Research and discussion paper

An Overview of TG in Asia.

Sam Winter, Division of Learning, Development and Diversity, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Copyright Sam Winter to whom requests for reproduction and dissemination falling under copyright laws must be made

Contact author

uploaded 2/5/2002, most recent update 25/2/03

Introduction

At first glance humanity appears to fall into two (social) genders, each springing from a (biological) sex – ‘male’ and ‘female’. The truth is somewhat more complicated. Leaving aside the genetic, hormonal and anatomical anomalies that arise, we see across the world individuals who, through disposition and circumstance, adopt cross-gender behaviours and identities. These are people who, in the West, we call transgenders (TG). The reader interested in global overviews of TG does well to begin with Ramet, 1996, and Bullough and Bullough, 1993.

This overview

The overview that follows summarises what we know about Asian TG. Bear in mind that the literature on TG in Asia is relatively scarce, amounting to a tiny fraction of what has been published on N. American and European TG. What follows focuses on what has been published on Asian TG, drawing on the various sources easily available (in some cases unfortunately not the primary source) and pointing the reader elsewhere for further information.

Bear in mind that what follows focuses on what we know about groups of biological males who contemporarily (or until recently) have been reported to spend their lives (or significant portions of it) in cross- or alternative-gendered social roles, many adopting identities to match.

The consequence is that the overview does not include:

( a ) FtM transgender (there is simply too little available material).

( b ) TG groups outside Asia. For example:

( i ) in America, the cross-gendered priests of the Araucanian people of Chile, the ‘kwido’, ‘berdache’, ‘winkte’, ‘lhamana’, heemaneh’, ‘elxa’, ‘nadle’ / ‘miati’, ‘nadllhe’, and ‘wi-kovat’ of the North American native peoples, and the ‘travesti’ evident across many parts of Latin America,

( ii ) in Africa, the ‘ndongo-l-echi-la’, ‘wanda-warad’, ‘sagoda’, ‘ashtime’, ‘londo’, ‘tubele’, ‘mashoga’, ‘hanithi’, ‘mabasha’, ‘msagaliwa’, ‘rambuza’, ‘mudoko dako’, ‘mugaawe’, ‘inzili’, ‘buyazi’, ‘gor-digne’, ‘chibadi’, ‘sorones’, ‘sango’, ‘yan daudu’, ‘nkontana’, ‘sererr’, ‘khaal’, ‘gink’, ‘sekrata’, and other cross-gendered individuals, filling roles as diverse as mates, dancers, servants, prostitutes and priests.

( iii) in Oceania, the ‘mahu’, ‘fakaleiti’, and ‘fa-a-fa-fine’.

( c ) instances of Asian TG in former times that is apparently unmatched by any evidence of TG in the present. For example, the explorer Richard Burton’s reports of ‘boy-wives’ in Afghanistan in the 19th century (this reported in Bullough and Bullough, 1993).

( d ) instances of temporary and highly situation-specific cross-gendered behaviour (for example, ‘drag’ performers, for whom the cross-gendered role may end upon leaving the stage).

( e ) societies for which, whatever the reality may be, there is only evidence of isolated TG cases. For example, a case report of SRS in Iran, a website for an apparent TG in Kazakhstan, each of which exist in apparent isolation in the literature / on the web..

The overview more or less takes us round Asia in a counter-clockwise fashion: ( a ) South-East Asia (Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia), ( b ) East Asia (Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Japan), ( c ) Other parts of Asia (Siberia, Turkey, Oman, India, Iran). Where there is a full Country Report available on this website, a link is provided. 

For each country summary the information available is presented in nine sections: ( a ) Name of TG group (if any such name), ( b ) Prevalence (if any estimates exist), ( c ) Gender-related behaviours, ( d ) Gender identity and sexual preference, ( e ) Position in society, ( f ) Extent to which role / identity is permanent (as opposed to a relatively temporary life stage), ( g ) Existence of female equivalent (i.e. FtM cross-gendered individuals, ( h) Contextual factors, ( i ) Further reading (a mixture of primary and secondary sources, with an emphasis on ease of access).

In each country summary I make some generalisations, especially in regard to Sections ( c ) through to ( f ). I also make 13 generalised statements about TG in Asia. As always when making generalisations, a lot of detail is omitted on variations and exceptions.

References

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ramet, S.R. (1996). Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: anthropological and historical perspectives. London, UK: Routledge. (Our note: See material on gender diversity in Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese and Siberian cultures) 

 

Thirteen General Statements

 

South-East Asia.

