roymata was born in Townsville in 1992, the same year his parents moved there from New Zealand. He has two older siblings, Kit and Edric, and two younger ones – April and Valentine.

Kit is a carer for April, who has Down Syndrome. Edric is a carpenter. Valentine is a rugby league star who plays with the North Queensland Cowboys and represents Australia.

Roymata’s face lights up when he speaks about his younger sister, April. As children, the pair would sneakily experiment with their mother’s makeup.

“April always had such positivity, such energy. She made me feel seen and made me feel comfortable … in a safe space without feeling any judgement … or feel like I’ll be mocked for playing with nail polish,” he said.

Roymata Holmes swings from a chin up bar.
Roymata Holmes works as a gym trainer.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

‘I wasn’t quite sure where I belonged’

Growing up, the brothers were very competitive and sport dominated their childhood.

From athletics, the boys pursued rugby union and rugby league but as teenagers, each found their niche.

For Roymata, it was dance. He auditioned and was accepted to study ballet and contemporary dance in Wellington, New Zealand.

But his passion began earlier, while learning traditional Cook Island dancing as a child.

“My niche definitely tapped into my Cook Island dancing and performing onstage at such a young age,” he said.

“Learning the culture really shaped me living in Australia.

“I wasn’t quite sure where I belonged. A lot of people at primary school just assumed I was Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander because of the colour of my skin. Then when I went home and asked mum and she said, `No, you’re from the Cook Islands’.”

Miss Martoya with some of her family.
Roymata grew up in a large family in Townsville.(Supplied)

For Roymata’s mother, Lucy, culture and religion was central to raising her large family.

“The most important thing for my children was the language … they needed to know where they come from,” she said.

“I wanted to teach them about my culture – where I’m from and to try to picture that in their minds — what I feel … and Roymata was the one that was always wanting to know more.”

Roymata was the shyest of her five children, and Lucy admits she was surprised when she first saw him in drag.

“I didn’t recognise him with all the make-up … the dress, the head pieces – it’s like it’s a different person,” she said.

“I’m just in awe of what he does … I can’t believe it’s him, I really can’t.

“I am a born again Christian and whatever my children do, it’s up to them, it’s their life – as long as they do it where they are not hurting anyone else, where they are loving towards other people.”

Roymata says having Miss MarToya helped when he was explaining his gender fluidity to his family.

By embedding elements of his Cook Island heritage in his performances, he also feels a closer connection to his culture.

“You feel celebrated. It’s pretty fantastic,” he said.

While he believes Miss MarToya will have a big future, Roymata is not sure he wants to do drag full-time.

Roymata lifting weights.
Roymata says he still enjoys his work outside of Miss MarToya . 

He still loves to dance and he’s also enjoying being a fitness trainer and massage therapist.

“Once you’re a dancer, you’re always dancing. The connection of your mind and body will never leave you, so I found transferring that energy into fitness and massage just made sense.”

At the Morningside gym where he’s a trainer, Roymata engages with every person in his class, offering praise and encouragement as he works out with them.

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