I have travelled to about 30 countries, every country has its own uniqueness but for me Thailand stands out as the most incredible country. When I tell someone that I travel to Thailand once a quarter on work, I can see a sarcastic smile on their faces. The smile translates as - "ya ya we know everyone says they are on business but we know what you guys actually do there." They are obviously hinting at multifaceted sex trade that happens in Thailand. That is the first and most obvious connotation for Thailand. I plan to write a series of blogs that explore some lesser talked about facets of Thailand which transcend beyond sex.
Once I was having a casual over the drink discussion with a group friends about 10 years senior to me. They were talking about their children and their lifestyle etc. The point being discussed was would they be open to a non-Indian daughter-in-law. After a big discussion they turned to a friend who was quiet till then. He said ,"My son is still quite young but I would be happy as long as he marries a girl." This remark effectively put things in perspective and concluded the discussion.
Come to think about it, all of those who have straight sexual orientation and who consider themselves as liberal, open people with global mindset, are able to envisage overcoming the boundaries of caste, religion, nationality or even race but I suspect most of them would struggle to overcome gender bias. Add to that, trans- genders or those who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery (SRS) and they will really be stretching themselves beyond our limit.
My impression is Thailand is the only country in the world where public acceptance of trans-genders is extremely high. Dance shows of trans-genders are main tourist attractions. But outside the show they can walk on streets without being stared at. Lady-boys who opt to work out of sex industry can be easily found in restaurants working alongside usual waiters. From what I see they are easily visible on public places and seem to carry on with their life without any social exclusion. I also read a survey which mentioned Thailand as the capital of sex reassignment surgery. Global transgenders travel to Thailand to get their gender reassigned to their feelings. I am not sure whether the acceptance of trans-genders has lead to Thailand capital of SRS or vice versa but one thing is sure that trans-genders find themselves less excluded from the society in Thailand.
To see if my impression is correct I browsed through wikipedia. I was amazed by what I read. Kathoeys or lady-boys are a distinct section of Thai society. They are found not just in entertainment industry but also business and fashion industry where they play leadership roles. One can find job posts where Lady-boys or second kind of women as they are officially called are preferred over other candidates since they are perceived to be more charismatic and expressive. Even more tangible evidence of their acceptance is a few institutes like Ching Mai Technical Institute have a special toilet for Kathoeys since 2004. Thailand is also one of the few countries who recognize third sex on official documents.
It is very hard for straight people to understand but there three underlying dimensions of our sexual identity - gender role, gender identity and sexual orientation. For rest of the world gender question is digital but in Thailand it is analogue.
In our generation, we have crossed racial boundaries perhaps gender boundaries is our next paradigm.