A new documentary about American Samoa’s national football team, Next Goal Wins, introduces us to the FIFA World Cup’s first transgender player Jaiyah Saelua. The defender has been a part of the national squad since 2010, and in 2011 made history when she competed in a men’s World Cup qualifying match.
As a ‘Fa’afafine’ – a widely accepted third gender role in Samoan society – Jaiyah’s story in Next Goal Wins has a lot to teach us about transgender issues and perception in the West. Attitude’s Editor-at-Large Paris Lees caught up with the 26-year-old earlier this year ahead of the documentary’s release to find out more…
Are you pleased with how the film turned out?
“I’m really happy with the way they’ve portrayed my story but also with how they’ve portrayed the team’s story generally. I didn’t feel pressure to explain who I was a certain way, I was very comfortable using my own words and letting it come from myself… It’s pretty much the real me during training season.”
Westerners are probably going to find it surreal seeing how accepted you are by your teammates – it’s unlikely you’d get that level of support in British professional football, sadly.
“American Samoan culture helps nurture that side of anybody really and it doesn’t really discriminate against anyone, not only trans people, but when it comes to transgender they’re very accepting because they have a strong belief that people should grow up to be whatever and whoever they want to be. I guess Western influence, when religion came into the picture, that sort of changed some people’s views of this issue, but the majority of people with transgenders in their families accept them and make sure that they’re comfortable. There are at least 2 in every family. There’s I think about six or seven in mine.”
Does it shock you how much discrimination trans people suffer in the West?
“Growing up, I wasn’t aware that trans people in other countries were going through all this until later on life when we started learning about world issues. [Transgender acceptance] is possible: if it’s possible here then it’s possible there.”
How would you describe your identity?
“Fa’afafine is just a general term for anyone who takes on the roles of both the male and the female gender. The Fa’afafine means ‘the way of the woman’, so it means choosing the path of the way of the woman, so we don’t identify them by the way they choose to dress or the way they choose to live their lives, but by the way they are inside.”
It’s wonderful to see you named ‘Woman of the Match’ after playing in the men’s team.
“Soccer became my passion when I was young and I’ve always been told that I was good so I’ve pretty much stuck to it, and because no one ever shot me down and told me it’s not a Fa’afafine sport, I was able to reach the highest honour and represent American Samoa.”
How do you feel about your story being shown around the world?
“It’s really exciting for me… I’m just really happy because I feel like I’m nobody coming from such a small place, and for my story at least to reach even one person and help them overcome their fear, I can die saying I fulfilled my goal in life.”
Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now (RRP £15.99).
More from Paris Lees on attitude.co.uk
Why do we humiliate and murder boys who won’t be boys?
Paris Lees on why we should all go and see ‘Pride’
Paris Lees: Trans people need Stonewall, and they need us too.