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Fa’afafine

Fa’afafine (Samoa), fakaleiti (Tonga), rae rae or mahu (French Polynesia) is a Polynesian concept related to gender role and gender identity.

Traditionally a fa’afafine was a boy raised as a girl in a family with too many male children. Sons were chosen to help the mother with domestic chores. Since these chores were strictly the work of women, and because these boys were doing women’s work, they were raised as if they were female and dressed as girls. Fa’afafine often kept a female gender identity into adulthood even after marriage to a woman.

However, many fa’afafines state that it was not their families who choose their gender role despite of their (originally male) gender identity, but that their families simply reacted to a pre-existing female gender identity; allowing the children to express this gender identity, instead of forcing them to conform to the male gender role associated with their physical sex.

Modern fa’afafine usually are what in western cultures is called transgender, that is they are assigned male at birth and choose a female gender role. They are more likely to be androphiliac (sexually attracted to men). Parents allow their sons to choose to become a fa’afafine.

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