Apia-born Pejay Clark, 30, describes a Samoan culture that not only accepts individuality but also embraces diversity.
I am respected in Samoa, because I can do my job better than any woman can. We’re the important ones, not the real girls, said Pejay.
Pejay is a fa’afafine, a biological man who assumes the female role in Samoan society. She would do the cooking, housework and sewing.
I am here now for my parents and when my parents pass away I will have all the riches and beauty.
The family unit in Samoan culture is tight with everyone contributing in their respective roles. On some occasions, families with more boys than girls choose a boy to assist the family as a fa’afafine. The parents may select the boy who appears more effeminate.
Pejay, who has 11 siblings, made her own decision to be a fa’afafine.
I am a woman trapped in a man’s body, Pejay said. I told my parents when I was five that I was a girl and I introduced myself as their daughter.
Fa’afafines have relationships with straight men, as the men are attracted to the idealised feminine appearance of fa’afafines.
Sonny Vaetoa, 26, was raised in Auckland but identifies as Samoan, because that’s where his heritage lies. In Australia Sonny calls himself a mala, a gay man who undertakes female-skewed jobs involving physical activity such as plantation work and collecting coconuts.
If Sonny had been raised in Samoa, he thinks he would live a third category according to Samoan culture, undercover, where men live a heterosexual life but enjoy homosexual relations on the side.
I’d have a wife and children. My family is quite religious, he said.
Malas have relationships with foreign gay men, as it’s disrespectful to date other malas.
Despite Samoan culture valuing the contribution fa’afafine and mala offer society, homosexuality is illegal with jail sentences on statute. In reality these laws are never prosecuted.
In September this year, Pacific nations gathered in Auckland to discuss HIV/AIDS in the region. The conference issued a declaration, We -¦ call on all governments of the Pacific to pass laws that recognise and protect the human rights of people living with HIV.
I think they [Samoan government] will decriminalise homosexuality. They accept us as we are.
The documentary on Cindy opened everyone’s eyes to realise we do exist, Pejay said.
Both Pejay and Sonny cited the 1999 Australian-funded documentary, A Paradise Bent: Boys Will be Girls in Samoa, featuring television personality fa’afafine Cindy, as facilitating a greater understanding of homosexuality.
However the church in Samoa is outspoken. Dr Intisone Salevao from the Congregational Church recently said, It is not morally acceptable -¦ Man and woman are supposed to be the normal scheme of things -¦ We privilege and we respect our gay people here -¦ but that does not necessarily mean that we approve of what they do.
Pejay came to Sydney with her family in 1993. I love Sydney as I can only be who I am. The gay community is very supportive here.
Sonny left Auckland for Queensland in 1988 and arrived in Sydney in 1999. Sydney is the reason I came out. I can be me.