Now that homosexuality is relatively passé as a controversial issue in popular culture, transgenderism has become the new sexual cause célèbre of the media. In the weeks leading up to writing the first draft of this paper, transgenderism appeared on New
Figure 1: At Auckland's Pasifica Festival, February 2001
Zealand television screens in the prime time Ally McBeal, the teen parody show Popular, and the adult comedy Sex in the City, while Auckland's lifestyle magazine Metro featured an 'expose' on the hijra of India, complete with colourful illustrations.Auckland has a special relationship with non-Western forms of transgenderism – as the largest Pacific city in the world, it is home to a considerable population of Samoan fa'afafine and Tongan fakaleiti. The Samoan word fa'afafine literally translates as 'in the manner of a woman'. Fa'afafine are biological males who express feminine gender identities in a range of ways. In this article, I argue that fa'afafine are both viewed through the lens of and influenced by Western understandings of sexuality. This argument is based on the analysis of various representations of fa'afafine and discusses the impact of Western discourses of gender and sexuality have had on fa'afafine identities.
The manner in which the transgendered of Polynesia have been adopted by Auckland is illustrated in inclusion of a portrait of 'Tina, fa'afafine' in a photo essay on the 'Essence of Auckland' that also appeared in the May Metro. Every year, Auckland's gay pride Hero parade features a fa'afafine float, fa'afafine were featured in a recent television documentary on the Polynesian market in South Auckland, and they perform at Auckland's annual (and hugely popular) Pasifika festival. On the very day I started writing this paper, Out Takes, the gay and lesbian film festival, screened Heather Croall's documentary Paradise Bent: Boys Will be Girls in Samoa, made in Samoa in 1999 and heralded in the festival programme as one of the major films to provide Out Takes with 'a real Pacific flavour' (a phrase often used in relation to Auckland itself).
I initially saw Paradise Bent on video just prior to leaving for Samoa in September 2000, and found it interesting and information, although I thought Croall's emphasis on the apparent acceptance of fa'afafine in Samoa elided much of the marginalisation I understood to exist. After watching Paradise Bent, and without giving the documentary any further thought and little aware that it would contribute to an event that would eventually lead to the writing of this paper. A couple of weeks after my arrival in Samoa, I delivered a seminar at the National University. The topic was fairly general, but I ended with a short summary of my own research, little prepared for the reaction I would get from this group of academics. The response of various audience members to my work made it clear that there is a real fear that the outside world will get the idea that Samoa is a 'gay paradise' – a perception the predominantly Christian Samoan community very much wish to avoid. Initially surprised at this concern, it was explained to me that the fear resulted from events such as the then recent screening of Paradise Bent on Australia's SBS television channel. My Samoan audience was fully aware that, for the majority of the world's population, what they see on television is likely to be the entirety of their experience of Samoan culture. Research such as mine seemed to them to simply add to an 'unhealthy' preoccupation with what is, after all, a relatively small proportion of the Samoan population.
I spent a total of three months in Samoa, mostly in the capital, Apia, during which time I conducted semi-structured interviews with half a dozen fa'afafine, attended various performances, engaged in discussions about fa'afafine with a range of people, and familiarised myself with Samoan culture and society in general. While this was an education and enjoyable time, conducting fieldwork also to fa'afafine in Samoa was trying and at times daunting. As well as the fear of 'straight' Samoans regarding Samoa's supposed image as a 'gay paradise', I was regularly faced with concern from fa'afafine about how they had been and would be represented. While this has caused some dilemmas for me in terms of whose interests I would reflect, these conflicting perspectives have also allowed me to better understand Samoa's position within the global flow of texts and discourses. In this paper, I consider the processes by which fa'afafine have been represented in terms of Western comprehensions of gender and, especially, sexuality, and consider how these and other discourses have in turn contributed to the way in which Samoans in general and fa'afafine in particular come to understand, enact, and replicate what it means to be fa'afafine.
Representations of Fa'afafine
The residue of Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa underpins many of the concerns regarding representations of Samao. The controversy surrounding this book has resulted in Samoa becoming a model for locales and cultures whose representations seem more consequential than the actualities represented. Almost all Samoans seem to know Mead's name, and many are aware of the belief of promiscuity among Samoan youth that she propagated. The 'Mead legacy' has left Samoans extremely wary of palagi researchers, especially those who evidence any interest in sexuality. In the experience of Samoans, the result of such research is usually a compounding of the process of the exoticisation and eroticisation of the Pacific Islands that started with the voyages of Captain Cook, continued with erotic Orientalist depictions of Samoan women, and was revived and reified by Mead. The trope of the Pacific Islands as a locale of erotic possibilities is now so commonplace that it is the subject not only of academic deconstructions, but is also critiqued in more popular media such as New Zealand's social commentary magazine, the Listener. In spite of this, the exotic/erotic paradigm still seems evident in many texts relating to Pacific genders and sexualities. In this section, I will discuss how this paradigm has been utilised in representations of fa'afafine.
The fears of academic Samoans regarding Paradise Bent seems to be in some sense well-founded – people from as far away as Ireland have cited it as an 'educational introduction' to the life of fa'afafine in Samoa. Yet Croall's film presents a very particular view of fa'afafine – one in which the exotic-erotic association found in other texts on the Pacific remains intact. This is most obvious in an enactment captioned as 'the fire song of pre-contact Samoa,' which is represented as an almost ritualistic process in which half naked women dance around a fire at night, and two fa'afafine (in coconut shell bras) appear carrying torches. The fa'afafine voice-over explains how in pre-contact Samoa, fa'afafine are likely to have acted as go-betweens between the culturally separated young men and women. The combination of aural and visual images suggests that fa'afafine were integral to ritualistic practices of a sexualised nature, yet on closer examination the shots of the fa'afafine appear to have been lifted from footage of a local cabaret show, rather than being part of the original 'fire song' re-enactment. While there were particular events in pre-contact Samoa in which young men and women participated that contained a significantly sexual aspect, I have neither read nor been told of fa'afafine performing any particular function at these events. The po'ula or 'night dances' were effectively eliminated by the missionaries. I can only assume that Croall has constructed this dream-like scene to reflect a nostalgic desire to eroticise the place of fa'afafine in pre-contact Samoan culture, drawing on Samoa's 'primitive past' in an implicit lament that these more 'natural' ways have been lost to the spread of Western civilisation.
