My connecting domestic flight was delayed in the Bangkok airport. Tired and ready to be at the conference as I was, I felt the strong pull of the secluded food court. I had not gotten used to the exchange rate of US dollars to Thai baht, so I didn’t realize until I was signing the receipt that I was paying $14 for a burger and fries! For that price, it had better be good.
I took my seat across the food court next to a coffee shop. I hoped the ambient aroma would be nicer from coffee grounds then from my newly acquired stale french fries. I sat at the end of a long section of small tables adjoining one another. At the other end, there was a gathering of Gloria Jeans Coffee employees.
They were seated around with small clear plastic cups, and one of them had a smart phone out videoing the employee at the head of the table, who was sitting on a slightly higher chair. It appeared to be some form of demonstration regarding barista techniques, of making and presenting coffee. It was perhaps employee training from one of the more experienced members of the team who appeared to be a female. Appeared…
I took a sip of my flat Coke zero.
As the presentation went on, my curiosity was piqued. The demonstration continued, but it was definitely a male’s voice speaking Thai, a language I barely know a word of. I did a discrete double take, and again I saw what appeared to be a female… hair pulled back, eyeshadow, a tapered waistline, but the voice was unmistakably masculine despite the noticeable lisp.
Have you ever experienced this in public, being around an individual and honestly being dumbfounded as to what gender they are?
I find it happens especially more with Southeast Asia cultures. I think this stems from the long-standing idea in Thailand that there is a third gender, that is, and in-between gender. It goes by many names, but it has been around for a long time. It defines and normalizes what is, in our eyes, sexual confusion. You know, when you give something a name, you give it power.
I kept chewing on the filling but unspectacular burger. As I started to get through it, I realized that no amount of determination can squeeze $14 worth of satisfaction out of this thoroughly pedestrian culinary encounter.
I continued to study the group of employees. Two seated on the right were clearly dressed as males and sounded like it as well. One of them had an earring in his left ear. On the left side sat another individual who presented as a male but definitely with a more feminine voice—a trendy boys’ haircut, but a round, soft face.
On the one hand, these people have never heard the Good News before. It’s a nation of 67 million people with barely over 1% believers. On another level, they are unreached in their identity. Only in a relationship with God can someone know who they truly are. These Kathoey or lady boys clearly had not had that. By no means are these the only people that struggle with identity, but it’s a particularly clear manifestation. Maybe we could take the first step and tell them a message about Jesus, but could we lead them into relationship with God? Can we love them the way Jesus loves?
That’s not as easy as it seems.
I took up my greasy tray and dumped it in the garbage bin. I’d had enough food to get me through to my next flight—and some food for thought.
Title photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@pimchu
My pictures from Thailand: