Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand (Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory, 31)
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- Publisher : University of Hawaii Press (June 30, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0824828526
- ISBN-13 : 978-0824828523
- Item Weight : 15.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.5 x 0.58 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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According to Sinnott, gay and homophobic Thais both embrace and reject the West. Homophobes will say homosexuality is a sign of Western decadence but then also say, "Let's hide Thai gays so that our Western heroes don't look down upon us." Lesbian Thai activists strive to show others that Thai lesbians have existed for centuries, but gay rights is also seen as modern and glamorous given its Western origins.
Again, both activism and bigotry are different over there. It's considered impolite to be confrontational and "in your face" a la Queen Nation in the 1990s in Thailand, especially for women of any sexuality. Thus, this book includes several examples of Thai lesbians letting comments slide that Western lesbians would not. However, the author continually repeats that Thai parents would rather see their daughters involved romantically with women than "losing face" by being with unmarried men.
As much as the author makes Thailand look greener than the America has been to lesbians, there are instances when Thailand seems dare I say "primitive" for lack of a better word. The author states that Thais only see hyperfeminine gay men and butch lesbians as liking their own sex. They have no knowledge or recognition of manly clones or "lipstick" lesbians. Anybody who has taken a women's studies or gay studies class will find it hard to understand how Thais fail to differentiate between sexual object choice, gender identity, and biological sex. In the US, the division between gays and transsexuals is very clear. One doesn't need the Empire State Building or Disneyland to see that. So it's hard not to look at this blind spot as kind old-school.
Further, Thai tolerance of lesbians doesn't seem to erase self-loathing. Many of the toms here say they are being punished for bad deeds in a past life. Many of these butches see themselves as second-rate men, so different from the proud American butches that Judith Halberstam analyzed. Sinnott stated that heterosexually-active sex workers are more politicized and unapologetic than Thai lesbians are.
I thought of two topics this book fails to bring up. The author repeats that dees have no identity and community outside of their tom lovers. Why aren't they influenced by the bisexual rights movement in the West? Don't they see bi-curious acts and statements by Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Pink, or Janet Jackson? Female bisexuality is BIG in the US, it hasn't floated over to Thailand?! Second, lesbians in the US have said, "If you don't come out or wear things that are coded as lesbians, straight men will hit on you until you're blue in the face!" In this book, though dees are pressured by their parents to marry men, no interviewee states that she is out or acts tom in order to deflect attention from straight males.
Finally, I wish the author had said more about herself. In my high school, there was a Thai-American guy named Joe who was really named Sinat. I wonder if the author's last name is just another spelling of that. Is the author Thai-American? I hear Thai is incredibly difficult for Westerners to learn. When studying gay men in developing countries, writers like Joseph Carrier and Manuel Fernandez-Alemany had to have sex to get into circles where gay men would open up to them. Did this female anthropologist have to do the same thing? Is the author butch- or femme-identified? I think that would sway how toms and dees related to her. Does the author not practice butch-femme? What would Thai lesbians say of Western counterparts that do not "take a role"?