This fairly explicit example of erotic imagery is echoed in the continual focus of the documentary on Cindy, Apia's best-known fa'afafine. Cindy is a cabaret performer, and puts on weekly shows that are attended by tourists and locals alike. These shows are something of a hybridisation of the more mainstream tourist-oriented fiafia nights held at the local hotels, and the drag shows of Sydney or Auckland. By making Cindy central to her documentary, Croall demonstrates a new version of exoticising practices. Long existent forms of this 'primitivism' centre on other sexualities as somehow representative of the 'truth' of human sexuality –
Figure 2: Cindy performing at the Hotel Kitano Tusitala
a truth that the Western world has lost. In the recently reworked version of this primitivism, occurrences of other (non-hetero)sexual practices are used by queer academics and political activists to validate the existence of homosexuality in Western cultures. These primitive practices are represented as more 'natural' by virtue of their association with pre-contact cultures. Sexual others are also often seen as inherently resistant, and as somehow less historically and culturally constituted than those who express more 'conventional' identities. This resistance takes on special significance when manifested in the face of (neo-)colonial discourses. By presenting Cindy as worthy of the audience's attention because of her different/other gender/sexuality, which Croall grounds in pre-contact Samoan culture, while also narrating Cindy's story as one of universal human values (which I will discuss below), Croall presents this transgendered Samoan as 'just like us after all'. Most significantly, Cindy is repeatedly represented as maintaining her right to be fa'afafine in the face of the apparent homo/transphobia evidenced by her boyfriend's employer, the (faceless) Australian High Commission.
The eroticising of the transgendered other takes a more academic turn in the article by Lee Wallace, which critiques the 1995 New Zealand documentary Fa'afafine: Queens of Samoa. While acknowledging that fa'afafine and gay are not commensurate identities, Wallace accuses the makers of Queens of Samoa of eliding what she refers to as homosexuality in favour of locating fa'afafine within family and culture. However, in spite of Wallace's assertion that 'it goes without saying' who are attracted to fa'afafine – implying that the documentary avoids the 'fact' that their partners must be homosexual men – it is actually an integral part of the ideal of fa'afafine sexuality, and the sexuality of most of those who have sex with them, that fa'afafine/male sex is not read as homosexual by either party. To do so would necessitate fa'afafine being 'men' in a way that they simply don't see themselves. Yet Wallace interprets sex between masculine men and fa'afafine as 'same-sex sexual acts', and engages in a sustained attempt to claim fa'afafine sexuality as in some sense continuous with homosexuality, in spite of the fact that most fa'afafine themselves, most of the (Samoan) men they have sex with, and Samoan culture as a whole resists such incorporation.
Wallace implies that the apparent elision of (homo)sexuality in Queens of Samoa is in part motivated by a need to render fa'afafine 'safe', fit for the consumption of middle New Zealand in a prime time viewing slot, by excising the sexual content of fa'afafine lives. Paradise Bent might conversely be read against this as taking more risks, including as it does segments of fa'afafine engaging in explicit discussions of their sexual practices and experiences. Yet this risk is superficial only. Although more apparently queer in its perspective, Paradise Bent's individualisation in the form of the soap opera narrative of Cindy's trials and tribulations is actually a 'safer' option then the more analytical Queens of Samoa, which examines the lives of fa'afafine in both Samoa and New Zealand, and reveals more of the social problems and internal contradictions experienced by fa'afafine. While it is hardly a rigorous social critique, within the confines of its broadcast considerations Queens of Samoa comes closer to representing fa'afafine interests in the political sense of the word, while Croall's focus on the individual story of Cindy suggests a valuing of personal experience over politics (in the widest sense of the term). The actual reasons for Cindy's problems are sidelined to a fleeting comment that she makes after being asked to move out of the High Commission house. Social critique is sacrificed to the spectacle of Cindy parading around the environs of Apia in a range of revealing outfits (unlike anything I saw her wearing in public during my time there).
Situating Cindy's life and those of other fa'afafine solely in the Samoan context makes it easy to present their stories as a battle of 'authentic native' sexuality in the face of the unimaginative prejudice of colonial forces. This discursive confinement of fa'afafine to the boundaries of Samoa – an ill-conceived notion, considering that the majority of Samoans live offshore – contributes to the exoticising of fa'afafine by positioning them outside, Western societies. By locating fa'afafine in both Samoa and Auckland, Queens of Samoa recognises the fact that cultural phenomena must now be acknowledged as transnational, and that culture adapts to changing circumstances. However, in spite of Wallace's assertions that this transnationalism necessitates recognition of the similarities between Western homosexuality and Samoan fa'afafine, many fa'afafine are adamant in their maintenance of a distinct, Samoan-based identity. Wallace's assertions imply that ostensibly shared experiences should and do result in shared political commitment – an implication reinforced by her almost total lack of consideration of the specifics of Samoan culture. This is not to deny that at times fa'afafine do engage in political and other affiliations with queer groups, but they ground the uniqueness of their identities in their cultural history and their places within their families and society, rather than their sexual practices.
