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History Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

Paradise Lost? Social Change and Fa’afafine in Samoa

By Johanna Schmidt, 2003

Geographically isolated in the centre of the Pacific, Samoa has only recently become fully incorporated into economic and social forms of globalization. The past few decades have seen significant shifts in the construction and expression of gender and sexuality. Among the groups most affected are the fa’afafine, biological males who express feminine gender identities. These transgendered identities were `traditionally’ most often enacted through labour, but fa’afafine subjectivities currently incorporate more and more western discourses of gender and sexuality. In this article, the author examines how westernization has resulted in the social marginalization of fa’afafine, but has also allowed access to a wider range of `imagined lives’ than previously available. While globalization has inevitably and irrevocably changed the local life-worlds of Samoa, and thus the enactment of fa’afafine identities, the author argues that fa’afafine continue to enact culturally unique identities that incorporate aspects of both western and Samoan gender and sexuality conceptions.

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