Fa'afafine may be viewed as a third gender specific to Samoan culture.
Fa'afafine are the gender liminal, or third-gendered people of Samoa. A recognized and integral part of traditional Samoan culture, fa'afafine, born biologically male, embody both male and female gender traits. Their gendered behavior typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to mundanely masculine.
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 Hawaiian mahu. The Samoan slangword mala (or "devastation", by way of the Samoan Bible) is in less frequent use for fa'afafine.
Fa'afafine 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 of family, and include all the members of a sa, or a communal family within the fa'amatai family systems.
It is a mistake to attribute a Western interpretation and mislabel the fa'afafine as "gay" or "homosexual". In Samoa, the 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. 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. Traditionally Fa'afafine follow the training of a women's daily work in an Aiga.
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. There is little to no ridicule of or displeasure with a biologically male child who states he is a girl in Samoa. For instance, one study showed only a minority of parents (20%) tried to stop their fa'afafine sons 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. Contemporary Fa'afafine Question book-new.svg This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (October 2010)
Fa'afafine in the Samoa Islands, and internationally among Samoan diaspora, have formed several organizations since the 1980s. Currently prominent ones are Samoan Fa'afafine Organization of independent Samoa, SOFIA of American Samoa, and UTOPIA of San Francisco and Honolulu. These organizations are involved in political action and cultural functions. The Samoan Fa'afafine Organization of independent Samoa is working to remove criminal laws regarding homosexuality and transgenderism that remain from New Zealand colonial administration, laws that no longer apply in New Zealand itself.
Fa'afafine are taking part in the development of contemporary Oceania or Pacific Islander arts, as in the works of painter and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, artist and curator Shigeyuki Kihara, performance artist Buckwheat, poet and performance artist Brian Fuata, and fashion artist Lindah Lepou. Recent exhibitions of indigenous LGBT artists including fa'afafine, were the 2006 Le Vasa Art Exhibition in San Francisco, 2007 Measina Fa'afafine Art Exhibition in Auckland, and the 2008 Hand in Hand Art Exhibition in Sydney.
New Zealand animated television series bro'Town includes a fa'afafine character named Brother Ken, a school principal, and personal friend of many well-known New Zealanders. Brother Ken appears in nearly every episode throughout the five seasons.
Samoan writer Sia Figiel's novel Where We Once Belonged includes a fa'afafine character named Sugar Shirley, known for her exploits on the rugby field.
American Samoa footballer Jaiyah Saelua made history in November 2011 as the first transgender person to compete in a FIFA-sanctioned event, during World Cup Oceania qualifiers. Fa'afafine and the Law
On May 1, 2013, fa'afafine lawyer and activist Alex Sua made the announcement on Facebook: "Today marks a historical event for Samoa. The Crimes Act 2012 is now the new criminal law in Samoa that does not criminalize impersonation of a female ever. Its a celebration and its also the starting of the END of discriminatory laws. Unfortunately there is more work to be done :) Congratulations to Roger Stanley, Ymania Brown and Phineas Hartson for the hard work we did together under the wing of the Samoa Fa'afafine Association Inc, in which we fearlessly addressed this issue with Prime Minister and Cabinet. Sincere congratulations to Leilani Tuala Warren and her team at Samoa Law Reform Commission for believing in the future of everyone in Samoa to include the minority community of fa'afafine."