 

Thailand

Name of TG group:

‘Kathoey’ (also used in the past to refer to any homosexual man); ‘kathoey phom yao’ (‘kathoey with long hair’), ‘kathoey tee sai suer pha phuying’ (‘kathoey who wears women’s clothes’), ‘pumia’ / ‘pumae’ (‘male-female’); ‘pet tee sam’ (‘third sex’); ‘phuying praphet song’ (‘second kind of woman’); ‘sao praphet song’ (‘second kind of girl’); ‘nang fa jam leng’ (‘transformed goddess’); ‘nong-toei’ (‘younger brother kathoey’), ‘ork-sao’ (‘outwardly a woman’), ‘sao-dao-thiam’ (‘artificial woman’), ‘tut’ (as in ‘tootsie’), ‘ladyboy’, ‘ladyman’.

Prevalence:

Unknown, once quoted in print as 10,000, but in the view of this writer and others likely to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals, but full-range of feminine characteristics is often displayed (hair, dress, cosmetics, manner, gestures, voice, vocabulary (a special feature of the Thai language is that some word-forms are restricted to females and TGs), stereotyped personality traits, interests (including vocational)). Many undergo cosmetic surgery. Some undergo sex reassignment surgery. Insertee sex role with men.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Varies across individuals. As perceived by self: generally female variant or third-gender. Typically see their attraction to males as heterosexual (as do their partners see their own attraction to kathoey). As perceived by other Thais: male, female or third-sex.

Position in society:

High public (and international) profile, as evidenced by prominence on T.V., in newspapers and magazines. Some well-known singers / actresses / models (‘Jeun Jeun’, ‘Mahm’ Lakhonik, ‘Ma’ Onnapa etc. Other professionals, including a dentist and a senior person in hotel management. In practice, many, including university students (and even graduates), move into marginal occupations in the sex industry and in ‘kathoey’ cabarets. Occasionally manage to enter sterotypically female occupations (e.g. shop assistants, beauticians and hairdressers, fashion etc ) or open small businesses (a flower shop, a market stall etc.)

Relative acceptance in society, but acceptance varies according to context, and the behaviour of the kathoey concerned. Some societal admiration of kathoey beauty and talents, but also societal prejudice (particularly vocational, much of which is unavoidable in view of the inability to change the sex shown on one’s I.D). Some police harassment of kathoey, including cases of violence.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

For most, develops in early / middle childhood and adolescence, and extends throughout adult life. For some a reversion to male identity and behaviour in order to survive. However, very little is generally known about older kathoey.

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes (the ‘tom’), but less evident than kathoey in contemporary Thai society.

Contextual factors:

A long tradition of TG ( as well as homosexuality) in Thailand. ‘Male marriages’ still occur in some rural areas. Some negative views towards TG (seen, like homosexuality, as a pattern inconsistent with one’s male biological sex), but overall relative tolerance. An overarching view that maleness is defined not in terms of what anatomy you have, but in terms of what you do with that anatomy (to that extent kathoeys have lost much of their claim to maleness simply by not wanting to be an active sexual partner). This belief perhaps waning, leading to an effective ‘masculinisation’ of gays over recent years. Easy availability of hormones, surgery, employment (if only in sex work).

Note that Thai women enjoy relatively advantageous position (compared to other parts of SE Asia) in Thai society, with femaleness nowadays defined less in terms of motherhood than in earlier times.

Strong Buddhist religious tradition in Thailand, with some shamanistic elements. TG (like homosexuality) seen as non-ideal but natural (karmic consequences for sexual misbehaviour in an earlier life?). Certain Buddhist writings suggest that all of us have been kathoey in earlier lives. Other Buddhist scriptures refer to four genders (male, female, hermaphrodite and sexually-deficient). Buddhist acceptance of kathoey results in staging of annual beauty contests in some temples in Bangkok (e.g. Wat Sangkratchai, Wat Maipatpheelen, the latter with prize money of 50,000 Thai Baht (US$1700)) to raise money for temple works etc.

Long tradition of TG shamanism in some rural areas, still persists today, perhaps offering way of gaining status for otherwise stigmatised kathoey.

Northern Thai creation myths speak about three original sexes.This system of three sexes remained prevalent until mid-twenetieth century.

Selected further reading:

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ford, N. and Kittisuksathit, S. (1994). Destinations unknown: the gender construction and changing nature of the sexual expressions of Thai youth. AIDS Care, 6,5, 517-530

Jackson, P. (1995) Kathoey: The third sex. In Jackson, P., Dear Uncle Go: Male homosexuality in Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: Bua Luang Books

Jackson, P. (1996) Non-normative sex/gender categories in the Theravada Buddhist Scriptures.  link to resource

Jackson, P. (1998) Male homosexuality and transgenderism in the Thai buddhist tradition. In Leyland, W. (Ed.) Queer dharma: Voices of gay buddhists. San Francisco, USA: Gay Sunshine Press

Matzner, A. The Politics of re-presentation: An analysis of Western academic treatments of Thai transgenderism. Under review.

