An Open Letter from a Samoan ‘Caitlyn’- Jaiyah Saelua

Jaiyah Saelua is the first "transgender" soccer player to compete in a men's FIFA World Cup Qualifier in 2011, she was featured in the award winning documentary following her American Samoa team, "Next Goal Wins". With the recent media buzz of American olympic athlete Bruce Jenner's transition gracing the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, she writes an open letter on the subject of fa'afafine, and the third genders in Samoa and the South Pacific to her community.

To my beloved Samoan community,

Firstly & most importantly, #CallHerCaitlyn Bruce Jenner is no more. She has evolved into a human who is living her truth, as should all human beings, transgender or not.

Transgender women prefer to be called who they appear as; it helps with confidence & self-esteem. And if you aren’t sure, out of respect, ask. Simple as that.

Fa’afafine is the third gender specific to the Samoan culture, but the stereotypes associated with fa’afafine are mostly positive – a perspective that western cultures are freshly adapting to. When I speak to western societies through press about fa’afafine, I speak of those positive aspects (reliable, compassionate, loving, organized, talented), because the lesson for them is tolerance.

For the first time, I will address the problems many Pacific island cultures have with their perception of their respective 3rd gender.

Familial support and respect are key to maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship between a fa’afafine & their community. As do most things, a child’s perspectives on life begin within the family. Caitlyn Jenner might give a young fa’afafine hope to become her true self one day, but when that truth isn’t being supported at home, their paths become wavering and almost immediately comes trouble.

Respect is said to be the foundation of the Samoan culture, and that includes respect for fa’afafine. Fa’afafine who are respected by their families and community are able to overcome obstacles more easily and realize their abilities to reach their highest potentials earlier in life. These fa’afafine become very crucial members of society.

Everyone knows that Samoan humor is crude, but to what extent does it become an issue of the Samoan people? How can one support Caitlyn Jenner [who is without a doubt an icon for transgender women & fa’afafine together, but a complete stranger] and not support the fa’afafine in their own families? That is when it becomes an issue. We must understand that joking about a fa’afafine is not a means of support. Understand them first.

A million transgender women can be visible in their societies and it truly helps when those women are well-known (ie: Janet Mock, Lavern Cox, Carmen Carrera, Caitlyn Jenner), but change comes from society members who do not understand or tolerate. They are the target. They exist within our Pacific Island communities, and I strongly feel that this is a crucial time for these lessons to be introduced to them. Pacific means peace. Let the world learn from the people who hold the true meaning.

I love you my Tagata Pasifika. Love one another.

Love fa’afafine.

#GirlsLikeUs #CallMeCaitlyn #TransIsBeautiful

- Jaiyah Saelua 

This article was first published in Suga Magazine Online.

This article is part of the category: Gender and Sexuality 
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