Transgender Kathoey Socially Imagining Relationships with Western Men in Thailand: Aspirations for Gender Affirmation, Upward Social Mobility, and Family Acceptance
Keywords:Cross-Border Relationships, Gender Affirmation, Kathoey, Thailand, Transgender
This article studies the aspirations and experiences of kathoey (Thai male-to-female trans* people) from poor rural Isan in enduring cross-border relationships with Western men. Drawing from biographical life stories, we try to unpack the cultural script through which partnering a Western man is seen as a plausible pathway for a better kathoey life in Thailand. We study the opportunities such partnering presents for achieving goals of gender affirmation, social advancement, and re-gaining merit within family relations. In the face of significant discriminatory barriers, kathoey in our study managed to build lives that they saw as self-validating, materially successful, and significantly conferring gender recognition. They understood their relationships as socially and personally much more than access to financial resources and drew important sources of emotional support, especially for gender validation from them. Western men were seen as more dedicated to partnering, caring, and being publicly seen in social settings (including family), compared to Thai.
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