Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Three Sexes and Four Sexualities: Morris All archetypes are spurious zyxwvutsr but some are more spurious than others. Famed for its exquisite women and the pleasures of commodi- fied flesh, the Thailand of tourist propaganda and travelogues is a veritable bordello of the Western erotic imaginary. In general, the ethno- positions 2: With a few notable exceptions, sexual identity and erotic experience -especially het- erodox identities and experiences- Three sexes and four sexualities palpable absences, which is to say suppressed presences, in the scholarly literature.
This essay seeks to redress zyxwvut that omission. At the same time, it takes arms against popular traditions that have fetishized Thai bodies in what can only be described as a repre- sentational sex trade of desire.
Looking out from the glossy page from a harshly lit, rather tawdry backdrop is a disrobed figure, frontally nude. We see a delicate face startled by red lipstick. Its almond eyes are perfectly accented with liner and mascara, its cheekbones lifted by rouge Three sexes and four sexualities powdered skin.
Assuming normative heterosexuality in a biological mode, this ostensibly radical vision then constructs a norma- tive form of subversive sexuality: But such presentations of self can never be metonyms for the sedgender systems from which they arise.
Their particular nature is determined by the the- atrics of commodity exchange. Accordingly, professional drag queens or professional kathoeys tell us about the forms of professional drag and little more. As we do so, we need also to be aware of the masculinist bias that has dominated the imagery of alterior sexuality and to ask how resistance and transgression are themselves differentiated along the lines of sex and gender.
In the following pages, I outline what I believe to be the crucial and dis- tinguishing characteristics of a social landscape inhabited by two radically different sedgender systems, one a trinity of three sexes, the other a system of four sexualities. Throughout this essay, I use the termgender, in the tra- dition of feminist anthropology, to signify the social forms and symbols of sexual identity as they are constructed in reference to culturally specific rhetorics of the body. Thus gender is always natural- ized as sexual identity, but sexual identity is not always a matter of sexual practice and perhaps only rarely a matter of object choice.
As Foucault has argued, sexuality denotes a form of identity that emerges within the struc- tures of modern capitalist production, where sexual relations are abstracted and reified through the logic of commodity exchange as forms of con- sumption and, hence, of object choice.
For this reason, a history of sedgen- der systems must always be an analysis of the changes in politico-economic order. I do not, however, mean to suggest a linear progression from one sys- Three sexes and four sexualities to the other. While they emerge in sequence, there is no necessary telos of integration and rationalization.
Both exist in the present and vie for hegemony in a society that is deeply influenced but not fully determined by "Three sexes and four sexualities" forces and ideologies. T h e resulting contradictions can induce some head-spinning experiences for those from without. T h e scene was, she said, a marvelous and self-consciously performative game of homoerotic flirtation.
Her experience was not unique; like her, I have often found myself astounded by the plasticity and hetero- geneity of Thai gender and sexual identity.
At least part of that dismay stems from the fact that we are all constrained-with more or less com- fort- by normative ideologies. And in Thailand, the dominant represen- tations of sex and gender are focused in and through fetishistic notions of ideal feminine beauty as it is constructed for a heterosexual male gaze.
This is, I think, what was happening in the convenience store. That structure, defined by feminist theories of reading as the very heart of patriarchal nar- rative,8 has underpinned virtually all gender analysis in Thailand. To a large degree, it also informs the Three sexes and four sexualities dominant sedgender system in Thailand, but it has not always done so, and even now one cannot presume a totalized order in which binarity is completely hegemonic.
Noting this all-too-neglected fact, Shigeharu Tanabe has recently called the normative bias of Thai ethnography into 19 question and criticized the exclusive Three sexes and four sexualities on Buddhist texts, whose aim is the production of orthodoxy.
That is, I want to expand the notion of historical epoch beyond that of the disciplinary regime to accommodate competing ideolo- gies, each internally heterogeneous but determined and circumscribed by distinct technologies of the self and the social order.
As Eve Sedgwick argues, we need to relinquish the narrative of rupture that has sustained the discourse on sexuality. The plethora Three sexes and four sexualities translations usually offered for kathoey really reflects a paucity of con- cepts for the biologically irreducible third category implied here.
It has clearly meant different things at different times, but in one of its oldest for- mulations, that of Lan Na origin myths, it seems to have been neither male nor female, but both: However, it is not 20 contradictory in the traditional Thai context, where a division of public and private realms both permits and sustains such antitheses.
Indeed, the crucial element in the Thai system of three seems to be a division in which sexual and gender identity is conceived as a repertoire of public appearances and behaviors that is quite independent of the various subject positions and sex- ual practices available within the private realm.
T h e evidence for such claims is admittedly sparse and uneven, but the historical record provides at least a few suggestive texts. T h e first of these is the recently available Pathamamulamuli,l5 a translation of a palm-leaf man- uscript that relates the origin of the universe and of Lan Na humanity as it was reportedly told by the Buddha.
In its textual form, the work was prob- ably composed by a monk, but it draws upon several popular stories which circulated in oral form among the Tai of the Shan states,16 the Khoen of Laos, the people of northeast Thailand known locally as Isaanand the Muang of Lan Na Thai generally identified with northern Thailand and Chiang Mai. Its original sources may actually predate the arrival of Ther- avada Buddhism from Sri Lanka.
In the Puthamamulamuli, the universe emerges from nonbeing through the intermingling of cold and hot air, these being dimensions of nothing- ness as well as the principles of Three sexes and four sexualities and activity, respectively. Shortly thereafter, a female being, Nang Itthang Gaiya Sangkasi, emerges from the earth.
Later, a male being named Pu Sangaiya Sangkasi is born of fire. Indeed, humanity is correlate with triadic logic in the Pathamamulamuli. T h e interpretation of the sexual trinity is, of course, problematic, the more so because the text provides no description of the various sexes. T "Three sexes and four sexualities" e hermaphrodite fades in and out of the narrative, coupling with both the female and the male, and is referred to as both father and mother by the children of their Nor is there a discourse that impugns hidher moral integrity.
In stereotypically Buddhist terms, the Pathamamulamuli attributes to every sex and gender a particular form of suffering Pali, dukkha: For reasons that are never specified in the text, the hermaphrodite dis- appears from the Pathamamulamuli fairly early, but hidher form is echoed in other scenes of generation and other aspects of human existence. In chapter 3, for example, the origin of language is discussed in similar terms: Although it expresses the idealizations of the mythic order, it presents identity as something that is highly elastic and subject to ideological manipulation.
But if ideologies and regimes of naming change over time, language also retains the memory of previous usage. Indeed, the dialogic confrontation between the language of the Pathamamulamuli and the languages of its descendants and the con- temporary biologized sedgender system occurs most visibly in that term.
On the surface, the hermaphrodite of the Pathamamulamuli parallels that of premodern Europe. It, too, can appear as an interstitial gender occu- pying the liminal space between the idealized poles of male and female. However, this vision of transitivity implies a primary binarity in whose terms the kathoey must always be understood- as mediation, ambiguity, or intentional subversion.
But this binarity is absent in the Pathamamula- muli. In that text, the hermaphrodite does not undermine oppositions between male and female but constitutes the third point in a triad in which there can be no single antithesis. Nor Three sexes and four sexualities the hermaphrodite be seen as a secondary identity.