Matzner, A. (2001) The Complexities of 'Acceptance': Thai students' attitudes towards kathoey. Crossroads: An interdisciplinary journal of South East Asian studies, 15, 2, 71-93

Matzner, A. In the beginning: Northern Thai creation mythology. link to resource 

Nanda, S. (2000). Gender diversity: Cross-cultural variations. Illinois, USA: Waveland Press

Storer, G. (1999). Performing sexual identity: Naming and resisting 'gayness' in modern Thailand. link to resource

Taywaditep, K., Coleman, E. and Dumronggittigule (1997). Thailand. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Francoeur, R. (Ed.)  link to resource

ten Brummelhuis, H. (1999) Transformations of transgender: The case of the Thai kathoey. In Jackson, P. and Sullivan, G. (Eds.). Lady boys, tom boys, rent boys: Male and female homosexualities in contemporary Thailand. New York, USA: The Haworth Press.

Winter,S. and Udomsak, N. (2002). Male, Female and Transgender : Stereotypes and Self in Thailand. International Journal of Transgenderism, 5,1 link to resource

Winter,S. and Udomsak,N. (2003). Gender stereotype and self among transgenders: Underlying elements. International Journal of Transgenderism, 6, 2.  link to resource

See also Sam Winter's Country report for Thailand on this website

 

Myanmar (Burma)

Name of TG group:

‘Acault’ (pronounced ‘achow’)

Prevalence:

Unknown

Gender-related behaviours:

Cross-dressing and other cross-gender behaviours. Insertee sex role.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Seen as female variant. Sex with man seen as heterosexual. Man having sex with acault also sees act as heterosexual.

Position in society:

Act as shamans, seers, dancers in ceremonies, housewives in relationships with men. Admired for having special powers, but also seen as manifesting bad karma (arising out of parents’ earlier behaviour).

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Not clear

Existence of female equivalent:

Unknown

Contextual factors:

Acault are ‘married’ to and worship female spirits (‘nats’) called ‘manguedons’. To have sex with another woman would therefore be disloyal. To have sex with a man is to represent the manguedon.

Acts considered homosexual are illegal in Myanmar.

Selected further reading:

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Coleman, E., Cogan, P and Gooren, L. (1992). Male cross-gender behaviour in Myanmar (Burma): A description of the Acault. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 21, 3, 313-32

 

Philippines

Name of TG group:

‘Bayot’ / ‘bantut’ / ‘bakla’ (‘a gay: a woman trapped in a man’s body’), ‘ladyboy’. Sasot also supplies the term 'binabae'

Prevalence:

Unknown. Leyson reports that they 'have not been seriously considered in the Philippines' (p481), and that the relevant medical authorities have reported no cases on transsexualism. But Sasot notes the existence of a clinic diagnosing GID, and that there are two medical practitioners doing SRS in the Philippines, and that they will have conducted almost 200 such operations. If, as in other countries, those TGs undergoing SRS area minority within the TG population, then we can assume that there is a sizable TG population in the Philippines.  

Gender-related behaviours:

A wide variety of cross-gender behaviours. Insertee sex role.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

See themselves (and are seen) as a female variant, or third gender, with heterosexual interest in men. Men with interest in ‘bayot’ see themselves as heterosexual.Many Filipino males apparently have sex with a bakla / bantut / bayot, often subsequently adopting an entirely conventional sexual relationship - including with a wife. Throughout all this they see themselves as heterosexual, being the active partner. This feeling accompanied by the belief that only the bantut / bakla / bayot (ie the passive partner) is homosexual. . 

Position in society:

Stigmatised nowadays, perhaps especially in Muslim culture of the South.

Leyson reports that TGs may receive psychiatric treatment, but not medical treatment, unless they go overseas for it..  

Involvement in female occupations, with particular focus on sex trade, providing services to men. 

Substantial numbers of bakla / bayot / bantut  travel from South of Philippines to Sabah to work as prostitutes (‘Benny Boys’), and from other parts of the Philippines to take up similar work in places like Manila.

Sasot notes that some Regional Trial Courts have allowed a change of legal sex, but that no cases have so far been brought in the Supremem Court, leaving unclear nationally the legal status of TGs who have undergone SRS.  

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Uncertain, though presumably permanent for those who undergo SRS. .

Existence of female equivalent:

Apparently so. Sasot notes a case of FtM SRS in the Philippines. 

Contextual factors:

Traditions of male TG shamans (‘bayog’, ‘bayoc’, ‘asog’) and healers ('babyalan') reported as early as 16th/17th century, displaying (often permanently) styles of female hair, dress, manner and gesture, household duties, etc. Were viewed as female variant or a third gender.

Old rural traditions that a person travelling though a haunted region, or confronted by a witch, should cross-dress so that he will not be recognised.

Selected further reading:

Brewer, C. (1999). Baylan, asog, transvestism and sodomy: Gender, sexuality and the scared in early colonial Philippines. Intersections, 2. link to resource

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Johnson, M. (1997). Beauty and power: Transgendering and cultural transformation in the southern Philippines. Oxford UK: Berg.

