Monday, April 25, 2011

Cross Cultural Look at Being Transgender - Thailand

When people discuss what it means to be transgender in other (non-western) cultures usually one of the first places that comes to mind is Thailand. This is because is is fairly well known that Thailand is relatively tolerant of "transgender" people but many people do not know why.

The main reason we see more tolerance in in Thai culture is because gender is not as black and white as elsewhere. While the roles are somewhat different there is most certainly the typical male and female gender identities. In addition to this however are a few terms that refer to people who identify somewhere in between. One is the term kathoey. Many people mistaken this as being equivalent to western trans women but in fact that are not. Kathoey sometimes identify as being male however they live their lives as female. Some actually live as a male but act very effeminate. Many hold jobs that are typically held by women. This is what mainstream media refers to as being a "Lady Boy". The term sao praphet song (meaning "woman of the second type") refers to someone born physically male but identifies as a female. These women could be equated to having the same sense of gender identity as trans women in western society.

While these terms hold some stigma, specifically kathoey (because it means basically effeminate man), they do not hold the same as elsewhere in the world. In one documentary I viewed (I wish I could remember what it was) they interviewed one of these women who explained that her family was more upset that they lost the oldest son then that she was transgender.

I hope this little bit of information has helped shine some light on how gender variance is viewed elsewhere in the world... Any suggestions who we greatly appreciated and if you know of any other cultures that I should profile please send them along!