December 9, 2008 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Miss Tiffany's Universe is the first and largest Kathoey cabaret show in SE Asia. The Third gender is not unique to Thailand. The Hijras of India have an 18-day festival. North American Natives have the Two-Spirit Gathering. And Australia is now contemplating third sex designation.

Various Miss Tiffany's Universe links are in Thai. To revert back to English click here.
posted by gman (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally awesome. I wish these links had been posted back when I was lurking in August. Then I could be doing the paper I originally wanted to do for my Native American class (an examination of gender in Indian communities, with emphasis on instances of third genders), instead of a paper on the rodeo.

It's especially interesting to me that kathoeys are well accepted in Thailand in comparison to transgendered people in the West, but that there is still a family stigma/disappointment in those that are kathoeys.

The only thing I can contribute to the discussion apart from interest is that it was common among Cherokees pre-contact and for awhile post-contact for there to be Warrior Women that participated in activities with men instead of performing traditional women's roles.

I hope this thread develops with more references.
posted by aliceinreality at 7:58 PM on December 9, 2008

Thailand has never been conquered by a western power and has a long tradition of cross-dressing and maintained it's stable, first-world economy despite various coups.

Thailand is so beautifully fucked up.

Oh well, Yah dtee dton bpai gorn kai.
posted by The Whelk at 8:05 PM on December 9, 2008

The Hijras can actually be relentlessly annoying. They stroll onto trains in packs, begging for alms and THEY GET THEM. Fuck, do they get them. The Indians just hand it over to avoid being smooched or having their dicks grabbed. Me? I just grab back.
posted by gman at 8:06 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a couple days ago in the NYT:
“Muxe” is a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish “mujer,” or woman; it is reserved for males who, from boyhood, have felt themselves drawn to living as a woman, anticipating roles set out for them by the community.
A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico
posted by intermod at 8:09 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Thailand in 1974, coming from absolutely stock small-town Midwestern background, ladyboys were a compete shock to me. I got used to it pretty quickly, though, because of the obvious level of acceptance by the surrounding community.

Some of the uglier Americans in the expat community or military communities made terrible sport of them, causing my first flush of shame over being an American ever.
posted by pjern at 8:35 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hope this thread develops with more references.

*rubs ill-shaven chin*

Well, on the subject of traditionalist societies with some kind of socially acceptable transgendered people, the above article was about the male->female types, but if you're interested in the reverse, maybe you'd like to watch a little show about Albania's traditional concept of sworn virgins?
posted by Xezlec at 9:09 PM on December 9, 2008

The new gender would be another legally recognized option alongside male and female, The Daily Telegraph reported.

I wouldn't start jumping up and down about a new dawn of tolerance in Australia, just yet. The actual report ends with the para:

In order to support these reform features, a combination of legislative and policy reform would be necessary. Harmonisation of state, territory and federal systems would also be required to ensure that the systems were consistent and streamlined. Legislative reform could occur either through the enactment of federal legislation or by uniform state/territory legislation.

Which, for those not familiar with our federal system, is shorthand for "This will never happen".
posted by pompomtom at 9:10 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's intresting that men who want to be women get to be the third gender, while I presume women who want to be men would be the 4th.

posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on December 9, 2008

Fascinating reads.
posted by dobie at 10:00 PM on December 9, 2008

If you angle the mirror just right you can watch the TV from the bathroom.
posted by Artw at 10:46 PM on December 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't forget Brazilians Travestis. They're like kathoey, only, you know, from Brazil.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:18 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just for the record, the term "ladyboy" is an ugly epithet on par with "nancyboy", "faggot" and "nigger".

The generally preferred terms are "transwoman", "transman" or "transperson" - and if that's too complicated for you and simply using the correct word of "person" is too ambiguous - the safest thing is to use the gender pronoun appropriate for the gender being presented.
posted by loquacious at 12:26 AM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

loquacious, you didn't mention "tranny," which in my experience is a much more slippery term than "transperson" or "ladyboy." Some folks in trans communities and queer movements / academics prefer "tranny" because it avoids sounding clinical, like the designation of a disorder; it has a colloquial-English ring similar to "guy" or "gal." On the other hand, "tranny" is the word most often used when people talk disparagingly about transgender/sexual sex workers or sex performers. "Tranny" seems to be OK if you're speaking from a position of proximity to transgender/sexual experience and you're certain that your interlocutors know that (i.e., you are trans yourself, close to a trans person, or circulate in trans social circles). Outside of that, though, "tranny" can create some uncomfortable misunderstandings, methinks.

