Ladyboys and Buddhism
When it comes to the question why there are so many Ladyboys in Thailand and why the transsexual community is so lively and integrated in everyday life, people often answer: "Because Buddhism is a very tolerant religion."
We have covered this question earlier on this blog and also looked into the subject of religion.
Buddhism is certainly a religion that is very tolerant towards other religions, also to those that have transgender people as part of their spiritual community (such as the Animism that is thousands of years old and had been there already before Buddhism came to Thailand.
Today, 94 % of the Thai population are officially Theravada Buddhists (although Thai people also believe Animism and Spirits).
In Thailand and there especially in the rural areas where the animist belief is still strong, modern Ladyboys are as much members of the religious community like everybody else in their village. In fact, many of the Ladyboys get even more involved in the daily religious life. They then of course behave like all the other females.
But is Buddhism tolerant to Ladyboys in general?
One has to keep in mind that Buddhism after all is a religion, too. As in every other religion there are many different trends and views on moral and behavior.
So even in Thai Buddhism conservative points of view do exist.
Only a couple of days ago AFP published an article on a temple in the Issan region at the Thai-Laos border where monks are running a programme to teach masculinity to teenagers who are Kathoey (Ladyboys, Transgender).
For example during an assembly the young Transsexuals are confronted with the question: ""Were you born as a man or a woman or can you not specify your gender - not man or woman?" You cannot be anything else but your true gender, which is a man. As a novice you can only be a man."
Also the headteacher Phra Pitsanu Witcharato complains about a transgender novice: "Sometimes we give them money to buy snacks but he saved it up to buy mascara."
"We cannot change all of them but what we can do is to control their behavior to make them understand that they were born as a man... and cannot act like a woman," says Phra Pitsanu in the AFP report.
"Once I leave the monkhood the first thing I want to do is to shout, to scream out loud saying: 'I can go back to being the same again!'"
Of course, statements like this enrage transgender activist: "These kids will become self-hating because they have been taught by respected monks that being gay is bad. That is terrible for them. They will never live happily", says Natee Teerarojanapong, coordinator of a gender identity network.
One of the Kathoey novices puts it like this: "Once I leave the monkhood the first thing I want to do is to shout, to scream out loud saying: 'I can go back to being the same again!'"
Of course trying to change the sexual and gender identity of these teenagers is absurd and will never succeed. Conservative Christians in western countries have tried this and caused more deviation than was started with.
At the same time one has to understand that if more and more Kathoey novices coin the image of buddhist monks it could affect the stability of Thai Buddhism and it's values. I read the AFP not like the monks at the Isaan temple try to get the female gender identity out of their novices (but I assume they would prefer doing so if they could) but try to uphold traditions and rules at the temple.
Novices are are not allowed to use perfume and make-up and are prohibited from singing, playing music and running.
Me and my Kathoey friends often take part in religious ceremonies and have been short-time-nuns on various occasions. While we do so, we are also not allowed to use perfume, nail polish and make-up. And we comply with these rules, like all the other females do.
So when a transgender person is a novice he or she is not allowed to apply these things since even nuns are not allowed to do so. It's simply against the rules.
On the other hand, trying to change these kids is not only in vain but can damage their mental well-being and last but not least - as campaigner Natee puts it - "very out of date".
Picture: My friend Opal during a temple ceremony at her hometown
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