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Having documented transgender communities for more than 30 years, photographer Mariette Pathy Allen is accustomed to working with those facing stigma and abuse. But the subjects of her latest book represented an altogether different experience.
Combining Buddhist practices with ancient spirit worship, the individuals profiled in “Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand,” are mostly biological men who, during religious ceremonies, wear makeup and clothes traditionally associated with women. A number of the mediums live permanently as women, with most of them openly and exclusively attracted to men.
Over the course of four trips to the region, Allen discovered that these gender non-conforming psychics are able to use their respected social positions – acquired through their perceived ability to communicate with the spirit world – to overcome discrimination in conservative societies. She observed that the stigma attached to their gender identity was not only reduced by their religious status – it was eclipsed by it.