Significantly, Cindy's family is never mentioned in Paradise Bent. By focusing on the very independent Cindy, Croall presents a very atypical example of fa'afafine in Samoa. Cindy is significantly successful by Samoan standards, but her life also demonstrates a Western-style individualism that can be linked to new forms of sexuality in Samoa – sexualities that are seen on a weekly basis in Cindy's show. In the following section, I will explain the link between the incursion of Western-style individualism and shifts in how gender and sexuality are conceptualised in Samoa – a link that will then be explicitly related to fa'afafine identities.
Shifting Identities of Fa'afafine in Samoa
In the village context in Samoa, individual interests tend to be subsumed to the needs of the group and community. A sense of oneself as gendered is largely defined by one's labour contribution to aiga (extended family) and community. Fa'afafine, like their Polynesian counterparts, are identified at an early age by virtue of their propensity for feminine tasks. The following description of early life at home in Samoa is entirely typical of most of my respondents.
When I was young, I know I was like this. I do all the girl's work when I was young. I do the washing, and my sister's just mucking around, cleaning the house, but my job at home is cooking, washing, ironing – everything.
The fact that families don't seem to equate this early preference for feminine labour with eventual sexual preference suggests that 'sexual relations with men are seen as an optional consequence of [being fa'afafine], rather than its determiner, prerequisite, or primary attribute.' This implies a distinction between constructing identities in terms of labour, and the possibility of identity being related to sexual practices. As I will explain below, the latter concept is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In recent decades, migration out of the villages in search of education and employment, and the influx of modern Western economic, social and technological forms has altered family and village structures. Although the wage labour that urban or migrant Samoans do is itself likely to be gendered, the significant change is that, within the family context, the product of labour which is contributed to the family – now cash rather than mats or taro – is rendered gender neutral. Furthermore, Westernisation has led to personal capacity being measured more by income than by knowledge and skills in traditional areas, while capitalist ideologies such as 'personal freedom' and economic structures such as wage labour stress the individual over the family. As family and labour lose their centrality in constructions of Samoan identities, Western culture exerts an increasing influence. This cultural shift has contributed to an emphasis on the individual, and on personal appearance and bodily expression as a primary marker of gender. For example, clothing has become more significant in relation to gender. While the everyday wear of most Samoan men and women is a lavalava and t-shirt, in Apia younger Samoan women are beginning to wear short skirts and skimpy tops, while young men favour a more hip hop 'baggy' style of shorts. This gender differentiation and the related increased emphasis on sexuality is even more marked in the nightclubs, where the dance floors come to resemble black American music videos with a sexual explicitness I saw in no other context in Samoa. It may be argued that this overt and public sexuality echoes the pre-contact po'ula, and that the 'desexualisation' of Samoan public life was a direct result of the Western missionary influence. However, the situation is now more complex than just the eliminating of 'traditional' practices because of Western morality. Christianity is now an integral part of fa'aSamoa, effectively incorporated into the discourses and enactments of Samoan culture. While Samoan modesty may be a legacy of missionary morality, today overt sexuality or bodily exposure, especially for women, is considered very unSamoan.
For fa'afafine especially, movement out of the village and family context often means that the feminine labour role within the family is no longer so significant as a gender marker, and many of the younger urban fa'afafine construct a gendered identity that is more reliant on more sexualised Western signifiers such as clothing and make-up. One of my informants stated that before Western contact, fa'afafine were simply 'feminine boys,' but exposure to Western movies taught them (and presumably women as well) that clothing, make-up and appearance in general could be used as a more definitive signifier of gender. The use of gender-specific Western cultural forms is also apparent by often genderless Samoan names being substituted with explicitly feminine palagi names that are often associated with a famous and glamorous palagi woman. Thus both name and clothing become signifiers of hyper-feminine, highly sexualised Western gender constructs. Differing perspectives on the relationships between appearance, labour, and gender are demonstrated in the manner in which urban fa'afafine may make derogatory remarks about village fa'afafine being more 'masculine' because of the physical build that results from labour in the village. However, it is this labour that also defines village fa'afafine as more 'womanly' (in the Samoan sense) because they serve their families rather than 'run wild'.
The lives of village fa'afafine thus more closely resemble the lives of most Samoan women, while the femininity of urban fa'afafine is based more on (Western-influenced) presentation of self. The manner in which presentations of fa'afafine identities shift in ways that are strongly related to cultural ideals is demonstrated in the observation of one of my respondents regarding fa'afafine in Samoa.
But you see, the thing that's interesting is that, when they're out, out and about, they flaunt it. They flaunt it. But when they come back home, they do exactly what I do. So in a way they're still trying to keep that balance, I find. And I think once, when I see the queens basically going out for it, and not giving a shit about their family, and becoming capitalist minded and becoming independent, I think that's a sign of Samoa saying that it's becoming Western.
Observing differences in behaviour in town and back home in the villages, this respondent suggests that urbanisation has had a considerable effect in terms of social controls over acceptable behaviour. Samoans who move to larger urban environments are less constrained by the continual presence of and monitoring by significant others that typifies social control in the villages.
Thus urban fa'afafine experience less need to downplay the aspects of their identities which incipient Western discourses encourage them to emphasise. The relative anonymity afforded by living in Apia also allows fa'afafine to more openly pursue the sexual relationships that they may deny themselves in the villages. Families often value the ability of fa'afafine to do both men's and women's work while generally objecting to their sexuality. This can be a considerable problem in a culture where adults frequently remain living with their aiga, even after marriage. For at least one of my informants, it simply isn't worth losing one's family for the sake of having a boyfriend. Simple changes such as access to rental or job-related accommodation means that fa'afafine and their partners may no longer be constrained by family attitudes towards their sexual practices. One of my informants even felt confident enough to bring her boyfriends into the family home once she was earning her own money. However, another respondent who works as a teacher and lives alone still feels that maintaining a particular social standard is a higher priority for her than expression of the sexual aspect of her identity. As she commented:
I can get any guy I like any time, but to me, you know, that would be another disadvantage of myself as being a fa'afafine if I pursue a relationship with a guy, especially, you know, working in an environment like this. I want to be a good role model to the students. I want to be a good role model to my church.
