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Toms and Dees

Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand

Megan J. Sinnott
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    Toms and Dees
    Book Description:

    A vibrant, growing, and highly visible set of female identities has emerged in Thailand known as tom and dee. A "tom" (from "tomboy") refers to a masculine woman who is sexually involved with a feminine partner, or "dee" (from "lady"). The patterning of female same-sex relationships into masculine and feminine pairs, coupled with the use of English derived terms to refer to them, is found throughout East and Southeast Asia. Have the forces of capitalism facilitated the dissemination of Western-style gay and lesbian identities throughout the developing world as some theories of transnationalism suggest? Is the emergence of toms and dees over the past twenty-five years a sign that this has occurred in Thailand? Megan Sinnott engages these issues by examining the local culture and historical context of female same-sex eroticism and female masculinity in Thailand. Drawing on a broad spectrum of anthropological literature, Sinnott situates Thai tom and dee subculture within the global trend of increasingly hybridized sexual and gender identities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6522-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    In June 1995 a visiting American professor of psychology gave a talk at Thammasat University in Bangkok on the topic of current psychological approaches to homosexuality. Because the audience was mostly Thai, an interpreter was provided. The speaker explained that same-sex sexual behavior does not necessarily lead to a sexual identity. The professor’s statement that “some women have sex with other women but do not consider themselves as lesbians” was translated with the Thai word for “men”(phu-chai)replacing the English word “lesbians.” After murmurings from the disconcerted audience (which consisted of university students, activists, and faculty members) and a...

  5. 1 Global Sex
    (pp. 24-46)

    Gay bars have opened in Taiwan, lesbian organizations within Southeast and East Asia have formed networks, and female impersonator shows are tourist attractions in Bangkok. Some women in Indonesia call themselves “lesbi,” while masculine females use the term “tomboi”to refer to themselves (Blackwood 1999). In Taiwan, just the first letter “T” is used to refer female masculine identity (A. Chao 1999; Y. Chao 1996). Men use the label “gay” throughout the region (e.g., Boellstorff 1999; Jackson 1997b; M. Tan 1995). Can we say that these identities and behaviors are results of transnationalism and globalism? One could not reasonably deny...

  6. 2 Gender and Sexual Transitions
    (pp. 47-75)

    Tomanddeeidentities are new Thai cultural categories, but they share similarities with local traditions in which female masculinity and female same-sex sexuality have been recognized and practiced. The transformation and persistence of gender and sexual norms formed the social context for the emergence oftomanddeeidentities as recognizable cultural categories in the 1980s. However, social change in Thailand in a tricky topic. To avoid replicating tired clichés about westernization and loss of Thai tradition, an examination of approaches to the topic of sociocultural change is necessary.

    In both popular and academic discourse in Thailand, there is...

  7. 3 Gender Ambivalence in Tom and Dee Identities
    (pp. 76-110)

    Kot, atomin her mid-thirties, brought some friends to meet me at Utopia, a bar for “gays and lesbians” set up in Bangkok by an American man. Kot had an outgoing personality, laughed easily, and seemed eager to see what this new American “gay bar” was all about. She wore the kind of clothing that makes one clearly identifiable as atomor at least leads others to assume one is atom—men’s trousers and a button-down shirt with a white undershirt—and she had shortcropped hair. Kot was from a modestly middle-class family in Bangkok and seemed...

  8. 4 Thai Norms of Gender and Sexuality
    (pp. 111-131)

    Tom-deerelationships and identities are constructed within Thai hegemonic gender norms that deter female (heterosexual) promiscuity and simultaneously deny the possibility of female sexual agency. To understand why these new identities and subcultures are not radically disruptive of Thai mainstream discourses of proper female behavior, it is necessary to place female same-sex relations within the context of social anxiety over female heterosexuality. Within Thai society there is considerable space for women to engage in same-sex relationships, because these relationships are considered to be asexual and aspects of female friendship. These spaces for female homoeroticism uneasily coexist with relatively new narratives...

  9. 5 Gender Dynamics between Toms and Dees: Subversion or Conformity?
    (pp. 132-161)

    Toms anddees engage in a kind of mobility and sexual freedom that is rarely seen in the lives of other Thai women. It is tempting to seetoms’ claims to masculinity and to being sexual agents, anddees’ claim to sexual pleasure, as forms of empowering resistance to oppressive limits that society places on women. Although this is arguably true, the liberating aspect oftomanddeeidentities should not be overstated.Toms anddees have their own system of rules and restrictions. As Lila Abu-Lughod (1990) has pointed out, resistance to one hegemonic system often means inclusion in...

  10. 6 Anjaree and Lesla: Tom and Dee Communities and Organizations
    (pp. 162-181)

    The newsletterAnjareesaanran a story about an Anjaree representative who attended an international gay parade in New York City. A reader responded to the story:

    I would like to ask for your comments. . . . In the Stonewall parade in New York, why was there a sign saying “Thailand” in the picture? And I also want to know abouttoms—why do they have such small breasts? How can they make them so small? And dotoms also menstruate?


    Anjaree replied,

    There was a Thailand sign because a Thai person joined the parade. . . . If...

  11. 7 Discourses of “Homosexuality”: The State and the Media in Thailand
    (pp. 182-203)

    In October 1998, agents of the Thai state attempted to censor presumed immoral and “un-Thai” sexuality by banning an event called the Alternative Love Film Festival. Organized by a young professor in Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Motion Pictures and Still Photography, the festival featured gay and lesbian films from abroad, as well as various international art films on the subject of sexuality and modernity in general. The festival was originally planned to be held at Chulalongkorn University under the sponsorship of the film department, but shortly before the festival the department head, Patamavadee Charuworn, publicly announced that the department would...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-212)

    The presence of masculine and feminine identities among women throughout East and Southeast Asia compel a greater focus on the very real possibility of regional connections. At a workshop on Southeast Asian sexualities at the Sexual Diversity and Human Rights Conference in Manchester in July 1999, the issue of regional borrowings was addressed. The use by female same-sex subcultures in East and Southeast Asia of terms derived from the English term “tomboy” to refer to masculine women was noted (such as the Indonesian “tomboi”). Whether these terms have been imported from British, Australian, or American English is not clear, but...

  13. APPENDIX: Toms and Dees Referred to in the Text
    (pp. 213-214)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 215-228)
    (pp. 229-230)
    (pp. 231-258)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 259-261)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-262)