The Third Gender

January 13, 2008

A few days ago, my friend and I had happened upon a television series on National Geographic called Taboo. This particular episode explored a few culturally based perceptions of death, including beliefs of the afterlife and appropriate funeral practices to honor the life and death of the deceased. It was interesting, so I decided to explore some other topics the series has covered. The one that immediately caught my eye was Sexual Identity (go figure). Unfortunately, not having the National Geographic channel myself, I settled with a 3 minute clip online (posted, fittingly, through the NationalGeographic youtube channel) that talked about a group of Samoans called fa’afafine.


Fa’afafine are generally involved in sexual relationships with other males who are socially identified as heterosexual. Without the possibility of a child, however, these relationships are considered much more casual than those between one male and one female. Rarely do two fa’afafine become romantically involved, and relationships between a fa’afafine and a female are virtually unheard of.

While the National Geographic program, or rather a small piece of that program, had originally sparked my interest in what is often recognized as the “third gender” of Samoan culture, I found a minimal amount of information regarding the topic elsewhere. After some digging I happened upon an essay written a few years ago about the fa’afafine and how Western influence has come to redefine what exactly that word means.

Western notions of gay and transgendered are not interchangeable with the social role of the fa’afafine (there is, apparently, no specific Samoan term for “homosexual”). Gender in Samoa is defined by certain roles. Domestic duties, such as cooking and cleaning, for example, are generally assigned to women. Your labour is what defines you, both at home and in your community.

Interestingly, the overt sexuality and physical emphasis we see in modern fa’afafine, the essay argues, is largely the result of Western influence. Images of femininity through film provided a gender-specific physical ideal that many fa’afafine, and biological females, could use to advertise their sexuality. But also injected into the culture were Western concepts of homosexuality. Distinction between gay and straight were not an issue until recent years for Samoans, and in a nation with a resoundingly conservative Christian populace, ‘deviance’ in sexuality can be particularly frightening. So while the identity of the fa’afafine was once multifaceted, under the outsider lens it became almost exclusively sexually-based.

Does this strike anybody else as a little bit sad? These new terms threaten to marginalize the fa’afafine, who consider themselves firmly rooted in their community. Furthermore, filing fa’afafine under the same category as transvestites or transgendered persons because it is the closest our culture can get to “understanding” what they are is an unfortunate and misleading oversimplification.

It is strange, but necessary, to think about the ways in which language falls short. After all, our understanding of the world goes only as far as words can take us.

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The Curious Life…

January 7, 2008

So earlier last year I began work on this character called Willard Nobody. At that time, I was thinking a lot about the antihero. I didn’t really like this romanticized image of the protagonist we see all too often in movies and books and things. Its much more interesting to look at a character and not know what he’s all about.  Why can’t the good guy be ugly, have bad breath or, you know, be a little evil?  I tried to think of physical features that we Americans love to debase and tear apart – a double chin, unsightly cysts, missing teeth, a patchy mustache and sideburns, bad haircut, thick glasses. He would be the subject of ridicule, and bottle up every last bit of abuse with a tightly sealed smile. When it came to his personality, he was everything we value as “good” and “admirable”, but nobody cared or even noticed simply because he didn’t look the part. I also decided I wanted the story to have an element of fantasy, so I gave Willard a sassy pet fairy named Lloyd.

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Many sketches later, trying to conceive of new characters while also getting a better grasp of what my two central characters would look like, I created Jason. Jason was one of those characters based on some stereotype of a kid that everyone knows – kind of lanky, exaggerated bird-like nose, an overbite, and seemingly unable to breath without his mouth open. He was supposed to be in his 20’s, but he was one of those people that just sort of got frozen in time between adolescence and adulthood. He seems nervous and awkward all the time, panicked even when there is no reason to be. Immediately I took a liking to his character, and suddenly all these ideas came to be in terms of his relationship with Willard.

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The ideas in terms of story are still developing, but the following seems to be staying pretty consistent:

1. Willard will lose someone he loves

2. Most of the story will center on the “relationship” between Jason and Willard

My first idea was to make Willard Nobody into a comic book. This continues to be my number one priority in terms of fully realizing my “vision” or whatever the hell you want to call it. I also thought it would be interesting to create some claymated “teasers” as well, something kind of reminiscent of the early claymated Hey! Arnold shorts. The more I consider these ideas the more excited I get about putting them into motion. This is going to be a good year.

So thats my brief explanation of that particular project, for anyone who was curious. I’ll continue to keep you guys posted.


Out of the Loop – An Introduction

January 7, 2008

Out of the Loop is a series that considers the roles of the socially outcast.  This will include, but is not limited to, outsider/folk artists, famed celebrities who exhibit culturally unacceptable behaviors, and surviving victims of extraordinary circumstance.  It is my goal not only to tell stories that I myself consider wonderful or fascinating, but to understand how and why it is we are able to look at these figures with such awe.  I hope you will enjoy me in my quest to not only learn about the strange world around us, but also, in understanding our own response, to learn about ourselves.  Remember this, if you will, that we are all people united by a common uncertainty.

Thank you, and enjoy.


pleased to meet me

January 7, 2008

In terms of really solid, committed, and unflinching ideas about the world, I’m still a few laps behind the pack. Which is partly why I’ve decided to become a blogger – To find a way to fit into the world and to explore the multiplicity of meanings that are a big part in making life so incredible, limitless, and exciting. I don’t believe that things are so black and white/good and evil/beautiful and ugly and all that jazz. That is entirely too simple, and it keeps the world’s inhabitants from really growing to appreciate everything in all of its glorious uncertainty. “That guy” can claim his knowledge of everything all he wants, and maybe he can argue his points more effectively than I can. Maybe he has manipulated the English language in such a way that he has structured an entire world to fit into place as HE sees it. But, essentially, he knows nothing. His perception of the world is just as unstable as it is for the rest of us. Nothing is so fixed or unquestionable, no matter how pretty or convincing that guy – or anybody else in the world – may make it sound.

This is an important idea to me, and guides my attempts to grow as a writer/artist/person. I’m hoping this blog will be beneficial not only to myself, but to anyone who may stumble across it. It would be pretty neat if I made some friends through blogging as well. Who needs RL friends when you have blogging buddies anyway?