Gender: A Wider Lens
Gender: A Wider Lens
57 — Pioneers Series: Male Femininity w/Paul L. Vasey

57 — Pioneers Series: Male Femininity w/Paul L. Vasey

Recent theories about gender often describe “third gender” categories found in other cultures. Prof Paul Vasey is one of the world’s leading academic experts on the Fa’fafine. These individuals are feminine males who live “in the manner of a woman” in Samoa. Sasha and Stella have a spellbinding discussion with Paul about how our Western constructs can sometimes completely misinterpret well-researched phenomena in other societies. This conversation actually highlights the universal truths of sex difference between male and female and helps us understand the organic, naturally emerging trait of femininity in androphilic (or same-sex-attracted) males.


“What can the Samoan ‘Fa’afafine’ teach us about the Western concept of gender identity disorder in childhood?” by Paul Vasey and Nancy Bartlett (2007).

Extended Notes

  • Paul talks about Fa’afafine and how he got interested in this culture.

  • Is gender identity disorder in children a mental disorder? Paul shares what they found with the data they collected on their studies of the Samoan people.

  • What is Fa’afafine? Paul shares its definition.

  • Paul also talks about the history of Fa’afafine in Samoa and how they are socially accepted in their culture.

  • Does Fa’afafine also exist in other cultures? Paul shares the different groups around the world that have the same identity.

  • Paul talks about what being gay means in the cultures of Samoa and Oaxaca.

  • Is there an equivalent of Fa’afafine for females? Paul talks about the other categories of this kind.

  • Paul talks about the typical behaviors children from Samoa usually exhibit that helps families identify them as being of the third gender.

  • In these societies, gender doesn’t play any institutionalized role. Everybody is responsible for themselves.

  • Paul also talks about how sex atypical behavior organically emerges from children through the studies he has had with these cultures comparing them to Western ones.

  • Paul also shares his findings on what is the female equivalent to autogynephilia in his research.

  • Is autogynephilia a Western phenomenon? Paul shares his insights on this.

  • Paul also talks about the different cross-cultural perspectives of gender and their different norms.

  • Sexual orientation is biological but traits can be affected by the environment they are developed under.

  • Why is same-sex attraction often paired with gender nonconformity? Paul shares his insights.

  • Paul also talks about his Ph.D. about Japanese monkeys and how it relates to the impact on gender from social construct.

  • Paul shares his thoughts on what is sex and what is gender and the amount of confusion it gets.

  • To close, Stella asks Paul two questions: One, does the Fa’afafine get married or the equivalent of such in their culture? Two, is his study considered controversial in his field of study?


“Regardless of how accommodating a particular culture is, if individuals are dysphoric with respect to their sex bodies, then no amount of accommodation is going to change that sense that I’m in the wrong body.” — Paul [7:54]

“Gay isn’t necessarily an identity that people draw upon to construct a sense of who they are (in Samoa).” — Paul [14:30]

“Nobody makes them Fa’afafine. Their male femininity emerges and then people recognize them.” — Paul [19:30]

“Male femininity is despised in the West and so androphilic males in the West don’t like talking about it.” — Paul [36:30]

This podcast is partially sponsored by ReIME, Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics:

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Gender: A Wider Lens
Gender: A Wider Lens
In this podcast, now in its fourth year, therapists Stella O'Malley and Sasha Ayad take a deep dive into the psychological and cultural forces impacting the social changes around "gender." Through interviews with researchers, doctors, therapists, parents, detransitioners, and others, Sasha and Stella's podcast is a "must listen" for anyone trying to navigate the current gender landscape. With their sharp analytical minds and deep compassionate hearts, Stella and Sasha have also become known throughout many parent networks as lighthouses in the midst of some very stormy seas. Previous guests include Helen Joyce, Jesse Singal, Leor Sapir, Kathleen Stock, Jamie Reed, Peter Boghossian and more.