Monks teach maleness to 'ladyboys'

2011-07-19 12:14

Chiang Khong - The 15-year-old aspiring "ladyboy" delicately applied a puff of talcum powder to his nose - an act of rebellion at the Thai Buddhist temple where he is learning to "be a man".

"They have rules here that novice monks cannot use powder, make-up, or perfume, cannot run around and be girlish," said Pipop Thanajindawong, who was sent to Wat Kreung Tai Wittaya, in Chiang Khong on the Thai-Laos border, to tame his more feminine traits.

But the monks running the temple's programme to teach masculinity to boys who are "katoeys", the Thai term for transsexuals or ladyboys, have their controversial work cut out.

"Sometimes we give them money to buy snacks but he saved it up to buy mascara," headteacher Phra Pitsanu Witcharato said of Pipop.

Novice monks' days pass as in any other temple - waking before dawn, collecting alms and studying Buddhism - but every Friday attention turns to the katoeys at the attached school.

"Were you born as a man or a woman or can you not specify your gender - not man or woman?" asked Phra Pitsanu at a recent assembly. "You cannot be anything else but your true gender, which is a man. As a novice you can only be a man."

Controlling behaviour

The temple has a stricter interpretation than others of rules governing behaviour during Buddhist training that is a key childhood experience for many Thai boys.

Pupils are banned from using perfume and make-up and prohibited from singing, playing music and running.

"We cannot change all of them but what we can do is to control their behaviour to make them understand that they were born as a man... and cannot act like a woman," said Phra Pitsanu.

The Kreung Tai temple has run the course for boys aged between 11 and 18 since 2008, after former principle Phra Maha Vuthichai Vachiramethi devised the programme because he thought reports of katoeys in the monkhood had "affected the stability of Thai Buddhism".

He said he hopes the teaching methods will be rolled out to other temple schools to "solve the deviant behaviour in novices".

It is an attitude that enrages gay rights and diversity campaigner Natee Teerarojanapong, who said trying to alter the boys' sense of gender and sexuality was "extremely dangerous".

Social stigma

"These kids will become self-hating because they have been taught by respected monks that being gay is bad. That is terrible for them. They will never live happily," he said.

Gay and katoey culture is visible and widely tolerated in Thailand, which has one of the largest transsexual populations in the world, and Natee said the temple's programme is "very out of date".

But Phra Atcha Apiwanno, aged 28, disputed the idea that society accepted ladyboys and said he joined the monkhood because of social stigma about his sexual identity.

"The reason I became a monk is to train my habits, to control my expression... I didn't want to be like this," he said.

Monks have had limited success in their project - three of the six ladyboys to have graduated from the school are said to have embraced their masculinity, but the remaining three went on to have sex changes.

Pipop said he has struggled with his sexuality at the temple.

Family pressure

At home in Bangkok he dressed like a girl, putting on make-up and taking hormones until he developed breasts, but he has since stopped the treatment and wears only a surreptitious dab of powder at the temple.

He does not believe he will live up to his family's hopes that he will become more manly.

"I can make them proud even (if) I'm not a man," the teenager said, adding he had given up his ambition to be an airhostess and now aspires to work in a bank.

He thinks he will have a sex change after graduation.

"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!'"

  • YohYohYoh - 2011-07-19 12:28

    Beat them! No spanky spanky!

  • Mugabe - 2011-07-19 14:04

    God loves his people....let us all repent and the world will be a better place as the Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven.

      yummyhamster - 2011-11-26 14:33

      If that is true id rather go to hell... i might just drop something in heaven and when i bend over to pick it up and get sodomized, as you said... "the Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven." makes you think doesnt it ?

  • John - 2011-07-19 14:05

    I visited Thailand in 2009. Part of my tour was to go and see the shemale shows. They are very entertaining & funny!

      buzz - 2011-07-19 15:28

      To queers, yeah

  • Sit-hole - 2011-07-19 19:23

    Scary thing is that some of these dudes look like girls n if they have a sex change n hook up with an unsuspecting straight guy ......... Scary Sh_t

  • KanaMay - 2011-07-19 19:28

    I thought Buddhism tolerated homosexuality while the women were seen as the root of temptations? At least their view (restrictions) on women was why I distanced myself from Buddhism. However, women can become a Buddhist priest in some sects, just like in the Anglican church. They just need to go through the same rituals such as fasting, pilgrimage to a certain place, etc. I should be glad that I never formally joined a Church although I attended a few socially. Christianity sells itself as a religion of love & individual freedom, criticizing other religions as one of harsh discipline (spelling?) & hate. Yet they later start trying to ban out-of-norm sexuality such as gays. Some Christian sects (denomination?) ban marriage between cousins & divorces, etc. and others don't. I know of a church that allow a non-Christian to get married there, but not a pregnant woman (OK, that was one particular priest). So what if a Christian sect, or a particular Church, decides to tolerate a gay / trans-sexual priest or allow the homosexuals to get married ? If you're unhappy, you can always move to another Church.

      Realist72 - 2011-07-19 19:48

      @KanaMay: I fail to see your point. Did you have one?

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