The trans ‘queen mother’ reclaiming Fiji’s third gender – photo essay
Mcgoon has taken courage and inspiration from the celebration of a third gender – “vakasalewalewa” in traditional Fijian culture. The iTaukei term refers to people assigned male at birth who identify as women and whose identities are both recognised and valued.
Excellent. So, not trans in the modern sense at all. Fijian culture recognised the difference between these hairdressing folk and the wider male grouping, OK. But, note, they also recognized the difference between these folk and the wider female grouping too. “Third” actually has a meaning.
Now, if English had a word like vakasalewalewa then much of the current shouting match would be done and dusted. “people assigned male at birth who identify as women” OK, that’s fine, very few have a problem with that. Your prop forward, your frock and all that. But note what doesn’t happen in that formulation. Identify as and is are different. It’s also a third gender. Which allows for those fine grains of distinction perhaps required. Sure, you’re socially a woman for most use cases perhaps. But, well, not the changing rooms, eh? Say, and just as an example.
We also get the linguistic joys. Vakasalewalewa get called in for the prostate checks, not the cervix ones. We can go back to using men and women – or, if you really, really want to men and “English word we don’t have but which means vakasalewalewa” get prostates done, women cervixes.
Which is what makes it so fun – to me at least – that we’ve these repeated articles about how Red Indians recognise two spirit people, about how varied Mela- and Poly- nesian societies are just fine with the fey and light on their feet. And, let’s be honest they should be and so should we. God’s made some strange buggers out there but that’s the point, we are all God’s little creatures. But the point about all of these other societies is that they make a distinction between the two spirit and men and women, between the lightness of pedicures and women etc. But this fact that they make the distinction is used to browbeat us into not making the distinction. We are supposed to take the evidence of two spirit and vakasalewalewa distinctions as not allowing the distinction between trans and cis. Trans women are women we’re told – the proof being that other societies don’t say that, they say exactly the opposite, that these folk aren’t men or women they’re a third gender.
It really is remarkable how both language and basic logic get mangled in this particular debate, isn’t it?