Johnson, M. (1998) Global desirings and translocal loves: Transgendering and same sex sexualities in the southern Philippines. American Ethnologist, 25, 4, 695-711

Leyson,J.F. (2001). The Philippines. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol.4.  Francoeur, R. (Ed.) New York: Continuum

Nanda, S. (2000). Gender diversity: Cross-cultural variations. Illinois, USA: Waveland Press

Sasot, A. (2002) e mail communication

See also Alyssa Sasot's  Country report for the Philippines on this website

 

Malaysia

Name of TG group:

‘Mak Nyah’ (‘mak’=mother), ‘ladyboy’, also occasionally ‘pondan’ or ‘ bapok’ (both of which are broader in meaning and can refer simply to an effeminate male).

Prevalence:

Around 10,000

Gender-related behaviours:

Broad range of cross-gender behaviours, including clothes, hair, make-up, female names, use of hormones, female toilets etc. Insertee sex role with men.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Most report feeling female since very young. Perceive themselves as female variant or as third gender, with preference for men.

Position in society:

Marginalised within society, harassed and persecuted by police and religious authorities. Many working as sex workers.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Vast majority of mak nyahs anticipate remaining permanently in this role. But some do revert to male role to facilitate survival.

Existence of female equivalent:

Small number of ‘pak nyah’ (‘pak’=father), also called ‘abang’.

Contextual factors:

Four genders in Islam: male, female, khunsa (hermaphrodite) and mukhannis (cross-gender identity) / mukhannas (cross-gender behaviour only). Islam intolerant towards cross-gender behaviours and identity. While a khunsa can take action in relation to his condition, the mukhannis or mukhannas is forbidden to.

In Malaysia cross-dressing is illegal. In 1998 45 transvestites were arrested in Kedah province while taking part in a beauty pageant. Most were charged with wearing female clothes and impersonating women, charges that could include up to 6 months incarceration.

There is a fatwa (religious edict) against sex reassignment surgery.

Vast majority of mak nyahs report accepting their penis, but would undergo SRS if it were possible. This despite the fatwa, and the fact that SRS would pose burial problems, since Islam embraces no burial rites for a TG.

Acts considered homosexual are illegal in Malaysia.

Selected further reading:

K. Slamah (1999). Building a community developing effective HIV/AIDS programmes for transsexuals working as sex workers: the Malaysian example. International Lesbian and Gay Association webpage. link to resource

Teh Y.K. (2001) Mak nyahs (male transsexuals) in Malaysia: The influence of culture and religion on their identity. International Journal of Transgenderism, 5, 3.  link to resource

Teh Y.K. (1998). Understanding the problems of mak nyahs (male transsexuals) in Malaysia. South East Asia Research, 6, 2, 165-180.

See also Teh Yik Koon’s Country report for Malaysia on this website

 

Singapore

Name of TG group:

Uncertain

Prevalence:

1:25000.

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals, but often full-range of feminine characteristics is displayed (hair, dress, cosmetics, manner, gestures, voice, selected personality traits, interests (including vocational)). Some undergo cosmetic surgery and/or sex reassignment surgery. Insertee sex role with men.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Early onset. Female variant or third gender, with preference for men.

Position in society:

Marginalised somewhat, and often found in marginal occupations - including sex work - through lack of alternatives, and despite good education, adjustment etc.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Develops in childhood / adolescence. Many anticipate remaining in TG role permanently.

Existence of female equivalent: Yes

Contextual factors:

SRS available in Singapore from 1971. Since 1996 post-op TGs are regarded as legally belonging to chosen gender for purposes of marriage etc.

Acts considered homosexual are illegal in Singapore

Selected further reading:

Tsoi W.F. (1992) Male and female transsexuals: a comparison. Singapore Medical Journal, 33, 2, 182-185

Tsoi W.F. (1993) Follow-up study of transsexuals after sex-reassignment surgery. Singapore Medical Journal, 34, 6, 515-517

Tsoi W.L., Kok L.P and Long F.Y. (1977). Male transsexualism in Singapore: a description of 56 cases. British Journal of Psychiatry, 131, 405-409

Tsoi W.F., Kok L.P., Yeo K.L. and Ratnam,S.S. (1995) Follow-up study of female transsexuals. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 24, 5, 664-667

 

Indonesia

Name of TG group:

‘Waria’ (= ‘man-woman’), 'banci' (Batavian term), 'calabai' (Buginese term), 'kedie' (Javan and Balinese term), 'kawekawe' (Makassarese and Buginese), 'wandu' (Javanese) .

Prevalence:

Unknown, but Pangkahila estimates there are thousands throughout Indonesia.

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals, but often full-range of feminine characteristics is displayed.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Usually thought of as female variant or third gender. Boellstorff argues that they see themselves as a subset of men. Almost invariably a sexual preference for men.

