Episode 57

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

Published on: 7th January, 2022

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). Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17951883

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:


Learn more about our show: Linktr.ee/WiderLensPod

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About the Podcast

Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast
Two therapists explore the expanding concept of "gender" from a psychological depth perspective.
Gender dysphoria has become a minefield for public discussion, with many afraid to express their views or question the narrative. Our mission is to examine this important and complex topic from a range of perspectives, but always through a psychological lens. By openly considering and examining gender identity, transition, and the transgender umbrella, we hope to give all interested parties permission to engage these fascinating topics with less fear and more honesty. Interviews and discussions will involve clinicians, medical professionals, academics, transgender people, parents, detransitioners and other interesting individuals whose lives have been touched by the concept of gender.

Conversations between two practicing therapists give listeners an opportunity to contemplate gender from a depth perspective not currently taken up in most of today’s accessible debates. As a result of their work with gender dysphoric therapy clients as well as their personal divergent experiences with gender, Stella and Sasha hold a refreshing and informed perspective.

Is gender identity a facilitation of development and expression of creativity, or can it be a defense against painful existential realities of living in a human body? What can we discover about masculinity, femininity, identity, gender performance, and sexuality when we peer beneath the surface and dive into a deeper psychological exploration? What is the relationship between body, mind, identity, culture, and psyche?

This podcast engages listeners in an intimate and fascinating behind-the-scenes inquiry about a topic as taboo as it is salient today.

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GETA - an association of therapists who believe that individuals experiencing gender related concerns ought to be treated using a whole person approach. GETA connects like minded clinicians, provides educational resources and trainings, and helps people with gender dysphoria find support. For more info, visit genderexploratory.com.
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About your hosts

Stella O'Malley

Profile picture for Stella O'Malley
Stella O’Malley is a psychotherapist and author who works in private practice in Ireland. Her work focuses on parenting, family dynamics and working with teenagers.

Much of Stella’s counselling and writing focuses on mental health and the importance of well-being and she is a regular contributor to the media. She is also the resident psychotherapist for the current TV series, Raised by the Village, a family programme that helps troubled teenagers reconnect with themselves and their families.

Stella's first book, Cotton Wool Kids, was released in 2015 while Bully-Proof Kids: Practical tools to help kids grow up confident, resilient and strong was released in 2017. Stella’s latest book Fragile, was released in 2019 and focuses on overcoming anxiety and stress.

Stella was the presenter of the documentary Trans - Kids: It’s Time To Talk broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2018 and she contributed a chapter to the 2019 book, Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.

The Jungian analyst, Lisa Marchiano, and Stella launched Secrets of the Motherworld in September 2019, offering thoughtful exploration of the most intimate aspects of motherhood in a bid to help mothers feel less alone.

Stella is a Clinical Advisor for the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners. She is also the lead facilitator for the Gender Dysphoria Support Network.

Stella holds a B.A. in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a M.A. in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Sasha Ayad

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Sasha Ayad is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works in private practice, and has treated adolescents for over 10 years. Her work focuses on teens and young adults struggling with issues of gender dysphoria and gender identity.

She became interested in the sharp rise in teenagers who declare a trans identity for the first time during adolescence. She discovered, through working with hundreds of families, that many teens were developing gender dysphoria only after adopting a transgender identity. She questions the practice of medical transition for children and teenagers, and her clinical work focuses on developmentally appropriate, least-invasive-first talk therapy.

Sasha is also a founding member and Clinical Advisor in the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners.

Sasha’s previous work experience includes:
- School counselor for middle and high school students at a charter school for underserved communities

- Behavioral therapy with children on the autism spectrum

- Individual and group counseling for women and children impacted by domestic abuse and sexual violence

- Developed and ran the first counseling program at a large state supported living facility for adults with intellectual disability

Sasha holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology.