Life histories of transpeople in Asia.
Tinar works as a travel agent in Chiangmai. This is her story, told by Anne Beaumont-Vernon, BA (Hons), MA, a research student at the Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, England
Copyright Anne Beaumont-Vernon, to whom requests for reproduction and dissemination falling under copyright laws must be made
Tinar is a 'ladyboy' who works as a tour guide in the travel industry in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is 23 years old and graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Tourism from Chiang Rai University, situated north east from Chiang Mai.
Tinar has been taking female hormones since the age of 14, which she bought over the counter in a pharmacy. She told me that the pharmacist advised her which product was good for her, that she had never consulted a doctor for this purpose as there was no need to do so when the pharmacist was well qualified to advise her.
Tinar has small, well-defined breasts, induced by hormones. She has not undergone mammaplasty and has no intention of doing so. She still has male genitals and is saving up for her sex reassignment surgery which she hopes will take place in the next couple of months (* See footnote).
When I met Tinar I related to her as one woman to another, and found it difficult to imagine that she had been born male. Albeit I had instantly recognised her as a ladyboy, I felt Tinar to be a 'true transsexual', that is, born with a male body but female in the brain. Nevertheless, Tinar is a very attractive, feminine young woman. Indeed, she reported that whilst a student at Chiang Rai University, she entered, and won, a beauty contest for ladyboys.
Ever since she became aware, as a child, of the difference between males and females, Tinar felt herself to be a girl inside. She told me, 'I don't feel like a man at all, I always felt like a girl'. The fourth child in a family of five children, Tinar has two elder sisters, one elder brother and one younger brother. Tinar grew up in the Buddhist tradition in a rural village in Northern Thailand; her father is a lychee farmer and her mother runs a small shop. As a small child, Tinar's older sisters used to take care of her while her parents worked. She remembers one of her sisters dressing her in girls' clothes for fun, and herself feeling happy about this. Tinar reported having wanted to wear female clothes all the time. Indeed, Tinar says she wore male attire at school only, and at all other times she wore female clothes.
Sometimes there were opportunities to change attire at school, for example, school social functions, and at these times Tinar always wore female clothes.
At nursery school, Tinar always played with the girls, and did not want to play rough games with the boys. She was always happy to help with housework at home and never felt that as a boy she should not be doing this: 'I like things to be clean, I do not like dirt' she says.
Tinar was a very bright child at school. She reported, 'Because I am a ladyboy, I feel I have to work harder than other boys or girls at school'. She won a scholarship to take her through both primary and secondary schools, and became the brightest child in the school. Tinar reported having been considered 'clever' at school, although she modestly denies this, insisting that she merely worked extremely hard. Tinar's motivation to work hard and succeed came from her recognition of her transgendered status and the need to 'prove' herself. Her hard work paid off when she received one of the highest grades in her class for her final examinations at university.
Social Acceptance of Tinar's Transgender Status
Regarding social acceptance of her transgender status, Tinar told me that although there was a little joking and teasing from school friends and villagers, this was generally light-hearted and not malicious. When one villager said to her father, 'Your son is a ladyboy', Tinar's Dad replied 'OK, no problem'. In fact, Tinar reports that her family are all totally accepting of her transgender status. Her father is very proud of his daughter and totally accepts her transgender status, believing that there are even some advantages to being a ladyboy: a ladyboy will not have to suffer pregnancy and childbirth, for example.
According to her narrative, as far as Tinar's father is concerned, he does not mind whether or not Tinar undergoes surgery to change her body, because he believes that it is only fair that everyone should have a good life, whether they be man, woman or ladyboy. According to her father, Tinar is a good person with a good heart, and that you can never change, no matter what you do to your body.
Tinar says that according to Buddhist philosophy, what is important is that you have a good heart. In other words, as Tinar's father told her, 'it is possible to abandon your body, but you cannot abandon your heart'. Tinar reported that her father recognises and appreciates that she works hard and helps her family, whereas some people's sons or daughters do 'bad things' like taking drugs or getting pregnant out of wedlock. What is important to Tinar is that she respects her culture.
Indeed, these days, other people's parents tell Tinar they want their son or daughter to be like her, because they see how successful her life has become, and they hold her up as an example for their own children to follow. Tinar is asked for advice by parents concerned about their children's future and career choices. She told me, 'I tell them they should ask their son or daughter what they want to do, and to allow them to do that. Because it is important to be doing what you like and enjoy, otherwise you will not do it well'.
In her everyday life, Tinar is aware of the recognition of others of her transgender status. 'Many, many people look at me; they know I am a ladyboy'. However, Tinar reports she has no problem in her dealings with people in public places such as banks, shops, etc. 'I think in Chiang Mai, there are many ladyboys, and I think people accept this'.
Where personal relationships are concerned, Tinar has experienced little difficulty. She has many female friends who treat her like 'one of the girls'. However, when potential boyfriends discover that she is a ladyboy, they usually leave her. Apart from this one difficulty, Tinar struggled to find an example of any negative attitude she had encountered because of her transgender status. Even when she did recall an incident, it was one which had ultimately resulted in a positive outcome. Tinar had just started as a student at Chiang Rai University when an older man from her village made a comment which, in effect, implied that all ladyboys were carriers of the HIV virus. However, according to Tinar's narrative, this same man now holds her in high esteem as a good example for his own son to follow. Such is the success of Tinar's life.
Tinar's Personal Ambitions and Aspirations
I asked Tinar about her personal ambitions and aspirations for the future. Basically, there are three goals that Tinar aspires to achieve. Firstly, she would like to help support her family in order to take them out of their relatively modest lifestyle. To achieve this, she would like to start her own business in tourism, perhaps opening a guest house with a travel agency. She hopes to do this next year and feels confident that she will succeed. Another business she dreams about is owning a big farm, 'with a pond and a pig and much land, with fish in the pond to catch and sell at market'. Tinar says she would like to do this with her family.
Finally, Tinar reports that she would like a boyfriend who accepts her for what she is and will stay with her and love her. Tinar says, she would not be attracted to a gay man, because in her view, a gay man is 'not a true man'. However, as far as sexual relations are concerned, Tina is still a virgin, preferring to wait for her sex reassignment surgery so that she can make love as a woman.
Before I interviewed Tinar in Chiang Mai, Thailand in January 2002, I asked her if she had any objections to her story and her picture being published. Tinar readily agreed. She told me: ‘No problem. If in true life I be lady, I think it good, better than I be top secret. I don't want to hide it.’
* Subsequent note: Tinar eventually had her surgery in Chiang Mai in June 2002. She is very happy, and so, she adds, are her mother and father. (Sam Winter, 19/8/2002)
May 2004 update
Tinar now operates a guest house for back packers in Chiangmai.
Tinar, aged 23