Readers' Submissions

Response to “Why so many ladyboys in Thailand?”

  • Written by Professor
  • September 25th, 2013
  • 4 min read


The Kiwi


I was intrigued by the sub “Why so many ladyboys in Thailand?” because it is a subject I know absolutely nothing about. (I have nothing for or against them; I just am woefully ignorant.)

I was also intrigued by the comment that there are a lot of ladyboys in the Philippines in addition to Thailand.

So I started thinking (probably a bad sign in my case). Why of all the countries in Asia, are ladyboys so popular / common in the Philippines and Thailand?

Which led me to think…why is the sex industry as a whole much more developed in those two countries than elsewhere? (I don’t deny that sex for pay is available everywhere in Asia (not to mention the entire world). But I would hope that all would agree that in the Philippines and Thailand it is much more developed than anywhere else.) <My understanding that it is NOT more developed in these two countries than others in the region, rather that these two countries have areas that not just welcome, but are specifically built for WesternersStick>

It is often stated that the sex industry follows low economic conditions, especially for women. While true, that doesn’t explain why Thailand and the Philippines have it in such a big way and other economically disadvantaged countries in Southeast Asia do not. The GDP per capita in Thailand is much higher than most other neighboring countries, so economic factors may not be an answer.

Cultural acceptance is also often cited. “Buddhists are tolerant people” one hears. Yes, but there are Buddhists in Laos, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, for example, without developed sex industries. <I always thought it was a hot-bed for male on male prostitutionStick> And the Philippines, we all know, is Catholic.

In fact, these two countries don’t seem to have anything in common. One is Buddhist, the other Catholic. One claims to have never been conquered by a western power, the other’s entire history is full of foreign occupiers. One has a very strong loyalty to their royal family, which unites all citizens, the other changes governments as frequently as I change my underwear.

What, I asked myself, do the Philippines and Thailand have in common, to generate such a strong sex industry?

And then it hit me. Now, I must admit, this is pure speculation on my part, and I may be full of shit in what I am about to propose.

Both countries have in common the recent historical desire to “entertain” massive numbers of American military personnel. Clark Air base near Angeles City was formerly home to the largest United States military facility outside of the United States. And the 2nd largest was the naval base in Subic Bay close to Manila.

Thailand was the “R & R” home for the US military serving during the Vietnam War. Most of the bars were on what is now New Petchburi Road. Later, toward the end of the war, an area owned by the Patpongpanich family from Hainan, China, began to grow in popularity. (After the war had ended a lot of Americans and other westerners stayed in Bangkok. A bar named Gold Label gave its name to a small soi, and in 1977 a retired American airman named Edwards opened a few bars in the same street. As he always wore a cowboy hat, noted Bangkok Post columnist Bernard Trink started calling the soi “Cowboy”. Lek Nana was a Thai muslim of Indian descent who was a businessman and politician who served as Deputy Foreign Minister and as Minister of Science, Technology, and Energy. He owned much of the property around Sukhimvit Road and built a multiuse plaza for shopping and eating on soi 4.When Sukhimvit Road was widened in the area of soi 16 many of the bars there were forced to relocate and many moved to Nana Plaza).

But I digress. The point is, IMHO, the sex industry in the Philippines and Thailand arose in a big way after WW2 in the first instance and during and after the Vietnam War in the second instance. Surrounding countries never had a huge foreign military presence and so never developed the necessary entertainment venues for foreigners. (By the way, a huge number of brothels were created by the Japanese to service American GI’s in Tokyo after WW2 but were eventually shut down by MacArthur.

Now, if you are following me so far, here’s where I take a great leap of faith. Up until now, what I have proposed I believe can be well supported by the historical facts. What follows is pure speculation.

You have all these military personnel flocking to get laid in the Philippines and Thailand. Some of these men are gay. But being gay in the 1950s – 1970s, especially in the military, is, shall we say, frowned upon. What’s a nice gay guy to do? Supply follows demand. I’m a Thai or Filipino guy, ready to have sex with a GI…so I dress up as a lady.

Voila! The gay GI can go out with the lady (who is also a guy) and no one will know.

Now, I may be full of 10 kinds of shit here, but I have a strong suspicion this may be part of the answer. Ladyboys emerged strongly in Thailand and the Philippines to cater to a gay military presence in the time when being out of the closet was frowned upon.

The rest is history.

Perfectly happy to receive emails of condemnation and / or submissions in rebuttal.

Take care

Professor