Gender identities in Thailand
In Thailand, as elsewhere, 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 support is growing.:52-85
The tom-dee identity
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 short hair, 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 loose fitting button—down shirts. According to Ara Wilson, a tom will use male speech terms, especially the old, now-crude pronouns "goo" (Thai: กู) and "mueng" (Thai: เม็ง / มึง).:127,131
The "dee" is a homosexual (or bisexual) female who follows outward Thai gender norms. A dee will look, act, and speak in a manner congruent with Thai female gender norms. The only difference between dees and traditional females is that dee engage in relationships with toms.
Tom-dee within society
Heterosexual public displays of affection are frowned upon in Thai culture. However, minor displays of affection, such as hand-holding, between same sex individuals is considered the norm. In this way tom-dee partnerships can be invisible to the wider society.
Although the terms "kathoey" or "ladyboy" are rather ambiguous, simply put, both terms refer to a male who dresses as and adopts the mannerisms and identity of a woman. Though the term is often translated as "transgender", transgender is rarely used in Thailand. Instead Thais 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". The term can also be meant as an insult, especially to those who are trying to alter their identity. 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 possesses feminine qualities. Personally most of kathoeys prefer to call themselves "a transformed goddess" or "a second type of woman".
Acceptance of kathoeys
Ladyboys are numerous in Thailand and are seemingly accepted by society, not only in the cities but in the countryside as well. Thai Buddhism does not specifically regard homosexuality as a sin and has no specific prohibitions regarding the lifestyle. Though kathoeys face discrimination, they are gaining acceptance and have made themselves part of the Thai society. They have not yet attained equal status with those who are not transgender. Restrictions come with the identity: the inability to marry someone of the same sex, and not being able to officially change their birth sex on birth certificates or passports.:121-138
Kathoeys in society
Kathoeys appear to be grudgingly accepted by Thai society. Though kathoeys 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 in the open. Beginning in the 1950s we are able to see a presence of kathoey and it can be traced in the media. The trend of kathoeys being a regular part of entertainment such as movies, music entertainment, and television shows is rather recent.
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