The Kweenz of Kelston: A New Generation of Fa'afafine

Blaine Callahan

Recent events such as the #FreeSpeechBus controversy and the trans bathroom laws show that discrimination against trans populations continues unabated. However, not beaten down by these types of challenges, a young group of fa’afafine, trans women from Samoa, are carving out a new paradigm in transgender culture. They have grown to embrace individuality and self-expression beautifully captured in Todd Karehana’s short documentary, The Kweenz of Kelston. These students attend an all-boys high school in Auckland, New Zealand where they come together to practice dancing and express their own femininity.

“I love to dance,” says Winter, one of the Kweenz dancers. She smirks and giggles as she talks.

“When I’m in bed, I shake. Like I’m dancing on the floor or something...I’m always moving around when I’m at my house.”

Her group practices various dance moves like the Vogue Drop where you buckle one knee and fall to the ground, your focus staying on the crowd. A move popularized by Western drag queens, the Kweenz have adapted many trends from this expressive movement. They do their own makeup and let their hair grow out. For an upcoming performance, they dress in striking attire, accentuating their feminine attributes. They joke and gossip in a raised voice while complimenting their friends’ fashion or looks. Most importantly, they can trust one another.

“I can express myself. I can express how I feel and how I can move like I want without getting judged. And it’s really really cool, like, you can be feminine whenever you want.”

Their insistence on self-expression, however, is met with discrimination. Alexis describes the bullying she and her fa’afafine friends face from other students at school.

“[They] mock us by dancing, cause we always dance...And they’ll always say 'you’re a disgrace to your culture. You’re a disgrace to your parents. You should go back in the closet. Lock yourself. Stay in there. Die in there,'….That shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Other Kweenz talk about the discrimination they face with teachers. They are told to wipe off their makeup in the men’s room and change into the school’s male uniforms. They aren’t allowed to express themselves as feminine.

These Kweenz exemplify the beauty and confidence of their own fa’afafine heritage while drawing on the strength and pride of transgender and drag queen ideals to stand up to this harassment and discrimination. They know they’re beautiful and powerful. And they aren’t afraid to show it while displaying all their hard work in stunning, onstage performances.

“Being fa’afafine is a role that you have to play. But that role is yourself,” notes Winter. “I can be who I want. In public, in my family. I can dress how I like.”

“I’m unstoppable now. I’m powerful."

Blaine Callahan is an editorial intern at Warscapes magazine.