In Thailand, kathoeys (or ladyboys) are a prominent and respected aspect of their culture. Though regarded as "second-category-women", the large portion of public opinion believe that kathoeys are a third sex, rather than women born the incorrect gender. And for many kathoeys, this opinion is agreed with. Though they are unable under Thai law to change their gender or assign themselves as kathoeys legally, this third sex is seen as a positive and progressive facet of twenty-first century Thai culture. In fact, many jobs - especially sales roles - are often deliberately given to kathoeys because of the belief they are more positive and charismatic than their "first-category-women" counterparts.
The idea of a Third Sex is, of course, dependant on the society in which it exists. To different people and cultures, a third gender may mean a state between man and woman, or being both, being neither, having the ability to swap genders or a completely different category entirely, which is wholly independent from men and women. Where most people think gender to be a sliding scale between male and female, this latter category transcends this and while kathoeys and hijra are both comparable in many ways to gender identities that are legally recognised in the UK, their insistence that they are not transgender is what makes them unique. They identify as something different, separate and distinctive, deliberately removing themselves from the binaries of male and female.
In recent years, some muxe have risen to national prominence in Mexico and in the film Carmin Tropical, which appears at HOME this month as part of the ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival, the muxe are put under the microscope when a murder is committed amongst the community. Winning the Best Original Screenplay award at the Ariels (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars), the film is screening on Monday 18th April (18:30) with a Q&A afterwards with actor José Pecina and on Friday 22nd (20.40). The film brought the muxe to national prominence on its release in Mexcio last year and is now bringing this community to international attention. So while we may struggle to understand the idea of a third sex, this film is giving us the opportunity to glimpse inside a community that we may never be able to experience in any other way. And I can't wait to experience it.