HIV and AIDS awareness is a huge trend that has been overlooked by the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. This is especially so for the fa'afafine. July 19th, 2007 the Fa'afafine Association met to discuss HIV/AIDS related issues taking place in Apia (the capital of Samoa). For example churches in the South Pacific region teach their respective members to live by the word of God. This word of God is the bible and no where in the bible does it allow for homosexual, let alone a third separate gender of the fa'afafine. These particular churches struggle with these issues of HIV/AIDS due to sexual orientation and gender identity. They often find it difficult to communicate to communities most at risk of infection, so says Rachael Le Mesurier (Executive Director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation).
The one thing this meeting did was it recognized the equal human rights of fa'afafine. The fa'afafine is a third gender and they need to convince the church to give them equal rights. They must do this because of the influences churches have on most decisions especially in the South Pacific. Without these basic equal rights they will never be fully aware of the epidemic of HIV/AIDS that is increasingly taking over our minority population.
This is a post dedicated to the causes of this phenomenon called the "fa'afafine." The birth order has been a very interesting topic when taking into consideration the possible outcomes of having a fa'afafine in the family. First, the fa'afafine is generally decided by the parent's of the children... Or is it? Usually Samoans have many children in their respective families. Gynephilia refers to males that have a sexual attraction to adult females. On the other end of the spectrum is androphilia, which is the sexual attraction to adult males.
Now scientific studies show that we "compare the birth order of androphilic males (i.e. fa'afafine) and gynephilic males from the politically autonomous Polynesian nation of Independent Samoa. Results indicate that relative to gynephilic males, fa'afafine tend to have more siblings and are generally later born when birth order is quantified using Slater, fraternal and sororal indices. More specifically, fa'afafine tend to have a greater number of older brothers, older sisters and younger brothers" (The Royal Society 2007). That is kind of a very broad statement, but it basically states that usually the later born males in these Samoan families are genetically programmed to be androphilic which means they prefer men, which would be easier for them to assume the female role as the "fa'afafine."
I will focus on my own personal experience. I first learned of this fa'afafine through my uncle. He informed of this third gender in the Samoan culture and told us about how they were accepted and embraced into the Samoan lifestyle. This was disturbing at the time being, because I had always thought that Samoans were super human and super masculine like this picture depicts. Although, I was enlightened that this third gender was a huge part of the Samoan culture especially in the earlier stages in Samoan history. The fa'afafine was a key factor in the raising of Samoan youth and especially important in the household chorse in and around the home. The Samoan community is greatly effected by the fa'afafine. Especially, in American and Western Samoa where the fa'afafine is accepted and treated as an separate gender. In the United States there are groups and programs that are assembled to gain rights for this third gender.
Seeing that there wasn't too much on my particular topic within the current month. I opted to talk about a post in the Anchorage Alaska news. This basically states that the definition of the fa'afafine, pronounced (fah ah fee nay). It also describes how anthropologists argue the exact origins of this rare third gender, but do know that they do reside in the American and Western Samoa. It is actually not uncommon for many of the Pacific Islanders to have this so-called third gender in their communities.
Being that the fa'afafine is incapable of having children of their own they generally excel professionally. Many of these fa'afafines go on to become teachers and educators. Other notables is that they generally live with their extended families and tend to care for their aging parents because of the skills of being a good housekeeper and babysitters.
Sexuality and the fa'afafine is quite the complicated topic. They are seen as women, but have the ability of a man. Fa'afafines see themselves as women. Some fa'afafines go on living their lives as a woman with a man and others leave their female identity behind and marry a woman so that they can procreate. Due to the Western culture and it's influential effects society and the media's perceptions of what is proper and what is not? Many of these fa'afafines have been so moved by western society and have decided to alter their own bodies in order to achieve a more permanent physical change.
This is short clip of a documentary about this Samoan culture. Wildly flirtatious by night and dutifully domestic by day, the stunningly beautiful fa’fafines of Western Samoa are accepted as boys who live as girls; even within their strictly Christian society. Moving easily from the role of housewife to drag queen, the colourful personalities of the fa’fafines are loved by Samoans and tourists alike. Paradise Bent presents an intimate portrait of three fa’fafines in the lead up to the annual ‘’Queen of Samoa’’ beauty contest, exploring the personal, sexual and social spirit of the fa’fafines culture of Western Samoa.
This is Pejay Clark a 30 year old man who describes himself a Samoan. He does this because Samoan Culture accepts individuality, but it also accepts and embraces diversity.
Pejay is respected in Samoa, "because he does his job of a fa'afafine better than any woman can" so he says. "We're the the important ones, not the real girls," said Pejay.
Pejay is a fa'afafine born a man, but assumes this transgendered role which is accepted in the Samoan society. Pejay who has 11 siblings made her own decision to be a fa'afafine. "I am a woman trapped in a man's body," Pejay said.
Fa'afafines have relationships with straight me, as the men are attracted to the idealized feminine appearances that the fa'afafine portrays.
This story seems like a regular story of the Samoan culture being accepting towards diversity.
There is another story about a Sonny Vaetoa, 26 who was raised in Auckland, but identifies himself as Samoan because of his heritage. In Australia, Sonny calls himself a mala, a gay man who undertakes female skewed jobs involving physical activity such as plantation work and collecting coconuts.
If Sonny had been raised in Samoa, he feels he would be live a third category according to Samoan culture, undercover, where men live a heterosexual life, but enjoy homosexual relations on the side. "I'd have a wife and children. My family is quite religious," he said.
I personally don't agree with Sonny's idea of the fa'afafine. It totally goes against the true Samoan Culture of the fa'afafine.
Both Pejay and Sonny cited the 1999 Australian-funded documentary, A Paradise Bent: Boys Will be Girls in Samoa, featuring television personality fa'afafine Cindy as the speaker for homosexuality.
A Samoan male that dresses, behaves and is accepted in Samoan culture as a "Fa'afafine," which is a separate sexual identity in itself. I will dive further into interesting topic as I continue to blog. John Thomas Togiai