When looking for an exotic vacation, one of the countries that comes to mind most often is Thailand. This Asian country has a lot to offer for its guests: its abundance of magnificent temples with gigantic statues of the Buddha, the natural resources available for everyone to explore, their jaw-dropping beaches, famous cuisine and street food, and its reputation as a shopping haven for bargain lovers, among so many others.
But just like any other country, Thailand also has a side that others might consider seedy. Researching or reading about the country, there’s a huge chance you might encounter the word “kathoey”, which they use to refer to transgenders, better known as “ladyboys”. Thailand’s ladyboys are actually famous all over the world and many travelers go to Thailand specifically to meet them.
Ladyboys have been around in Thailand for a long time and it’s quite a bit surprising that they continue to be so prevalent, despite the negative stigma associated with them. In fact, they are actually considered as part of the Thai culture. There are so many reasons why ladyboys continue to thrive, and here are some of them:
1: Thailand is much more open and accepting when it comes to matters involving LGBTs.
Unlike other countries, those belonging to the LGBT community in Thailand experience so much freedom because their society is much more tolerant. This is in contrast to Muslim countries where being a member of the third sex is a punishable offense, being one in Thailand doesn’t matter at all. Because they are free to express themselves, they are much more visible to everyone else, or as they say, they are “out and proud”. Of course, there are still a few locals who frown upon the LGBTs but they are mostly confined to the rural areas.
2: Gender reassignment surgeries and other similar procedures are rampant in Thailand.
As well as holiday tourism, Thailand is also known for its medical tourism, particularly those that revolve around gender reassignment. Thai people have easy access to these procedures so many Thai trans-men choose to undergo them and become full ladyboys instead of just dressing up as women. Accessibility and a relatively low cost makes it easy for men to become ladyboys so many take advantage of this.
3: Buddhists believe that ladyboys become so as a result of sins committed in their past lives.
Different religions have different views when it comes to matters involving homosexuality. Fortunately for the ladyboys, Buddhism, the dominant religion in Thailand, does not really frown upon them. They are considered the “third sex” in Buddhism and that they become so not out of choice, but because of past transgressions. This means that they have this belief that ladyboys should be pitied because it was not their conscious will to be ladyboys but they became so due to karma.
4: Ladyboys have become a tourist draw for Thailand.
Many foreigners see ladyboys as something exotic and through sheer curiosity they travel to Thailand to see for themselves what the fuss is about. Some of them seek ladyboys to get to know more about them and their characteristics and eventually make connections with them, some conduct studies and other research activities about them, and of course, there are some who seek ladyboys for other purposes.
5: Demand for encounters with ladyboys are still high.
Prostitution is tolerated in Thailand and it is an open secret that many foreigners travel to Thailand just to have sexual encounters with the locals, especially the famous ladyboys. The demand for such encounters has no signs of letting up, so many ladyboys make a career as prostitutes. Being a prostitute is mostly seen to be a job worthy of being pitied instead of something to be frowned upon so locals are tolerant of them and this is one of the main reasons why the trade continues to flourish in Thailand.
6: Their careers revolve around their identities as ladyboys.
Many of these ladyboys make a living out of being ladyboys. However, it should be noted that not all ladyboys are prostitutes; many ladyboys actually have other careers. In fact, Thailand has some famous artists and even politicians who are ladyboys themselves. There are also establishments who are focused on providing entertainment to guests that are ladyboy-oriented. In fact, cabaret shows involving ladyboys are such a big hit in tourist areas that some even require guests to book in advance.
7: Being a ladyboy is indirectly promoted.
Ladyboys are so prevalent that its not a surprise that there are contests and competitions involving them. The beauty contest involving ladyboys, known as the Miss Tiffany’s Universe, is so famous that many ladyboys aspire to win the crown someday. In fact, the competition is broadcast live on national TV and everyone can watch it. Aside from the beauty pageant, the boxing competitions involving ladyboys are also a crowd-drawer, to the extent that an award-wining film about a ladyboy boxer was produced and gained recognition in various international festivals.
These points demonstrate how an outsider’s point of view is vastly different from that of the local’s when ladyboys are involved. Many have this idea that ladyboys are merely sex workers and have a negative stereotype and while the former may be true, the latter is definitely far from reality. Ladyboys are no different from any other person; they just choose to live their lives the way they see fit by openly defying gender stereotypes. Fortunately for them, Thailand is accepting of them.