Monkey Abroad

A blog about the life abroad. Asian culture and cuisine. Videos, stories, photos, advice, teaching ESL.

Ladyboys

Why Are There so Many Ladyboys in Thailand?

| 23 Comments

In Thailand, ladyboys are all over the place. Thai people call them kathoeys. Their big feet, low voices and adam’s apples are usually a dead giveaway. But some are better disguised than others. Cosmetic surgery today makes it feasible to shave off that adam’s apple and pack on a pair of silicone c-cups. Apply some makeup and POOF! a man becomes a woman. Or something like that. So why does Thailand produce so many ladyboys?

In homophobic America, transexuals are vulnerable to a gauntlet of criticism from strangers and relatives alike. But in Thailand, gender identity is viewed far differently than that of western countries. Thai culture not only tolerates the ambiguous gender identity of the ‘third sex,’ but seems to encourage it.

One university in Bangkok, Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, is at the academic forefront for gender identity tolerance. This school actively encourages ladyboys to participate in class dressed as women. I’m pretty sure this is the first educational institution in the world to allow ladyboys to attend class under the women’s university dress code.

I teach English to grades 9 and 10 at a Thai high school. It’s fairly obvious which of my rather effeminate students is well on their way to becoming a full-fledged ladyboy. And there’s no fear of prosecution in the classroom. In fact, ladyboys seem to be among the most popular students.

Neither parents nor teachers nor peers is overcome with the urge to interfere and divert a kathoey from being who they want to be. Whether they agree with another person’s gender identity or not, Thai people simply let it be.

Ladyboys

Sometimes I’m thrown off by the openness of this culture, especially at school. Walking to class on any given day, I’ll hear, “teacher, you’re beautiful!” from a (blatantly) homosexual student. Other times, it’s “I love you teacher!” My first response was an awkward cringe, but now I just shake my head and laugh. Like many of the challenges foreigners face in Thailand, it’s just a cultural thing.

I’m not gay, but I’ll take the side of Thai culture on this one. I think gay people and ladyboys should be able to do whatever they want without interference. If you identify yourself as a woman, then live like one. If you identify as a man, then by all means, live like one. It’s all good in Thailand. Maybe that’s the real reason why it’s called the “Land of Smiles.” Have an opinion about our society’s role on gender identity? Share in the comments section below.

Author: Kevin Cook

I post stories, videos, advice and photos about living abroad in Asia. I also eat bananas.

23 Comments

  1. The U.S. could use a heavy dose of tolerance. Good post.

  2. Did you take the picture above, because they do not look happy.

  3. My aunt (Debi Meyer) told me to read your blog. I subscribed and like to glance at it conveniently during my law school summer class, the most boring class ever Tx Civil Procedure. Your posts are always such a great distraction, definitely like I’m there. So kudos to your intimate style of writing. But so glad to hear Thailand is so relaxed socially on the issue. Completely agree. Also, only because I’m in law school….I think persecution…
    But seriously, great blog.

  4. Each time I read your blog, my desires to live abroad are heightened. Thanks for the diversion!

  5. Someone told me recently that there are two ways getting around the ‘National Service’ requirement here in the LOS, where all able-bodied young males have to sign up for a year or two in the armed forces or other form of public service, One is to buy your way out, the other is to be a kathoey. I immediately assumed that was part of the reason for their prevalence here. I’ve since been told otherwise, that ladyboys aren’t exempt. I don’t know which is the truth.

    • Interesting… I had no idea that ladyboys (might) have exemption from public service. If so, that prompts a whole new discussion: whether they’re kathoey by choice or by nature.

      • Intriguing! Interesting read Kevo!

      • First of all Thai T-Girls are not exempt from national service. They used to be deemed mentally ill, this diagnosis was recorded on their permanent record and viewed by prospective employers, the mentally ill remark often ruining their chances of employment in the broader scheme.
        Post Operative T-Girls are exempt however girls with only breast implants or breast development by hormone treatment are put on a reserve list, the initial reason for refusal from the armed forces being “misshapen chest”, quite absurd.
        They are women in their hearts and minds and should be respected as such. If an individual is a pretender trying to avoid the draft, that individual will have to appear on a number of occasions to prove she is living as a woman. There is a big difference between real T-Girls and pretenders I can assure you.
        Anyway, National Service is a barbaric practice and should be done away with.

        • Thanks for clarifying Jeff.

          • I do not mean to be terse however I know the practices here very well and they can be frustrating. I have a great interest in the well being of these facinating and often very talented women. I study geopolitics and am a political activist operating from my home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My activism does not include anything to do with Thailand’s political landscape however.

      • Kathoeys do indeed enjoy exemption from military service on ‘health grounds.’ I have never heard of anyone being kathoey in order to avoid service though, but perhaps there may be people who pretend to be kathoey long enough to get away with it.

  6. I am all for a tolerant society that let’s you live how you like. All social and cultural definitions are man made anyway, I am not sure how much they have to do with nature. I was surprised (being on my first trip to Thailand) to see ladyboys in women’s restrooms. But really couldn’t see anything fundamentally wrong with it.
    Love the clean design and interesting content on your blog. :)
    Cheers,
    Natasha

  7. Thailand is not ‘relaxed’ about Trans-Gender Women. Don’t think that everybody is walking around proud of how tolerant they are; this is naive. T-Girls in Thailand are regularly treated with disdain and are prevented often from taking jobs open to everyone else. There are exceptions based on individuals’ caring and perception however they are a minority.

  8. Coming from the US, I find Thailand to be much more accepting of LGBT people than the US and find that since I am gay, I felt more comfortable being around the whole country without being discriminate or judge by. I like the fact that Thai people tolerate transsexuals and let them live their life without giving them any criticism.

    • I agree with you Alex. Thailand is more tolerant of the gay/transgender community than the USA. While other commenters like Jeff have a good point (not all ladyboys in Thailand are treated equally), Thailand embraces the third sex more than most countries.

  9. Hi Jeff – I traveled around Thailand in the mid 1980′s – I was based in Seoul, Korea for 3 years and traveled to many nearby Asian countries. Your descriptions of your life now sounds like not much has changed in Thailand since I was there, how wonderful! In a world where so many countries are rapidly transforming – and westernizing :( – it sounds like Thailand is retaining its essence and is withstanding the ravages of fast economic development. It makes me want to take my 20 year old daughter and spend a summer there before she transfers from the J.C. she now attends to complete her 4 year in Oregon. Do you have any recommendations for towns or ‘summer stays?’ in the smaller northern Thai towns?

    Kimberley

  10. It is well-known that CHILDREN are turned into transsexuals for the deviant international sex trade. And THAT is the sole reason there are more than the average number of transexuals in Thailand. Otherwise, they would not be able to afford the surgery paid for by sick pimps – or, they may have grown up to become healthy happy gay or straight males that preferred their own anatomy. They had no say – they were little children. Learn about it – it is sick. Don’t be naive – follow the money.

  11. They approach it with respect and tolerance…..not hard is it

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