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Fa'afafine are people who identify themselves as a third-gender in Samoa, American Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized gender identity/gender role since at least the early 20th century in Samoan society, and some theorize an integral part of traditional Samoan culture, fa'afafine are male at birth, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits, fashioned in a way unique to this part of the world. Their behavior typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to conventionally masculine.
Traditionally, if a family had more boys than girls or not enough girls to help with women's duties about the house, male children would be chosen to be raised as fa'afafine.
It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa'afafine.
The word fa'afafine includes the causative prefix fa'a–, meaning "in the manner of", and the word fafine, meaning "woman". It is cognate with linguistically related words in other Polynesian languages, such as the Tongan fakafefine (also fakaleiti), the Maori whakawahine, the Cook Islands Maori akava'ine, and similar to the Hawaiian concept of mahu.
Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa
The Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa or "The Sosaiete o Fa’afafine in American Samoa" (S.O.F.I.A.S) is an organization designed to foster collaboration between the fa'afafine and the LGBTI in both American Samoa, Asia Pacific region, and the world. SOFIAS describes itself as an organization dedicated to balancing both Samoan values with western influences and aims to promote a positive attitude toward the Samoan fa'afafine community. The reigning Miss SOFIAS is Arykah Fonoti.
Role in Samoan society
Fa'afafine are known for their hard work and dedication to the family, in the Samoan tradition of tautua. Ideas of the family in Samoa and Polynesia are markedly different from Western constructions, and include all the members of a sa, or communal family within the fa'amatai family systems.
It is a mistake to attribute a Western interpretation to fa'afafine by mislabeling them as "gay," "homosexual," or "drag queens." In Samoa, people claim that there is no such thing as being "gay" or "homosexual." Fa'afafine, as a third gender, have sexual relationships almost exclusively with men who do not identify as fa'afafine, and sometimes with women, but apparently not with other fa'afafine. This third gender is so well-accepted in Samoan culture that most Samoans state that they have friendship relationships with at least one fa'afafine; it is, however, not totally accepted in other communities, such as some Catholic groups and traditional leaders. Traditionally, fa'afafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an Aiga (Samoan family group).
Being a fa'afafine is said to be thoroughly enjoyable by this group. Many would state that they "loved" engaging in feminine activities as children, such as playing with female peers, playing female characters during role play, dressing up in female clothes, and playing with female gender-typical toys. This is in contrast to women who stated that they merely "liked" engaging in those activities as children. Some fa'afafine recall believing they were girls in childhood, but knew better as adults. In Samoa, there is very seldom ridicule or displeasure towards a biologically male child who states that they are a girl. For instance, one study showed only a minority of parents (20 percent) tried to stop their fa'afafine children from engaging in feminine behavior. Being pushed into the male gender role is upsetting to many fa'afafine. A significant number stated that they "hated" masculine play, such as rough games and sports, even more than females did as children.
- Edward Cowley aka "Buckwheat" – a popular performer and television personality from Australia.
- Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann – a medical professional, Justice of the Peace, and gay activist from New Zealand. In the 2001 New Year Honours, Pulotu-Endemann was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Public Health.
- Shigeyuki Kihara – a contemporary artist whose work has been featured in numerous museum exhibitions art galleries around the world. Her solo exhibition, Shigeyuki Kihara: Living Photographs (2008-9), was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first exhibition of contemporary Samoan art.
- Marion Malena – a multiple beauty pageant winner and performer from American Samoa currently living in Seattle.
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