Interview: CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS
This interview appeared in the Stickman Weekly column of 16 May, 2004. Captain Courageous is the webmaster of a very popular ladyboy website.
Tell me a little bit about your website. How long it's been running, what made you start it up etc.
I am a journalist and have been for most of my working life. I have worked as a foreign correspondent, as a travel writer, as a broadcaster, and also as a photojournalist. Ever since I first handled a camera, when I was about 12 years old, I had wanted to take photos of naked girls. I didn't know anything about ladyboys at that time! It was only the coming of digital photography that got me into nude photography. I have liked ladyboys for donkey's years, ever since my first visit to this part of the world, when I went to Singapore way back in 1980. I was taken to Bugis Street, a very famous night market. It was my first night on my first trip. I was jetlagged, drunk and totally disoriented, and that was probably the best light in which to see Bugis Street. The market and all the little restaurant tables were packed with people. Then around midnight all of these transvestites came out of the shadows and moved amongst the tables. I had the kind of feeling you get when you are an adolescent and you start noticing girls for the first time: I was breathless at the sight of them. I didn't know what they were, didn't know what was underneath the clothes. As an experiment I took one back to a short-time hotel and that changed my life! I kept quiet about it all at the time.
You'd have to, wouldn't you?!
I made one comment about it in my local pub back in London and the hostile reaction I got convinced me to keep my mouth shut in future because no-one was ever going to understand. The funny thing is that the people who like ladyboys are usually regular people, like me. I get emails asking if liking ladyboys means you are gay. No, it doesn't. I have no attraction to masculinity at all. I love women and I love ladyboys. They really are like the third sex. When you go with a ladyboy it is not like being with a guy. You're with a girl who has a dick, and the rule book goes out the window.
When the internet came along in the mid '90s I immediately set off surfing for pictures of ladyboys. There was very little around back then in 96 and 97, a long time ago, right.
Yep, it is in this modern world. Did you get any idea then to do the site?
I found one site that had Thai ladyboys but the pictures were so bad. The photographers
were just going into a short time hotel room with a ladyboy, a 35 mm camera and a flash, and firing away. The pictures made the ladyboys look cheap and ugly. The pictures were just very, very bad!
I hadn't photographed a nude person ever since first holding a camera but I thought, I can do better than that, so I went out and bought myself what was then the new Sony Cybershot, delivering 3 million pixels with a beautiful big Carl Zeiss lens. Over the course of a couple of weeks I rounded up a few ladyboy friends and photographed them in
my apartment, and in a short time hotel. I made sure to use plenty of natural light to get really good skin tones. When I had five sets I emailed the owner of this particular site and asked if he would be interested in buying them. He was on the phone half an hour later and was very interested! He bought them and said that whatever else you can do I will take them! It worked like that for two years or more. I would shoot them and he would buy them, sight unseen in the end. It developed into a good working relationship. And it changed the appearance of the site.
How did you come up with the name Captain Outrageous?
In my schooldays my nickname was Captain. I was going to call myself The Captain, which sounded pretty cool. But when I was going through my first pictures I kept catching myself saying, "that's outrageous!" That's how the idea of Captain Outrageous came about. Much later, when I Googled my name, I found that is also Ted Turner's nickname. So, if you're getting any odd emails these days, Ted, sorry about that!
It was funny doing my first photo shoots. I was in a relationship at that time with a ladyboy named Jeab. She was my very first shoot. I had seen her undressed many times but when I saw her in front of the camera, pulling her pants down and acting a real tease, it was so erotic, so totally absorbing and so different through the lens.
When did the site as it is now begin?
At the beginning of 2003. I had started taking photographs at the beginning of 2000, and I ended up working for two other sites. I enjoyed it immensely and I had a great respect for the site owners. But I saw that they were making a lot of money and I was making almost nothing once I had paid my model fees. And it was taking up a lot of my time: I was still a working journalist. I felt I would either have to stop doing this, or start my own site, because if you are working for someone else you're never going to make much. The demand for ladyboy pictures is growing at a fantastic rate, and I felt that having my own site was viable. So I left to go out on my own.
How much do you pay the models for a photographic session?