So, much like a lot of "reclaimed" words of abuse, if you don't already know when to use "tranny," you're probably not in a position to use it (tautological, I know, but a useful rule of thumb).
posted by LMGM at 1:05 AM on December 10, 2008

loquacious, you didn't mention "tranny," which in my experience is a much more slippery term than "transperson" or "ladyboy."

I didn't mention it because it wasn't used in the title of the post, as well as in a comment. (One point awarded for the ladyboyzone pun but minus several million points for cultural insensitivity and/or unawareness.)

But you're spot on.

Like a few other reclaimed epithets unoffensive usage is tricky. Personally it makes me very uncomfortable to be around a bunch of pasty highly privileged suburban white dudes (perhaps in an office, no less) who say stuff like "Whatup, nigger?" to each other on an hourly or daily basis. In my experience - based on statements and actions of the specific examples in question - the unspoken subtext is often unpleasant, if not outright racist - if unintended or uninformed.

I feel the same unease offense when sexual epithets are used so haphazardly.
posted by loquacious at 4:16 AM on December 10, 2008

...unease and offense...
posted by loquacious at 4:17 AM on December 10, 2008

Okay, but I have dibs on sex number four.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:46 AM on December 10, 2008

The word "katoey" is a rather vague and all-encompassing word that can mean gay, tranny, effeminant man, or a guy who seems straight but is attracted to men. *words that start with a "ka" or "kra" in Thai are usually from Khmer. By comparison, Tagalog has a very similar word "bakla" and I suspect all SE Asian langauges have such words. Maybe because Thais wanted an English word that was easy for non-Thais to grasp, they coined the word "ladyboy". The word sounds to my ear similar to other "Thai-English" words, like "moneyboy" for male prostitute.

Whenever I've heard Thais use it, the word does not sound derogatory, and since the word originated in the area, I don't see why you would get so shrill about it.

Curious in what context you've heard the word "katoey" used?
posted by gman at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2008

In Samoa, there's the Fa'afafine, boys raised as girls for practical reasons (not enough girl children in the family to do traditionally female work). The old cultural practice has morphed into transvestite/transsexual/drag queen kids choosing to be fa'fafafine themselves.
posted by jack_mo at 6:44 AM on December 10, 2008

Excellent post, gman. For those who are interested in the subject, here is a prior post on hijras and eunuchs of India and Pakistan.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2008

Whenever I've heard Thais use it, the word does not sound derogatory, and since the word originated in the area, I don't see why you would get so shrill about it.

Well, this is a pretty good example of cultural differences. In the States "nancyboy" and "ladyboy" have a less positive history and connotation. I wasn't aware at all of its use in Thailand or its derivation from "katoey".

I wouldn't be surprised if the word was an import to the US that was misappropriated. From what I've read, the terms entered literature in the late 40s, early 50s in the US, which would make sense considering the vast pan-Pacific cross pollination of the US in the post WW2 era.

Anyway, I wasn't accusing anyone here of actually being insensitive - just making the statement that the term isn't appropriate or accepted in the US. I like this post - it's informative.
posted by loquacious at 1:30 PM on December 10, 2008

What about the word "travesty", which is used in Mexico and is a corruption of the English word "transvestite"? This is what Mexicans call "ladyboys" and it's seen on signs it parts of the country.
posted by gman at 2:26 PM on December 10, 2008

YouTube: Alan Partridge serves Ladyboys.
posted by iviken at 2:31 PM on December 10, 2008

1. Once we get everyone to use the preferred nomenclature for everything all social problems will be solved!
2. The best route to this is to jump on people who use non-prefered nomlecature in a neutral or positive way and make them feel really bad about themselves.
3. Once you’ve done that the problems as good as solved, so you might as well give yourself a big pat on the back now.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2008

In the States "nancyboy" and "ladyboy" have a less positive history and connotation. I wasn't aware at all of its use in Thailand or its derivation from "katoey".

I've lived in the US all my life, and I've never heard the term "ladyboy" used to describe anybody other than kathoeys.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:49 PM on December 10, 2008

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