Why are there so many ladyboys in the Philippines? Among Austronesian-speaking peoples, acceptance of trans people goes very far back in time. These are a large group spanning the populations of Polynesia, Taiwan, Malay Peninsula, Micronesia, coastal New Guinea, and Madagascar. They all speak the Austronesian languages. The nations and lands mainly populated by Austronesian-speaking peoples come under the umbrella term of Austronesia.

Pre-colonial Austronesians were animistic and included Filipinos as well. An animistic community is one that believes in a type of soul dualism. To its members, each person has two souls. One is the body’s mortal soul, which is connected to your physical appearance and outer self. This is your life force. The other is the mind’s eternal soul. This is a person’s inner self and identity.

A woman is a female mind in a woman’s body. A man has a male body and a male mind. They can be inverted, meaning a man’s mind can occupy a female body and there can be a female mind in a man’s body.

In the Filipino language, such inversions are called the binalaki (women who live as males) and bakla (men who live as females). The “inversions” became marginalized and persecuted after most Filipinos were converted to Islam and Christianity. Same-sex relationships became unacceptable. Eventually, intolerance extended to the nation’s shamans. They were brutally repressed in the 17th and 18th centuries both at the hands of the Muslim shariah and during the Spanish Inquisition. They suffered exceptionally cruel and painful deaths, including being drowned or burned alive.

Even though the Filipino culture was strongly influenced by Catholicism and Islam, acceptance of bakla was so entrenched in society that ladyboys never really disappeared. They weren’t allowed to be shamans anymore, but they retained their part as “mediators” in the local community. They were tolerated by the Spanish clergy as long as they didn’t get caught having homosexual sex or getting involved in shamanism.

And this is how Filipino ladyboys have survived in the modern world. Acceptance of them in their homeland is still greater than in western societies.