Tahiti Feature


The Third Sex

If you spend a few days out and about in French Polynesia, you're likely to come across women who aren't actually women. Known publicly as mahu or scientifically as "the third sex," this fraction of the population has been raised female from a very young age. Many behave in an effeminate manner, pluck their eyebrows, and wear makeup, while others are more flamboyant, wearing feminine outfits and jewelry. However, these behaviors don't always mean these men are homosexual.

There are many theories as to why the boys are raised as girls, but none have been scientifically proven. Whatever the explanation, mahus were part of the Polynesian culture long before the Europeans arrived in the late 18th century. Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, wrote about mahus in his ship's log. Things took a turn for the worse when thousands of French troops arrived in French Polynesia in the 1960s to work in the nuclear testing program and some of the Mahus began prostituting themselves to earn money.

View all features


Trip Finder
Travel Phrases

Learn French Phrases before or while you're on the go!

Learn More
Travel Deals