Gender: A Wider Lens
Gender: A Wider Lens
68 - Pioneers Series: Cultural Misunderstandings with Paul L. Vasey

68 - Pioneers Series: Cultural Misunderstandings with Paul L. Vasey


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This is the last episode in our pioneers series and the second interview with Dr. Paul Vasey. If you haven’t heard our conversation with Paul in episode 57, I recommend you go back and listen to that one first, as we build upon many of the ideas we introduced there. Today we continue reflecting on the way Western activism interacts with research and the interpretation of the fa’afafine, the muxe, and other third-gender individuals from different countries. We talk about the implications of the fact that the fa’afafine, for example, don’t try to identify as women and whether there are conflicting rights issues in Samoa. Paul also explains how Western funding organizations can end up imposing foreign concepts onto other cultures. We even touch on the implications for things like puberty blockers and early medical intervention.

It was a real pleasure to wrap up our series with Paul and we hope you’ll enjoy this interview and stick around next week for the post-series analysis with me and Stella.


“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

  • Stella and Sasha reflect on the last episode they had with Paul, having now the time to digest what they’ve learned so far in this series.

  • What is the implication of the fa’afafine to have their own gender category?

  • Fa’afafines having their own gender role consequently makes gender dysphoria uncommon in these cultural settings.

  • Paul talks about sports teams and how the fa’afafine participate in them as an example.

  • What is the Samoan’s opinion about today’s phenomenon of trans women competing in international sports?

  • Paul shares the impact the western culture has with the fa’afafine and the common questions he gets from them.

  • What is the most important thing we can learn from the Samoan culture?

  • Paul is skeptical about the imposition of ideas from other cultures to work when they don’t develop organically.

  • Gender-diverse individuals in non-Western cultures are commonly depicted in idealized terms but there is no such thing as a gender utopia. Paul talks about how he thinks that’s not the reality of their everyday lives.

  • What are the points of difference between fa’afafine and muxe? Paul shares what they are.

  • The similarities between fa’afafine and muxe mean there is a biological structure to same-sex attraction that can be culturally universal.

  • Sasha asks Paul how he addresses cultural relativism between different cultures.

  • Paul does not suggest that either conceptual framework for understanding male femininity and same-sex attraction is better or worse than the other. Each has its own benefits and costs.

  • In Samoa, male same-sex attraction doesn’t really mean anything. Paul explains this further.

  • Paul also talks about the statistics between Western gay people vs fa’afafine vs. muxe and their implications.

  • How do cultural influences contribute to ROGD? Paul shares his insights.

  • Talking about cross-cultural context, Paul highlights the importance of historical change through time in terms of what boyhood femininity means.

  • Paul uses the term female gynephilia as exclusive and explains why.

  • Paul mentions Paul Bailey and what he said about having less flexibility in men and what that implicates.

  • It’s natural for cultures to interact with each other and it’s natural to exchange ideas and concepts in order to evolve. But what happens when one culture imposes on another?

  • Paul often finds a lot of people who are outsiders of a certain culture self-identify themselves as experts which in turn misrepresent these people.

  • If it’s an actual person born from that culture who then moved away, that person can better represent as a spokesperson of a particular ideological perspective.

  • A majority of these local communities would not pay attention to these topics because it’s not a relevant conversation for them.

  • How does funding of research studies influence these communities?

  • Paul shares that the LGBTQ+ community does not make sense to most non-Western cultures.

  • People can assemble and form groups in any way they desire but it’s valuable to be sensitive to cross-cultural perspectives so the Western way of thinking is not imposed.

  • There are downstream consequences to tinkering with these cultural systems because they might not be as optimal as the ones currently in place.

  • If tolerance and acceptance are just social constructs, then they can crumble and disintegrate very quickly and we can’t take that for granted.

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For more about our show:

Gender: A Wider Lens
Gender: A Wider Lens
Therapists Stella O’Malley and Sasha Ayad explore diverse perspectives through a psychological lens, fostering open dialogue on gender identity, transition, and the transgender umbrella. Their work with gender dysphoric clients and unique experiences yield an informed outlook delving into gender's psychological nuances. Interviews with clinicians, academics, transgender individuals, parents, detransitioners, and others touched by gender provide varied insights and intimate inquiry into the taboo yet relevant topic.