Robert Ganshorn

Trans Explanations from Thailand

Filed By Robert Ganshorn | September 17, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Chicago, funny, Katoey, Thailand, trans, transgender, transphobia, transsexual

I received an email from America ATT368445.jpgon the recent "Miss Thailand" contest from an 80+ year old friend. Gene is married to Jenny for over sixty years and has a "Chicago Italian" way of looking at things that is often hilarious. His concept of "a guy in a dress" is all one thing unless it was Milton Berle doing it for comedy.

Observing at the end that these great pictures was the phrase "Miss Transvestite Contest" I felt a need to write my old friend kindly and share some of what I have learned from reading "The Bilerico Project." I had to do this in a unique way because I am dealing with a pretty traditional fellow.

And Gene, it happened in the town just north of where we live. I can get there on the local bus in ten minutes. In Thai society these people are called 'Katoey.' Thailand does not discriminate against Trans sexuals as is done so much in the United States. Where we live they are mainstreamed into general life working in stores, flower shops, and as business owners. The only "complaint" I have ever heard is that there is no legal mechanism under Thai law to legally change one's gender here. So their official gender remains as it was at birth. There are several types of Katoey. Some are born with non specific genitalia, but were pronounced "male" at birth. Many more have an innate sense that, although raised male, they are essentially female. Far fewer in numbers are those who, though raised female, determine that they are male and live as men.

Neither of these has anything to do with whether or not they are Gay or Lesbian as Katoey may be attracted to their own sex or the opposite of their "mental" sex.

And they are very beautiful when women, but what do I know, I'm just a boy.

Regards, to Jenny, Robert"

ATT368443.jpgGot a quick response from Gene:


Trans sexual (had the operation or not had the operation?)??? Please explain to this hetero dude from Cicero. Regardless, I would not be embarrassed to be seen in public here in the USA with any of those girls in the photographs. Very pretty.

I responded,


It is a state of mind and not of body. It is a destination and a goal, but not necessarily a reality yet for the individual. I do not understand it fully myself as it is not "innate" to me. A trans person begins being a trans person (female to male, male to female, Lion to Lioness, etc.) when it occurs to them that they are not their birth gender. Some individuals are also born genetically female, but at birth have a rudimentary penis and were raised as boys for that reason.

"The operation" is not an end unto itself. The individuals who have a full surgery (and not all do) also take an assortment of hormones to compliment their gender (some just take hormones). They very much have their own way of looking at the world and I stand back and learn.

By the way, this is different from a transvestite who can as often as not be heterosexual. I don't understand that either, (unless it is for the stage) but I am learning. Not being a "Christian" country, people are not morally or socially persecuted as might happen in the States. Many do leave smaller towns here for larger cities where they have a community in numbers and less isolation.

There are really no simple answers to this even for trans gendered persons, but I hope I have cleared the issue for you somewhat. An operation is not the end of a journey.

Regards, Bob

I was so glad for his bouncing me back the following:

I think I understand. I guess with all the adjectives out there, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, trans gendered, transsexual etc. it is easy to get confused. The Lion to Lioness makes the simplest analogy. I guess that the operation is not always the end, but it is the most talked about subject in the USA I believe it is not a choice to most, but to some, but I again have to say that I would not be at all uncomfortable to be with any of these contestants as a hetero guy. (Jenny might kill me, but I am labeling again, sorry)

I don't know if it has to do with the softer features of the Asia race, or that these transsexuals really do favor the female gene pool. The winner is stunningly good looking.

I have to say, I don't understand it. For me it would be like me being a dog that wanted to be a cat. I am a man who is completely happy being a man, as you are. Anyway, thanks for your extremely clear and concise explanations that leave no doubt in my mind at all (sarcasm intended).



Gene and Jenny were extremely hard working business owners in Cicero, Indiana, who retired over fifteen years ago, but were two great people I made a point of continuing to know. They always were great at a party and attended our 25th anniversary bash in Chicago in 2001. We went to cookouts in Cicero. I sent one last note on the string back to Geno!

So, when you reopen your store you will hire all Katoeys? I'll send you some pictures of really "masculine" Thai men doing road construction outside our building. Believe me, not all have "soft" features. :)

Now Projectors, I am sure you will tell me how I did with my 80-year-old friend who, I rather had to tug in a direction. There was limited point to discussing politics as Gene is a Republican anyway. He lives in Illinois and is used to losing. I do know he and his wife value all people as individuals, and, thanks to you and The Bilerico Project, I now know more and understand more and realize I have much more to learn. I hope that my attempt at making a friend understand more was offensive to no one, but I could explain it to him, you could not. I know as well none of you will be shy of telling me if I misspoke which is a great way to learn as well. I did observe that Geno said for some people it is a choice. I think that he meant it in the sense of choosing to be true to yourself.

