Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 14, November 2006

What Made Me This Way?
Contrasting Reflections by Thai and Filipina Transwomen[1]

Sam Winter
  1. This paper is about what is commonly, in the English-speaking world, called transgenderism. By this I mean the pursuit of lives as women by those who were labelled male at birth (so-called MtF transgendered people, or 'transwomen') and the pursuit of lives as men by those labelled female at birth (so-called FtM transgendered people, or 'transmen').[2] Over recent years much research into transgenderism has focused on the identification of its underlying causes. Some studies have searched for social (sociogenic) explanations for transgenderism—looking at such things as family structures, birth orders, family dynamics, relationships with mothers and fathers, and childhood experiences. Others have hunted for evidence of biogenesis—biological origins of transgenderism, signs of which, researchers argue, may be observed in transpeople's brains, digit ratios or left- or right-handedness. For some transactivists these efforts raise the fear that it may all be part of a broad strategy aimed at identifying interventions to treat transgendered adults, help 'at-risk' children avoid becoming transgendered, or prevent births of 'at-risk' babies. These fears rest in part on the absence of any corresponding interest in explaining why the majority of males grow up to identify as men or females as women. There are parallels here to the fears often expressed about the search by heterosexual researchers for causes of homosexuality. But the search for origins of transgenderism (and indeed homosexuality) can also be seen more positively as an attempt to understand human diversity rather than to eradicate it, an attempt in this case to change public attitudes towards transpeople rather than to change the transpeople themselves.[3]
  2. Leaving aside the motives in searching for the origins of transgenderism, few researchers seem interested in simply asking a transperson, 'Why do you think you grew up transgendered?' In my view this research lacuna is an unfortunate one. Transpeople often reflect on why they have grown up this way. Their beliefs about how they came to be a transperson will be an important aspect of their 'identity work'—for example the development of their sense of self.[4]
  3. Lee Ray Costa and Andrew Matzner have recently done some relevant work in Thailand.[5] They asked thirteen transwomen to write about their lives 'with the goal of educating others about their lives as transgendered people in Thai society.'[6] Almost all had something to write about why they were as they were—to the extent that Costa and Matzner were, in their final chapter, able to draw out 'aetiology' as one of the five themes running through the personal narratives. Costa and Matzner remark on how important this identity work can be for transwomen in Thailand:

      if being…[a transwoman] is understood as an essential, unchanging state of being, rooted either in biology or an individuals' karma, then it follows that such an identity is unable to change. On the other hand, if being [a transwoman] is understood mainly from a social constructionist perspective, that is as a result of social and cultural environmental factors, then it is likely that such an identity might be seen as fluid and mutable rather than essentially fixed, and therefore open to willful change and/or reorientation therapies.[7]

  4. Costa and Matzner imply that prevailing ideas about the origins of transgender can influence the treatment transpeople receive at the hands of family members, peers and society at large. A central argument made later in this paper is that, for the transpeople themselves, the reverse may happen. The treatment they receive at the hands of society may influence the ideas they construct to explain their transgenderism.

    Coming to terms with transgenderism in Thailand and the Philippines
  5. Neither Thai nor Filipino cultures are monolithic. Regional variations, including linguistic ones, are substantial, and are salient for the respective inhabitants.[8] Notwithstanding regional variations, one may observe throughout both countries people (indeed, sometimes communities) that in the English-speaking world would be labelled transgendered.[9] As I will show below, transpeople in both countries self-identify using local terms that do not neatly correspond to the Western ones.
  6. In each country there appears to be a cultural familiarity with the gender variance that transgendered people represent. In Thailand, there are regional folk myths that tell of three sexes at the time of creation,[10] a tradition of transgender spiritualism,[11] reports about transpeople by nineteenth century Western travellers,[12] and grainy photos, apparently of transwomen, that long pre-date the days of the contemporary 'Thai ladyboy'—to use a term familiar on the Internet.[13] Nineteenth century reforms of dress and appearance (to fend off colonisation by making Thais appear less barbaric in the eyes of the would-be Western colonisers) have resulted in new opportunities for expression of gender variance, and twentieth century reforms of names (requiring that all were gender-specific) may have had the same effect.[14] More recently, easy access to hormones (with up to 23 products available over the counter in some Thai pharmacies) and cheap surgery (even attracting transgendered patients from overseas) have further enhanced the ability of transpeople to express their gender variance. All of this happened in the context of a majoritarian Buddhist culture that, as I will show later, is guardedly accepting towards transpeople.
  7. Arguably, history has been less kind to gender variance in the islands now called the Philippines. Serena Nanda has described the '"sexualising" and masculinising of Filipino culture' by successive Arab, Spanish and American dominations.[15] She details the effects on relationships between men and women, on same-sex sexual relationships, as well as on gender variant people. Carolyn Brewer has focused on the role played by the Spanish, remarking on early colonists' reports of cross-gender bayog, bayoc, and asog shamans and babaylan ritual facilitators all of whom offended the sensibilities of the newcomers.[16] Brewer quotes the Jesuit brother Francisco Ignacio Alcina (writing in 1668):

      The fact is the Asog considered themselves more like women than like men in their manner of living, or going about, or even in their occupations. Some of them applied themselves to women's tasks, like weaving and cultivating, etc. In dress, although they did not wear petticoats (these were not worn by women in ancient times either) they did wear some Lambon, as they are called here. This is a kind of long skirt down to the feet, so that they were recognized even by their dress.[17]

