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Homophobic and transphobic attitudes were introduced in the North by English colonists, and by Spanish settlers in Latin America.

participate in the local economy and are accepted by most of the Island’s inhabitants. Traditionally known as yimpininni, proto-transgenderal Aboriginal people were considered – like the fa’afafine and twospirit people – the nurturers of the family. They were respected within their communities, and performed a sacred role in island ceremonies. With colonisation and the arrival of the Catholic Church, however, they too became social outcasts. Here, as in other colonised territories, Western morality has sought to undermine, stigmatise and deny expression of transgender identity at every turn, damaging the collective psyche of gender diverse people in the process.

Professor Williams explains, “Two-spirit people were often forced, either by government officials, Christian missionaries or their own community, to conform to standard gender roles. Some, who could not conform, either went underground or committed suicide.” On the far-flung tropical shores of the Samoan Islands, transgender identity among males is not only acknowledged, it has been actively encouraged for generations. Known as the third-gender people, fa’afafine are anatomical boys who are raised as girls. Translated literally, the word fa’afafine means ‘in the manner of woman’.

In marked contrast, Eastern history wears its proto-transgenderal traditions and rituals with pride. Korea’s paksu mudang, for example, was a male shaman who performed a woman’s role

When seeking to explain the Samoan third-gender, the question

of nature versus nurture has no hard and fast answer. While some Samoan boys intuitively demonstrate signs of the fa-afafine spirit from a young age, others are taught, or sometimes even coerced, by their families to adopt feminine traits and perform female gender roles. In a family of boys, it is not uncommon to raise one child as a girl, to help the mother shoulder the domestic burden.

in ancient shamanistic spiritual traditions inherited from prehistoric eastern Siberia. In Vietnam, the shamanic tradition of dao mau is often presided over by transgendered shamans. And within the Bugis Indonesian ethnic group, the bissu people are regarded as gender transcendent spiritual mediums.

The pre-modern transgender trail does not end in the South Pacific. Aboriginal Australian folklore indicates that gender diversity was also threaded into the fabric of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.

Images Courtesy of Jocelen Janon

In the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, a community of about fifty Aboriginal transgender women live among the small Island population of 2,500. Referring to themselves as ‘sista girls’, they



Where so many traditional societies embraced, nurtured and honoured, the West demanded compliance. And while it’s great to see today’s transgender celebrities using their fame to wind back the binary barriers that inhibit gender diversity, we should not have had to wait for Caitlyn, or Laverne, or any of their contemporaries to show us the way forward. Traditional societies have had a handle on this for centuries.

An estimated 3,000 fa’afafine are thought to be living in Samoa today. Fa’afafine usually identify and are regarded as women, and their relationships are usually with heterosexual men.

Profile for AM-UNITY Magazine

Edition 5  

Welcome to Edition 5 of AM-UNITY Magazine! In this issue we focus on Indigenous rights, refugee rights, and gender equity & diversity. Insid...

Edition 5  

Welcome to Edition 5 of AM-UNITY Magazine! In this issue we focus on Indigenous rights, refugee rights, and gender equity & diversity. Insid...