Gender Variance and Sexual Orientation Among Male Spirit Mediums in Myanmar

Eli Coleman, Mariette Pathy Allen, Jessie V. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This article describes the gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation of male spirit mediums in Myanmar. Our analysis is based on ethnographic work, field observation, and 10 semi-structured interviews. These observations were conducted from 2010 to 2015, mostly in Mandalay, with some fieldwork in Yangon and Bagan. The focus of this investigation was specifically on achout (gender variant individuals) who were spirit mediums (nat kadaw). Semi-structured interviews explored the ways that participants understood their gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality in relation to their work as spirit mediums and broader social life. Myanmar remains quite a homophobic and transphobic culture but is undergoing rapid economic and social change. Therefore, it provides an interesting context to study how safe spaces are produced for sexual/gender minorities amidst broader social change. We find that, through the animistic belief structure, there is a growing space for gender nonconforming people, gender variant, and same-sex-oriented individuals (achout) to neutralize their stigmatized status and attain a level of respect and economic advantage. Their ability to become nat kadaw (mediums of spirits) mitigates or trumps their stigmatized status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)987-998
Number of pages12
JournalArchives of sexual behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This study was funded by Tawani Foundation (no grant number). Dr. Coleman would like to thank some of his original collaborators for his research in Burma–Louis Gooren and Philp Col-gan. In addition, we would like to thank our translators in Burma–Aung Kyawmyint, Ko Tin Maung Cho (Chalu), Myint Oo, and Thet Paing Mhew (Smile) (Burma). We would like thank Swagata Banik for his careful review of the manuscript and Burmese Scholars David Gilbert and Dr. Nay Myo Naing (Shanlay) for their helpful input. We are grateful to our participants and subjects of this study who shared their intimate lives with us.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Gender expression
  • Gender identity
  • Gender variance
  • Myanmar
  • Sexual orientation


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