Biyuti is a bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. She also blogs at The Biyuti Collective and you can find her on Twitter: @JustBiyuti.
Let’s talk about the slur, ‘ladyboy.’ Do a quick google image search for the word (I’ll wait). You’ll see that it is mostly Asian faces looking back at you. This is important for this discussion because I want to talk about how this word is a transphobic and transmisogynistic slur used against Asian people.
(And, yes, I realize that it may be occasionally used against white trans* women, but the stereotypical ladyboy is Asian.)
Because the word is heavily racialized mostly used (in popular media, at least) against Thai kathoey but is also relevant to many of the SEAsian trans* feminine people. Read this charming definition on Urban Dictionary (tw: for serious transmisogyny, transphobia, homophobia, sex worker shaming):
An extremely effeminate gay Southeast Asian male, usually in his 20s, who dresses up like a girl, often has tits (fake or grown with hormones), and typically cums like an ordinary male. They often practice as prostitutes in the tourist ghettos of Thailand and The Philippines, and are known for luring/soliciting unsuspecting Western men, as well as their unique ability to suck cock given their personal familiarity with male anatomy and desires. Most ladyboys prefer to get fucked in the ass, though a few (usually those with larger dicks) are tops. Ladyboys are completely mind blowing to sexually confused Western men who are simultaneously bi-curious and into Asians. Large hands/feet and over-assertiveness are usually a dead giveaway.
I love this definition because of how succinctly it manages to define how and why the word ladyboy is used when coming out of white mouths.
It perfectly illustrates just how much the image of bakla and/or kathoey (as represented in the media) is so dependent on the white colonial gaze. Because it really only discusses us in terms of how we can please white sex tourists. It reduces our identities to the western gender binary.
Most importantly, it demonstrates how bakla in the Philippines, managed to go from assisting women in pre-colonial spiritual practices, to ‘prostitutes who lure unsuspecting Western men.’ This is what colonialism has done.
This is everything that is expressed in the vicious slur ‘ladyboy.’ This is also why I don’t think white trans* people have a right to the word (even as it may occasionally be used against them). Because I’ve honestly only have ever seen the word used against Asians. The image of ladyboys in the popular imagination has always been Asian.
But I wonder if they ever question how their hegemonic discourse is still actively colonizing and negatively impacting the lives of ladyboys? Because I know that my erasure from trans* discourse really did have a negative impact on my life, something I’ve been talking about here on Womanist Musings for the past little while.
So I feel like the question is necessary, how is trans* discourse and political activism helping ladyboys? Is it addressing the ills of the neo-colonialist system of capital and culture? Is it advocating for global resource redistribution? Is it dealing with the religious imperialism that so changed the role of bakla from spiritual assistants to sex workers or beauty parlor workers?*
Because until these conversations are regular in the white trans* community, it is hard for me to see how or why the community would be relevant to me or the things I care about.
* Note, I’m not trying to say that being either a sex worker or beautician is bad. But the fact that Catholicism and western colonialism has restricted the freedom of bakla and destroyed our traditional roles needs to be discussed, especially since the sex work of bakla is closely tied to sex tourism.