  8. It may be that Alcina's use of the past tense when referring to these people, just eighty years after the arrival of Spanish Governor Miguel Lopes de Legaspi, testifies to the success of the Spanish in eradicating this sort of gender variance.
  9. Brewer notes that the Spaniards 'explained the identification of the "male" with the "feminine" with reference to either a supposed anatomical deficiency or what they labelled "the abominable sin against nature," or sodomy.'[18] We see then in these earliest European contacts a conflation of transgendered and homosexual behaviours. As writers such as Michael Tan have pointed out, these are to this day still the ideas that frame the Filipino discourse on what is called transgenderism, in the English-speaking West.[19]
  10. Like Nanda, Brewer paints a vivid picture of the way in which Filipino gender and sexuality were regulated to conform to the colonisers' norms. These norms arose from Hispanic machismo (the idealisation of stereotypic gender roles and the repression of deviance from them), and from closely related Christian (predominantly Catholic) attitudes towards sexual and gender diversity. I will return later to the subject of religion.
  11. Deep though the theme of transgenderism may run in each culture, the languages of Thailand and the Philippines do not allow for a description of transgenderism based on Western (largely academic) conceptualisations thereof. This arises, at least in part, because the languages do not make clear distinctions between sex, gender and sexuality. In Thai, all three terms are rendered by the word peht. As for Tagalog (effectively the national language of the Philippines), the word kasarian refers to both sex and gender, with no single word apparent for sexuality at all.[20] Other major regional languages in the Philippines similarly do not distinguish between the Western concepts of sex and gender. This presents a challenge to the terms with which Western researchers approach the topic as a whole.
  12. In view of the lack of correspondence between the vocabularies of, on one hand, a Western language like English and, on the other hand, the languages of Thailand and the Philippines, it is not surprising that there are no precisely equivalent terms for what would in English be called 'transgendered people.' In Thailand the most widely used word for transwomen is kathoey. But this is a word, once used to describe hermaphrodites, that historically has applied to any male contravening gender role expectations (gays, effeminate males etc.), and that only recently (with the imported 'gay' now entrenched in Thai) has been used more specifically to describe transwomen. Perhaps as a result, the word kathoey can carry negative connotations. People, who in English are commonly labelled transgendered, are not always comfortable with the term, particularly when it is being used by people who are themselves not transgendered. After all, the word implies that one is a variant of male rather than female.[21]
  13. In the Philippines, there is no widely used term understood to refer only to transwomen. Someone an English-speaking Westerner might call a transwoman will likely be labelled by other Filipinos (and may label herself) bakla (used in the north) or bayot (used in the centre and south of the country).[22] The words are broad in meaning, and despite the propagation of the word 'gay' in the 1960s, continue to be applied to a wide range of males who deviate from masculine gender norms. These include at least some men erotically attracted to other men, men whose manner or appearance marks them as 'effeminate,' men displaying cowardice, and even young men who remain a virgin after a certain age. What unites them in the eyes of Filipinos is that they are 'not real men' [hindi lalake]. They have something of the pusong babae [heart of a woman] about them. In the absence of more concise Filipino vocabulary, the Western concept of transgenderism demands entire phrases—for example, bakla na kinikilalang ang sarili bilang isang babae [bakla identifying as woman (Tagalog)], or bayot panghunahuna pariha sa babaye [bayot living as a woman (Cebuano)].
  14. Predictably in such a macho culture, both 'gay' and bakla are often used as epithets. Tan spends some time examining the use of the words, which he contrasts with the 'real man' [lalake].[23] I am struck by the degree to which these categories throw light on the way that Filipino conceptualisation of sexual and gender diversity is conditioned by the use of the one word kasarian to describe what in Western academic terms are the distinct categories of (anatomical) sex and gender (presentation). The 'real man' is anatomically male and presents masculine qualities, including that he is (at least primarily) attracted to women. He therefore conforms to the Filipino cultural stereotypes for a man's kasarian. The 'gay' man, on the other hand, is anatomically male and presents masculine qualities, except that he is primarily attracted to men (whether 'real' or other 'gays'). His identity falls outside the 'real' man category because one aspect of his kasarian contradicts the stereotype for men. Indeed, to the extent that he has a little of the heart of a woman [pusong babae], he may sometimes risk not being considered a man at all. So it is that a church-going 30-year-old Filipina woman told me of 'a gay' who had recently become Christian and rejected his homosexual lifestyle. Using the English pronoun 'he,' as if to recognise he had at least a passing claim to manhood, she informed me (in English) 'he was gay, but now he is a man.'
  15. The bakla contravenes the stereotype for men more broadly, possessing male anatomy but displaying feminine qualities that go beyond an attraction (or supposed attraction) to men. This femininity may involve a wide range of traits, mannerisms or appearances. It is into this conceptual and linguistic space that the transgendered bakla (those that the English-speaking West would call transwomen) fall. The transgendered bakla displays a range of feminine qualities so broad as to entirely undermine her status as a 'real man.' But is she a woman? Apparently not. Where these transgendered bakla are described at all in English by Filipinos, it is often as cross-dressers and transvestites rather than transgendered people, that is as men who wear women's clothes rather than people who, despite their birth sex, may identify as female. Waiters often address them as 'sir.' And I recall the artistic director of a 'cabaret' in Manila using the male English pronoun when referring to his 'transvestite' performers. In this he was echoing, or providing an example for, some of his performers. Academics sometimes follow suit (see for example Tan's description of them as 'cross-dressing effeminate men'),[24] and later rejection as 'tenuous and inaccurate' the attempts, including by transgendered bakla themselves, to employ the category of transsexual as a self-identification.'[25] Yet in the unlikely event that any Filipina transgendered bakla were to come into contact with a Western mental health professional, she would almost certainly be diagnosed as 'gender identity disordered' (modern psychiatry's label for those who exhibit the gender identity and gender role differences addressed in this paper).
  16. The gay man then, as well as the bakla (even those who are not transgendered), is identified (and may identify himself) as 'not a real man.' This is because some aspect of his kasarian contradicts the cultural stereotype for men. As for the transgendered bakla, she is neither a 'real' man nor a 'real' woman. Her kasarian matches neither cultural stereotype. In all this the boundaries between a real man, a gay and a bakla are ill-defined. If a 'gay' man (or even a 'real' man) behaves in a way not stereotypically associated with maleness, he may be labelled bakla. And to the extent that a bakla is attracted to men ('real' or 'gay'), she is likely to be identified (and identify herself) as 'gay.' She does so regardless of her gender identity. On countless occasions transgendered bakla have told me that they have the heart of a woman, feel like a woman, love men, and are gay. Thai kathoey have less often done so.[26]
  17. Throughout the rest of this paper I will use the words kathoey and bakla to describe transwomen in Thailand and the Philippines.[27] For the sake of simplicity, I use the word bakla even where I am referring to the transwomen of the southern Philippines (i.e., transwomen who are locally called bayot). Though the words kathoey and bakla are often used as derogative terms, I use them in a way that is respectful, and seek to reclaim them in the way, for example, that many Western lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transpeople have done with the word 'queer' and many of their Japanese counterparts have done with the word okama.[28] Indeed, a few indigenous transgendered writers in the Philippines and Thailand are already doing so (for example Sass Sasot, Brenda Alegre and Prempreeda Pramoj na Ayuttaya).

