Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Are you a boy or a girl?"

"I'm fa'afafine," Tafi said. "That means I have a boy's body, but I was raised in Samoa as a girl."

Tafi could have explained that in the islands, nobody ever asked. She could have told the girl that a Samoan mother with a fa'afafine among her children is considered lucky. Fa'afafine help with babies and cooking, they tend the elderly and the sick. They are presumed to have the best traits of both men and women.

… In the islands Tafi was more accepted, but her life was still complicated. Many fa'afafine live as women, the maleness of their bodies ignored by those around them. … Many families, including Tafi's, expect they will remain celibate. In a culture that prizes both its tradition and Christianity, fa'afafine are tolerated, but behavior that hints at homosexuality is not.

Still, many fa'afafine … do have discreet relationships with men.

In her ideal world, Tafi, who was raised as an oldest girl-child named Alicia, wouldn't have to change her body to be accepted … Since she came to Anchorage, Tafi's family, who loves her as she is, has pressured her to dress like a man. They have decided she needs to fit in to avoid ugliness she isn't used to. Now, at 23, she's torn between the expectations of her family who accept her as an asexual helper, and American culture that's less accepting but offers her what she wants most: a chance to become physically female, to find a husband and have a family of her own.

The above is excerpted from an article I discovered last month at the website for The Anchorage Daily News. Alaska has a Samoan community?

Polynesian societies typically had transgender/gay roles, much like many Native American societies. As there are rules for men and women, so there are rules for third gender people. It’s not the individualistic American experience. It’s part of a traditional way of life.

But for her father and her brothers, one thing is very important. Tafi must follow the rules. A fa'afafine brother is one thing, but a gay brother is quite another. … When the subject of a boyfriend came up at the table after church, Tafi's mother and sisters cheered with approval.

Unfortunately, among the evils Europeans brought to the South Pacific was a censorious Christianity that seeks to destroy families in order to save them. Fun!

In her sarong, a flower behind her ear, Tafi carried plates of food to the elders from church, she dished out salad and chow mein, she sliced the elaborate banana cake. A child fell; She picked him up and shushed his tears.

R&B rolled out of a big set of speakers and the rhythm took hold of her sisters. They stopped work to dance, raising their palms to the sky. The mood captured their mother, Ropeta, who bounced her shoulders and swayed. Tafi put down her big spoon and let the song catch her hips in a slow groove. … Ropeta looked at her happy child dancing in the barbecue smoke and felt moved to cheer her on in English: "Go, girl! Go, girl! Go, girl!"

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