Position in society:

Marginalised in modern islamic society. Many work as beauticians, dancers and entertainers, as well as shopkeepers and tailors. But others work as prostitutes, exacerbating society's negative image of them. See note on ‘context’ for Malaysia.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Usually permanent. Some use of hormones, surgeries and silicone injections.

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes, for example the ‘calalai’ (‘false men’ – cross-gendered females) in Bugis society of South Sulawesi. Also called ‘tomboi’ or ‘hunter’. Perceived as bringing shame to family.

Contextual factors:

Waria occasionally organise themselves, as in case of the Association of Waria in Surabaya, which provides vocational training and support designed to keep TGs from drifting into prostitution.

Traditions, persisting to today, of transgendering in connection with spirit mediums.This practice is to be found in Dyak culture. Also in Ponorogo culture in East Java where 'warok' spirit mediums take young boys as wives, believing that sex with a woman depletes spiritual power. Note also the cross-gendered 'Bissu' priests in Bugis culture 

Selected further reading:

Boellstorff, T. (2001). Waria: national transvestites. Paper presented at the 3rd IASSCS. link to resource

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Graham, S. (2001). Negotiating gender: 'Calalai' in Bugis society. Intersections, 6. link to resource

Oetorno,D and Petkovic,J. (1999) Dede Oetorno talks on Reyog Pongorogo: transcript of an interview filmed by Josko Petkovic), Intersections, 2, May. link to resource 

Pangkahila,W. and Elkholy,R. (2001).  Indonesia. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol.4.  Francoeur, R. (Ed.) New York: Continuum

Wilson,I. (1999) Reog Ponorogo: spirituality, sexuality, and power in a Javanese performance tradition. Intersections, 2, May. link to resource

See also additional information ('the contemporary position of waria in Indonesian society') by Tom Boellstorff 

 

  East Asia

 

Hong Kong

Name of TG group:

‘Bin sing yan’ (= ‘change sex person’; used for both MtF or FtM) ‘yan yiu’ (‘abnormal/evil man’, colloquial term used only for MtF).

Prevalence:

Unknown, but estimated by Ng and Ma (2001) as 1 in 200,000

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals, but often full-range of feminine characteristics is displayed (hair, dress, cosmetics, manner, gestures, voice, selected personality traits, interests (including vocational)). Some undergo cosmetic surgery and/or sex reassignment surgery. Insertee sex role with men.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Varies across individuals, but can include self-perceptions as female variant. Public presentation almost invariably as female, with TG identity kept secret.

Position in society:

Varied, but many TGs are well-educated, well-adjusted and have successful careers. However, many others suffer from discrimination in employment, marriage, legal  disputes etc, because their legal status remains male. This legal position is reflected in the birth certificate, which remains 'male' even where a post-op TG has succeeded in changing her other forms of I.D (ID card, passport etc.) 

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Generally permanent.

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes, in fact the majority of applicants for sex reassignment surgery appear to be FtM.

Contextual factors:

First HK SRS operation in 1981. Gender Identity team working at Government hospital provides services to TGs. Government financed SRS is available to those judged as suitable assessed through psychiatric evaluation, counselling and real-life test.

Selected further reading:

Ma, J.L.C. (1999). Social work practice with transsexuals in Hong Kong who apply for sex reassignment surgery. Social Work in Health Care, 29, 2, 85-103

Ma, J.L.C. (1997) A systems approach to the social difficulties of transsexuals in Hong Kong. Journal of Family Therapy, 19, 1, 71-88

Ng M.L., Wong K.K., Chow S.K., Tang S.K., Leung,A., and Chan M.M. (1989) Transsexualism: service and problems in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Practitioner, 11,12, 591-602

Ng, M.L. and Ma, L.C. (2001). Hong Kong. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol.4.  Francoeur, R. (Ed.) New York: Continuum. link to resource

 

China

Name of TG group:

‘Bian xing ren’ (= ‘change sex person’)

Prevalence:

Unknown

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals but can include full range.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Varies across individuals.

Position in society:

Unknown

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Varies across individuals, but can be permanent.

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes, modern cases of FtM TG exist.

Contextual factors:

SRS for TG (as opposed to castration for eunuchs) was conducted in China for the first time in 1983. In fact, relatively few TGs avail themselves of the procedure (and relatively few surgeons are willing to perform it) because of societal disdain for TG (seen as a Western decadent influence). 

In fact there is a long history of atypical cross-gender behaviour (both prevalent and tolerated). For example:

( a ) the ‘qixiong’ (=’promised younger brother’) boy brides of the Tang period (such marriages celebrated by the ‘bride’s’ family, and often proving to be a life stage),

( b ) the male prostitution of the Southern Song, Ming and Qing periods ( i ) widespread despite (or because of?) female prostitution periodically being suppressed strongly, ( ii ) tolerated to the point of being allowed to form a trade guild, and ( iii ) commonly involving broad range of cross-gendered behaviour, including cross-dressing, depilation and skin-softening, and insertee sex role,

( c ) the ‘dan’ actors of the Qing period, typically displaying a broad range of cross-gendered behaviours, including cross-dressing and insertee sex role.

