By MAMAMIA TEAM
This is Leo Tanoi. He was raised as the third gender.
Tanoi has played Rugby League from the age of 13, as a way of asserting his identity and in the early 90s, he played in the first grade for the Cronulla Sharks.
Today, if you met him, he’d comes across as a typical bloke’s bloke. But Tanoi’s upbringing was anything but typical, certainly not typical in how most Australians would understand it.
Because Tanoi was raised by his family as a Fa’afafine.
The Fa’afafine are the ‘third-gendered people’ of Samoa and are a traditional part of Samoan culture. Fa’afafine are born biologically male, but are raised – in many ways – as female. Fa’afafine embody both male and female traits, and perform masculine and feminine gendered roles.
“They have the flair and creativity of the female gender, but also the brutal strength of the male gender. They assume the characteristics of both genders,” says Ymania – who identifies as Fa’afafine.
There are up to 3000 Fa’afafine currently living in Samoa. In Australia, it is estimated that there are anywhere between 100-300 Fa’afafine – and many others throughout other countries in our region. The practice of men adopting female roles and female physical attributes, is a traditional practice throughout areas of Polynesia.
SBS2 program The Feed ran a segment on the Fa’afafine last night, in which they explored what it means to be Fa’afafine from three very different perspectives but all perspectives of those who have lived it.