177th Meeting – January 1999
A talk by Andrew Matzner
Your Convenor write: There were no minutes taken on the evening but Andrew has advised me that this article that he wrote for glbtq – an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture, includes all the information that he used for his talk.
When it comes
alternative genders and sexualities--not to mention sex itself--
vast geographical diversity, cultural assimilation of different ethnic
has taken place in
Constructions of Sexuality
Among the Thai, sexual orientation is tightly bound up with gender identity, in that same-sex attraction has generally been considered to be indicative of cross-gender identity and behavior. For example, a male who is sexually attracted to another male is thought to have a "female mind" and as such is identified as kathoey, a term which refers to effeminate and female-identified males. On the other hand, the sexual partners of kathoey are not necessarily designated by a special term and instead are considered simply to be "men." Accordingly, these sexual relationships are based on a heterosexual model.
In addition to kathoey, there are men who self-identify as gay (a word adopted from the English). These are gender-normative, masculine-identified males who are sexually attracted to other gender-normative, masculine-identified males. Some scholars believe that this type of egalitarian relationship is not indigenous to Thai culture but rather is a recent influence from the West.
In the past, the Thai language apparently did not have specific words to refer to lesbians. The closest equivalent was the phrase "len peuan"—"playing with friends." Today, females who are sexually attracted to other females generally refer to themselves as either "tom," an abbreviation of "tomboy," or "dee," from "lady." These identities are similar to the Western categories of butch/femme, and such gendered identities and role playing is prevalent in the lesbian community. Unlike Thai men who have embraced the English word gay to describe themselves, toms and dees generally shun the word "lesbian," due to its association with pornographic films produced for straight men.
that gender diversity has a long history in
Transgenderism is a visible part of contemporary Thai culture. Transgendered males may self-identify using one or more of a number of different terms, including kathoey, sao braphet song ("a second type of woman"), phuying (woman), or gay.
In the popular media, stories about kathoey are often found in newspapers and magazines, and they frequently appear in television dramas and comedies. In everyday life, kathoey are quite noticeable as well, whether in urban, suburban, or rural areas. Kathoey can be found working in occupations ranging from street peddlers and shop clerks to tour guides and teachers, and are a strong presence in the entertainment, beauty, hair, and make-up industries. Cabaret shows featuring kathoey are also easily found in most towns and cities.
are popular subjects in the Thai mass media, as well as in Western
and magazines, which are often all too eager to pick up stories about
transgenderism in exotic
One example of positive imagery is the Miss Tiffany beauty pageant. This contest, open to kathoey, occurs each March at the same time as the Miss Thailand competition. In recent years both Thai newspapers and Western media outlets (such as CNN and Reuters) have carried stories comparing the femininity of contestants in each of the pageants, with headlines such as "Thailand's newest beauty queen no lady," "Battle of Queens on national TV," and "Tiffany boys out to prove gender gap narrowing."
In terms of
negative coverage, Thai media has a fascination with crimes featuring kathoey.
A major media event occurred in December 1996, when a kathoey
As a result
the publicity surrounding the incident, the Rajabhat Institutes
decides policy for
The ban led
debate within the Thai media and English language newspapers published
The Social Climate
There are neither legal nor religious sanctions against same-sex relations or the violation of gender norms. However, the great value placed upon preservation of family units and preserving lineage through marriage and procreation can lead to intense social pressure to be in conformity with the expectations of family and culture. Indeed, because of the Confucian emphasis on the continuation of the family line, Thai parents of Chinese descent are particularly intolerant of children who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgendered.
At the same
the Thai value of harmony and distaste for confrontation and open
or conflict ensures a relative lack of public harassment and violence
those who openly flaunt gender norms. This freedom to express oneself
has led some Western observers to imagine that non-normative behavior
scriptures, attitudes towards homosexuality and transgenderism are
and inconsistent. In contemporary
Thus, some Buddhists believe that sexual misconduct, such as engaging in prostitution, adultery, child molestation, or abandoning a woman one has made pregnant, can cause a person to be born in their next life as a kathoey. Accordingly, one's homosexuality or transgenderism is not sinful, because it is involuntary repaying of a karmic debt. Thus, kathoey are not to be hated but rather pitied.
On the other
hand, in the mid-1980s intolerant attitudes towards homosexuals and kathoey
began to surface among Buddhist authorities. This was apparently
because of the
rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in
Research indicates that people's attitudes towards kathoey are complex and often dependent on context. For example, one study found that university students' feelings about transgenderism were often influenced by their relationship to kathoey. A person who was loath to have a child who was a kathoey could also respect and admire the artistic abilities of kathoey in general. At the same time, students generally felt positively about kathoey who "behaved themselves" in public by dressing and acting modestly, in contrast to the negative feelings they held about kathoey who drew attention to themselves through loud voices, sexy clothing, or aggressiveness.
Anjaree was the only glbtq group with a significant presence in