Gender Roles and Sexual Orientation


The Fafafini is a third gender specific to Samoan and surrounding Polynesian island culture. Biologically, Fafafini are men who have been raised since early childhood to assume female gender roles in Samoan society. They dress, act and speak like women. In fact, the only thing not womanly about fafafini’s is their male body, because they sleep with straight men, although this is not considered homosexual conduct. It would only be considered wrong if a Fafafini slept with another Fafafini, but not if they slept with a man.

In Samoan society, gender roles are shaped by society itself. There is a distinct emphasis on the group and family rather than the individual. For centuries Samoan families have raised males displaying particular traits similar to females. Fafafini is said to have originated in a time when there was a lack of women to perform domestic tasks, ergo, this third gender developed. It is important to understand that, unlike many societies around the world where women are treated as subservient or insignificant, Samoan culture values their role rather uniquely. Fafafini are considered a gender altogether separate from man and woman. They embrace distinct gender roles specific to them, that are both different from those of either a man or woman. Viewed as highly intuitive and creative, most Samoan families are said to have at least one Fafafini member, and sometimes more. But this is not to suggest that some boys refuse to submit to taking on this life-changing role. It is a mistake to attribute a Western interpretation and mislabel the Fafafini as “gay” or “homosexual”. Fafafini have a varied sexual life, where they have sex with women, men and other Fafafini. Originally, sexual relationships with women, including marriages were more common amongst Fafafini, though, with increased Westernization, things may be changing.