Samoa’s ‘third gender’ delicately scales intercourse and faith

APIA, Samoa (Reuters) – Keyonce Lee Hang is hectic completing products your to’ona’i, a traditional lunch served after Sunday chapel in Samoa, and attending to their elderly, bed-ridden grandmother.

Strongly built and wearing a floral outfit and untrue eyelashes – and self-named after American vocalist Beyonce – Lee Hang can’t let but generate an entry, especially when she shows up for Sunday chapel inside her ideal clothes.

Genetically male, Lee Hang try a Samoan fa’afafine, a term that translates as “in the way of a woman”.

Fa’afafine is actually a “third sex” in Polynesian culture, according to research by the Samoa Fa’afafine organization, and has started part of area lifetime for as long as everyone can keep in mind. The majority of villages have actually fa’afafine, with an estimated thousands of across Samoa’s countries.

Beyond your South Pacific, especially the Polynesian islands, it really is a largely misinterpreted area, relating to Lee Hang, whom works for the government’s fisheries division.

“Western people attempts to match you [in] a package, to place united states under homosexual, under trans and queer … but I think fa’afafine are our social identity – it defines us,” stated Lee Hang.

“Despite your body you have, if you like they, take they and beautify everything you posses, it’s all those things issues.”

Although modern fa’afafine mate with males, the personality produces no claim about sexual positioning.

As one fa’afafine place it: “What we would during intercourse has nothing regarding our social identity.”

Samoan legislation criminalizes sex between guys, and culturally, reallyn’t appropriate for one to wear a woman’s garments; however the visit our main web site fa’afafine society can easily run outside of those borders.

Whenever a son are substantially effeminate, he will probably likely be trained the conventional duties of Samoan girls, which frequently suggests operating within home.

These people are often thought to possess “fa’afafine spirit”, although the degree together with era they express their particular femininity changes.

Lee Hang’s mummy, Rona Tauli Lee, said Keyonce ended up being a pleasurable son or daughter whom showed effeminate symptoms from get older three, and exactly who used to put on the woman sister’s gowns. “Keyonce is my kid and I take my personal girls and boys as they are,” she mentioned.

All fa’afafine questioned by Reuters ignored well documented promises that fa’afafine could be a deligated role by family with many sons, as an alternative for a daughter.


Latest fa’afafine need obtained support with large elements of the Samoan community with their persistence, particularly in top non-profit causes and accepting nurturing functions, such taking care of seniors.

Throughout the Olympic-style Pacific video games held in Samoa in July, categories of fa’afafine could be seen offering sexual fitness literary works and condoms to athletes from the streets of Apia, Samoa’s investment.

Miriama Seeti, a markets store manager in Apia, stated it was beneficial to has area people facing culturally female roles with a man’s muscles. This incorporated “carrying coconuts” and “cleaning every little thing within the house”, she stated.

But you’ll find complexities in starting to be fa’afafine in a profoundly spiritual nation like Samoa, in which families and chapel buildings become strong, mentioned Samoa Fa’afafine relationship chairman Alex Su’a.

“Most of us include made use of as leadership of one’s chapel denominations’ choir groups, youth communities, also the decorators and planners of activities,” mentioned Su’a.

The connection between fa’afafine plus the church is a fragile one and may on occasion come to be anxious, stated Su’a.

Reverend Vavatau Taufao stated fa’afafine had been welcomed inside church and that many contributed on their congregations.

He said the church, however, considered fa’afafine to be male and the church didn’t endorse same-sex relationships.

Taufao, who is general assistant on the Congregation Christian Church in Samoa, said that fa’afafine always more frequently companion with people, dressed in much more natural clothes, and undertook conventional activities related to men and women.

“Before we noticed the fa’afafine sporting similar clothes as our very own males – now they are putting on considerably female clothes,” the guy stated.

After planning lunch, which includes taro, crab, chop-suey and chicken, Lee Hang adjustment away from a black-and-white clothes into a flowery church ensemble, with red flower patterns.

Lee Hang was run above half-hour later part of the for chapel, situated immediately throughout the road through the family home on a coastal road regarding isle of Upolu.

“Don’t stress,” said Lee Hang’s fa’afafine pal, Vaito’a Toelupe, peering across the path where extreme congregation rests, most wearing old-fashioned white, while the ladies in caps.

“Church doesn’t start until Keyonce shows up.”

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SAMOA; extra revealing by Jill Gralow; Editing by Michael Perry