I would prefer to keep that under my hat, because this is a competitive business. But I pay them a standard fee that I know is a very fair one, and I pay for their taxis, and I pay a finder's fee if a friend has referred them to me. Fixing the fee in your own mind allows you to know just how much the site will cost each month. I would never try and bargain a fee down… I have a good deal of respect for the models I photograph, and I want them to enjoy the shoot. I try to get them laughing and hope that they have a good time, partly because it is fun for both of us, and partly of course because it all comes through in the photographs. My approach works, because I have a continuous procession of models coming to me. And they come from everywhere: the schools, universities, cabaret shows, beauty salons, mainstream business, and of course the bars.
What's the market like for these types of websites, both here in Bangkok and around the world?
There are now a lot of websites based on ladyboys or shemales.
What's the difference between ladyboys and shemales?
In the US they are called shemales and in Thailand ladyboys. The polite Thai term, incidentally, is "sow praphet song", which means "second type of woman". There are
probably about half a dozen sites specialising in Thai or Asian ladyboys. I have no idea how many there are in America but it is a lot. But many of those sites are not producing original content. Like a lot of things on the internet, there aren't that many original content providers. A lot of the American websites feature photographs that are used under license, bought, recycled, or just plain stolen. Having a good, original site is where you have a competitive edge. I take all of my own pictures. As to the market, Asian ladyboys are a niche within a niche. As with the girlie sites, many people have a real preference for Asians, while others are into Westerners.
Are these sessions conducted in a dingy short time room in the PB Hotel or do you take them to a flash studio and get it all done under proper lighting?
The single most difficult aspect of all this is finding a good location to shoot. I prefer natural light, because under the right conditions it will give the most beautiful skin tones. But then you have to think of things like timing the shoot for the right time of day, the angle that the sun is coming into the room, the amount of diffused light as opposed to direct light, the colour of the walls and the floor and the furniture. Like yesterday afternoon. I had a shoot all lined up, and then the rain clouds blow up and everything turns into total crap. I use a couple of apartments and a couple of hotel rooms on a regular basis, but you can become predictable if you use the same settings. In Bangkok, finding a hotel room is difficult because they all have tinted glass, and that will drain away the flesh tones. Now that the site is established I'm in the process of getting a studio. And I've got some big studio lights now: no choice, really. It will give me much more flexibility.
Do you know many of the other players in the industry?
A few of them. Three or four of the site owners. There are the two guys I used to
work for but they were very unhappy with me when I left them: a great pity, I lost a couple of good friends there.
What sort of equipment do you use?
The Canon EOS 10D with an L series 24-70mm lens. I use a macro for the dirty close ups. The Sony was very slow to use but the Canon really allows me to move around. One thing which I try and get on every session, but which is very difficult, is the spurt shots. For each set I follow a formula where the model strips off, or does a tease show, and then whacks off for the camera. I try and catch them spurting up in the air. Some of them can't because they have been on hormones and there is just a trickle, but with the best performers you can get a really great shot. If you're fast enough! The Canon is very good at capturing this. And I like dressing them up. The really young looking ones can look great in school uniform, and in fact many of my student models actually do cut classes and turn up wearing their own uniform. Then they peel off, shoot a load for the camera, get dressed, and go back to school. They cum and they go! Others can look great in sheer pantyhose, especially if they have a big dick. Transparent nighties, yes, again, much depends on the model. And I've recently started a series of ladyboy lesbian sets, where I have two ladyboys going at it with each other. That's not always easy: ladyboys are not into other ladyboys, they are into guys. So you have to mix and match your two models, otherwise you get a set of pictures of two limp ladyboys rolling around giggling.
Do you have sex with your models?
Yes! There is always some sex play during a shoot: you can't help it. But I never let it reach a situation where I toss the camera over my shoulder and leap on the model. I'd never get any sets finished if I did that. When I really like someone I invite her back later. I meet some great ladyboys that way!
Some photographers make a point of sticking their own dick into the pictures. I never do that. Some people like to see that kind of shot. I don't. The last thing I want in my fantasy is someone else's hairy beer belly.
