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Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Bias against ladyboys adds to hurt
What should you do when your son turns out to be
a ladyboy? Ask Dem Jinakul, a photographer at Bangkok Post. His answer
would make any transsexual teen green with envy.
"Give your child love and acceptance," says Dem emphatically. "It's
his life. Your job as a parent is to make him happy with his life, and
Dem did subtly try to coax his son, Top, to behave more like a boy
when he was little. But when the feminine traits became prominent in his
teenage years, the father came to realise that his child's happiness
was more important than his own wish that his son be more manly.
While in college, Top kept his hair long like a girl's while still
wearing the male student uniform. His teacher gave him an ultimatum:
"Have a hair cut like other boys if you want to wear pants. If you want
to keep your hair long like a girl's, then wear a girl's uniform!"
Top was miserable. He did not want to cut his hair. But he also did
not want to make the big gender role jump because he cared for his
"I understood his pain," said Dem. "His mom and I went out to buy him a girl's uniform the next day."
Such parents are a rare breed. Most other parents cannot accept that
their sons are transsexual. When persuasion fails, some resort to
threats, even violence. Some believe psychiatric help can cure. Others,
like the parents of Pipop Thanajindawong, 15, believes rigorous
religious regimen will do the trick.
The teenager recently made news in an AFP story about a temple's course to induct masculinity in ladyboy novices.
"Once I leave the monkhood the first thing I want to do is to shout,
to scream out loud, saying, 'I can go back to being the same again',"
Pipop told AFP in defiance.
I was flabbergasted when I first heard of such a course. Buddhism
teaches us to transcend all forms of prejudice. Men, women and the
so-called "third sex" - all need to learn how to transcend the sexual
urge through meditating transcience as part of one's spiritual training.
Why pick on transsexuals in particular?
Some googling informed me that the course in question was part of a
general preparatory programme for novices at Wat Krueng Tai in Chiang
Rai's Chiang Khong district, where the course's founder, famous monk V
Vajiramedhi, used to study.
To be fair, the course does not focus on transsexuals specifically.
It aims at preparing novices to become better monks amid the decline in
the public's faith in the clergy.
Monks have lost touch with the modern world, he said. The weak
recruitment system has also given rise to rogue monks and all sorts of
monastic misconduct, including the proliferation of gay monks and
novices, which has upset the lay people.
His course, the monk explained, will complement the novices's study
of ancient religious texts with modern education, communicating skills,
and "good manners" in line with monastic discipline and public
expectations. It is why the issue of ladyboy novices that has been
widely reported in the media, is also addressed.
Fine. But as the news story shows: good intentions can go awry in
actual practice when the people involved are mired in gender
prejudice.For monks to keep telling ladyboys that they are not normal is
not only wrong, it also goes against the teachings.
Buddhism does not teach people to hate themselves. It teaches
objective acceptance of reality, impermanence, and the false notion of
self, heterosexual or homosexual.
Focusing on katoey novices is then unnecessary. It also misses the
point. Why not focus on paedophile monks who take advantage of novices?
Apart from being traumatised for life, many young victims are encouraged
to take on the role of girls and thus become ladyboys.
For parents, the course at Krueng Tai Temple raises the question of
whether it is the right thing to do, to push their children away by
forcing them to change their sexual orientation.
Dem, my photographer friend, has chosen what it is right for his son.
"I chose his happiness. As a result, we remain a close-knit, loving
family. For me, that's all that counts."
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