Transgender Kathoey Socially Imagining Relationships with Western Men in Thailand: Aspirations for Gender Affirmation, Upward Social Mobility, and Family Acceptance




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.

Author Biographies

Sarah Scuzzarello, University of Sussex

Sarah Scuzzarello is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geography and Researcher at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex (UK). Her research focuses on how transnational migrations and intergroup relations are affected and shaped by gender relations, and on how institutional discourses shape migrants’ collective identification and life chances. More recently, her work has focused on queer migrations. Her research has been published widely in international peer-reviewed journals and academic presses. She is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies and the founding co-coordinator of the IMISCOE’s Standing committee on Gender and Sexuality in Migration Research (GenSEM).

Paul Statham, University of Sussex

Paul Statham is Professor of Migration and Director of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. He is Editorin-Chief of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS). Paul has written a number of collaborative monographs and edited volumes, and has more than 70 articles in refereed journals and as book chapters. His earlier research focused on cross-national comparative approaches to migration, ethnic relations and citizenship, Islam in Europe, and the emergence of a transnational European public sphere. His current research focuses on ‘transnational living’ that results from migration, mobility and exchanges between Europe and Thailand with a focus on marriage, wellbeing and life-course. This collaborative research programme focuses on the impacts of transnationalism between Thailand and the West on the life-chances of Thai people.


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