Male-male sexual behaviour to be seen in the context of widespread belief that male-female sex leads to loss of man’s ‘yang’ (‘fire’ / ‘male’) force, but that male-male sex does not. Jingxing is a well-known MtF TG dancer / choreographer.

Selected further reading:

Hinsch, B. (1990). Passions of the cut sleeve: the male homosexual tradition in China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Leupp, G. (1995). Male colors: the construction of homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ruan F.F., Bullough,V. and Tsai Y.M. (1989). Male transsexualism in mainland China. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 18, 6, 517-522

Ruan F F and Lau M.P. (1997). China. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Francoeur, R. (Ed.)  link to resource

Volpp, S. (1996). Gender, power and spectacle in late-imperial Chinese theatre. Ch. 9 in Ramet, S. (Ed.) Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures. London: Routledge.

 

South Korea

Name of TG group:

‘Tou-ran-sou-jen-der’ (= ‘transgender’)

Prevalence:

Not known

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals but can include full range.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Likely varies across individuals.

Position in society:

Unknown, likely varies

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Varies across individuals.

Existence of female equivalent:

Unknown

Contextual factors:

During Silla period the cross-dressing ‘hwarang’ (= ‘flower boys’) were cultivated by the king for military duty, but also for dancing etc. Later on became involved in (cross-gendered) prostitution. Also a tradition of ‘boy-wives’ who would be brides to older men, but who could later on marry as ‘true men’.

Male-male sexual behaviour to be seen in the context of widespread belief that male-female sex leads to loss of man’s ‘yang’ (‘fire’ / ‘male’) force, but that male-male sex does not.

Until the mid-80's TGs could obtain very little in the way of medical services, except through unlicensed facilities. This has changed somewhat, with the first SRS operation conducted by Dr Koo Sang-Hwan in 1989. By 2000 around 50 SRS operations have been reported. Many barriers stand in the way of a Korean TG wanting SRS, among them that they undergo psychiatric treatment first of all, that their physical appearance should be consistent with their chosen gender (!), that they should be over 21 AND have family approval. 

Even after SRS all legal documents remain unchanged.  The legal status as male leads to many consequences. These include, in Korea, that a TG victim of rape is a victim only of a physical attack, since same-sex intercourse is not legally viewed as sex.   

Harisu, a TG singer, dancer and actress has recently become popular in Korean pop culture, openly flaunting her transgender and sexuality. See also: Harisu re-defines gender identity.

Selected further reading:

Choi H.K., Ryu J.K., Rha K.H. and Lee W.H. (2001). South Korea. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol.4.  Francoeur, R. (Ed.) New York: Continuum

Leupp, G. (1995). Male colors: the construction of homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

 

Japan

Name of TG group:

‘Newhalf’

Prevalence:

Unknown

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies across individuals but can include full range.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Varies across individuals but often female variant or third gender, with sexual preference towards males and insertee sex role.

Position in society:

Marginal, with some involvement in bar and sex work

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Uncertain

Existence of female equivalent:

Unknown

Contextual factors:

Long tradition of TG (and homosexuality / bisexuality) in Japan, especially in the pre-tokugawa period, and persisting until Western influence overcame it. Male-male sexual behaviour to be seen in the context of widespread belief that male-female sex leads to loss of man’s ‘yang’ (‘fire’ / ‘male’) force, but that male-male sex does not.

As examples of cross-gendered role behaviour, consider ( a ) the ‘chigo’ ( = favourite) sex partners (‘boy-wives’) for monks, ( b ) the cross-gendered sex partners for samurai, ( c ) the ‘oyama’ and ‘onnegata’ female-role actors in ‘noh’ and ‘kabuki’ theatre respectively. Note: females were banned from stage roles in 1629.

In each case individuals in these categories typically lived a full-time cross-gendered role, and took an insertee sex role with males. Chigo, oyama and onnegata were regarded as third gender / female, the onnegata even bathing with the women in public baths. Geisha trainees studied the stereotyped cross-gender behaviour of the onnegata.

There is a long-standing fascination in Japanese culture with androgyny. Interestingly, even today men and women are seen as differing little psychologically (at least as so far researched).

Despite the long history of TG, sex reassignment surgery is a new development in Japan. Yuki Kawamura (also known as ‘Venus Fly Trapp’) is a well-known MtF pop singer.

Sex reassignment surgery is since 1998 a legal medical procedure in Japan. Previously TGs were obliged to go overseas for SRS.