    Transgendered lives in Thailand and the Philippines
  18. Kathoey and bakla are a common sight in their respective countries, at least in urban areas. One can easily observe them going about their everyday life—shopping, meeting friends, going to the cinema, eating and drinking in cafés, using public transport, and visiting the temple or church. They appear on television, and they compete in public beauty contests. In both countries their numbers as a proportion of the population seem to the casual observer much higher than in most other countries worldwide. In Thailand around six in every thousand born male may be living female lives (around 180,000 nationwide).[29] Many kathoey and bakla begin to take on female gender roles and gender identity early in their lives. Most, by the time they reach school-leaving age, exhibit a stereotypically feminine manner and appearance, as well as stereotypically feminine personality traits and vocational interests.[30] In Thailand, where the language incorporates gendered word forms, kathoey employ vocabulary normally restricted to females. Many self-identify as women.[31] The transgenderism of the female-presenting kathoey and bakla extends far beyond effeminacy or a desire to cross-dress. They are living, or aspire to live, female lives.
  19. Life can be difficult for transwomen in both countries. No matter how long they have lived as women, how successfully those who wish to pass manage to do so, or how much they have changed their anatomy to make it feminine, all kathoey are regarded in law as males. The same is true for the vast majority of bakla—those who lack the energy, money and courage to petition the courts for a change in legal status. Their legal status as males exposes them—even those who pass as female—to possible prejudice. Difficulties may arise each time they show their documents—when applying for a university course, opening a bank account or travelling abroad. Job applications pose difficulties. Even employers who claim themselves unprejudiced may worry about how other employees and customers will respond to a transgendered co-worker. The outcome is a hostile employment environment. Some kathoey and bakla manage to get jobs serving at cafés, at market stalls, in boutiques, at beauty counters, in tourist agencies and in offices. In the Philippines, where many speak English fluently, some get jobs tucked out of sight in call centres. Relatively few in either country enter the middle-class professions. Many kathoey and bakla graduates, even those from top universities, have difficulty entering preferred careers, and at the level they might otherwise expect based on their qualifications. Some survive by hiding their transgenderism (i.e. by dressing and acting to the best of their ability as a man), at least during working hours. Others have difficulty getting any job at all. Transwomen may be lured into sex work by the promise of high income, as well as the chance to reaffirm their identity as women. But they are also pushed by the absence of other opportunities for employment, forces seldom recognised by commentators.[32]
  20. Notwithstanding the challenges that confront transwomen in both countries, Thai society appears in some ways more accepting than the Philippines towards transwomen. In everyday social interaction, Thais seldom mistreat kathoey openly. In my experience they generally speak to them in a warm, relaxed and courteous manner, addressing them as women. By contrast, I have heard bakla in the Philippines jeered at, taunted in the street as 'gay' or bakla (each term used to convey undiluted abuse) or subjected to public sexual harassment. In Thailand, few higher educational institutions appear reluctant to take kathoey students, who are usually allowed to wear the standard female university uniform (even to their graduation ceremonies). Universities sometimes house them together in small dorms (albeit in a male dormitory block). In contrast, some Filipino tertiary institutions demand school reports rating applicants on 'masculinity,' seek to screen out those who are 'effeminate,' impose rules aiming to prompt gender conformity among those gender-variant males who are admitted, and provide 'counselling' for 'difficult' cases. My research assistant, Sass, a leading transactivist in the Philippines, described how she had been refused a place at a top law college because she had been rated low on masculinity. This was despite a history of high academic performance. Another bakla named J.T. told me of how she was refused her college degree because she refused to cut her hair or participate in the military training activities for male students. For each of them, their unwillingness to conform to gender norms at school resulted in even greater difficulty in getting employment than would otherwise have been the case.
  21. What is it that underlies the apparently more inclusive response to gender diversity in Thailand as compared with the Philippines? In these two countries, where the majoritarian religions (Theravada Buddhism and Catholicism respectively) play an important role in public life, one needs to consider what the religious discourse is on gender diversity. Since in both countries there has been a tendency (reflected in the language used) either historically or contemporarily to conflate sex and gender (and in the case of Thailand, sexuality), one needs to also consider the teachings about sexual diversity.
  22. According to Biblical doctrine—widely respected in the largely conservative, largely Catholic Philippines—transgenderism involves two basic sins. The first is presenting (or wanting to present) as a member of the other sex (contrary to law set down in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy).[33] The second is changing one's body which is contrary to Paul's teachings to the Church at Corinth (New Testamant), as well as a warning in Deuteronomy.[34]
  23. For those who are heterosexual (I mean here those who are erotically attracted to persons of the other gender, albeit of their own birth sex), and those who take hormones or undergo genital surgery (and are therefore no longer able to procreate), a third sin awaits. It is the sin of entering into a sexual relationship which cannot result in childbirth and which is outside the institution of marriage. Paul clearly viewed chastity as the ideal, and marriage as the next best thing—at least it helped people avoid all that 'immorality' out there.[35] In the two subsequent millennia, the Church of Rome has expressed a more positive view of marriage, stressing its role as the basis for childbirth and family life. This position underlies the recent Vatican pronouncements on same-sex marriage (pronouncements underscored by the signature of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger shortly before becoming Benedict XVI).[36] These teachings draw on well-known passages in the Old Testament as well as the New.[37] They are highly relevant for the Filipino transperson for, as outlined above, the common view is that transpeople are homosexuals (gay men in the case of transwomen, lesbians in the case of transmen).
  24. While Catholic doctrine is by no means monolithic, nor is there strict adherence thereto, several of my informants make it clear that Biblical and church teachings have had a powerful effect on their understandings of themselves.

      [When growing up] I would always be reminded that I will go to hell and that I need to change if I want to go to heaven…Basically, in the Catholic faith being transgender is a sin since you are not living in accordance with the will of God. God only made a man and a woman and if you go against this you are viewed as a sinner. Therefore, even if you had a sex reassignment still you have not followed the will of God and still you are a sinner. (Tonette)[38]

      A famous local transgendered woman who frequently joined local beauty pageants died because of the reaction of silicon breast injections and asthma. During her wake she laid in a coffin wearing a man's suit. According to some, the family of this departed person feared that her soul might go to hell if she was dressed as a woman. The aunt of another friend died last year. He was living as a man full-time and even had a live-in wife. She was laid in a coffin wearing a laced and ruffled dress. The same reason. (Dee)[39]

      Catholics and other Christian church priests always preach that gays [and transpeople] as humans should be loved and accepted but that all their acts including dressing and acting like women and loving those of their own sex should be bashed and condemned for it is sinful. (Brenda)[40]

  25. The message about transgenderism, and the perception that it is related to homosexuality, appears to be reinforced in the Church-run schools and colleges:

      Since my elementary years I have already displayed such a feminine demeanour, attitude and, I must say, appearance. I was very much a target of my teachers and guidance counsellors. They saw me as a bad influence on the younger students because of my transgenderism. They so much wanted to prevent transgenderism because they viewed it as a sign, an omen of homosexuality. (Sass)[41]

      When I attended [an all-boys] high school run by Catholic priests, being effeminate and shaving of eyebrows was an offence, like constant tardiness. The first offence was a written warning; the second was a dialogue between the class advisor and the 'offender's parents. For a 12- to 16-year-old student, this was really scary. (Dee)[42]

  26. The upshot then, is that Filipino transpeople are left vulnerable to accusations of immoral conduct on several levels: cross-gendered dress, abuse of body and homosexuality.[43] As one might expect, religious-inspired transphobia percolates into broader society:

      Any other Filipino common person seeing another who is gay or transgendered always say 'bakla ipako sa crus' (crucify the bakla). It is their way of saying that gays and trans are sinful people and should be punished. (Brenda)[44]

      I remember when I was younger our neighbors would tell me I'd burn in hell if I don't become a man. Then they'd show me pictures of hell. (Dee)[45]

  27. Some bakla remain attached to the Catholic Church, accepting that their transgenderism is sinful, and even seeking forgiveness in confession. Some refrain from changing their body so as to avoid violating their 'temple.' Many others, however, manage to reach an accommodation of sorts, maintaining their Christian beliefs but withdrawing from the Catholic Church. This was true for the five interviewees.