While urban fa'afafine may thus be able to be more open about their sexuality, it is also in this context that they incur moral disapproval. Fa'afafine are an unremarked part of everyday life in Apia, working in travel agencies, serving in bars, and shopping in local supermarkets without, on the most part, attracting undue attention. However, in spite of this apparent social tolerance, the reactions of many Samoans to my research ranged from mild concern to overt disgust. In one instance, a Samoan acquaintance quite categorically stated that fa'afafine were revolting, when only a few weeks earlier I had seen him with his soccer team, one of whom was fa'afafine, treating her like 'one of the boys'. The apparent paradox here results from the foregrounding of different aspects of one's identity. The fa'afafine who offer the service to family and society that is expected from all Samoans without drawing attention to themselves go relatively unremarked. Thus, the fa'afafine soccer player who sliced bread and dished out corned beef at the after-match function fulfilled the expectations of a 'good Samoan' – in this case, a particularly feminine good Samoan. Similarly, fa'afafine at all boys' schools may be punished for wearing make-up while also being expected to keep the staff room clean. While their feminine labour continues to be accepted (and even expected) in many contexts, it is the recent fa'afafine emphasis on sexuality, especially what is perceived of as 'deviant' sexuality, to which many Samoans might object.
Samoan objections to fa'afafine sexuality can be seen to arise from the relatively recent development of homophobia in Samoa. Concepts of 'gay' and 'straight' have not really been relevant in Samoa in the past, and there is no specific Samoan term for 'homosexual'. The difference between Samoan and palagi understandings of sexual acts between two 'male' bodies was explained to me by one of my respondents:
So with lots of these people that are in high positions, I think most of them have been with a fa'afafine before, you know. It's like the life in New Zealand, that once you go with a queen or something like that, you always end up to be a gay person or something like that, but the Samoan guys, they don't ... you know, they started off young with the fa'afafine and then they always end up getting married and have families.
Provided the man remains the 'active' partner and continues to demonstrate masculine social behaviour, their sexuality is unquestioned, while fa'afafine 'construct themselves as something akin to heterosexual, that is, women seeing intercourse with men'. It is generally acknowledged that young Samoan men frequently engaged in sexual acts with each other in the absence of available young women. Such acts are inherently casual, and young Samoan men find sex with men/fa'afafine less complicated because they don't feel the need to care for their sexual partner's welfare after the act. Mead attributes this casualness to the fact that homosexual relations have no potential for producing the children that give heterosexual relations their relative significance. While the flaws in Mead's Samoan work have been extensively discussed elsewhere, in this instance her analysis is well-supported by the centrality of children in Samoan understandings of gender. Mead's observation also accords with the fact that Samoan men will virtually inevitably eventually leave fa'afafine partners to marry a woman and have children. As one respondent said,
Don't ever fall so gracefully, you know, so crazy on a guy, especially a non-gay or a non-bisexual guy, because that person will always go back and look for someone who will give them kids.
Thus, while heterosexuality in Samoa (inasmuch as such a concept exists) obviously can incorporate activities that would be read as homosexual in Western discourses, for Samoans it is the nature of the sexual act rather than the object which is the key factor.
In spite of the historical non-alignment of fa'afafine with homosexuality, Samoans are beginning to re-interpret fa'afafine in line with foreign discourses of sexuality and identity. Samoans are now confronted with a 'new breed' of sexualised fa'afafine, one which has more and more similarities with the models of homosexuality they are increasingly encountering from overseas. Furthermore, the internationalisation of gay identities means that Samoans who may have once thought of themselves as fa'afafine now consciously identify themselves as gay. Significant exposure to Western notions of homosexuality has coincided with HIV/AIDS awareness and the accompanying moral panic and this, coupled with a strong conservative Christian morality, has led to marked disapproval of anything that might be interpreted as homosexuality, which, as a result of imported understandings of sexuality, would appear to include fa'afafine.
Contemporary Samoan attitudes towards fa'afafine sexuality should not, however, be seen as solely related to the importation of Western homophobia. In Polynesian societies, women's status tends to be relatively low in terms of their sexual and reproductive roles, while as sisters they command a great deal of respect. In the case of the culturally feminine but biologically male fa'afafine, this already existent attitude towards the feminine sexuality that fa'afafine seem to be increasingly adopting then intersects with the relatively recent disapproval of homosexuality, so that fa'afafine are in some sense damned as women and as men.
Seeing Fa'afafine Through Palagi Eyes
It is the flamboyant 'new generation' fa'afafine that also attracts the attention of palagi tourists. Cindy's risqué cabaret show becomes the exemplar of fa'afafine for many tourists – especially now that she performs at the upmarket Hotel Kitano Tusitala. For those visitors who venture further than the Tusitala, their understanding of fa'afafine as highly sexual drag queens is reinforced by further encounters with this 'new generation' of cross-dressing, extravagant fa'afafine in the bars and clubs of Samoa. For the average tourist who visits Samoa for a week or two, this is likely to be all they see of fa'afafine. Many of the male palagi tourists I talked with about fa'afafine seemed to be in some sense modern-day Malinowskis, voyeuristically collecting these examples of primitive sexualities while exercising Western restraint and (heterosexual) civilisation in the face of the lure of untamed and unbounded sexuality.
