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Thailand Tom

Updated on January 19, 2011

A Tom in Thailand is what a Katoey or ladyboy is to a man, except there is no drastic gender reassignment surgery to make a woman into a man. They are essentially what we call lesbians in the West though that term is not often used yet recognized in Thailand. And they do not like to be referred to as lesbians either.

Whenever I have friends, both males and females come to visit Thailand they often see young prissy beautiful ladies hand in hand with a Tom. At first glance they think it's just a skinny Thai man with feminine features until they realize that it's a girl with short hair, polo or button down shirt and jeans, which is the usual attire for Toms.

Toms are very common and I would even dare say that they are more common than ladyboys. They are rarely alone and highly successful in dating females. Unlike ladyboys, Toms have partners out in the open with their female partners. In Thai society they are accepted as gays are and do not receive and social backlashes as they might in the West.

Why do Thai females date Toms?

There are many reasons why but one possible common cause is that Thai men have the reputation for philandering and unfaithfulness. In the past, and I'm only talking about a few decades ago, Thai women had to shut up and put up with it. Even though unfaithfulness does continue today, divorce rates have gone up as women become more independent. Thai society is very male dominated and women are in most part very subservient and have little feelings of self-worth. But there is a growing change today where younger Thai women are starting to express more of their feelings, openly and willingly and date whomever they wish.

Why do women become Toms?

I've asked a couple of close friends who are Toms who are dating women in Bangkok. Some of the answers were because they felt they were born as a man. Thais do believe in reincarnation based on Buddhist religion, which is the ultimate reason why gays and lesbians are so accepted. Compared to Christianity they are in most parts demonized. A few answered that they were in previous relationship with a male, usually a first boyfriend when they were young and when they separated (most likely due to the male infidelity) they were in so much pain that they swore never to trust men ever again.

Yes or No (Yes or No, Yak Rak Kor Rak Loei)


Times Are Changing

Today young women in Thailand, especially in Bangkok are enjoying greater social freedoms. Many drive cars, live alone, go to university, open businesses and become productive citizens. Though Thai women throughout the Kingdom are mainly looked upon as manual labor in the farms and it still is so today not only in the rice fields of Isan but in the construction sites of Bangkok.

Part of having social freedoms is the choice of dating whomever they want.

'Yes or No' is a film released in December of 2011 which is focused on two characters, Pai a female and Kim also a female who is a Tom. Pai who was never interested in a Tom relationship before is soon confronted by strong feelings for Kim. The film gives a perfect glimpse of the Tom and female relationship even though the story line is very predictable.

Ellen Degenris and Portia DeRossi

Possibly the World's Famous Married Lesbian
Possibly the World's Famous Married Lesbian | Source

A Happy Beginning But Sad Ending

Whenever I see a young Tom and a lady couple they are always happy together and enjoying each others company. But the sad truth is that most of these relationships usually won't last as long as they would like. Of course there are exceptions though.

Despite Thai's ability to be tolerant to same sex relationships Thai society is ultimately a society based on the principles of family. Since Tom style of relationships is relatively new and young, Thai parents will often put up with their children behaviors and call it a phase.

Eventually the parents will want their daughters to marry and have a family and children the traditional way. It's hard to say what will happen in the future since there are not many older Toms around to tell.

Can a female grow out of a Tom relationship when she hits a certain age when she wants children? It's possible since most women have the instinctual need to be a mother. But what will happen to the Tom?


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    • Edwin Clark profile image

      Edwin Clark 7 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

      I've had a Tom make a pass at me too Peter. So either we look like pretty girls or the beer goggles went into effect :)

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

      A good article. I have both 'Tom' and 'Dee' friends and as you say are are completely accepted in Thailand. I recollect one very fun filled night with more than a bit to drink. Round the table were Kathoey, Toms and Dees, Gay men and straight Thai girls and myself. No-one ever mentioned sex. Total acceptance of who we all were. We had a good laugh.

      Mind you...I did have a Tom make a pass at me a few weeks ago. Still trying to puzzle what that was about.