Samoa has – sorta in common with other Polynesian societies – what is often referred to as a third gender, Fa’afafines. That this society does is being used as a stick to beat Samoa over the head with concerning a ban on the showing of the film Rocketman there. The argument being that how can we ban something on the grounds of it showing homosexuality when the background society being “protected” is one with Fa’afafines in it. Which is to ignore a couple of points.
The banning of Rocketman, a biographic film about the life of musician Elton John, in Samoa has prompted criticism by human rights activists of “selective morality” in a country where transgender women are widely accepted. The public found out about the ban through the cancellation of a screening by the only theatre in the country, Apollo Cinemas Samoa, on Monday. The censorship of the film has since been referred to as “hypocritical” by human rights activists inside Samoa, where fa’afafines are recognised as a third gender. Fa’afafines – children who are assigned male at birth but then raised by their families as girls – are an accepted demographic in Samoan society and are leaders in private sector, government and in village communities.
The first an important point being missed is that different cultures are in fact different cultures. That’s rather what makes them so.
That Samoan society has this recognised place for what we’d all call genetically and physically male but who take on female roles in society in an interesting fact about that society. That’s not quite the same thing as stating that this same society is cool with one who presents as male having sex with males.
Sure, whether this distinction should be made or not is another matter. But they do make this distinction, that’s part of their culture. Shrug, you know, foreign countries and all that?
The rather more interesting thing is perhaps the word itself. For Fa’afafine doesn’t in fact mean trans at all. Not in the manner that we are urged to understand trans ourselves. Here we’re insisted at that chop or no chop someone trans really is the sex and or gender they present as. Or decide they wish to present as, on the basis of no more than a simple declaration.
Well, OK, we can argue about that but it’s a logically defensible position. Might be right or wrong even but it is logically defensible. What can’t be done though is to call into support the existence of Fa’afafine as proof of this contention. For Samoan society regards them as entirely respectable, perfectly reasonable, and also a third gender. Not, actually, men or women but something else. Even the word itself tells us this.
The word fa’afafine includes the causative prefix fa’a–, meaning “in the manner of”, and the word fafine, meaning “woman”.
This is significantly at odds with the usual insistences here, isn’t it?
It’s also very close to my own views for whatever tiny amount that matters. Peeps is peeps, we’re all made as God’s Own Special Little Snowflakes and thus all share the same rights up to and including a certain societal politesse about the outcome of that manufacture. Being six foot plus, bearded, tackled, father of children and desirous of being called Miss? Sure. Why the hell not. An insistence upon that desire meaning that you’re female to the point of demanding cervical cancer checks? Perhaps not, eh?
As, you know, the Samoans don’t.