Posted by: monsonmadness | November 16, 2011

The third gender

I made several references in my posts when we first moved here about the fa’afafine here in American Samoa. I think I called them cross dressers, but that isn’t really accurate. I have learned a little bit more about them and thought it would be interesting for you to find out more about this third gender and how I feel about it. This is a sensitive topic, and I don’t intend to be controversial. I will share what I have found out, and what my opinions are.

A big thanks to Wikipedia for the following information…

“Fa’afafine is a third gender specific to Samoan culture. The word fa’afafine includes the causative prefix “fa’a”, meaning “in the manner of”, and the word fafine, meaning “woman”.

Fa’afafine are biological males who have a strong feminine gender orientation, which the Samoan parents recognize quite early in childhood, and then raise them as female children or rather ‘third gender’ children. They grow up as Fa’afafines, who are a gender category/identity altogether different from men and women, and so they have their distinct gender roles specific to them, different from both men and women. It is something which is not discouraged in the traditional fa’asamoa (Samoan society).

It is a mistake to attribute a Western interpretation and mislabel the fa’afafine as “gay” or “homosexual”. Fa’afafine have a varied sexual life, where they have sex with women, men and other Fa’afafines. Originally, sexual relationships with women, including marriages were more common amongst Fa’afines, though, with increased Westernization, things may be changing.

Western anthropology proposes that Samoan parents with too many sons and not enough daughters will dress one of the boys as a girl and assign him to perform girls’ chores, such as housecleaning. This is only one possible reason why a son may be labeled fa’afafine. Parents or the son himself may make such a decision after recognizing a female gender orientation in the son.

A sexual relationship between a Fa’afine (third gender) and a Tane (man), is not considered as one between the ‘same-genders,’ but rather between two different genders and thus are not considered homosexual in Samoan society.”

My thoughts about this:

Hope that helps in understanding this part of Samoan culture. Like I said, I don’t know everything, but I know is that they are EVERYWHERE. Cashiers at the bank, grocery clerks, even in the high schools and community college. Wanting to share my thoughts, and not be judgmental in any way, this is how I feel about it.

I do not feel comfortable with these “men who have a feminine orientation” being allowed to use the women’s restrooms (which they do). It’s also tricky knowing what to say to my kids when they ask me, “Is that a boy or a girl?”. Do you think I should just ask each individual what they want to be referred to as? Most of them must be taking hormonal supplements of some kind because they have breasts, which obviously leads to more questions from the kids! I am not sure how to answer some of them. I feel sad that I can’t just tell my kids, “He is a man” or “She is a woman”. They get confused about whether a person is the mother or the father. This may be normal in the Samoan culture, but I find it saddening because I believe that the most joy in life can be found in traditional families.

Remember that this third gender issue is not a sexual issue of being gay, of being attracted to members of the same sex, (I know many people who both struggle with or embrace these feelings, feelings which I believe are very real to them). This is about trying to be another gender. A gender that they were not born into.

I feel very blessed with the knowledge that I have that gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. (See link to The Family: A Proclamation to the World below). I believe that the family unit is ordained of God, and that families all around the world, regardless of race, religion or wealth, are the most important part of society. As families all around me fall apart, and many of my friends and family members look to Hollywood and the media to define what is “normal”, I want to share with you what I know to be true about families.

I believe that we had a gender before we were born. Gender and gender roles play a big part in successful families. Successful families are the most important part of society and of the world. I believe that families are important because they teach us to be less selfish. They teach us to be patient and loving, to be honest and to work hard. Families facilitate service which leads to greater gratitude and appreciation. Most importantly, I want to share with you that I know families can be together forever. It doesn’t have to be “till death do us part”. We can be with our families forever through obedience and faithfulness to sacred covenants made in holy temples. For those of us who have parents, spouses, or children who have passed away, I know that we can be with them again.

I understand that the popular view is to be tolerant of everyone and let all people make their own choices in life. The definition of tolerance has changed over the years. These paragraphs say it better than I can.

“Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination. It meant civility in the political arena; in other words, respecting the right of others to express their views, even if we do not agree with them. It meant treating all people with decency and respect. Such tolerance is an important and vital part of our American heritage.

Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing “tolerance” that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own “truth,” as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the “almighty self” or suggest that some so-called “lifestyles” may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.

Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction. But let there be no misunderstanding or deception: the First Amendment right of free speech applies to religious speech as well as to other kinds of speech. Believers of all faiths have every right to participate in and share their convictions in the public arena.

Now let us go one step further. Even in its original and correct connotation, tolerance is surely a secondary virtue in comparison with the far higher virtue of love. Certainly it is good to be tolerant of those who are different than we are, treating them with kindness and civility. But love, or charity, is the highest of all, and it is far better to genuinely love those with whom we differ. When we truly love all of God’s children in a Christlike way, we will desire to bring them unto Christ, the fountain of all happiness. This means proclaiming the truth, defending that which is right, and in a mild voice inviting all to walk the path of Christ. By defending the traditional family, Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.”

So there we have it. I have been reflecting for a few months now on how tolerant of a person I am, and whether I am successfully showing love and respect to all around me. Tolerance isn’t about accepting that “anything goes”. I want to be the kind of person who loves and respects everyone, but I do believe that some things are just wrong, and I think that on a worldwide scale, we can see the results of broken families in abundance. The world is severely lacking in kindness, in love, in sacrifice, and in humility. People are concerned about themselves and selfishness is rampant. The world is becoming a scary place, and I think that a return to solid principles and strong families would make a huge difference. Do you agree?

Here is a link to the article of which I quoted the paragraphs above. It is one of my favorite addresses on the subject.

Defending the Family in a Troubled World by Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy

Did you make it this far through my blog? If you did you must be interested one way or another. Here are a few more resources that I really love. It’s definitely worth 10 minutes of your time to check them out. I’d love to hear what you think about them.

Click on this link about tolerance to read a talk titled “Teach us tolerance and love” by Russell M. Nelson, an apostle.

Here is an awesome 2 minute video clip about the importance of traditional marriage, which is so important “ in a world where declining values and misplaced priorities threaten to destroy society by undermining its basic unit.”

Lastly, you can find The Family: A Proclamation to the World at this link.


  1. Whew! I think you had a few things to say about the matter; I would say, I agree with you 100%!

  2. On the drive home from Cali I was listening to NPR and they had a woman on who had made a documentary about a Native American boy who was a “Two Spirit”. Basically what you are talking about in the Samoan culture. Apparently, in Native culture it is to be celebrated when someone is a “Two Spirit” and that they are very special in the culture. I found it interesting and had never heard of it before even though I grew up right next to a reservation. The boys name was Fred Martinez and he was brutally murdered. The whole issue of gender fascinates me. I think I view it a different way than you but I enjoyed reading your perspective.

  3. Wow. I agree with your point of view, but it’s interesting to learn about this part of their culture.

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