      I know the God I believe in is never discriminating. I know that he does not want to abandon us but rather we be in his flock. (Tonette)[46]

      I don't any more go to church as I used to. They always say that they don't condemn the sinners but they condemn the sin. This is just hypocritical. (Brenda)[47]

      [B]y the time I went to university my faith in the Catholic Church declined and I decided that maybe there wasn't a God and all the priests at my school and the rest of the Christian world were wrong because surely if God created us he wouldn't make a mistake. I now have a close relationship with God—not the Christian concept but the 'new-age' one. I know that whatever decision I've made in my life in pursuing what I felt was with his blessing. (Veronica)[48]

  28. The recent rise in alternative, evangelical and/or fundamentalist Churches in the Philippines means that the Vatican is losing some of its influence. My interviewees expected little benefit from this trend, however.[49]
  29. In contrast, the Theravada Buddhism practiced throughout most of Thailand allows for moderate tolerance of sexual diversity. As Peter Jackson points out:

      While the sexuality of ordained Buddhist monks is strictly controlled in Thai Buddhism—celibacy is a requirement of ordination into the monkhood or sangha—the only significant control over lay sexuality prescribed by the religion is a prohibition against (heterosexual) adultery. Thai Buddhism does not regard same-sex eroticism between laymen or laywomen as a sin. In the legal domain, sodomy was made a punishable offence in the first decade of the twentieth century as part of an effort to make the Siamese legal code conform to European norms of civilisation.[50]

    Jackson goes on to note that not one legal case involving the application of this law has ever been recorded, and that the law was removed from the books in 1956 'as part of a review to purge the legal code of anachronistic and obsolete edicts' (emphasis added).[51]
  30. As for transgenderism, Thai Buddhism does not teach that it is in itself immoral behaviour. Rather it is karmic consequence for sexual transgressions in a past life. Many of the participants in our Thai study echoed this view:[52]

      In my last life maybe I made some mistake. This life I am kathoey.[53]

      I believe that in my past life I did something bad.[54]

      I think maybe I did something wrong in my past life.[55]

      I didn't want to become kathoey but people understand that I have bad karma.[56]

      Buddhists believe if we aren't happy with something that comes from our bad karma. I am always unhappy.[57]

  31. The implication is that we may all have been transgendered in at least one previous life, and that we should therefore be tolerant towards transpeople. A senior scholar underlines the point:

      If they studied the causes of being a kathoey, the life of the mind…all those who like to laugh at and ridicule kathoey would not be able to laugh any more. Because the very people who laugh at kathoey were themselves once kathoey…Absolutely everyone without exception has been a kathoey because we have been through innumerable cycles of birth and death, and we do not know how many times we have been kathoey in past lives or how many times we may be kathoey in the future.[58]

  32. Though being kathoey arises out of bad karma, leading a kathoey life does not bring about more. Even altering one's anatomy is acceptable: 'Changing one's sex is not sinful…The intention to change one's sex cannot have any ill karmic consequences.'[59] The absence of any religious proscription of transgenderism in Theravada Buddhism is apparent throughout the thirteen personal kathoey narratives in Costa and Matzner's book, as well as the authors' commentaries on them.[60] Indeed, Buddhist teachings appear to encourage the kathoey to accept their transgenderism, and enjoin those around them to accept it too. As Costa and Matzner point out, 'because one's identity is already cosmically determined, it is neither appropriate for people such as parents to interfere with it, nor for (transwomen) to attempt to change it themselves.'[61]
  33. In short, Theravada Buddhism provides a degree of acceptance for transgenderism. It is guarded and conditional upon the transperson's propriety,[62] but the upshot is that, unlike the bakla of the Philippines, kathoey can visit places of worship on equal terms with their (female) compatriots, Buddhist monks bless marriages between men and transwomen (though these marriages carry no legal status), and beauty contests can even take place on temple grounds (often aimed at raising funds for the upkeep of the building). Kathoey consequently, more often than their Filipina counterparts, seem able to live free of worries that their gender presentation is immoral (or that others may think it is). There is a concern for morality, but it is not that one's transgenderism involves sin, but rather that, as a transwoman, one can lead a moral life. Here are some comments provided by (anonymous) respondents in our questionnaire study.

      To be kathoey is not bad. Everything depends on how people behave themselves.[63]

      Whenever we talk of men, women or kathoey, we find that there are both good and bad people.[64]

    Similar sentiments are evident in the thirteen personal kathoey narratives presented by Costa and Matzner. For example, 'Dini' writes:

      I will surely be single my entire life. Therefore, I must do good so that in my next life I can be born either as a regular woman or man who does not have anything wrong with them, who will have love and not give their parents the sorrow I have given my parents in this life.[65]

  34. Indeed, Costa and Matzner's participants show a striking ability, on one hand, to live transgendered lives and, on the other, to practice their Buddhist beliefs. 'Thai Silk' writes:[66]

      I thought that one day I would surely meet the person who would be able to accept me for who I am and not hate me for being a kathoey. I meditated and chanted prayers every night asking for blessings from many holy things to help me meet the right person with whom I could spend the rest of my life.[67]

    'Waranat' writes:

      I will probably end up getting ordained as a monk because it is the Thai custom that a son joins the monkhood in order to make merit for his parents. Once I've fulfilled that duty, my mother and father will discover that they have two daughters, instead of one.[68]

    This then is some of the social and cultural context in which in 2002 and 2003 I engaged in a study of transwomen (kathoey and bakla) in these two countries.