The relative limitations on the encounters between fa'afafine and tourists in Samoa are to some extent mirrored in Auckland, where the most obviously visible fa'afafine are the cross-dressing sex workers on the streets of the red light district. For various reasons, fa'afafine are over-represented in the sex industry – a situation that seems to have influenced the fact that Heather Worth, one of the few authors to discuss fa'afafine outside Samoa, has written specifically on gender liminal sex workers in Auckland. The specifics of Worth's research obviously necessitates a focus on the sexual acts of fa'afafine and their Pacific counterparts, yet I find it telling that she relates fa'afafine sexuality predominantly to economic considerations, comparing them to transgendered sex workers in other countries, while choosing not to consider their specific cultural context. While culture is understood as the context in which the 'difference' of fa'afafine is germinated, this analysis echoes Wallace's in glossing over issues of ethnicity in favour of focusing on what is perceived to be the more significant difference – sexuality.
This focus on sexuality enables palagi observers to interpret fa'afafine according to Western ideologies that sexual orientation is one of the most significant means of dividing people into classes, assuming that aspects such as gendering of behaviour or labour preferences 'logically' follow on from this classification. For example, Jeanette Mageo, one of the more prolific authors in this field, suggests that the apparently dramatic increase in numbers of fa'afafine in the twentieth century can be partly attributed to missionary constraints on female sexual expression in Samoa, with fa'afafine emerging in response to the social need to have feminine sexuality expressed. She thus implies that particular locations within the Samoan labour framework have simply followed on from this adoption of particular sexual roles.
The use of the term 'transvestite' by authors such as Mageo and Bradd Shore raises further issues about the manner in which Western authors, academic and otherwise, frequently emphasise the sexual and/or 'deviant' aspects of fa'afafine identities. Using 'fa'afafine' and 'transvestite' interchangeably implies that a biological male wearing women's clothing carries the same meaning in Samoa and in the West, and that it is this act that defines fa'afafine in the same way it does a transvestite. These assumptions of relatively unproblematic equivalence between Western and Samoan terms and identities also demonstrate a belief that 'translating other cultures is essentially a matter of matching written sentences in two language, such that the second set of sentences becomes the "real meaning" of the first.' Admittedly, Samoans frequently refer to gay palagi men as fa'afafine and, I have heard fa'afafine categorising themselves along with 'the gays, the transvestites, the closets, the drags' overseas. However, this indicates that Samoans tend to contemplate the subtleties of the distinctions as much as most palagi do. Yet these subtleties are, in fact, crucial to the different identities and experiences of fa'afafine. When presumably informed academics use Western terms in the context of Samoan culture, it attributes a certain 'real meaning' to the former as a translation of the latter, and carries the weight of a discursive sexual pathologising that is not applicable to fa'afafine.
The Millennium Fa'afafine.
While the constructions and expressions of fa'afafine identities have changed considerably in the last few decades, fa'afafine continue to exist as unique identities within the wider context of a conscious maintenance of Samoan culture. This process does have similarities with Western queer politics, in that it was the process of naming and then marginalising the homosexual that eventually led to the development of a political movement based around that identity. However, this adaptation of identity politics is also occurring in a specifically Samoan way – one that is more complex than Wallace's apparently simple alignment of fa'afafine and gay interests based on the morphological similarities of their sexual acts would suggest. One of my informants pointed out to me the danger of fa'afafine coming together is that this can result
in the formation of a subculture which can easily be marginalised. It is important to fa'afafine that they assert their identities as part of wider Samoan society, rather than become incorporated into an internationalised gay discourse that focuses on sexuality. Even as contemporary Samoans seek to disown fa'afafine, many fa'afafine themselves call on their place in 'traditional' fa'aSamoa as a solid foundation from which to base themselves as sexual and gendered persons, while also drawing on increasingly available Western cultural resources. Evident in many aspects of fa'afafine lives, this hybridity is explicitly demonstrated in the drag beauty pageants of the last few decades, which provide fa'afafine with a forum to display a frequently Western and highly sexualised form of femininity alongside proof of proficiency in more traditionally Samoan cultural performances. They also enact fa'aSamoa in the redistribution of the profits in the form of donations to local charities.
Figure 3: Contestant in the Seven Stars Pagaent, Apia, December 2000.
Beauty pageants represent one of the more obvious means by which fa'afafine are (re)claiming some social status within the Samoan community. Another, possibly less conscious means of countering marginalisation is suggested in the articulation of essentialist understandings of fa'afafine in terms of their identities. I should make it clear that I am not concerned with locating the 'cause' of 'fa'afafine-ness', and I never ask respondents about this. However, responses to other questions often contain either direct or implied assertions that being fa'afafine is an innate disposition. For example, when I asked what others need to know about fa'afafine, one participant in her fifties who lives in New Zealand said:
They need to know about what kind of people we are and ... because some people, they, I think they don't really understand the kind of people that we are. Only our family, that, they know us. But some of the people, they just really don't understand us. They think, some of them, they think that we are sick people or something like that, you know, it's a disease, but I can tell you, in my view, you know, I don't have a disease in me or anything like that. I was born like this. Right from when I was young, I was like this. When I grow up, I just ... my brain, I think my brain works as a woman's brain, you know, not a man's.
These suggestions of innateness are often contained within narratives of childhoods that could easily be interpreted as providing evidence for a socialisation argument. However, the respondents themselves clearly understand their families' encouragement of their feminine tendencies as recognition of an already existent disposition. This essentialist understanding is found again in stories some respondents tell of attempting live as masculine men for periods of time, for various reasons. In later life, these 'masculine selves' are invariably remembered as a facade which was eventually dropped when circumstances changed. I am not suggesting that either the 'masculine facade' memory or the discourse of being born fa'afafine lack veracity. Rather, I see this as an interpretation of past events which, regardless of its status as 'truth', allows these individuals to make sense of their histories in the light of their current identities. As the above quote suggests, this understanding of an essential fa'afafine self may be used to counter accusations of deviancy, or suggestions that being fa'afafine is something they will 'grow out of.'
