Colorful Photos of the Gender Non-Conforming Spirit Cults of Southeast Asia

Award-winning photographer Mariette Pathy Allen’s work focuses on gender non-conforming cultures around the world, featured in such pioneering books as Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them (1989). Allen’s fourth book, Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Thailand and Burma (out November 14 from Daylight Books), is “a fascinating and unprecedented look at the phenomenon of gender variance among the thriving spirit cults of Burma (now known as Myanmar) and Thailand.” The images are intimate and colorful, exploring ritual, performance, and spirituality amongst the Southeast Asian mediums.

The series was created in collaboration with professor Eli Coleman, who studies human sexuality and gender variance as an intrinsic part of different cultures. Coleman writes in the book:

[The stories and photos show] how the status of transgender individuals is socially constructed and more or less stigmatized depending on the context. I hope that this book illustrates that when sanctioned space and citizenship is provided, gender variant people have a chance to participate fully in family and society.

Transcendents features a powerful preface by transgender multimedia artist, LGBT activist, and Transparent producer Zackary Drucker. See a preview of the book in our gallery.

“This fawn phii turns wild as a spirit medium is possessed by a monkey spirit, and carries on monkey-like.”
©Mariette Pathy Allen from the book ‘Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand,’ Published by Daylight Books