How does Buddhism relate and help to formulate a local understanding of Transsexuals in Thailand?
Thailand beholds the highest rate of Transsexuals throughout the world. According to Sam Winter, the numbers differ from about 10,000 to (unofficial) 300,000. Even if the number of 10,000 was "an accurate one, it would still represent an incidence substantially above that estimated for transgender in most other parts of the world" (6). To explain the case for this high number of transsexuals, I will refer to the impact of localization of Buddhism in Thailand and how it leads to the understanding of transsexuals in the current day. I will conclude by giving an outline of its effect on tourism in Thailand. As expressed by Sam Winter, the term "Transsexual" is rarely used in Thailand. Instead, "Kathoey" is a common term. It was originally used to delineate hermaphrodites (human being who have both sexes- male and female), but nowadays it is mainly used to describe the transgender male (6). I will overtake this denomination for my essay. Looking up the word "kathoey" in a Thai language dictionary, we get the following definition: "Homosexuals or the perverted (wiparit thang phet) are not Kathoey. The characteristic of a kathoey is some who cross-dresses (lakka-phet), a male who likes to act and dress like a woman and has a mind like a woman" (8). As I already mentioned, the number of kathoey´s in Thailand is surpassing, and the origin of this appearance might lie in Religion. The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism, about 95% of the population are Buddhists (3) who follow the rules of this religion in their everyday life. The Thai- Buddhism is called "Theravada Buddhism" and it is a localized form of the original Buddhism which has it's origin in Indian Hinduism (3). The development from the original form to the "modern" Thai Buddhism took place over many years, "the tension between the teachings of the Theravada Buddhism and the Thai animistic practice" (2).This tension was resolved by "appropriating those elements of the Buddhism doctrine that are compatible with animistic thinking and basic human experience."(2). The result of this development of religion is that "institutional and ritual expressions of Thai religion appear to be very Buddhistic indeed, but its characteristic mentality is not so much interested in the moral message of the Theravada as in auspiciousness, worldly continuity and the manipulation of saksit (supernatural "sacred") power"(2). Consequently, "
Buddha images became seats of such power and the practice of merit-making turned to ensuring prosperity" (2). According to Niels Mulder, this whole process is called "thai-ification" of Religion. This localized form of Buddhism will be my main focus when I am talking about religion in Thailand. It is important to outline the beliefs of Thai-Buddhism to relate it to the trend of transsexuality in Thailand. The basic scriptural canon of Buddhism is contemplated in the "tipitaka" (3). Taking a look at this script in consideration of the high number of kathoey´s, one already notices that it differs a lot from the Christian religion which denounces all kinds of non-normative gender behaviour. In Buddhism, there are 4 genders, not only male and female, but also bhatobyanjuanaka and pandaka. There is no explicit definition of the last two terms. The word bhatobyanjuanaka was originally translated into hermaphrodite. However nowadays it's most common interpretation is kathoey though there is still not an adequate translation of this word. One may say that the reason for this change in interpretation is, that due to the high number of Kathoeys living in modern Thailand, as people use it as a justification. Respectively they searched for one in the basic script of their own Religion and accordingly the interpretation of this term may have been changed and the second term for describing transsexuals. The expression "3rd sex" could find an explanation in this. This...
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