Laurie and Debbie say:
Jonny “Jayieh” Saelua was just named “Man of the Match” for his goal assist and 90th minute goal-line clearance which helped lead Samoa to its first victory in 30 consecutive games, and in a World Cup qualifying match at that.
The “Man of the Match” is transgender; more specifically, she is fa’afafine:
According to 30-year-old Alex Su’a, who heads the Samoa Fa’afafine Society, there are 1,500 fa’afafine in Samoa and American Samoa.
“To be fa’afafine you have to be Samoan, born a man, feel you are a woman, be sexually attracted to males and, importantly, proud to be called and labeled fa’afafine,” Su’a said.
“The fa’afafine are culturally accepted,” he said. “They have a role in Samoan society. They are the caretakers of the elders because their brothers and sisters get married, but the fa’afafine traditionally don’t.”
“I just go out and play soccer as a soccer player,” Saelua said. “Not as transgender, not as a boy and not as a girl. Just as a soccer player.”
When gender issues arise in sports, they are usually contentious and regressive: a person competing as a woman is either accused of “actually being a man” or “being too masculine to really be a woman.” Being “masculine” is equated with being stronger, more powerful, and more skilled. Saelua’s team’s acceptance of her identity shows us another way. American Samoa’s goalkeeper Nicky Salapu says of Saelua, “He’s like a brother to us and he’s like a sister to us.”
Saelua and her teammates are modeling something much of the rest of the world is not familiar with: ease and acceptance of gender identifications and presentations that aren’t binary. Like the Native American and First Nations concept of “two-spirit” people, the Samoan concept of fa’afine opens up some badly-needed space between the rigid genders of the binary system.