    A large group study of kathoey and bakla: methodology
  35. During the period 2001 to 2003 I conducted a questionnaire study of transwomen in urban centres in the Philippines and Thailand. In each country I had the benefit of a research assistant. Sass Sasot, around 20-years-old at the time of the study, is a bakla activist with links to national and regional rights organisations across the Philippines. Since the study she has gone on to study law, become one of the founder-members of STRAP (Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines), and at Geneva last March became a member of the new Transgender Secretariat for ILGA (the International Lesbian and Gay Association). Nuttawut 'Nun' Udomsak is herself a kathoey, and at the time of the research was a 20-year-old studying for an undergraduate humanities degree at a university in Bangkok. She works in the Bangkok offices of a foreign retailing company. The involvement of Sass and Nuttawut enabled, through their personal contacts with individuals, groups and organisations, the identification of large numbers of potential participants. It also ensured that potential participants could have the research explained, and any of their questions answered, in a language that was familiar to them. Lastly, their involvement underlined the point made when approaching potential participants. It was that this research was relevant to the needs of kathoey and bakla to 'have their story told.' For all of these reasons, the involvement of Sass and Nuttawut probably increased the numbers willing to participate. No potential participants declined.
  36. The questionnaire (administered in either Thai or, for the Philippines, in English with Tagalog/Cebuano, as appropriate)[69] enabled an examination, inter alia, of participants' subjective experiences of being transgendered, the development of their identities (and gender presentation), their families' responses to transgenderism, and participants' beliefs about their transgenderism. One item asked participants why they thought they had grown up transgendered.[70] The data from that item forms the basis for the rest of this paper.
  37. FtM transpeople, people who in the English-speaking West might call themselves transmen (often self-identifying as 'toms' in Thailand and 'tomboys' in the Philippines') were not included in the study. This was because they form less visible communities in their respective societies, and so would be difficult to locate as participants in the numbers needed for a large-scale study of this sort.

    Some preliminary and general findings
  38. The 195 Thai participants (whose average age was 23.6 years) were living in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiangmai. The 147 Philippines respondents (whose average age was 23.0 years) lived in Manila, Cebu and Davao. In terms of their place of origin, the respondents were geographically more representative than this suggests—that is the participants' birthplaces represented around half of the provinces in their respective countries. All participants were recruited by way of an opportunistic snowball sampling technique, in which persons were approached at their place of study or work, or through their personal networks or membership of local organisations. All participants were transwomen, that is ascribed a 'male' sex at birth but by the time of the study living their lives in a woman's gender role. Among the Thais, 47 per cent quite simply identified as phuying [women], 36 per cent as phuying praphet song [women of the second kind] and only 12 per cent as kathoey (as we have seen, the term most commonly used by others). Among the Filipinas, 58 per cent identified as babae/babaye (Tagalog/Cebuano for 'woman'), and 30 per cent described themselves as bakla na kinikilalang ang sarili bilang isang babae/bayot panghunahuna pariha sa babaye (Tagalog/Cebuano for bakla/bayot living/identifying as woman). A few (11 per cent) identified as 'both man and woman.' In neither place did anyone describe herself as phuchai/lalake (Thai or Tagalog/Cebuano for 'man'). Many bakla, and even more kathoey, had taken steps to alter their bodies to match their identities, whether by way of injections, implants or hormones. All presented as stereotypically feminine, wearing long hair, women's clothes and accessories, and in some cases make-up. Many had taken hormones to change their appearance, some had undergone surgery. In contrast to their counterparts in Western Studies,[71] the vast majority of participants reported erotic attraction that was heterosexual (i.e. towards men). However, many of the Filipina transwomen (many more than the Thais) viewed such an attraction as homosexual (as discussed in note 27).
  39. Though participants from both countries reported prejudice and discrimination, the lot of the Thai participants in this study seemed better than that of the Filipinas. An item asked respondents about their parents' reactions to their transgenderism at two points in their lives: when they had first started transition and currently. Among mothers of the Thai kathoey, nearly six out of ten had apparently accepted/encouraged the transgenderism initially, with eight out of ten doing so by the time of the research. The corresponding figures were around four and six out of ten for fathers. Relatively positive attitudes extended through Thai society. Four out of ten participants believed that Thais were generally encouraging or accepting towards transgendered people. Turning now to the Philippines: among mothers of the Filipina bakla participants, between four and five out of ten mothers had initially been encouraging or accepting, with six out of ten displaying these attitudes by the time of the research. The corresponding figures for fathers were three and four out of ten. Only one in four bakla believed that their culture was generally encouraging or accepting towards transgenderism. Notice that all these figures are substantially lower than for Thailand.
  40. Unable to pursue chosen careers (or even get a job) or lead a 'normal' married life, some of the respondents (both kathoey and bakla) anticipated a reversion to male gender role later in their lives. The figures again reflected the bakla's greater difficulties. Among the kathoey around one in ten anticipated living (or at least presenting) as a man by the time they were aged fifty. Among the bakla the figure was almost double.

    The origins of transgenderism: participants' beliefs
  41. I now turn to the central findings of this paper, coming from one questionnaire item that asked participants why they thought they had become transgendered (this last word was replaced by culturally-appropriate terminology). Several alternative responses were provided (these were based on several years of discussions with transgendered people in each of the two countries):

      (a) something biological I was born with,
      (b) influence of parents,
      (c) influence of siblings,
      (d) influence of other relatives,
      (e) influence of friends,
      (f) God's will (Philippines)/karma (Thailand).

    Participants could ring as many of these alternatives as they wanted. In addition, they could supply other causes via an open-ended 'other' category. Hardly anyone in either Thailand or the Philippines responded with the 'other' category. The six reasons supplied seemed to suffice.
  42. Both kathoey and bakla took a strongly biogenic view, meaning that they cited biology as the most common cause for their transgenderism (around four out of five, and three out of four respondents respectively). In both cultures divine force (karma or God's will, as appropriate) played a role too (around five and four out of ten respectively). The two were relatively independent.
  43. Beyond biology and karma/God's will, all similarities between the two groups ended. Whereas kathoey commonly cited a broad range of sociogenic influences—parents (around a third of participants), siblings (around a quarter), other relatives (around a fifth) and friends (just under a half), few bakla cited any of them (all between one in ten and one in twenty). The end result is that, viewed as a proportion of all origins cited across the two groups of participants, the four sociogenic origins accounted for half of the kathoey responses, but only one fifth of those from the bakla. In short, kathoey were more ready than bakla to draw on social explanations for their transgenderism.[72]
  44. Actually, the disparity between the Thais and Filipinas was even more marked than the above figures suggest. It appeared that three out of four kathoey fell into a group that explained their transgenderism in terms of biology and/or karma. The remaining one in four were a more eclectic group who (in addition to biology and karma) cited a range of sociogenic causes. Two corresponding sub-groups were apparent in the bakla, but in this case over nineteen out of twenty participants fell into the biology and God's will group. Fewer than one in twenty fell into an eclectic group. Put baldly, for the bakla biology and God's will were the only games in town.[73]

