Transgender people in Asia

by Isabella Chua

Transgender people*, along with other LGBTQ+ identifying people, are frequently depicted as inconsistent with “Asian values”. Yet transgender people have existed in Asia long before the Western queer movement was popularised. Trans history is found in Asia’s history; they are reflected and involved in its mythologies, colonial records, rituals, and empires.

*Note that the term “transgender people” may be a misnomer, because it is based on a Western language which they may not identify with. We have used “transgender” because it is the closest equivalent to describe these groups and is the term used in academic journals when discussing these groups.

USA: the birthplace of LGBTQ+?
The nat kadaw of Myanmar
Bissu mysticism
Kathoeys, not ladyboys of Thailand please
Gender fluidity in Edo Japan

A wakashu and a female companion. Other than his forelock, a wakashu can also be identified by a sword peeking out of a samurai sash, such as this print, or by his penis in more erotic prints. With adult men, the wakashu assumes the passive position of an insertee but assumes the penetrative role with women.

Hijra: icon of transgender people in Asia

Hijra identifies with Hindu deities like Ardhanarishvara (“Lord Whose Half Is Woman”) who has an androgynous form but occasionally changes his gender in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana.

Not hijra but Khawaja Sara
Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at
Isabella Chua / Senior Writer

Isabella loves to dig beyond what is ‘commonsensical’ or ‘natural’ to us, by looking at the larger forces (or even accidents), that may have structured these beliefs. A writer at Kontinentalist, she's particularly interested in social issues—religion, crime, identity, and food. While she strives to stay curious about the world by listening to podcasts and taking classes, she's happiest when eating pastries, cakes, and drinking tea.


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