Selected further reading:

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hatano,Y. and Shimazaki,T. (1997). Japan. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Francoeur, R. (Ed.)  link to resource

Leupp, G. (1995). Male colors: the construction of homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sugihara, Y. and Katsurada, E. (1999). Masculinity and femininity in Japanese culture: A pilot study. Sex Roles, 40, 7/8, 635-646 

Ako, T., Takao, H., Yoshiharu, I., Katsuyuki, K., Osamu, I., and Yutaka, U. (2001). Beginnings of Sex Reassignment Surgery in Japan. link to resource

 

Others

 

Siberia

Name of TG group:

‘Yirka-la-ul-va-irgin’ (= ‘soft-man-being’), ‘ne-uchica’ (= ‘similar to a woman’). Names vary across ethnic groups (Chukchi, Koryak, Itelmen, Iupik etc.) to which individual belongs

Prevalence:

Unknown

Gender-related behaviours:

Full-time cross-gender behaviour

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Perceived as a woman who looks like a man

Position in society:

Valued as shamans

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Apparently permanent

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes

Contextual factors:

Long history of cross-gender shamanism within various Siberian cultures. Within Chukchi culture a total of seven genders are recognised.

Selected further reading:

Balzer,M. (1996). Sacred genders in Siberia: shamans, bear festivals and androgyny. In Ramet, S. (Ed.) Gender reversals and gender cultures. London UK: Routledge.

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jacobs,S. and Cromwell,J. (1992). Visions and revisions of reality: reflections on sex, sexuality, gender, and gender variance. Journal of homosexuality, 23, 4, 43-69

 

Turkey

Name of TG group:

Uncertain

Prevalence:

Estimated by this author to be 1 in 250 adult males, based on related figures supplied in Yuzgun (1993).

Gender-related behaviours:

Varies according to individual, but can involve full-range of cross-gendered behaviours, including dress style. Insertee sex role with men.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Uncertain, but likely perceive themselves to be female or third gendered.

Position in society:

Marginal.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Apparently permanent.

Existence of female equivalent:

Yes

Contextual factors:

Apparent police harassment of TGs (as well as periodic cross-dressers, homosexuals etc.). TGs remain legally male. Long history of eunuchism throughout Ottoman period, with hospitals devoted to relevant surgery. True transgender frowned upon by Islam (see notes on Malaysia). Bulent Ersoy is a well-known MtF TG singer.

SRS legal in Turkey. After SRS TGs obtain a legal status consistent with their chosen sex. They can marry a member of their original legal sex. . 

Selected further reading:

Aydin,H. and Gulcat,Z. (2001). Turkey. In the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Vol.4.  Francoeur, R. (Ed.) New York: Continuum

Yueksel, S., Kulaksizouglu, I., Tuerksoy, N. and Sahin, D. (2000) Group psychotherapy with female to male transsexuals in Turkey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 3, 279-290

Yueksel, S., Yuecel, B., Tuekel, R. and Motavalli, N. (1992). Assessment of 21 transsexual cases in group psychotherapy, admitted to hospital. Nordisk Sexologi, 10, 4, 227-235.

Yuzgun,A. (1993). Homosexuality and police terror in Turkey. Journal of Homosexuality, 24, 3-4, 159-169

 

Oman

Name of TG group:

‘Khanith’ or ‘xanith’ (= ‘impotent’, ‘effeminate’, ‘soft’).

Prevalence:

Prevalence may vary, but in one town reported to be 1:50 adult males.

Gender-related behaviours:

Mixed male and female behaviours. On one hand masculine names and pronouns used, worship with men, legal status as males. On the other hand female household duties, use of make-up, perfume, adherence to female standards of beauty. Dance with women at festivals mix socially with women, walking arm-in-arm with them and eating with them. Androgynous dress style and hairstyle. Full cross-dressing punishable in Omani society.

Gender identity and sexual preference:

A third gender. Insertee sex role with men.

Position in society:

Work as prostitutes (providing sexual outlet for males in a society in which sex outside marriage is subject to sanctions), domestic servants, singers and dancers at weddings.

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Not necessarily permanent. Many khanith are reported to have had relatively normal early gender development, and revert to male role simply by marrying and (importantly) having children.

Existence of female equivalent:

No.

Contextual factors:

An Omani belief that a man is defined in terms of what he does with his anatomy, rather than the anatomy itself (‘a man who acts as a woman sexually is a woman socially’). Khanith do not emasculate themselves (Islam would frown upon them if they did so).

Selected further reading:

Wikan, U. (1977). Man becomes woman: transsexualism in Oman as a key to gender roles. Man, 12, 2, 304-319.

Murray,S and Roscoe,W. (Eds.) 1998). Boy-wives and female husbands: studies in African homosexualities. New York, USA: Palgrave.

See also Gender identity disorders and family acceptance paper on this site.