    Of transgenderism and sin
  45. Why did very different patterns emerge in the explanations employed by these two groups for their own transgenderism? Perhaps the bakla, having grown up in a less accepting social environment, indeed had less reason to believe that they had been influenced by parents, siblings, other relatives and friends. But a closer examination of the data on parents' reactions is useful here. First, the two groups surveyed were compared with each other. True, kathoey more frequently reported favourable parental reactions to their transgenderism than did bakla, but kathoey whose parents had reacted positively were more numerous than their bakla counterparts by only one or two out of every ten participants. It seems unlikely that this could account for the eightfold difference in endorsements for 'parental influence.' Second, each group was examined individually. Within each group, there appeared to be no significant relation between, on one hand, one's parents' reactions to an individual's transgenderism and, on the other hand, the perception that they had influenced her to become transgendered. Those parents who had reacted negatively to their child's transgenderism were as likely to be cited by a participant as a factor explaining her transgenderism as were those parents who had reacted more positively.
  46. I suspect that the answer may lie elsewhere—in the ways transgenderism is viewed in the cultures in which they live. The line of speculation runs thus. Explanations of personal characteristics in terms of inborn biological forces carry a clear subtext. It is that free choice and therefore immorality (or indeed morality) is not involved. The same is true for explanations in terms of divine forces. By contrast, explanations in terms of social influence suggest that somewhere along the road a life choice has been made. Social influence can, after all, be resisted, and the final decision to live a transgendered life is one's own. And life choices (unlike biological consequences) may be regarded (both by the person making the choice, as well as by any onlookers) as sinful. That the choice made may have been the only viable one for the person concerned may not matter.
  47. Both sociogenic and biogenic explanations are present in the broader public discourse on transgenderism in the Philippines and Thailand, However it seems that the bakla may be less willing than the kathoey to draw upon sociogenic explanations for transgenderism, precisely because to do so would leave them defenceless against accusations of immorality. In the religious/moral culture in which they live, their reliance on divine and/or biogenic theories of transgenderism may give the best available protection against the majoritarian Catholic/Christian discourse—that transgenderism is an offence against God.
  48. This is speculation, and the research has limitations. First, only transwomen were the focus of study. It is possible that transmen might express a rather different set of beliefs about their transgenderism, particularly if the moral climate in which they live differs from those of transwomen. Second, the question, in asking participants to indicate why they were transgendered, conflated gender-variant identity and gender-variant behaviour, for which a participant might conceivably believe there are different explanations (for example, 'biology gave me these feelings, but my experiences in my family allowed me to express them'). In order to avoid this conflation, and in any case to explore possible complexities in the ways participants explained their transgenderism, informed by these results and other emerging research, new questions might be devised to draw out such nuances.
  49. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the findings offer a glimpse of how culture influences not only how the heteronormative majority views gender-variant people, but also how gender-variant people make sense of themselves—how a cultural discourse on transgenderism can affect the sort of identity work that a transperson undertakes. The general point may apply to other populations. Do the gay-identifying men of the Philippines react to the discourse of sin in the same way, adopting a biogenic and divine view of their homosexuality? How do other transgender populations in Southeast Asia, for example the mak-nyah and waria of largely Islamic Malaysia and Indonesia respectively, respond to the transgender discourses they hear around them?[74] One would expect, given Islamic views on transgenderism (including a fatwa on sex reassignment surgery) that transwomen in these cultures would rely even more on biology and God's will as explanation of their transgenderism than do their sisters in the Philippines.
  50. But all this has more than academic relevance. If a discourse of sin prompts biogenic and divine attribution, as is being suggested here, then there may be very practical effects for the transpeople concerned. The resulting confrontation, between society on one hand (which accuses transpeople of making a sinful choice), and transpeople (who insist that their life is a response to natural or divine forces) is likely to be more energetic than in a society in which this ideological conflict is not being waged. In this connection, it is worth noting that, in the Philippines over recent years, a number of socially and politically active organisations have sprung up that now work, exclusively or otherwise, for transpeople's rights.[75] The Thai transcommunity, by comparison, is relatively underdeveloped in terms of activism.
  51. As a final note, and leaving aside any connection there might be between moral and attributional discourses of transgenderism, the view that transgenderism is immoral may have harmful consequences beyond the obvious ones of guilt. Fear of being judged sinful by others may prompt bakla to live their lives in a social ghetto, mixing only with other bakla, failing to grasp fully the few opportunities (educational, vocational and social) available to them in mainstream society, and resisting contact with the health and welfare services they need. In a country with a high prevalence of STIs among sex workers[76] and a large number of marginalised bakla involved in sex work, that possibility is not to be taken lightly. In order to wage a successful battle against HIV/AIDS in the trans population, as well as to more generally allow th(em to live healthy, happy and productive lives as human beings, the heteronormative majority may first need to change the way it thinks about transpeople.


    [1] This paper is an extended version of one entitled 'Of transgenderism and sin in Asia,' presented at Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Queer Studies in Asia, in Bangkok, July 2005; available in the permanent online archive of the conference at URL:, site accessed 22 September 2006. The research in the Philippines and Thailand was conducted with grants from the Research Fund of the Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong and the Clinic of Dr Suporn Watanyusakul, Chonburi, Thailand. Thanks to Sass Sasot and Nuttawut Udomsak for acting as research assistants in the Philippines and Thailand, respectively. Thanks also to Veronica Deposoy, Tonette Lopez, Brenda Alegre, Dee and Sass Sasot (all real names used with permission) for acting as detailed informants during the preparation of this paper. This paper is dedicated to Tonette Lopez, whose untiring work for marginalised people across South-East Asia was cut short when she died in March 2006.

    [2] In any English-language writing about transgenderism (often called 'transsexualism,' especially when the person concerned seeks to alter their anatomy) the writer is constrained by the words available to describe and distinguish gender (psychological and sociological) and sex (biological). This paper generally follows Peter Jackson's use of gender/sex distinctions in English: 'man/woman (denoting sex and/or gender), male/female (denoting only biological sex) and masculine/feminine (denoting only gender). See Peter A. Jackson, 'Kathoey-Gay-Man: the historical emergence of gay male identity in Thailand,' in Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson & Margaret Jolly, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 166-90, pp. 167-68.

    [3] Research showing an association between people's attitudes towards and beliefs about transgenderism underline how important such research may prove to be. Mikael Landen and Sune Innala (in 'Attitudes towards transsexualism in a Swedish national survey,' in Archives of Sexual Behavior 29(4) (2000):375-88) have shown that people's belief that transsexuals are 'born that way' is associated with less transphobic attitudes.

