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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A trans soccer playing first

By Paul Canning

In what is believed to be a world-first, a transgender soccer player has played in an international game.

Jonny Saelua took to the field last month for American Samoa in the first winning international game for the tiny Pacific country. They've lost 30 international games before this one, accumulating a 229-12 goal score against them.

Saelua is actually fa’afafine, part of the traditional 'third sex' recognised throughout many Pacific cultures for hundreds of years.

Fa’afafine means “to be a woman” in Samoan. According to 30-year-old Alex Su’a, who heads the Samoa Fa’afafine Society, there are 1,500 fa’afafine in Samoa and American (Western)  Samoa.

“To be fa’afafine you have to be Samoan, born a man, feel you are a woman, be sexually attracted to males and, importantly, proud to be called and labeled fa’afafine,” Su’a said.

“The fa’afafine are culturally accepted,” he said. “They have a role in Samoan society. They are the caretakers of the elders because their brothers and sisters get married, but the fa’afafine traditionally don’t.”

Saelua agreed:

“In Samoa the fa’afafine are very reliable. We can do what the boys do and what the girls do.”

A study last year of the fa’afafine in Samoa suggested that homosexuality in humans - from an evolutionary point of view - may convey an indirect benefit by enhancing the survival prospects of close relatives.
Samoa's communitarian culture may be representative of the environment in which male same-sex sexuality evolved in ancient times, the researchers said.

However intense religiosity in the island nations has undermined this tradition.

A Samoan newspaper recently reported how a fa’afafine visited their office, saying that he’d been getting death threats from his former boyfriend and he “wants help before it is too late.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council has called on various Pacific countries to decriminalize homosexuality, and several Pacific Island nations have pledged to do so, including Palau and Nauru. But Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea have said that they intend to keep their laws, which are vestiges of the colonial era. Samoan lawmakers, as in many other countries, have cited 'Christian tradition' as a reason why sodomy laws will not be abolished.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the US territory of Western Samoa in 1979.

Saelua's teammates “make me feel like a part of them”, he says.

“They don’t make me feel different because I am the way I am,” she said. “It is what anybody needs to feel wanted within a team. That is why I always do my best. I can’t let them down.”

“I just go out and play soccer as a soccer player. Not as transgender, not as a boy and not as a girl. Just as a soccer player.”
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