Who are your membership? They and even you are a bunch of right perverts, yeah?
I'm very proud to accept the title! This is the great thing about being a pervert. You can do the most disgusting thing in the course of the afternoon, and then in the evening you can be having dinner with the most respectable people, and be sitting there thinking to yourself, "if only they knew what I had been doing a couple of hours ago they would think what a thoroughly disgusting git I am."
What about your members? Typical stereotype?
No, no typical types. Those who I have met are perfectly respectable people of all ages. About 50% of them are American, probably 20% from the UK, the same in Japan, a lot in Germany, the rest worldwide. Many of them contact me and say, "I've just discovered ladyboys through the internet, where can I meet them?" As I said earlier, the net is spreading the message. Some ladyboys give many non ladyboy interested people the hard come on.
It can make you think that they are desperate.
Very often they are. Many of them make a precarious living that way. At a certain time of the night along Sukhumvit you will be hassled. A lot of men pretend that they are being taken in by a female. But they know what is going on. Since I have been communicating with others, and since I have become so well known in the ladyboy community, I have learnt a lot about human nature and what people really want. No matter what they might pretend. The old barriers are breaking down and if you are with someone who looks and sounds and behaves like a beautiful woman, what's the difference really? Once you take away the masculine and feminine aspects of sex, if you reduce it to the pure act of sex, a level sensual playing field, then straight sex and gay sex are equally as enjoyable. I think a lot of people are coming to realise that. I love women and I have been married three times. Before my Bugis Street experience – and I was married at that time – I had never had a same-sex relationship and had never really fantasized about doing so. After Bugis Street it didn't change my attitude towards girls: I just felt that my sexual world had become a richer and more exciting place.
Do you shoot them in other countries or just in Thailand?
I haven't done so but that is only because I am here. I'd like to do some shooting in the Philippines and Indonesia and also look at Laos and Cambodia but I haven't done so yet because of practicalities. I am still a functioning journalist and I therefore have to ride two horses at the same time. But there will come a time, yes, and it's not that far away.
What about farang ladyboys?
I have never been with one. I just don't have the knowledge. I'd like to give it a try in terms of photography and many of them are extremely beautiful. The best ones seem to be in America, in California.
What are the legal ramifications of it all?
Pornography is illegal in Thailand but I'm photographing consenting adults for an agreed
fee and the pictures are being published in America, where my server is located. Pornography is legal there, within certain limits and as long as the subjects are of legal age. People can only view my site if they become members, by paying. So I don't see how this affects Thailand's legal system. But I wouldn't like to put it to test in a Thai court of law.
<Laugh> One site owner is a very good friend of mine. We often get together to swap notes. He told me of a recent trip he made upcountry. He booked a suite in the biggest hotel in town, set up his camera and his lights, phoned his ladyboy contacts to arrange several days of intensive shooting, rubbed his hands in glee, and went down to the lobby for a drink, only to find that the hotel was hosting a police convention. Fear and loathing in Udon Thani! I wet my trousers when he told me that one.
The site's profitable?
Yes, I'm happy to say that the teething problems were over quite quickly and the site is growing every month. But it's hard work. Running costs are high for a site like this and you can never take your eye off the ball. On the up side, you see the response to what you are doing immediately. I watch the daily live stats and see what works and what doesn't. Part of it is getting the name of the site out there. There is a tremendous growing interest from people in ladyboys. A decade ago most people had never heard of nor seen one. To promote, I put pictures on TGP sites <independent free access sites that post pictures with links back to the source pay sites>. When the site was first started a year and a half ago, there were only two TGP sites specialising in ladyboys. Now there are at least a dozen.
Not just some readers, but also me and some of my closest friends think that ladyboys are mentally unstable men who have butchered themselves in the worst possible way.
Are you talking about ladyboys, or about post-ops? Those who have had their dicks cut off, well that is something else entirely different.
What is different there? How many have had the chop?