    [4] In the USA, Schrock and Reid have recently described the role that sexual stories can play in transpeople's identity work—i.e., the development of identities that make sense in the sex and gender culture in which the transpeople live. See Douglas Schrock & Lori Reid, 'Transsexuals' sexual stories,' in Archives of Sexual Behavior 35(1) (2006):75-86.

    [5] Lee Ray Costa & Andrew Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls: Personal Narratives of Thailand's Transgendered Youth, Binghamton: Haworth, 2006.

    [6] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. ix.

    [7] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, pp. 145-46.

    [8] In Thailand, the Lanna northerners, the Lao north-easterners and the southern Muslims consider themselves as different from each other as from the central lowlanders. The Ilocanos of the far northern Philippines, the Visayans of the central islands, and the southern Muslims practice a similar regionalism. In each country the inevitable urban-rural divide adds another ingredient to the cultural mix.

    [9] Peter Jackson has made an important contribution to the literature on transgenderism in Thailand. See, for example, his '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 9 (August 2003), site accessed 22 September 2006; Andrew Matzner has made a major contribution also, most recently by way of the book Male Bodies, Women's Souls, co-authored with Lee Ray Costa. So too has Megan Sinnott, much of her work being summarised in her 2004 book Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. Further, in the last four years a body of work has begun to flow out of the TransgenderASIA group, who maintain a website TransgenderAsia, URL:, site accessed 24 September 2006. Other recent works include a detailed report by Carol Jenkins, Prempreeda pramoj na Ayutthaya & Andrew Hunter, entitled Katoey in Thailand: HIV/AIDS and Life Opportunities, Washington, DC: USAID, 2005.

    By comparison, Filipina transwomen have been the focus of little serious research. Rare exceptions include Fenella Cannell, 'The power of appearances: beauty, mimicry, and transformation in Bicol,' in Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures, ed. Vicente Rafael, Manila: Anril Publishing, 1995; Mark Johnson, Beauty and Power: Transgendering and Cultural Transformation in the Southern Philippines, Oxford UK: Berg, 1997; Alyssa [Sass] Sasot, 'In the beginning: Northern Thai creation mythology,' on his Transgender in Thailand website, URL:, (no date), site accessed 10 September 2006; and Michael Tan, 'Survival through pluralism: emerging gay communities in the Philippines,' in Journal of Homosexuality 40(3/4) (2006):117-42.

    [11] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, pp. 25-27.

    [12] Various accounts reported in Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, pp. 24-25.

    [13] Richard Totman, The Third Sex: Kathoey: Thailand's Ladyboys, London: Souvenir Press, 2003.

    [14] Peter Jackson, 'Performative genders, perverse desires.'

    [15] Serena Nanda, 'Transgendered males in Thailand and the Philippines,' in Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations, Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2000, chapter 5, pp. 71-85, p. 79.

    [16] Carolyn Brewer, 'Baylan, asog, transvestism and sodomy: gender, sexuality and the sacred in early colonial Philippines,' in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 2 (May 1999), site accessed 9 October 2005.

    [17] Ignacio Francisco Alcina, S.J., The Muñoz Text of Alcina's History of the Bisayan Islands, 1668, cited in Brewer, 'Baylan, asog, transvestism and sodomy,' paragraph 14.

    [18] Brewer, 'Baylan, asog, transvestism and sodomy,' paragraph 6.

    [19] Tan, 'Survival through pluralism.'

    [20] Sass Sasot, personal communication, 21 March 2006.

    [21] The Thai language offers other terms for transwomen—e.g. sao (or phuying) praphet song ['a second kind of woman'] and phet thee sam ['the third sex/gender']. Unlike the word kathoey (which suggests a subset of male), these terms portray transwomen as either a subset of female or an entirely different gender.

    [22] The etymology of bakla is uncertain. According to whom one asks, it is a contraction of babae-lalake [man-woman], or of babae akala ['seems like a woman']. The roots of bayot, closer to the old bayog or bayoc of pre-colonial times, may be clearer. A few other terms are used— binabae, bantut, 'benny boys'—but these are comparatively uncommon, or context-specific.

    [23] Tan, 'Survival through pluralism.'

    [24] Tan, 'Survival through pluralism,' p. 120.

    [25] Tan, 'Survival through pluralism,' p. 134.

    [26] In one part of the questionnaire which provided the data for this paper, participants who identified as women were asked two questions about sexuality: to whom were they attracted and how they would categorise that attraction (albeit using Western terms like homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual). In both Thailand and the Philippines around 91 per cent were attracted exclusively to men. In the Philippines 81.1 per cent viewed this as a homosexual attraction, as compared with only 54.4 per cent in Thailand. Paradoxically, the many male-identifying men who are erotically attracted to bakla are less likely to be portrayed as homosexual, at least if they are acting as penetrator. Frederick Whitam found that around 75 per cent of young working class males engage in sex with bakla, without in any sense viewing themselves as homosexual or being marked by others as such. See his chapter 'Bayot and callboy: homosexual-heterosexual relations in the Philippines,' cited in Nanda's 'Transgendered males,' p. 77; and appearing in Oceanic Homosexualities, ed. Stephen Murray, New York: Garland, pp. 231-48.

    [27] I use both in preference to another more recent term, an English language import now current in each country—'ladyboy.' The word is often used (like 'shemale') on Internet porn sites, implying someone neither male nor female, nor a third sex, but rather a mix of the first two. It is arguably objectionable, though it seems it is more often found thus by Western researchers than by the transwomen themselves.

    [28] See, for example, Nanette Gottlieb's review of Fushimi Noriaki, et al, 'Okama' wa sabetsu ka [Does okama have discriminatory connotations?], in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 12 (January 2006), site accessed 22 September 2006.

    [29] Sam Winter, 'Counting kathoey,' in TransgenderASIA, (2002), URL:, site accessed 10 September 2006.

    [30] See Sam Winter & Nuttawut Udomsak, 'Male, female and transgender: stereotypes Thailand,' in International Journal of Transgenderism 6(1) (2002), URL:, site accessed 10 September 2006; Sam Winter & Nuttawut Udomsak, 'Gender stereotype and self among transgenders: underlying elements,' in International Journal of Transgenderism 6(2) (2002), URL:, site accessed 10 September 2006; Sam Winter, 'Thai transgenders in focus: demographics, transitions and identities,' in International Transgenderism 9(1) (2006):15-27; and Sam Winter, Sass Sasot & Mark King, 'Transgender in the Philippines: a close focus,' unpublished manuscript.

    [31] See Winter, Sasot & King, 'Transgender in the Philippines,' and Winter 'Thai transgenders in focus.'

