Ladyboys, Freaks Of Nature
First a short introduction: I have been a tour leader for half a century, visited some 70 different countries and passed also an exam in psychology. Within the last decade I got to know a bit of Thailand from the Golden Triangle to the southern jungle regions not far from Sungai Kolok. For many years I have been reading Stick’s excellent reports and observe what people write to him in response, such as lately a passage labelled “Ladyboys are freaks of nature.” Because I consider that phrase most derogatory and degrading I allow myself now to try to contradict it in my following lines.
According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a “freak of nature” is a person that is abnormal in form because of his appearance, behaviour or ideas.
Well, from the beginning of time everybody who did not pertain to the norm of his tribe was considered strange or even dangerous – but also not seldom fascinating. During the Middle Ages that would have been a girl with red hair, often considered a witch or today in some parts of Africa, an albino. Ladyboys or “the third sex” are already mentioned by the Grecian Plato in his “Symposion” and in the Indian Kamasutra. To-day social prejudices against trans people are one hand worldwide waning and some even made it to the covers of newspapers, such as author Chaz Bono or former Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner.
But on the other hand, more than 1,700 transgender people were killed in apparent hate crimes from 2008 through 2014.
Many negative things have been written concerning ladyboys; more than one article in the Pattaya news deals with them as being pickpockets or stealing and drugging customers in their hotel room. Some have a natural tendency towards emotional drama and are quick ill-tempered if not treated with respect and some in Nana Entertainment Plaza have a reputation of rather aggressively trying to sell their company.
On the other side, some often are dead gorgeous and seem to impersonate the perfect woman in this country of illusions. What’s more, many of the ladyboys speak much better English than a lot of the country girls dancing in Soi Cowboy <Yes, I am in total agreement with this – Stick>. And communication is an important key to any relationship.
Before I refer to the hatred some men have against ladyboys here in Thailand, I would like to explain some basic facts for readers who are not so familiar with this theme.
Ladyboys or katoeys, as they are often called in Thailand, are according to Wikipedia either effeminate gay males or transgender women; I refer to the later.
The word katoey is of Khmer origin; when dealing with potential customers they normally introduce themself – normally only if they are asked – as ladyboys. Speaking with other transgender women they prefer to name themselves as phuying (women) or phet thi sam “third sex”.
Ladyboys are biological men with the strong feeling that they were born in the wrong body – but with female hearts and minds. Many undergo feminising medical procedures such as continuous hormone therapy, breast implants, silicone injections, chin augmentation, Adam’s apple reduction, voice altering lessons and finally the cut – removal of male genitalia and vaginoplasty.
Thailand has according to Bloomberg (10/2015) become a global gender-change destination, where such a complete surgery normally can be done for a third or even much less of what one would have to pay for example in the USA – some 10-3000 $ instead of 100,000 $.
No less than 14 clinics here in the Land of Smiles offer male-to-female sex reassignments. Perhaps the most famous Thai specialist for male-to female operations are Dr. Thep Vechavisit and Dr. Preecha Trewtranon.
In modern Thai society, ladyboys are tolerated but rarely fully accepted. The tolerance is connected with the Buddhist religion and the concept of karma. Somebody who did something wrong in a previous life can be reborn as an animal, a plant or for example as a ladyboy.
A sure show of their discrimination is the fact that their ID cards officially are marked as “Mr.”, even if the card folder’s picture clearly show a woman’s face; furthermore they can not change their gender in their passports. They do not have to undergo military service – but not long ago the reason for this was officially written “because of insanity”.
In the never-ending Thai television soap operas they are mostly exaggeratedly showing their womanliness, are loud and provocatively dressed.
For many a ladyboy it is hard to enter certain better paid jobs. So one finds them often in cosmetic, hair and beauty shops of the giant malls, in health stores or working in bars in the night-life zones, for example in Bangkok in Nana Plaza, Patpong or Soi Cowboy.
Parents of ladyboys are often targets of ridicule and may lose plenty of face – khai na – if one of their children comes out as a katoey.
But even more important than face here in Thailand is for a lot of people to be famous or make a lot of money.
Famous ladyboys for example had been the “Iron Ladies” or sa-tree lek, a Thai volleyball team of gay and katoey players, which even won the national championship, Nong Toom or the “Beautiful (Muay Thai) Boxer”, or the first ladyboy airhostess Nicky from P.C. Air.
Most important is also to get acceptance to “Tiffany Cabaret” at the Asia Hotel or winning one of the most prestigious pageants such as “Miss Tiffany Universe” in Pattaya.
And not to forget, the ultimate goal for many ladyboys is to find a “sugar daddy”, a rich foreigner who takes them to his home-country and even more important, takes care of her family; this being one of the main reasons why many girls and ladyboys are working in the zone.
But why do they cause extremely strong feelings such as hate for some man and also women?
More than one writer explained that way of acting that when some women come to Thailand they simply feel inferior to the looks, the way of dressing and moving of many local girls and also especially of ladyboys -considering not being able to compete against them. And from envy or even inferiority feeling it takes only a short step to hate.
With some men it seems to be far more complicated – their hatred of ladyboys could well be understood with reactions similar to homophobia. Both show an often oppressed love-hate-relation such as “I would love to have it but for moral or religious reasons I don’t dare to try it”. I would like to label it the “Forbidden Fruit Complex”. According to a lately published article in “Huffington Post” it is for example scientifically proven that not too seldom some openly homophobic men are in reality homosexuals in disguise.
To develop such a strong feeling as hate for somebody means that one has been deeply touched by that person, here in context with a ladyboy a fact many men do not want to accept.
Often those men are very narrow-minded and pertain to an extremely political or religious background with zero tolerance for anything that does not fit into their “Weltbild”, their way of seeing the world.
Another reason sometimes mentioned is that a good part of the newcomers, the “newbies” to the famous / infamous night-life of Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket simply drink much more than they can stand. In this stadium – almost always a recipe for trouble – they are lured by the perfect body, the androgynous looks, the stylish make-up and the open shown sexuality of a katoey. It is well known that “If a Thai lady is simply too beautiful she must be a ladyboy.”
After bar-fining, some take him / her to a short-time or a hotel room. When they here finally find out that they got “a woman with a snake”, in Thai “phuying mee“, they sometimes throw her out or think “so what, let’s try it”. But later some of them, especially those normally “straight machos” fear now to have become gay and are angry about themselves; an anger that is than often afterwards directed against any ladyboy.
May I remind in this connection the American film “Hangover Part II”, and the reaction when Stu had sex with a woman played by Yasmin Lee, he did not realise was in reality a katoey.
In conclusion, I would like to state that every human being has the right to be treated with respect, be it a “normal” girl or a “ladyboy”. Anybody who treats a girl or a ladyboy here as a LBFM, a “little brown fucking machine”, a term first used by GI’s here on recreation during the war in Vietnam but still sometimes to be heard, shows that he has in reality no respect for himself either, because otherwise he would not “use” him / her.
No man is forced in Bangkok to enter True Obsessions or Check-In Bar and to barfine there one of their often quite beautiful ladyboys; if you do not like them just leave them alone and finally, might there not be a certain suppressed wish if you say or write “I hate them?”