There is an increasing number who go the full monty. They pump themselves full of hormones to a point where the dick ceases to become functional and becomes like a little spout. They develop a disgust for themselves that they are still male and they realise that they, as a ladyboy, have only have a very limited shelf life. The operation is very affordable, it is only about 100,000 – 120,000 baht. They go for the snip and then they can try and enter the mainstream as women. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I have no interest in post-ops myself. Can't even look too closely. I have tried having sex with them but I just can't do it. I feel like I am fucking someone's operation. The very thought of a doctor and a scalpel slicing along a penis and opening a hole in the groin. It makes me go cold. I just can't do it. I don't even like to look closely. If you look too closely, it looks like a bit of plumbing. There are a few sets on the site of post-ops but rather than looking like a vagina it looks like a cistern.
What happens to ladyboys when they pass their prime?
They tend to go back upcountry, if they haven't opted for the op. Many have saved money and will open up a business like a florist, a dress shop or a hairdresser. They have a good commercial grounding living the way they have, and shifting for themselves. Many ladyboys are actually young college kids who have a decent education, and ambitions. A lot go into the media business and there are many in the tourism business. I know many who work in the offices of major companies. A lot of ladyboys really do look and sound like women because they have been taking hormones since their mid teens and they can pass as female in an everyday working situation.
Have you ever been completely fooled?
Yes, but not in an unpleasant way!
Even now, I don't know why there are so many ladyboys in Thailand. I know of many kids who are making the decision at puberty. I know ladyboys in their teens now, who told me they decided when they were eight or nine years old. And they start taking female hormones when they are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. So even I, having known the Thai ladyboy scene for more than twenty years, find myself meeting ladyboys who would pass completely, in any society, as a beautiful girl. A female build, a female walk, a female voice, hormonal breasts.
A few years ago, I had a steamy affair with a ladyboy named Kwan. She was small, had a ponytail, wore a little tennis skirt with white socks and sneakers, and had a knock-knee'd Lolita style stance that turned me on something cruel. We would burn up the sheets. But we drifted apart, as happens, and I didn't see her for a year. Then early one evening I was walking up Silom Road, near Patpong, when a couple of young Thai guys got off a bus. They were obviously gay. One of them, a weedy looking little guy, came up to me and greeted me. At first I was blank, but then I realised. It was Kwan. She had reverted to being a male, and was working in a gay bar in Soi Twilight. He invited me to go along, but I never did. The sexual heat had totally gone.
Do you think the large number of ladyboys in Thailand could be due to acceptance?
It is partially acceptance. Thais seem to think it happens because of something they have done in a previous life. They are paying back the bad karma in a previous existence and everyone accepts it. Some of them come from broken homes. They see their father being unemployable, drunk, useless and violent, and they take their mother's side. They do not want to grow up as a Thai guy. A lot of Thais live very close together, and the impressionable youngster sees his mother, sisters and aunts forever making themselves look beautiful, with their long hair, makeup, perfume, and sexy clothes, and he realises this beats being your average Sombat in a pair of ripped jeans and rubber flip flops! The average Thai guy walking down the street is invisible, but everyone looks at a beautiful girl. The opportunities for a young Thai male from a poor to average background are dismal. But if you are a beautiful girl, you can always live well. It goes a bit beyond our comprehension that to do this you have to change your sex, but Thais don't appear to have this rigid attitude towards sex barriers. They haven't had the benefit of a good Christian upbringing to teach them all about sex and guilt. If you took a cross-section of the workers in the gay bars, I bet the average percentage of genuine gays there is not much above the national average. I also think that the possibility of doing the compulsory military service is a factor. The only way a Thai guy can avoid being registered for the draft is to demonstrate extreme effeminacy. I have on a few occasions forked up for a ladyboy I cared for to have a breast operation, to keep her out of the draft. The army isn't big on troops with tits.
Anything else you'd like to add?
A lot of people now come to Thailand specifically to meet ladyboys. It's a growth sector of tourism, and I'm doing my part! But I don't think I'll be getting a gong for it. Members ask me where they can meet ladyboys, and whether they can me meet me to talk. Often it's the first time they have spoken openly about it, and they are so nervous and they don't know what to do. They quickly find out just how gorgeous ladyboys can be. And how addictive. Sex with a ladyboy is a high-voltage experience. I would say that they all go away having had their lives changed. It is a life altering experience.