    [32] An exception is in the work of Costa & Matzner in Male Bodies, Women's Souls.

    [33] 'The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God' (Deuteronomy, 22:5).

    [34] See Paul's teaching on the sanctity of the body given to each person by God: 'What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's' (1 Corinthians, 6:19-20). Deuteronomy is more specific, proscribing the body change central to the lives of many transgenders: ‘He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord' (Deuteronomy. 23:1).

    [35] See Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth: 'Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband' (1 Corinthians, 7:1-2).

    [36] Marriage involves a man and a woman who 'cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of human lives.' See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger & Angelo Amato, S.D.B., 'Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons,' The Holy See, (2003), URL:, site accessed 10 September 2006.

    [37] Old Testament readers are instructed that 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination' (Leviticus, 18:22). In a similar vein, 'If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them' (Leviticus, 20:13). In the New Testament, Paul's condemnation of sex acts between men or women is well known. The following verse conveys his thoughts on men who have sex with men and the punishment he feels should befall them. 'And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet' (Romans, 1:27).

    [38] Email correspondence with Tonette, 31 January 2006.

    [39] Email correspondence with Dee, 27 January 2006.

    [40] Here Brenda uses the word gay to include transpeople, demonstrating the overarching meaning of the word in the Philippines, even among transgendered bakla. Email correspondence with Brenda, 27 January 2006.

    [41] Email correspondence with Sass, 6 January 2006.

    [42] Email correspondence with Dee.

    [43] Two of the interviewees were able to report exceptions within the overwhelmingly hostile climate towards sexual and gender diversity in the Philippines. First, Veronica mentioned a 'Father X,' an American priest who 'was very supportive and encouraged us to express ourselves and never spoke about God as a condemning and hateful entity but about a God who loved all his creation. On my second year at University he was transferred abroad because he was often in conflict with the local priests' opinions and also because of rumours of him having a relationship with one of the male students.' Second, Dee reported that she had two friends who had, during confession, asked their priests about the 'truth' about being 'gay.' 'This,' Dee writes, 'was their common reply. "There is no sin in loving anyone. An act only becomes a sin when there is malice or when one of the parties involved has been aggravated, meaning that the relationship is not based on love but on lust or other selfish intentions. This concept is not limited to same-birth assigned sex relationships alone. Even straight relationships are governed by this way of thinking."'

    [44] Email correspondence with Brenda.

    [45] Email correspondence with Dee.

    [46] Email correspondence with Tonette.

    [47] Email correspondence with Brenda.

    [48] Email correspondence with Veronica, 17 January 2006.

    [49] 'All Christian denominations here in the Philippines are extremely conservative when it comes to homosexuality and transgenderism. That may also be due to the fact that, as a culture, Filipinos are not yet open and educated on the issues of transsexuality.' Email correspondence with Brenda.

    [50] Jackson, 'Performative genders, perverse desires,' paragraph 6.

    [51] Jackson, 'Performative genders, perverse desires,' paragraph 6. But one should not overstate the Thai acceptance of male-to-male sex. Jackson has remarked on the limits of Thai acceptance towards homosexuality in his 2003 chapter 'tolerant but unaccepting: the myth of a Thai 'gay' paradise' in the book he edited with Nerida Cook entitled Gender and Sexualities in Modern Thailand, Chiangmai: Silkworm Books, pp. 226-42.

    [52] Thai participants' comments were originally in Thai, and have been translated into English here.

    [53] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 17, August 2001.

    [54] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 20, August 2001.

    [55] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 78, August 2001.

    [56] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 87, August 2001.

    [57] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 137, August 2001.

    [58] Bunmi Methangkun, reported in Peter A. Jackson, 'Male homosexuality and transgenderism in the Thai Buddhist tradition,' in Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists, ed. Winston Leyland, San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1998, pp. 55-89.

    [59] Bunmi Methangkun, quoted in Jackson, 'Male homosexuality and transgenderism,’ p. 52.

    [60] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. 80.

    [61] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. 146.

    [62] Andrew Matzner, 'The complexities of "acceptance": Thai students' attitudes towards kathoey,' in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of South East Asian Studies 15(2) (2001):71-93. See also Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls.

    [63] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 32, August 2001.

    [64] Written response to questionnaire, identified only as Respondent 110, August 2001.

    [65] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. 61.

    [66] All of the participants in the Costa & Matzner research used pseudonyms, all such pseudonyms indicated here by single quotation marks.

    [67] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. 99.

    [68] Costa & Matzner, Male Bodies, Women's Souls, p. 113.

    [69] Tagalog, the dialect of the region in which the national capital sits, provides the basis for Filipino, the national language. The Cebuano dialect is understood widely throughout the central and southern Philippines. Throughout the Philippines the less educated and rural people may be thoroughly fluent only in their regional dialect. English is also an official language in the Philippines. The educated and urban people are often fluent in English and may prefer to use it for some purposes. For reasons of regionalist prejudices, Cebuano speakers may prefer to use English too, rather than Tagalog.

    [70] More detailed reports on the Thai study are carried in Winter's 'Thai transgenders in focus: demographics, transitions and identities' article, as well as in a follow-up article entitled 'Thai transgenders in focus: their beliefs about attitudes towards and origins of transgender,' in International Journal of Transgenderism 9(2) (2006): 47-62. A broader report on the Philippines study is carried in Winter, Sasot & King's 'Transgender in the Philippines.'

    [71] For example, Ray Blanchard, Leonard Clemmensen & Betty Steiner, 'Heterosexual and homosexual gender dysphoria,' in Archives of Sexual Behavior 16(2) (1987):139-52.

    [72] The readiness of Thai kathoey to explain their transgenderism in terms of sociogenic as well as biological and divine forces is also evident in the thirteen personal narratives presented in Costa & Matzner's Male Bodies, Women's Souls. Nine participants refer to social forces that might have acted to make them transgendered, five of whom explicitly cite them as causes.

    [73] These figures come from a cluster analysis I conducted to try to identify, within each of the two groups, participant subgroups, each distinguishable from each other in terms of their response patterns.

    [74] See Teh Yik Koon, The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2002; and Tom Boellstorff, 'Playing back the nation: Waria, Indonesian transvestites,' in Cultural Anthropology 19(2) (2001):159-95.

    [75] At the time of writing, the groups most active in working for trans rights seem to be STRAP (The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines), ProGay (both of whom are based in Manila and aspire to be national), GAHUM (based in Cebu) and Iwag-Davao (based in Mindanao).

    [76] UNAIDS, 'Epidemiological fact sheet on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases: 2004 update: Philippines,' UNAIDS Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS , URL:, site accessed 13 September 2006.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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