In critiquing the focus of palagi observers on fa'afafine sexuality, I do not wish to suggest that sexuality is not part of fa'afafine identities, but rather that (until recently) it hasn't be the 'centre of gravity' of the Samoan gender system. Judith Butler has shown how analysis of, and the very existence of, individuals and identities that fail or refuse to conform to hegemonic norms of sexuality and gender provide a means of understanding 'how the mundane and taken-for-granted world of sexual meanings is constituted,'and of exposing the 'limits and regulatory aims' of that world of sexual meanings. Although discourses around fa'afafine to some extent implement this potential, palagi observers continue to utilise historically and culturally specific concepts, and thus fail to fully realise the potential for the existence of fa'afafine to challenge the foundations of their understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality.
Ann Laura Stoler suggests that there is an inextricable relationship between the Orientalising processes of colonisation revealed by Edward Said and the history of the categorisation of sexualities identified by Michel Foucault. I have drawn on the links between these theories to demonstrate how the exoticisation of fa'afafine has focused primarily on their erotic potential, and that the erotic has thus become increasingly central to fa'afafine identities. However, the narratives I have been told also reveal the frequent prioritisation of interests such as family, employment, personal safety, religion and many other concerns over the expression of sexuality. While documentaries such as Paradise Bent and Queens of Samoa have tended to represent these processes as stories of repression, fa'afafine understand themselves as active agents who, while recognising constraints, also engage in negotiations between the various facets of their own identities, and between themselves and the significant people, groups, and institutions in their lives. These negotiations often include assertions of a right to sexual expression – an assertion that is only really possible at this particular historical juncture – yet fa'afafine understand their sexuality as but part of complex and heterogeneous identities that are continually in process, and many of my respondents are frustrated with the way that sexuality remains the focus of many representations over which they have no control. The words of one participant in relation to this neatly summarises my argument.
And then I find that I ... because I'm a minority and a highly sexualised sort of fetish by the media ... with movies like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and everybody expects me to be like that. It's like 'Hello, I have a name, I have a brother, I have parents, I have a surname and I have a name. I do have a history.' But all I am ... it highly arouses them to see me as a fetish rather than a person.
 Interviews with fa'afafine respondents have been, to date, conducted in English.
 Kapka Kassabova, 'Dancing Queens' in Metro, 239, May 2001, pp. 94-101.
 In using the terms 'Western' and 'non-Western', I refer to ideologically motivated discursive concepts rather than geographically specific cultural locations.
 Fakaleiti is a Tongan term that literally translates as 'like a lady'. Tongan 'fakaleiti' are similar to fa'afafine, although the Tongan term refers more specifically to the relatively recent Western concept of 'lady', and can be distinguished from the older term (and identity) 'fakafafine'. See Kerry E. James, 'Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga,' in Pacific Studies 17, 2 (1994):39-69.
 Apart from the initial use of a term, I have opted not to italicise Samoan terms, as I believe that such practice contributes to the process of Otherising non-Western concepts by signalling them as somehow 'different'.
 I would like to acknowledge the support of the New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, whose generous Bright Future Scholarship supports me during the PhD process, and whose funding also enabled me to travel to Sydney to present a paper at the AsiaPacifiQueer workshop in February 2001, which was the genesis of this article. I would also like to thank the organisers of AsiaPacifiQueer for the first opportunity to present this research, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for their financial support. I also take this opportunity to thank the people in Samoa and New Zealand, whose assistance during my fieldwork period, and contribution in the form of interviews for and extensive discussion of my research made this paper possible. Among these people, I wish to especially acknowledge the support of my supervisors, my fa'afafine friends, and my boy. Finally, I have received both insightful critiques and immensely supportive comments from the two anonymous referees who read an earlier draft of this article, and I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for their generosity.
 'Samoa' refers to Independent Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa. Migration to New Zealand is largely from Independent Samoa due to historical, political and cultural links. The experience of American Samoa, because of its close ties to the United States, has resulted in a significantly different experience of Westernisation and pattern of migration, and thus is not considered within the parameters of this project.
 See Niko Besnier, 'The Politics of Representation on a Polynesian Atol,' in Ethnographic Artifacts, ed. Marta Rohatynskij and Sjoerd Jaarsma, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000, pp. 21-42, for a full discussion of the politics of researching contentious issues in small dependent societies.
 Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Study of Adolescence and Sex in Primitive Societies, London: Penguin Books, 1943 (1928).
 David Michael Liu, 'A Politics of Identity in Western Samoa,' unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Hawai'i, 1991, pp. 2-3, 12.
 Palagi is term that can literally refer to any non-Samoan, but is generally only applied to those who are white.
 See Margaret Jolly, 'From Venus Point to Bali Ha'i: Eroticism and Exoticism in Representations of the Pacific,' in Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson and Margaret Jolly, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 99-122; on the legacy of the Cook voyages, see Lisa Taouma, 'Re-Picturing Paradise: Myths of the Dusky Maiden,' unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Auckland 1998; on the history of the representation of Pacific women, see Simione Durutalo, 'Anthropology and Authoritarianism in the Pacific Islands,' in Confront the Margaret Mead Legacy: Scholarship, Empire and the South Pacific, ed. Lenora Foerstel and Angela Gilliam, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992, pp. 206-32 regarding Mead's place in this discourse.
 For academic discussions of the exotic/erotic discourse, see Jolly, 'From Venus Point to Bali Ha'i'; Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann and Carmel Leinatioletuitoga Peteru, 'Beyond the Paradise Myth: Sexuality and Identity,' in Tangata O Te Moana Nui: The Evolving Identities of Pacific Peoples in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Cluny Macpherson, Paul Spoonley and Melani Anae, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 2001, pp. 122-36; Tamasailau M. Sua'ali'i, 'Deconstructing the 'Exotic' Female Beauty of the Pacific Islands,' in Bitter Sweet: Indigenous Women in the Pacific,, ed. Alison Jones, Phyllis Herda, and Tamasailau M. Sua'ali'i, Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2000, pp. 93-108; and Taouma, 'Re-Picturing Paradise.' For a more populist perspective, see Philip Vine, 'The Gauguin shuffle,' in Listener, May 5 2001, pp. 32-33.
