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Do the Transgendered Get a Break in Southeast Asia?

Dr. Ward Keeler (Anthropology)

Wed, January 27, 2010 | GAR 2.112

4:45 PM - 6:00 PM

Just how well lowland Southeast Asian societies tolerate transgendering is much vexed. Some authors are at pains to refute the view that such tolerance is real. Thailand, especially, having come to attain a celebrated status as a place where alternative genders and sexualities are surprisingly well-accepted, has generated a considerable amount of writing intended to demonstrate, if not the opposite, at least the need to qualify any assertions as to how good transgendered Thais have it. The debate complements arguments about the status of women in lowland Southeast Asian societies, in which the standard remark is that Southeast Asian women enjoy "relatively high status.” The standard rejoinder is that Southeast Asian women still suffer considerable discrimination and oppression in the region. In both cases, the way to reconcile these apparently contradictory perspectives is to appreciate what the trade-offs are when one chooses to present oneself as gendered male or female, and the conditions that constrain and enable those choices. I suggest that many of the data reported about gender in Southeast Asia become clearer when we take into consideration how much most people in the region care about their social standing, and how little, by the same token, notions of identity or authenticity influence their thinking.

Sponsored by: Center for Women's and Gender Series

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