Is 18 genders too many? Or too few?
Thailand is often thought of as the transgender capital of the world, both because of the high rate of sex change surgeries that take place there, their high quality compared to other countries, and the fact that transgender people are usually treated better than in other places.
But Thailand’s transgender acceptance goes far beyond just just the people who have undergone surgery. Thailand legally acknowledges a “third gender,” and within the larger culture, there are 18 genders that are part of the common language.
This can be a shocking fact to some, as evidenced by Japanese Twitter user @yg_1223 who posted a chart of Thailand’s 18 genders and was not alone in their surprise (chart translation below).
— かん (@yg_1223) January 24, 2017
Not just men and women!
A man who likes women.
A woman who likes men.
A woman who dresses like a man and likes women or Dees.
A woman who likes manly women or Toms.
A woman who likes women, Toms, and Dees.
Tom Gay King
A manly Tom who likes Toms.
A woman who likes bisexuals, Toms, lesbians, and men.
A man who likes women, Gay Kings, and Gay Queens (does not include Ladyboys).
A womanly man who likes men.
A manly man who likes men.
Tom Gay Two-Way
A Tom who can be both a Tom Gay King or Tom Gay Queen.
Tom Gay Queen
A womanly Tom who likes Toms.
A woman who likes women.
A man who wants to be a woman.
A man who likes Toms.
A Kathoey who likes Toms.
A woman who likes gay men and Kathoey.
A woman who likes Toms, lesbians, and women, and can also be any of them.
“Now wait just a minute,” some of you might be saying. “Two genders, sure. Three genders, yeah, maybe. But eighteen?! Come on, that has to be a joke, right?”
Actually, Thailand has a long history of multiple genders. Toms, Dees, and Kathoey are just as much a part of Thailand’s gender identity culture as gay, lesbian, and trans people are in the West.
If this all still seems crazy, it’s important to keep in mind that “gender identity” is different from “biological sex.” Just like many countries in the world have come to accept that it’s possible for someone to be born a man but identify as a woman (or the other way around), we’re learning that there is a whole spectrum of other genders that people can identify as.
While the average Thai person may not be able to rattle off all 18 genders and their definitions, for the people who do identify as a “Boat” or “Kathoey” or “Tom Gay Two-Way,” having a label to call their own probably means the world to them.
All in all, it may be hard to remember all of the combinations and interactions, but that just shows how nuanced and deep human sexuality is, and how much more we have to learn about something that seems so “obvious.”
I mean, Pokémon would be pretty boring if there were just two types,
and the same thing goes for human beings too!
— LogicInbound (@InboundLogic) December 18, 2016
Here’s how Japanese Twitter responded:
“It’s kind of cool, like a bunch of different magic guilds: priest, druid, black mage, white mage, magician, etc.”
“Well I learned something new today: I am a Boat.”
“The world is a big place.”
“There’s too many. I lost track after four.”
“Actually, rather than Thailand having too many genders, I think Japan has too few.”
If you’re interested in more information on this topic, then be sure to check out our articles on what happens when kathoey (ladyboys) get conscripted into the Thai army, and our collection of photos of some of the most handsome Toms in Thailand.