Thomas Beatie is Asian! Reclaiming Trans Histories of Colour

By Guest Contributor Mitsuru Mitsuru


So I heard a while ago that celeb transman Thomas Beatie is a mixie much like myself. He too has a white mama, an Asian daddy, and originally, an Asian surname. He too was born with all the plumbing to make and be pregnant with a baby. And like me, he too made the decision to get folks to recognize him as male.

So I get the whole need to change your gender thing. However, I’m not sure why Beatie changed his name to something rid of all associations to his Filipino heritage. I too had the option to change my name to rid myself of my Asian ethnic associations, however, I didn’t based on the fact that so often trans folks of colour are told they are doing a white thing by being trans. As if every culture has the same rules around gender binaries and the act of crossing them is only done by those white enough.

Coincidentally, when I was born, my white mother gave me a Japanese name without knowing the implications (highly-gendered at that) that went along with it. Taking this into account, I chose a Japanese name for myself. I chose one which, just like my mother in her choosing of my original name, I didn’t expressly know the meaning of. I did so in line with honoring my white mother and my mixed origins.

I wanted to keep my Asian association when renaming myself, to let people know that just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I’m white. There is a rich history of third gender or other wise non-male and non-female specific people within many cultures, including pre-Spanish Philippines. For example, in the islands known now as the Phillipines, Binabe were high order religious authorities of mixed-gender, just as gender-transforming deity Kuan-yin in Chinese Taoist tradition is still highly esteemed today.

And the only article that stuck with me from my first year women’s studies class pointed to various 17th-century Chinese reports of people who were born male and ended up female or vice versa, yet were considered to be in line with the fluid nature of yin and yang. They were not considered perverse or worthy of ridicule as many people of gender-transitioning experience are subject to today.

In many cultures of colour, pre-colonial history includes these societies valuing these people specifically because they are outside the norm of gender, often chosen for positions of spiritual power and authority. However, rigid reforms in gender occurring in the white west, coupled with the need to topple indigenous authority figures influenced European colonizers to seek out and destroy these people. Violent and strategic colonization means that history validating Thomas’s and my trans experience as Asian genderf*ckers now is hard to come by. Transphobia is rampant in former colonized places, as a legacy of colonialism. We have colonialism to thank for much of the violence we experience, particularly as racialized trans folks. (For more on the Binabe, take a look at this book on Philippine Gay Culture.)

And now, because of this erased history, it is our very Asianness that is often used against us to make transphobic and racist comments, “Oh it must be hard with your Baachan more so than on your mom’s side,” “Hey, we don’t do that kind of freaky shit, we’re Asian.” Which makes me sad.

I don’t feel that Thomas sold us mixie-Asian trans guys out. There are many reasons around a person’s name choice and I don’t know his exact ones.

It is true, however, that I’m sad people don’t know the world’s most famous trans man is also Asian.

A version of this article was originally published at 8Asians.