 Pulotu-Endemann and Peteru, 'Beyond the Paradise Myth,' p. 127; Mariana Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
 Torgovnick, Gone Primitive, p. 228.
 Regarding the 'co-optation' of non-Western sexuality into gay Western discourses, see Niko Besnier, 'Polynesian Gender Liminality,' in Third Sex, Third Gender, ed. Gilbert Herdt, New York: Zone, 1994, pp. 316-17; Pat Califia, Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1997, pp, 121, 126; and Harriet Whitehead, 'The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America,' in Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality, ed. Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981, p. 8
 Mark Johnson, Beauty and Power: Transgenderism and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines, Oxford, Berg, 1997, pp. 24-25.
 Lee Wallace, 'Fa'afafine: Queens of Samoa and the Elision of Homosexuality,' in Gay and Lesbian Quarterly 5, 1 (1999):25-39.
 Wallace, 'Fa'afafine: Queens of Samoa and the Elision of Homosexuality,' p. 27.
 Wallace, 'Fa'afafine: Queens of Samoa and the Elision of Homosexuality', p. 35.
 Yet it is apparent that they are not necessarily 'women' in terms of the sexual encounter either (Besnier, 'Polynesian Gender Liminality,' p. 560, n. 42), at least to their Samoan partners, who report that sex with fa'afafine is generally a substitute for sex with a woman (Andrew Reuben Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males: A Qualitative Study,' unpublished M.A. thesis, Mahidol University, 1997, pp. 126, 145, 206). While fa'afafine ideally take the insertee role in sexual encounters, placing them in a feminised position, there are reported cases where fa'afafine have also acted as inserter (Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males,' pp. 130, 205). In Queens of Samoa, participants reject gender reassignment surgery on the basis that their capacity for sexual enjoyment would be lost, indicating that they used their penises for sexual pleasure. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that some fa'afafine have or wish to have relationships with gay men. There are a range of reasons behind this, including a degree of realism about who will stay with them, particular blends of masculinity and femininity, and affiliations with gay communities overseas, none of which can be discussed here.
 Wallace, 'Fa'afafine: Queens of Samoa and the Elision of Homosexuality,' pp. 26-27.
 Pulotu-Endemann and Peteru, 'Beyond the Paradise Myth.'
 John Champagne, The Ethics of Marginality: A New Approach to Gay Studies, University of Minneapolis, Minnesota Press 1995, p. 30.
 The ease and enthusiasm with which Auckland's queer community seems to include and celebrate fa'afafine is an interesting phenomenon, and one that I have yet to investigate.
 Lowell D. Holmes, Quest for the Real Samoa: The Mead/Freeman Controversy and Beyond, Massachusetts: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, 1987, p. 80; Jeanette-Marie Mageo, Theorizing Self in Samoa: Emotions, Genders and Sexualities, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998; Kris Poasa, 'The Samoan Fa'afafine: One Case Study and Discussion of Transsexualism,' in Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 5, 3 (1992):43; Bradd Shore, 'Sexuality and Gender in Samoa: Conceptions and Missed Conceptions,' in Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality ed. S.B. Ortner and H. Whitehead, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 192-215. For an extensive discussion of masculine and feminine labour see Penelope Schoeffel, 'Daughters of Sina: A Study of Gender, Status and Power in Western Samoa,' Ph.D. dissertation, Anthropology Department, Australian National University, 1979.
 Besnier, 'Polynesian Gender Liminality,' p. 296; Poasa, 'The Samoan Fa'afafine,' p. 43.
 Besnier, 'Polynesian Gender Liminality,' p. 300.
 Regarding the impact of migration on Samoan society see Mufaulu Galuvao, 'Land and Migration and Western Samoa,' in In Search of a Home, Suva: University of the South Pacific, 1987, pp. 111-15; and Schoeffel, Daughters of Sina, p. 15.
 On the valuing of income over traditional knowledge see Peteru, The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males, p. 185; and for a more general discussion of the impact of capitalism on non-Western cultures see Dennis Altman, 'Rupture or Continuity: The internationalization of gay identities,' in Social Text 14, 3 (1996):86.
 A wraparound sarong worn by both men and women, although usually at a shorter length on men.
 Jeanette-Marie Mageo, 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side: Male Transvestism, Oscar Wilde, and Liminality in Making Gender,' in Ethos 24, 4 (1996):602. For a comprehensive analysis of the historical shift in fa'afafine self-presentation, see Reevan Dolgoy, 'The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence: Towards an Understanding of the Transformation of the Fa'afafine of Samoa,' unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, 2000.
 For a similar observation of Tongan fakaleiti see James, 'Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga,' pp. 44-45.
 Sarah Borch, 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' unpublished paper. Samoa, School for International Training, University of the South Pacific, 1998, p. 37. The sexualisation and apparently increasing number of fa'afafine and fakaleiti has been suggested by Mageo ('Samoa, on the Wilde Side') and Kerry James ('Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga') as related to the postcolonial instability of traditional masculine identity as well as to the influx of Western gender models, an argument that is not incommensurate with the analysis presented here.
 Dennis T.P. Keene, 'Houses Without Walls: Samoan Social Control,' unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawai'i, 1978, pp. 86-89.
 A similar situation applies in Tonga, where James refers to an older fakafafine of high status who mostly lives overseas. 'I was told that he had sexual relations with men, 'but only in Sydney so he doesn't disgrace his family here' ('Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga,' p. 47).
