The Samoan word fa’afafine translates as ‘in the manner of woman’. In many Samoan families when parents think that their sons act like girls, they raise them as females and they may take on the third gender identity, fa’afafine.
In Samoan culture fa’afafine are generally accepted and not stigmatised and it’s not uncommon for some parents to decide to raise a boy as a girl, dressing them in girl’s clothes and training them in women’s work, even if the boy does not behave in a feminine manner. Fa’afafine are considered hard workers who can do jobs traditionally designated for women or men and also known for their good deeds.
In American Samoa, Western Samoa’s closest neighbour, the situation for fa’afafine has been different. Having access to hormones and plastic surgery, most of American Samoan fa’afafine are able to have gender reassignment if they so choose unlike their counterparts in Samoa.
Despite the acceptance of fa’afafine it was only in 2013 that the law against impersonating a female was removed from the Samoan statute.
American Samoan fa'afafine (from left to right) Ronnie, Eden, Berta, Raven, Princess pose at the Utulei village, Pago Pago. Fa'afafine of American Samoa have more freedom then their peers from Samoa, as homosexual relationships are not punishable, according the U.S. laws. Most of fa'afafine have access to hormones and many get breast implants in Hawaii or in the U.S. mainland.
Port of Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa. Situated only 30 min flight away from Samoa, this an unincorporated territory of the United States gives more freedom to local fa'afafine and other members of LGBT community. Although same sex marriage and same sex adoption is still prohibited, there is no discrimination for LGBT people and homosexual acts are legal since 1980.
Cheri Ripley, a longtime employee of the American Samoan Community College in the college bookstore. Cheri is a fa'afafine but having access to hormones and plastic surgery, most of American Samoan fa'afafine are able to have gender reassignment if they so choose unlike their counterparts in Samoa.
Princess helps Trina to wear his/her outfit at the Utulei Beach. Fa'afafine can move freely with their boyfriends in American Samoa, as there is no discrimination against them among the locals.
Athena Mauga, an advisor of the local fa'afafine association SOFIAS, poses with members of the American Samoa Volleyball Association team at Utulei Beach in Pago Pago. According to SOFIAS statistics, there are about 100 fa'afafine that live in Tutuila, the main island of American Samoa.
Fa'afafine Trina, Eden, Princess and Berta drink at a party in picnic area of Utulei Beach in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Fa'afafine Peatrice swims at the Pago Pago Harbour. Peatrice spends most of her time at the U.S. mainland where she went through plastic surgery to have breast implants.
Peatrice (middle) with her friends from American Samoan LGBT community at a party by the sea in Utulei.
Princess Auva'a leaning on Ronnie's back at a fa'afafine party by the sea.
Keli Laban, 21, former Miss Fa'afafine 2012 at the entrance of a nightclub in Apia, the capital of Western Samoa. Some Samoan men will seek sexual relationships with fa'afafine who are not generally regarded as homosexual.
Samoan men play pool in Apia. Samoa is one of many Polynesian countries where people of the third gender are generally accepted. It's estimated that 5-7% of 180.000 of Samoan population are fa'afafine.
Samoan fa'afafine group 'My Girls Club' meeting in Apia. 'My Girls Club' was established in 2009 by fa'afafine group of friends and members of the Samoa Fa'afafine Association. Its members gather regularly for informal meetings.
Dallas Siatini, 29, at a friend's house. Dallas identifies as a third-gender known, in Samoa, as fa'afafine which translates as 'in the manner of woman'.
(from left to right) Sylvan, Sharon, Alex, and Rachael eat after a meeting of the My Girls Club in Apia.
Zili, 5, is believed by his family to be born as fa'afafine. His mother accepts it when her son acts like a girl, but does not allow him to wear girl's clothes. In many Samoan families when parents think that their sons act like girls, they raise them as females.
Sei Vainalei, 21, dances at her/his 21st birthday. For Samoan fa'afafine this is the most important day in their life. As in Samoa fa'afafine can't get married, for them 21st Birthday is like a wedding. They wear wedding-like dresses and invite all their friends and relatives to celebrate the entrance to an adult life.
Gustav, 33, a third-gender known in Samoa as fa'afafine, styles his/her hair.
Fiatagata Samania, 43, with her son Toa, 19, in their house in Vaivase-uta village. 'Toa is my hand in my family. He cooks, does washing... I have three daughters, but they can't do what Toa does for me in the house.' Although Fiatagata raised Toa as fa'afafine, she prohibits him/her to wear women's clothes.
Delilah Sio in her/his dressmaking workshop in Apia, Samoa. Delilah was called the Queen of Fa'afafine, but lost this title after being imprisoned. After serving the time, Delilah became a tailor and a dressmaker and opened the 'Delilah Fashion'shop. Many of Delilah's clients are other fa'afafine.
Keli Laban, 21, former Miss Fa'afafine 2012, changes in preparation for the Divas of Samoa performance at the Maliu Mai bar & restaurant
(from left to right) Gustav (30), Trisha (20), Blondie (41), and Keli (21) pray before going on stage to perform as the Divas of Samoa at Maliu Mai bar & restaurant. Divas of Samoa is a famous song and dance show, where local fa'afafine perform on the stage wearing different outfits.
The Divas of Samoa perform on stage.
Gustav, 30, applies makeup in preparation for the next Divas of Samoa performance.
Gustav, 30, performs during the Divas of Samoa show at Maliu Mai restaurant.
Princess Liz, the former fa'afafine International boxing champion, dances with a man in one of the nightclubs of Apia.
Ranier, 25, rests after a party at the home of a fa'afafine.
Men gather in a bar to drink kava, a traditional drink in the region that has a narcotic effect. It is not uncommon when Samoan men approach fa'afafine for sex.
People attend Sunday Mass at the United Church in Apia. Most of Samoan churches see fa'afafine as ordinary members of their community, but strictly prohibit them to have sexual relationship with men.
Rachael Sale, 25, attends Sunday worship at a local church where Rachel is a Sunday teacher and a member of the choir. Rachael says, that the church leaders accept fa'afafine as women and he/she doesn't feel any discrimination. The only taboo would be to have a male partner, as this could be seen by the church community as homosexuality and, therefore, as a sin.
Velda, 34, smokes a cigarette on a fallen coconut tree. Velda works as a shop seller in Leufisa village. She/he is one of few fa'afafine that has long-term relationship with a man.
Tania Toomalatai, 69, and her adopted son Laauli, 12, in their house. Tania is considered as the 'mother' of Apia's fa'afafine and very respected among local fa'afafine community.
Tania Toomalatai (69, second right) plays card game with her girl friends, some of whom are fa'afafine. Tania is one of the oldest fa'afafine in Samoa and is very respected by young fa'afafine.
Velda, 34 with his/her boyfriend Clement (21, name changed) on the beach at Lefaga Bay. Velda has been together with Clement for a few years, but they keep their relationship a secret from their parents.
6-year-old Iumainatea, with her adoptive fa'afafine mother Gustav Su'a, 30 in their house. Gustav adopted Iumainatea when she was two months old. 'If you adopt someone, on the back of the paperwork your kids call you mammy, but on birth certificate and adoption papers it all goes straight to your real gender', says Gustav.
© 2017 Vlad Sokhin. All rights reserved.