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Lesbianism in Bangkok: Toms And Dees


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#1 khunsanuk

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 09:08

Thailand is a mecca for all things gender bending. The kathoys are one of the greatest tourist attractions of cities like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. These transvestites, born as boys, have usually already chosen to continue life as a girl by the time they reach puberty. Using hormones to obtain female curves, some will even undergo surgery, a metamorphosis which is often very successful. In Bangkok we also encountered their female (or should we say male?) counterparts: the tomboys. They were born as women, yet dress, feel and act as men. Sexually they are attracted to very feminine women. Their partners are called "dee", which comes from the English "lady". Our reporter visited their local hangout, 'Be My Guest', got chatting with a couple of toms and let them tell all about their sexual identity.

Machas on motors

At first glance, 'Be My Guest' seems to be a hangout for a hetero crowd of all ages. Only trained eyes will notice that the crowd consists exclusively of women, clearly divided into two "categories": the machas and the girls. Making contact is not difficult. A few tomboys pull up a stool for me, buy me a drink and conjure up charming smiles after every question.

Mao is what in San Francisco would be called a "butch": solidly built, very short hair and dressed in a loose fitting outfit, which camouflages any round curves. Only her voice gives her away. She talks about her childhood: "As a child I already felt like a boy in a girl's body. I absolutely did not want to wear a dress and guns and cars were my favourite toys. At first this was not a problem, but when I started going to school and compared myself with other girls I began to consider myself the odd one out." Her companion On, muscular and bald, agrees with her, grinning: "For me it was even harder, especially when I hit puberty. I constantly fell in love with the most beautiful girls in the classroom, but did not dare approach them because I was not a real boy". The stories are very similar: tomboys have felt like a boy or a man for as long as they can remember. Their cross-dressing is the most striking trademark and extremely male activities attract them. Take Pearl for example, who manages a travel agency. Many men in Bangkok are scared of riding a motorbike because of all the dangers, yet Pearl races through the streets fearlessly. In a custom-made suit and tie she rides her Suzuki to work. Pearl: "The customers don't even know I am a woman. It doesn't even matter to them, as long as they get good service."

Active sexpartners

Tomboys spend their spare time drinking, bar hopping and gambling, activities typically reserved for Thai men. At the bar, a group of toms are bragging amongst themselves about their conquests. Jang was a well-known tennis player years ago. Today she is an instructor at a tennis club who looks at least ten years younger than she really is. Jang: "We have the best characteristics of both sexes. We are tender and caring like women, we are not afraid to show our feelings, yet we are active like men. When it comes to sex we are the active party as well, we want to satisfy our dees and do so much better than men because we know the female body inside and out. Still we are always afraid of losing her to a real man". Her pal Toy has been there as well: "Many women have already left me to marry men, that is why I my heart is always being broken." Since marriage is the only way to raise a family, many toms eventually lose out to a biological man. Not only is the family still the cornerstone of Thai society, but also, for many Thai women, children provide long term security, especially if the women are unemployed. A lesbian couple applying to a sperm bank is inconceivable in Thailand. Many dees also marry for financial security, because in Thailand it is still the men who are the breadwinners. So is the case with Ot, one of the dees in the group. She is married, has a child and sleeps occasionally with her husband out of a sense of obligation, but emotions play no real part in the relationship. On the side she has had a relationship with tomboy Aa for fourteen years. Whenever Aa touches her she is instantly sexually aroused. She will never leave her husband because of the security aspect, but for her pleasures she chooses Aa.

Dressed in bed

In 'Be My Guest' I encounter fearful reactions every now and then. Most speak freely, but do not wish to be photographed nor do they wish to be quoted using their real name. Being lesbian is still taboo in this country. American sociologist Megan Sinnott has been staying in Bangkok for seven years where she "infiltrated" the scene. She is writing her thesis on tom-dee relationships (title: Transgendered identity in female same sex relationships in Thailand) so she knows what she is talking about. Megan explains: "Womenlove has been a part of normal life all through Thai history, evidence of which can be found in art. Mural paintings in Buddhist temples for example contain lesbian scenes and wild stories circulate about womenlove in harems and other communities. The Thai lesbos going public as a group is however a fairly recent phenomenon, no more than fifteen to twenty years, and even then it is limited to the big cities. In a village they are seen as outcasts, they migrate to the city because the subculture is more elaborate there. It is a fairly open environment. Of course you can only belong if you are one yourself."

Megan continues: "Toms are women, but do their best through their dress and attitude to be perceived as men by their environment. Sex is a way to bind women to them. Toms focus wholly on the pleasure of their dees. In the game of love they want to outdo the Thai men, who according to them make love solely for their own pleasure. Some don't even want to be touched during sex, others do not undress because they are ashamed of their female body. They wish to preserve the illusion for their dee that they are a man."

Thailand has the reputation of being a country tolerant of homosexuality and all forms of gender bending but it is still really a taboo subject. Everybody knows it exists, everybody sees it, yet nobody talks about it. Being gay or lesbian is fine, as long as it stays hidden, in private. Apparently it is a case of "don't ask, don't tell". Megan: "Few tomboys or dees dare talk to their parents about their sexuality. At work their lips are sealed. Nobody thinks it strange if one woman is living with another, it is quite a common way of saving money." The story of Kot, a tomboy in 'Be My Guest', can confirm this. Kot and her girlfriend Oy live in the same house as Kot's family. Kot has never told her mother that they are in a relationship, but is convinced she knows. Kot: "My entire family knows, but I don't talk about it because I would get disapproving reactions. My mother would forbid me."

