Nat Kadaw: Empowered For Change
People in the Thamine district cannot help but stare as he exits his beauty parlour, both amused and impressed by how well he dresses up everyday.


He shuns away from the traditional Burmese sarong garments and instead of wearing thanaka — a yellow-white cosmetic paste made from grinding bark — he swears by his favourite M.A.C products that he buys in bulk from Bangkok.

Like his friends, he too laments about the increasing prices of makeup products, but still diligently keeps a good stash for his daily routine. He also often brings along an umbrella to shelter himself from the sweltering sun — not common even among his female friends.


While most are being discriminated, it is as a Nat Kadaw where transgenders like Han Myint find a lot more respect from the public, who would often seek their guidance on topics like education and business prospects. 


They are also said to have the ability to bless and guide the people away from danger.

They are empowered for change.


Photos: GO-FAR / Kenji Kwok

Adopted by Nat medium parents who visited his house in Htantabin township while he was still a teenager, 45-year-old Mr Han Myint started participating in Nat pwes and became a Nat kadaw at the age of 20.


He always thought he was a girl since young, and wanted to be beautiful just like his female friends.

Spared from discrimination, being a Nat kadaw has earned him the respect and also an opportunity to educate others on LGBT rights.
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Unlike homosexual men, transgender women often wear a corset with a padded bra — a look unaccepted by the public — making it extremely difficult for them to get a job...As a result, many turn to becoming a Nat kadaw or a makeup artist. Unfortunately for s
Unlike homosexual men, transgender women often wear a corset with a padded bra — a look unaccepted by the public — making it extremely difficult for them to get a job.

As a result, many turn to becoming a Nat kadaw or a makeup artist. Unfortunately for some, they are also forced into the sex trade.
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Han Myint's daily routine involves waking up early in the morning to put on makeup before going to work at the beauty parlour downstairs...He buys his favourite M.A.C makeup products in bulk from Bangkok together with his friends. Despite the increasing p
Han Myint's daily routine involves waking up early in the morning to put on makeup before going to work at the beauty parlour downstairs.

He buys his favourite M.A.C makeup products in bulk from Bangkok together with his friends. Despite the increasing pricetag, Han Myint describes it as an essential purchase.

"After putting on makeup, I just feel so beautiful and confident," he said.
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Han Myint waits to leave for the Nat Pwe with his best friend, Mr Kyaw Kyaw Naing, 35, who owns his own beauty parlour...These beauty parlours mostly employ people from the LGBT community, and also serve as a place for Han Myint and his friends to hang ou
Han Myint waits to leave for the Nat Pwe with his best friend, Mr Kyaw Kyaw Naing, 35, who owns his own beauty parlour.

These beauty parlours mostly employ people from the LGBT community, and also serve as a place for Han Myint and his friends to hang out together.
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Mr Myo Myo, 33, and Mr Hla Lwun Swe, 36, don on the ceremony costumes in preparation for the next segment of the Nat pwe...Nat kadaw literally means "spirit wife" in Burmese, where the medium is said to have married a specific Nat spirit. It is a term to
Mr Myo Myo, 33, and Mr Hla Lwun Swe, 36, don on the ceremony costumes in preparation for the next segment of the Nat pwe.

Nat kadaw literally means "spirit wife" in Burmese, where the medium is said to have married a specific Nat spirit. It is a term to describe homosexuals, transgenders, and women who become a Nat medium.

Male Nat mediums are called Nat sayars.
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Nat medium Nyunt Nyunt, 30, looks through recently developed photos of Han Myint when he was all dolled up for a dance performance, before the start of the Nat Pwe...Photo: GO-FAR / Kenji Kwok
Nat medium Nyunt Nyunt, 30, looks through recently developed photos of Han Myint when he was all dolled up for a dance performance, before the start of the Nat Pwe.
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Backstage, 45-year-old Mr Harshin puts on a headdress for his fellow Nat kadaw in preparation for the next segment of the Nat pwe...Harshin was forced to move out of his home in Meiktila, as his Muslim family members could not accept his homosexuality...H
Backstage, 45-year-old Mr Harshin puts on a headdress for his fellow Nat kadaw in preparation for the next segment of the Nat pwe.

Harshin was forced to move out of his home in Meiktila, as his Muslim family members could not accept his homosexuality.

He first became a cook at a Nat pwe in Yangon before his master decided to teach him how to dance and become a Nat kadaw.
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With sweat all over his face, Nat kadaw Hla Lwun Swe continues to dance on the first day of a three-day long Nat Pwe...Not possessed but representing the Nat spirit, he performs an intensive dance routine which earns him 10,000 kyat per day. On these days
With sweat all over his face, Nat kadaw Hla Lwun Swe continues to dance on the first day of a three-day long Nat Pwe.

Not possessed but representing the Nat spirit, he performs an intensive dance routine which earns him 10,000 kyat per day. On these days, he only stops for a short 30-minute lunch break.

Despite being a very exhausting job, it gives Nat kadaws like Hla Kwun Swe the joy of dancing and also paying respect to the spirits at the same time.
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In Myanmar, people see Nat kadaws as channels through which they can contact spirits. They believe these spirits are able to predict what will happen to them, and provide advice on what they should do next. ..Ms Khin Soe Lin, 51, is one such medium. She i
In Myanmar, people see Nat kadaws as channels through which they can contact spirits. They believe these spirits are able to predict what will happen to them, and provide advice on what they should do next.

Ms Khin Soe Lin, 51, is one such medium. She is throwing money to the crowd as a blessing at the North Okkalapa township in Yangon.

Although the mediums are usually men, now many are homosexual, transgender or women. In this role, they are respected rather than discriminated.
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28-year-old Mr La Pyae, a homosexual Nat kadaw who is also from a Muslim family, has been performing actively at Nat pwes in Yangon for two years...His parents do not object to him dancing as a Nat kadaw. It is at these festivals where he can freely expre
28-year-old Mr La Pyae, a homosexual Nat kadaw who is also from a Muslim family, has been performing actively at Nat pwes in Yangon for two years.

His parents do not object to him dancing as a Nat kadaw. It is at these festivals where he can freely express his sexuality.
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Locals from the neighbourhood try to catch banknotes thrown by Nat kadaws during a Nat pwe...Money, usually in 1,000 kyat banknotes, is given to the audience of a Nat pwe as a form of blessing from mediums...These festivals are organised by donors to cele
Locals from the neighbourhood try to catch banknotes thrown by Nat kadaws during a Nat pwe.

Money, usually in 1,000 kyat banknotes, is given to the audience of a Nat pwe as a form of blessing from mediums.

These festivals are organised by donors to celebrate achievements in their jobs and at school, or as a way to ward off evil spirits — believed to be the source of misfortunes like failing businesses.
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FROM LEFT:  Mr Thu Thu, 25, Mr Than Lwin Cho, 35, Mr Han Myint, 46, and Mr Htwe Htwe, 40...Living under one roof above Than Lwin Cho's beauty parlour allows them to stay like a family, with common practices like praying to Ma Ngwe Taung — a Nat guardian —
FROM LEFT: Mr Thu Thu, 25, Mr Than Lwin Cho, 35, Mr Han Myint, 46, and Mr Htwe Htwe, 40.

Living under one roof above Than Lwin Cho's beauty parlour allowed them to stay like a family, with common practices like praying to Ma Ngwe Taung — a Nat guardian — which Amara says will help to protect people of the LGBT community.

It is also said that this Nat spirit helps women who are abandoned by their husbands or lovers.
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