A Look Into Tom Culture, Thailand’s Non-Traditional Gender Group


Sexual orientation and gender are influenced by social constructs of masculinity and femininity, but more people are starting to understand that both are not defined by a person’s biological sex. Because a person is born a woman doesn’t necessarily mean she is confined to society’s expectations of how a woman should look, act and think. As such, gender roles become blurred once we take away the binary perspective of man and woman.

In the 1970’s, when the American term “lesbian” was brought to Thailand, it initially had a negative response and soon the word was associated with negative images of women who love women. Since then, Thailand has grown to be one of the most tolerant countries when it comes to sex and gender. A mini documentary made by Coconut TV explores Thailand’s unique non-traditional gender group–Toms–and the culture surrounding them. By definition, “Toms” (a derivative from “Tomboy”) are biological women who want to appear male and fulfill male gender roles, but don’t identify as male. Unlike America’s mainstream lesbian culture, Toms aren’t only interested in other women, but there’s an added level of complexity with their distinct dress and social code that’s special to Tom culture.

Although Toms have been gaining visibility through media (especially in dramas), their representation hasn’t necessarily meant that Toms have the same legal rights as heterosexual women and men. In fact, the Tom Act magazine has been dedicated to creating a space for Toms and the women who love them. It’s their goal to humanize the Tom community for those who are struggling to understand them. In addition to the magazine, they created the Mr. Tom Act competition in hopes of increasing Thailand’s acceptance of Toms. Watch the mini documentary below as Coconut TV follows two Toms on their way to Mr. Tom Act.