Remember, in Thailand, we already have Katoey toilets in many of the schools. And yeah, kids tease, so what else is new?

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I would just like to say that I believe your comments to your friend were wonderful. It seems to me that, through caring people helping others to understand trans issues through the way most appropriate to the person trying to understand, society as a whole is helped.

Of course it would be nice to ,metaphorically, open up people's brains and pour in all the information acquired from trans people over their lives, but I believe any and all progress is good progress. To think that an 80 year old gentleman would be as open and accepting as he was... it amazes me!

I think you did a great job working with an 80-year-old person and with what you have absorbed over you time here on Bilerico. My mother is 80, so I know the challenge in that, and I'm a transsexual who has done a LOT of educating over the years. But, she is my mother and I'm still her 1st born son in her eyes.

It is important to remember that you will not be able to have him understand at the level you do, but he was respectful to you and to transgender people in the process. We are not asking to be understood so much as we are asking to be treated with respect and equality.

Melanie Davis | September 17, 2008 1:10 PM

Thanks for this, Robert. You were reading the "Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway" thread a few posts back, no? Sometimes it is the people around us who do the educating and advocacy, and that's beautiful. Thank you again, Robert for understanding the meaning of community.

Now, if you could let him know that there's one transwoman would consider moving back home to Chicago should she have a job... :)

Robert, my friend, I think you just proved my point on the "Who's responsibility is it?" post. Thanks for that and thanks for being yourself - a wonderful guy all around.

Here I was thinking I could skim through bilerico tonight without having to feel the need to sign in and leave a comment then I came across your post.I did do the in the life survey though as I felt that was important.But now back to your little gem it's really nice to look from the outside at a conversation between you and your old friend and see it not turn into all the bad stereotypical idea's about transsexualism and transgenderism.It's okay to not understand it totally as your both comfortable within your own skin.Well done and thanks for the insight into your conversation.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 17, 2008 11:09 PM

Good morning and gosh, evidently I did better than I thought. I was expecting someone to get me for not including some interest I might have overlooked. Knowing my Italian buddy Gene he sent these pictures to me initially as a straight man would. It was to get a sexual arousal from a bunch of straight buddies and then drop the bomb on them that they were "men."

Even though this was a "joke" it was not a funny one because it depends upon marginalizing someone else, but I couldn't say that to Gene as it would put up a defensive wall. "I didn't mean anything by it, can't we just joke around..." is something I would have let pass a few years ago and I would hit them back with a joke about Republicans. Thanks to you all I am taking a different approach rather than popping the "ball" back at it's sender I am grabbing the ball and suggesting that we talk about it.

What a reward that Gene was really curious. I might have never known. We never even talked about Gay issues before let alone LBT issues. You just know when people like you and enjoy your company as I have enjoyed theirs the last thirty years. Thought about it. I met them in 1978 as a fresh faced 25 year old sales rep two years into my relationship with my partner. I think I had better send a friendship card.

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amyishere | April 1, 2010 9:54 PM

i am one of those raised as a male but I know who i really am(FEMALE). And i do not blame my parents for doing what they thought was right. The person that decides to have surgery they will do anything it takes,until they do, they will be miserable, because , reality of it is, we want to look the way we are suppose too. The way we are suppose too, would be exactly the way we feel, like a woman, or a man. its strange its annoying sometimes, does not mean we are insecure. i know God made us all different and we were made the way we are, i was born with a male body but i have always liked men way more than females my whole life. To all the trans out there, he knows what your going through he feels your pain, he wants you to be happy and do what it takes to be happy. Nobody can judge you that lives and breathes the same air as you on this planet or universe for that matter....

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 1, 2010 11:26 PM

Amy, thank you, you have made my day and I hope this old posting (I am no longer an active blogger though do often comment)was of value to you. I think though that rather than following the reasoning of a 55+ year old trying to better understand you may well be served to concentrate on those who are present Bilerico posters. If you just happened to come across this posting on the net I hope you read the site and view Monica, Tony, Jillian and all the other fine transgendered posters who will be happy to be family to you.

Your new big brother,

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 1, 2010 11:33 PM

Incidentally, it is too late to April 1st me as it is 10:30 AM April 2nd!