Gender identities in Thailand

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Within Thailand one can find several different gender roles, identities and diverse visual markers of masculinity and femininity. The demand for positive self-identity is growing in Thailand and their communities are strengthening.[1]

The Tom-Dee identity[edit]

Tom identity[edit]

A Tom is a female who dresses, acts, and possibly speaks in a masculine fashion. She may not actually be a lesbian, but she may be perceived as one by others. Toms wear their hair short, a deviation from traditional Thai culture which prizes long hair as a sign of feminine beauty. Women usually wear skirts in Thailand, and in many government offices skirts are compulsory and pants suits banned. Toms dress in men's clothing - slacks, sandals, and a loose fitting button-down shirt. A Tom will use male speech terms, especially the old, now-crude pronouns goo and mueng.[2]

Dee identity[edit]

The Dee is a homosexual (or bisexual) female who follows outward Thai gender norms. A Dee will look, act, and speak in a manner conducive to typical Thai female gender norms. The only differentiation between Dee and “traditional females” is that Dee engage in relationships with Tom.[3]

Tom-Dee within society[edit]

Heterosexual public displays of affection are frowned upon within Thai culture. However affection between same sex individuals is considered the norm. In this way Tom-Dee partnerships can be invisible to the wider society.[4] 94.6% of Thai citizens are Buddhist.[5] High social acceptance is due to the nature of the surrounding Buddhist culture, which places a high value on tolerance. Using the notion of Karma, a belief that being a Tom/Dee is the result of transgressions in past lives, concluding that Tom/Dee deserve pity rather than blame.[6]

Kathoey/Ladyboys[edit]

Main article: Kathoey

It is quite common for the subject of Ladyboys to be in direct correlation to Thailand, something that the country is becoming more prominently known for. These days many tourists make note of these beautiful women that have transformed themselves into somewhat of a Thai icon. Thailand is now viewed as an international hub of gender-bending norms, and a center of sexual alterations.[7]

Meaning of Kathoey/Ladyboy[edit]

Although the term ladyboy is rather ambiguous, simply put, it is a male who dresses as and carries out the identity of a woman. Though the term is often translated as transgender, transgender is rarely used in Thailand, instead they use the term Kathoey. This term can now also be used to refer to any male homosexual and was originally used to refer to intersex people. Due to this term becoming so broad many choose to use the English word to explain a homosexual male dressing as a woman as a “ladyboy," this eliminates much of the confusion.[8] The term can also be meant as an insult, especially to those who are trying to completely alter their identity to that of a woman. Ladyboys suggest that they are still men who are merely dressed as women. The term is used rather loosely at times and can be used to refer to any male who is acting with feminine qualities. Personally most of the women prefer to call themselves “a transformed goddess” or “a second type of woman”.[9]

Acceptance of Kathoey/Ladyboys[edit]

Ladyboys really are quite prominent in Thailand and are seemingly accepted by society, not only in the cities but in the countrysides as well. It seems as though it is the relaxed attitude of acceptance and tolerance in Buddhism that keeps people from shunning their lifestyles, although many other Buddhist countries are not as willing to accept a ladyboy living their life in public. Thai Buddhism specifically does not regard homosexuality as a sin and has no specific prohibitions regarding their lifestyle.[10] Though Kathoey continually face discrimination they are gaining acceptance and have made themselves a very distinct part of the Thai society; however, they still have not yet attained equal status with those who are not transgender. There are many restrictions that come with the identity, one being the inability to marry someone of the same sex, another not being able to officially change their birth sex on birth certificates or passports.[11]

Kathoey/Ladyboys in society[edit]

Though Kathoey have enjoyed some prestige in the past, they still face many struggles in everyday life. Many have found success in the entertainment business or in fashion, while others dance cabaret or accept lower level work so that they are able to live their lives out in the open.[12] The modern view of Kathoey is really rather recent, it seems as though they, together with other homosexual identities came together in recent decades to start this gender identity revolution. Beginning in the 1950s we are able to see a presence of Kathoey and it can be traced in media. The trend of Kathoeys being a regular part of entertainment such as movies, music entertainment and television shows is rather recent.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jackson, Peter, ‘Thai Research on Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1997), pp. 52–85.
  2. ^ Wilson, Ara. The intimate economies of Bangkok: tomboys, tycoons, and Avon ladies in the global city. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
  3. ^ Wilson, Ara. The intimate economies of Bangkok: tomboys, tycoons, and Avon ladies in the global city. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
  4. ^ Wilson, Ara. The intimate economies of Bangkok: tomboys, tycoons, and Avon ladies in the global city. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
  5. ^ http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71359.htm
  6. ^ Totman, Richard (2003). The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand's Ladyboys. London: Souvenir Press. p. 57.
  7. ^ Jackson, Peter (2003). Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand's Same-Sex and Transgender Cultures. in "Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context," Issue 9, August 2003. See paragraph "The Homosexualisation of Cross-Dressing."
  8. ^ Winter S, Udomsak N (2002). Male, Female and Transgender: Stereotypes and Self in Thailand. International Journal of Transgenderism. 6,1
  9. ^ Jackson, Peter A., and Gerard Sullivan. Ladyboys, Tomboys, Rentboys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand. Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1999. xiii-xvi, 121-138. Print.
  10. ^ Jackson, Peter (2003). Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand's Same-Sex and Transgender Cultures. in "Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context," Issue 9, August 2003. See paragraph "The Homosexualisation of Cross-Dressing."
  11. ^ Jackson, Peter A., and Gerard Sullivan. Ladyboys, Tomboys, Rentboys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand. Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1999. xiii-xvi, 121-138. Print.
  12. ^ Winter S, Udomsak N (2002). Male, Female and Transgender: Stereotypes and Self in Thailand. International Journal of Transgenderism. 6,1
  13. ^ Jackson, Peter (2003). Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand's Same-Sex and Transgender Cultures. in "Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context," Issue 9, August 2003. See paragraph "The Homosexualisation of Cross-Dressing."

References[edit]

  • Jackson, Peter, ‘Thai Research on Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 1 (1997), pp. 52–85.
  • Wilson, Ara. The intimate economies of Bangkok: tomboys, tycoons, and Avon ladies in the global city. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004. Print.
  • http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71359.htm See Ara Wilson
  • Totman, Richard (2003). The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand's Ladyboys. London: Souvenir Press. p. 57.
  • Jackson, Peter A., and Gerard Sullivan. Ladyboys, Tomboys, Rentboys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand. Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press, 1999. xiii-xvi, 121-138. Print.
  • Winter S, Udomsak N (2002). Male, Female and Transgender: Stereotypes and Self in Thailand. International Journal of Transgenderism. 6,1
  • Jackson, Peter (2003). Performative Genders, Perverse Desires: A Bio-History of Thailand's Same-Sex and Transgender Cultures. in "Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context," Issue 9, August 2003. See paragraph "The Homosexualisation of Cross-Dressing."
  • Ladyboy: Thailand's Theater of Illusion. Chiang Mai, Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B0085S4WQC
  • Grünhagen, Céline (2013): Geschlechterpluralismus im Buddhismus: Zur Tragweite westlicher Wissenschaftskonstruktionen am Beispiel frühbuddhistischer Positionen und des Wandels in Thailand. (Studies in Oriental Religions, 66) Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.