Traditional couple

Megan: "You could see dees as bisexual, or even as hetero. They don't consider themselves lesbian, precisely because their partner looks so manly. Nevertheless toms are seldom taken seriously as a potential life partner. Since they are constantly forced to start new relationships, they have to stay in shape and therefore often look younger than their actual age. However this does not mean that healthy, long-lasting tom/dee relations do not exist. They do, some even marry with a small ceremony amongst friends". According to Megan the Thai media do not paint a nice picture of sexual minorities either. Megan: "Only sensational stories about passionate murders by gays, kathoys and tomboys make the headlines. Or they are the subject of ridicule. Homosexuality is still regarded as a perversion by the older generation, while it is becoming increasingly accepted by the young. Nowadays it has reached the point where parents warn their daughters about the so called "lesbian fashion"."

Thai lesbians choose a traditional man/woman-role. Mao: "In our scene you have to choose: you are either a male tomboy or a female dee. It is not acceptable for two toms or two dees to have a relationship with each other. That goes against our principles". In her quest to be as male as possible, Mao has never used hormones, while some of her friends do use them to lower their voice or encourage beard growth. Has she ever considered a sex change? Mao: "Yes once, when I was ten years old. Now I definitely wouldn't. It is a very complicated procedure as well as being very expensive. Anyway, the soul is more important than the body. The body grows old and disintegrates. The soul is immortal. How I feel is what I am".

#2 Neo

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 09:28

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"You could see dees as bisexual, or even as hetero. They don't consider themselves lesbian, precisely because their partner looks so manly.

Someone get an aspirin for OH...

I have been noticing a great deal more Tom's in Bangkok than before in the last year or so. Not nearly as many as katoeys, but they seem really common compared to before.


#3 Flashermac

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 09:36

Mao???

#4 Old Hippie

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 16:06

Quote

Quote

"You could see dees as bisexual, or even as hetero. They don't consider themselves lesbian, precisely because their partner looks so manly.

Someone get an aspirin for OH...

I have been noticing a great deal more Tom's in Bangkok than before in the last year or so. Not nearly as many as katoeys, but they seem really common compared to before.


"...Someone get an aspirin for OH..."

yes, many lesbians are indeed very fucked up in the head...debate/argument here as to whether or not they can be made lesbian by a traumatic event such as rape, abuse etc...

Many people, not just lesbians are indeed in denial, same as guys who doink men in dresses and claim they aren't gay/bi...the big debate here in the lesbian community is the use of dildos...apparently, the militant fringe of the lesbian community felt the use of dildos was encouraging heterosexual behavior, and that women who liked dildos weren't truely lesbians...any event, gay no matter what...no aspirin needed!
"....'cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door..." -Hunter/Garcia

#5 Julian2

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 02:41

I wonder how they fit into Thai society? I notice the names of both participants are English, (Tomboy is also commonly used in the PI).
The Katoeys are accepted and actually play a role in traditional Thai life but I've never heard of Lesbians being accepted or even discussed. I've known a few bisexual girls both here and in Lao but only one who was also actively butch, she used to hunt partners for her and her husband to share, lucky bastard.
Just because she's a thief and a hitter doesn't mean she's not a good woman in all the other departments.
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#6 Flashermac

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 03:12

My Mrs absolutely detests lesbians. No idea why -- and she won't say. She doesn't much like gay guys either. A typical upcountry village reaction?



#7 Old Hippie

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 04:45

Funny thing is, a lot of Thais seem to just let it all go, but if you confront them on the issue, they do seem to have a bit of an issue with it. A few TGs I know have gay friends, but when they are angry at the guy, then it does come out that they have an issue with it all.

Same same with Katoeys and katoey doinkers, most Thais do think of them as just plain gay.
"....'cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door..." -Hunter/Garcia

#8 Flashermac

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 07:23

Tell me about it! I once saw a female student lose it with a male classmate. I suspected he was gay, but she apparently knew for sure. She screamed at him, calling him a queer and a pervert!

I've had gay Farangs tell me they like Thailand because Thais have no prejudice against gays. BS! Thais just won't say anything to their face. But in private ... it's another matter entirely.


#9 elef

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 07:32

If you're interested in lesbianism there're several thai lesbian boards, at least one in english but the rest in thai. They have many clubs and bars in Bangkok and Pattaya.

Some say that the gay and lesbian scene in Pattaya is 50 % of "our" nightlife scene, some say it equal in size.

#10 elef

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 08:07

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Thai lesbians choose a traditional man/woman-role. Mao: "In our scene you have to choose: you are either a male tomboy or a female dee. It is not acceptable for two toms or two dees to have a relationship with each other. That goes against our principles".

Surprise, surprise she doesn't know so much a lesbians after all, I know 2 dees who stayed as a couple for more than 6 months. Both now have toms as partners. And both have farang husbands too even if both regards themselves as just lesbian and not bi-sexual.  :cool:




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