Megan Sinnott examinines the local culture and historical context of female same-sex eroticism and female masculinity in Thailand in her new book, Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand.
A vibrant, growing, and highly visible set of female identities has emerged in Thailand known as tom and dee. A "tom" (from "tomboy") refers to a masculine woman who is sexually involved with a feminine partner, or "dee" (from "lady"). The patterning of female same-sex relationships into masculine and feminine pairs, coupled with the use of English-derived terms to refer to them, is found throughout East and Southeast Asia. Have the forces of capitalism facilitated the dissemination of Western-style gay and lesbian identities throughout the developing world as some theories of transnationalism suggest? Is the emergence of toms and dees over the past twenty-five years a sign that this has occurred in Thailand?
Drawing on a broad spectrum of anthropological literature, Sinnott situates Thai tom and dee subculture within the global trend of increasingly hybridized sexual and gender identities. Based on seven years of fieldwork, this empirically rich study explores this growing community in Thailand, tacking between the lives of individual toms and dees and the larger context of social norms and political events and discourses within Thailand. Thai toms and dees speak in their own voices about their identities, their relationships, and their struggles over the meanings of masculinity and femininity. A growing number of organizations and social clubs, web sites, and discussion groups provide a forum for contesting and transforming understandings of tom and dee.
Toms and Dees is a highly accessible work that should be of interest to anyone interested in Asian queer studies, gender studies, and the anthropology of sexuality.