 It may be that there is also a cultural predisposition towards associating fa'afafine with 'immoral' sexuality. Fa'afafine are inherently barren, and barrenness is related to promiscuity by many Samoans (Holmes, Quest for the Real Samoa, p. 81; Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, p. 78). A Western-influenced sexualisation may thus become linked to a more Samoan understanding of barrenness leading to cross-culturally reinforced presumptions about fa'afafine promiscuity.
 Shore, 'Sexuality and Gender in Samoa,' p. 209; Mageo, 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side,' p. 591.
 Mageo, 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side,' p. 616. Regarding the masculine status of men who have sex with other men or fa'afafine, see Mageo, 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side,' p. 614; Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males,' p. 141; Poasa, 'The Samoan Fa'afafine,' p. 47; Schoeffel, Daughters of Sina, p. 203; and Shore, 'Sexuality and Gender in Samoa,' p. 210. If there is such a thing as fa'afafine homosexuality, it would be sex between two fa'afafine, a concept most fa'afafine find bemusing if not abhorrent. Yet Mageo suggests that sex between fa'afafine is becoming a more prevalent practice (Mageo, 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side,' p. 614). Unfortunately, I was not able to get any further information on the implications of this practice, but I hope to do so in the future. As with the differences between ideal and actual behaviour in terms of fa'afafine sexuality, the 'active male' concept also appears to be an ideal that is not always realised (Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males,' p. 198).
 James, 'Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga,' p. 54; Jeanette Marie Mageo, 'Male transvestism and cultural change in Samoa,' in American Ethnologist 19 (1992):449-50; Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, p. 61; Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males,' p. 215.
 Peteru, 'The Sexuality and STD/HIV Risk-Related Sexual Behaviors of Single, Unskilled, Young Adult, Samoan Males,' p. 169.
 Regarding the casual nature of homosexual liaisons see Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, p. 122; and Dolgoy, 'The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence,' p. 185. Regarding Samoan leaving fa'afafine in order to form a family – observations that accord with my own data see Mageo, 'Male transvestism and cultural change in Samoa,' p. 453.
 Regarding the incorporation of non-Western 'homosexuality' in Western discourses, see Rosalind Morris, 'All Made Up: Performance Theory and the New Anthropology of Sex and Gender,' in Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995):573; and on the difference between act and identity, see Altman, 'Rupture or Continuity,' pp. 81-82.
 On the internationalisation of gay identities, see Altman, 'Rupture or Continuity'; and, regarding the adoption of gay identities by fa'afafine, see Besnier, 'Polynesian Gender Liminality,' p. 304.
 Sherry B. Ortner, 'Gender and Sexuality in Hierarchical Societies: The case of Polynesia and some comparative implications,' in Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality, ed. Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 394-95. This attitude is not, however, solely related to women's sexuality, but rather reflects a wider social belief that values conformity to social expectations over self-gratification (Shore, 'Sexuality and Gender in Samoa,' pp. 195-196).
 On the Tongan context, see James, 'Effeminate Males and Change in the Construction of Gender in Tonga,' p. 52.
 Torgovnick, Gone Primitive, pp. 228-32.
 Heather Worth, 'Up on K Road on a Saturday night: Sex, gender and sex work in Auckland,' in Venereology: The Interdisciplinary International Journal of Sexual Health 13, 1 (2000):15-24.
 Worth, 'Up on K Road on a Saturday night,' p. 16.
 Pulotu-Endemann and Peteru, 'Beyond the Paradise Myth,' 2001, pp. 130-32.
 In relation to the North American Indian berdache, see Whitehead, 'The Bow and the Burden Strap,' p. 97.
 Mageo, 'Male transvestism and cultural change in Samoa'; 'Samoa, on the Wilde Side'; and Theorizing Self in Samoa.
 Mageo's argument is complex and thoroughly made, yet problematic in many more aspects than I can discuss here.
 Shore, 'Sexuality and Gender in Samoa.'
 Kath Weston, 'Lesbian/Gay Studies in the House of Anthropology,' in Annual Review of Anthropology 22 (1993):347.
 Talal Asad, 'The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology,' in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, p. 155.
 In the case of fa'afafine speaking with palagi, the use of Western language may also be a courtesy, using terms they believe the palagi will understand (Dolgoy, 'The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence,' p. 167).
 Pulotu-Endemann and Peteru, 'Beyond the Paradise Myth,' 2001, p. 131.
 This is phrase used by a respondent to refer to the 'new generation' of more sexualised and individualistic fa'afafine, which I have adopted to signify a range of fa'afafine identities that indicate a willingness to adopt to the demands and opportunities of contemporary situations.
 Steven Seidman, 'Symposium: Queer Theory/Sociology: A Dialogue,' in Sociological Theory 12, 2 (1994):171.
 Dolgoy, The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence.
 Tracey McIntosh, 'Words and Worlds of Difference: Homosexualities in the Pacific,' working paper 3/99, Sociology and Social Policy Working Paper Series, Department of Sociology, University of the South Pacific, Fiji, 1999, p. 16.
 Fa'aSamoa loosely translates as 'the Samoan way', and is generally understood to signify Samoan culture.
 On the role of redistributing wealth in Samoan social hierarchies, see Keene, Houses Without Walls, pp. 150-51; and Ortner, 'Gender and Sexuality in Hierarchical Societies,' p. 364 . For a full examination of the significance of beauty pageants in fa'afafine lives and politics, see Dolgoy, 'The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence,' pp. 280-308.
 Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps, 'Narrating the Self,' in Annual Review of Anthropology 25 (1996).
 cf. Whitehead, 'The Bow and the Burden Strap,' p. 97 in relation to the North American Indian berdache.
 Judith P. Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York/London: Routledge, 1990, pp. 110, 17.
 Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995.