 

Indian subcontinent

Name of TG group:

Traditionally called ‘hijra’ / ‘hejira’ (= ‘eunuch’ / ‘transvestite’ / ‘half-woman’)). Also TG groups called 'chokka' in Nepal and 'Aravani' in Tamil Nadu 

Prevalence:

Nanda reports a guesstimate of 50,000. Other estimates range between 500,000 and 1.2 million throughout India. They apparently come from hindu, muslim and christian families, and from all castes.

Gender-related behaviours:

Depending on individual, but often the full range of cross-gender behaviours, including female dress and hairstyle, female names, mother-daughter relationships, insertee sex role. Emasculation common (removal of penis and testicles, but no vagina constructed)

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Generally considered a third gender: neither man nor woman.

Position in society:

Tolerated but scorned. Inspire reactions ranging across fear, mockery, respect, contempt, and compassion. Usually living in small hejra communities, traditionally making their living from begging (blessing or cursing according to bystanders’ responses, or even raising their skirts to display their mutilated genitals), appearance at weddings / births (giving blessings), and increasingly from prostitution etc. Very few other careers open to them. Some driven to prostitution. Where a large hejra community exists in a city, the ritual performer community may live quite separately from the prostitute community. 

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Generally permanent, especially where emasculation operation has been performed.

Existence of female equivalent:

Nanda reports on the existence of a female gender variant called the 'sadhin'.

Contextual factors:

For thousands of years Hindu culture has recorded a third gender. Hijra popularly regarded as being physically deficient males. Often define themselves as 'males who have no desire for women'.

Nanda notes that in Hindu culture the female principle is the more active, animating the more inert male principle, connoting eroticism, creativity, and life, as well as destruction, and needing to be controlled by men.

A number of androgynous gods including Ardhanarisvara, Siva-Sakti, Harihara and Visnu/Mohini. Even a god of homosexuals: Skanda.

Hejra are sometimes hermaphrodites, but there are many who are not. Many hejra associated with ( a ) ‘sakti’ worship (worship of the female godhead) requiring cross-gender behaviour (including insertee role in sex); ( b ) ‘radha’ worship (worship of favourite consort of krishna) and desire to become one of her female attendants (requiring cross-gender behaviour, ‘menstruation’, insertee sex role etc.); ( c ) ‘durga’ worship (worship of a wife of shiva, normally ‘kali’), involving range of cross-gender behaviours, and associated with belief among adherents that they actually have become transformed into women. In various Hindu sects men may impersonate women to win the attention of the god krishna.

The British marginalised and criminalised various aspects of hejra culture during the colonial period. 

Emasculation is illegal in India today, but still occurs in secret.  

Note that the Aryavani trust has been formed to promote more career options for hejira. In November 2001 a hejira became a mayor. There are now numerous hejira candidates for local elections.

Note that contemporary TGs also appear to exist who fall outside the traditional hejira role and communities.

Acts considered homosexual are illegal in India.

Selected further reading:

Bullough,V. and Bullough, B. (1993) Cross dressing, sex and gender. Philadelphia, USA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Humes, C. (1996). Becoming male: salvation through gender modification in Hinduism and Buddhism. Ch. 8 in Ramet, S. (Ed.) Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures. London: Routledge.

Leupp, G. (1995). Male colors: the construction of homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Money,J. (1988) Gay, straight and in-between.

Nanda, S. (1990). Neither man nor woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, California, USA: Wadsworth.

Nanda, S. (2000). Gender diversity: Cross-cultural variations. Illinois, USA: Waveland Press

 

Iran

Name of TG group:

Not known

Prevalence:

Not known, but it seems possible that some may obtain SRS to escape a risk of capital punishment as a homosexual. See below.

Gender-related behaviours:

Presumably a full-range. However, the person concerned must bear in mind that, prior to any SRS (legal in Iran) any behaviour or dress-style considered effeminate may be considered prima facie evidence of homosexuality (punishable by death).

Gender identity and sexual preference:

Presumably varies across individuals

Position in society:

Before SRS a TG is at risk of being charged with homosexuality. After SRS she is a woman, and presumably occupies a position that other females might occupy in Iranian society..

Extent to which role / identity is permanent:

Presumably permanent where SRS has been performed.

Existence of female equivalent:

Not known

Contextual factors:

In Iran male-male sex is a capital offence for both parties (the presiding judge deciding the means of execution). The only exception is when a party is a legal minor, in which case 74 lashes is usual. More minor acts of same-sex attraction (e.g. rubbing the thighs or buttocks) are also punishable (by death if sufficient repeat offences occur).

However, SRS is legal and is practised in Iranian hospitals. There is therefore great pressure on a homosexual to change sex, and to do so without any delay. Even a one-year real-life test may be inadvisable, as throughout that year the person would be at risk of being charged with homosexuality.

Selected further reading:

Sadeghi, M. and Fakhrai, A. (2000) Transsexualism in female monozygotic twins: A case report. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 5, 862-864

Yusefi, M. (2000) A mother takes on the ayatollah. the Gully.com. link to resource

 

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