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The Third Gender in Thailand – Kathoey

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By: Janessa Ilada & Ry Mount

The term “transgender” is rarely used in Thailand. Instead, the common term is, “Kathoey” which was once used to define intersex people, human beings who were born with ambiguous genitalia. Kathoey have become entirely common in Thai society, like everyone else, they go about their daily affairs: shopping, meeting with friends, using public transport, visiting the temple.

It is important to outline the beliefs of Thai-Buddhism to relate it to kathoey in Thailand. In Buddhism, there are 4 genders, not only male and female, but also bhatobyanjuanaka and pandaka.

Bhatobyanjuanaka originally translated to intersexed, but has now become the common interpretation of kathoey, though there still isn’t an adequate translation of this word. Many later texts would include in this category that people who are not physically intersex may be mentally of another gender, i.e. someone in a woman’s body may feel like a man on the inside.

Pandaka is a little more complex in that in the earliest texts, meant that person belonged to a socially stigmatized class of gay men that dressed as women. However it is still open to which interpretation is the “right” one.

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