You'd be forgiven for thinking that a Thai Tom was the Thai equivalent of the Tom Boy; a girl who is a bit boyish – short hair, plays footy with the lads and doesn't shave her legs.
You'd also be forgiven for thinking that the Thai Tom personifies the Western “butch lesbian” stereotype. In fact, it's all a little confusing…
A Thai Tom is generally considered more man than just a woman with boyish tendencies. She is not considered a lesbian either, even though she makes love to other women. Confused? Stay with me; it gets a little stranger.
The (usually) very feminine girls they get into relationships with – the ones you see them holding hands with, carrying the handbags of and acting out the manly role – are not considered lesbians. Huh? A woman dating a woman surely makes the couple gay, right? Nope. The “woman” in the relationship is simply considered to “be dating a Tom.”
It's quite a trend here in Bangkok, and dare I say it's almost fashionable. Preppy style Toms with boobs strapped down tightly into non-existence by sports-bras can regularly be seen strutting the malls with the most elegant, beautiful Thai women.
It is commonplace these days for a woman who has become disillusioned with the male race (and I say this expecting a feminist backlash) and their chauvinistic antics to turn her attention to a Tom, who, by all accounts, looks like a boy, dresses like a boy, acts like a boy, and has the distinct advantage of understanding women better than any man – because he/she is in fact a woman.
Don't get me wrong here; I'm not Tom bashing. Whoever people want to get down with is their business. It's all good.
But I'd never had a Thai Tom as a friend before until just recently. My friend had just opened a new shop, for which I was lending a hand in preparing, and he (the Tom), who worked next door, was on hand to help me with all things DIY: electrics, furniture assembly, etc.
He/she was by all accounts a very nice chap, with a gorgeous girlfriend, I might add. We hung out a bit; me drinking coffee and him having a cigarette, and we still speak on occasion when I pass by the shop.
I initially presumed his girlfriend was gay, or at least bisexual. But no, she'd had boyfriends previously and wouldn't consider dating a “girl”, she explained to my friend. I was baffled, and I won't go into the details of the things that ran through my mind regarding bits n' bobs n' preferences.
I can also tell you that the relationship has since broken up, and the girl who was dating the Tom is now dating a guy. The Tom has found a new girlfriend. And guess what? The new girlfriend is a stunning looking woman who was previously in a relationship with a guy.
All's well that ends well.
But Are Thai Toms For Keeps?
Apparently not. I've been informed by a couple of female Thai friends that the Toms usually end up being left high and dry (no pun intended), going from one relationship to the next; only until the girlfriend's family realise there's more to it than holding hands and cinema trips. “Errr, no. Fun's over. You will be marrying a man.”
So does that mean the majority of the Thai women dating Toms are actually lesbians but ultimately succumb to cultural pressure? Perhaps. But then the majority of Tom-lady couples you see appear very comfortable showing public displays of affection, which would suggest broad cultural acceptance, and that the woman isn't worried about “others” finding out.
Anyway. It's an interesting subject; almost as interesting as the ladyboy phenomena us “foreigners” seem so obsessed with. And it's part of the allure of Thailand – a corner of the world where some things just aren't set in stone, and can't be put into boxes no matter how much our Euro-centric minds demand it.
Thai Toms – In A Nutshell
So, let's clear this up for now, at least until someone tells me I've got it all wrong. Toms aren't necessarily lesbians because they pretty much believe they are men, and the women they date kinda think the same – that's why they're Toms. And if a woman goes with a Tom, it doesn't necessarily mean she's a lesbian or bi-sexual, either.
On the other side of the fence, so to speak, ladyboys aren't quite men, and aren't quite women, either, that's why they're ladyboys and, depending on which Thai person you speak with, if a man goes with a ladyboy, it doesn't necessarily mean he's gay. Confused? Don't be. It's all fairly simple, really.