The Third Sex of French Polynesia

rae_rae_tahiti_livre.jpgIn Bora Bora a few of the service staff were conspicuously tall women whom the trained eye revealed to be men, and who represent ‘the third sex’ in the islands.

According to Francois Bauer, for centuries, traditional families in French Polynesia raised their eldest son as a woman, or Mahu, believing him to have divine qualities, and the best traits of both sexes.

In the 1960’s, when the French began nuclear testing in Tahiti, there weren’t enough women to entertain all of the soldiers, so many of the local men became women. Now that’s what I call hospitality.

Today, the Mahu (MAH-who) are effeminate men who choose to live as women. The term Raerae (ray-ray) is also used, but I’d exercise caution. Originally coined for transsexual prostitutes, Polynesian transsexuals may consider it a term of derision and react accordingly – which I personally witnessed on our trip – so I’d go with Mahu unless they correct you.

Most of the travelers who were on our trip to Bora Bora are gay… I’d say 95%, mostly men, and a single MTF transsexual whom the local Mahu thought could walk on water. They weren’t far off. It’s no wonder we found acceptance everywhere we went, on and off the resort property. They’re leagues away from the U.S. and in this, leagues ahead.

More on French Polynesia and its beautiful people to come in our upcoming articles in Passport Magazine, who along with VIP Escapes and Standout Vacations, sponsored this Escape with the Stars.

2 Responses to “The Third Sex of French Polynesia”

  1. Friday, March 28, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    … I was first introduced to these lovely ladies on “No Reservations” the travel channel TV show…. Good read and great observations. MT

  2. Monday, April 14, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    this sounds like it’s really changed from when I went to Bora Bora in the late 70’s. I also didn’t see any men posing as women at that time, not that I was looking for it. All the tourists I saw at that time were straight, as well. When did it become a popular gay destination, out of curiosity?

    [Lovesick Billy: Perhaps they just passed? The ‘girls’ were definitely there though, check out the short film. I’m not sure I’d characterize Bora Bora as a ‘gay destination’, because once most of the gang from our group left, the clientèle were predominantly straight families. Maybe it’s just an expensive, exotic location, which makes it perfect for gay D.I.N.K.s.]

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