subtle forms of subversion and one glaring omission
October 3, 2012
This article about the risk of HIV to Thai kathoey is full of awesome uses of language. Of course, the primary thing you should take from the story is that there is both a serious concern for HIV in this community and that there are people in the community working to do something about it. The lives of these people matter the most.
A less serious, but still important thing that I cannot help but notice as I read are things like this:
Soft spoken and slight with a dusting of make-up over her wan face, Gigi cuts an image far from the caricature of the bawdy “Katoey”, as Thailand’s estimated 180 000 transgenders – or “ladyboys” – are known.
While Thailand’s famously permissive attitude affords a cultural space to the third sex, the law still refuses to recognise their new sexual identity, rooting discrimination in the kingdom’s bureaucracy.
The article is basically working within a discursive space where
Katoey = ladyboy = third sex = transgender
Something that I love for all the ways that it shows how the colonial incursions into this space (ladyboy, third sex, transgender) still end up being subverted and challenged by the local, Thai cultural constructions of gender.
(note: I'm *not* commenting about how these words are used in Thailand. Nor am I even trying to make any assumptions about what they mean or to whom they are even referring. Double note: you'd be especially in the wrong to read any part of this article and have any assumptions about the bodies or identities of the community being discussed.)
In terms of the substance of the article, I'm fascinated by this paragraph:
"Some men used condoms... some didn't. Sometimes the condom broke,” she says without rancour of her time turning tricks in Pattaya -- one of the centres of Thailand's flourishing sex industry and home to 3 000 transgenders in tourist season.
Sex tourism is a big thing in Thailand (the Philippines too). And ladyboys play a big role in sex tourism in both places...
And my brain pauses here. Because it is fantastic that Gigi (and others) are doing what they can to make life safer for the sex workers in Thailand. And the following is *not* a comment on either this article or their work.
Where is the focus on the (frequently) white cis men tourists who are a large part of the customer base for this industry? I don't think I've seen in my entire life a single story, ad, initiative, etc. focused on preventing these white men from spreading disease. Because while education and access to safer sex stuff may not be fantastic in Thailand, what excuse does any white american or european man have?
Where are the studies and research focused on the sex tourists and the disease and shit they spread? On their contributions to the risk of the workers?