Thailand is famous for it’s beautiful Lady Boys or ‘Kathoey’ (pronounced: Kat-oo-ee), or transgender gay men. This is so common in Thailand, compared to other countries, that in fact Thai’s see them as a third gender category, and there is even talk of introducing this into the Thai passport system.
I have always thought I would know the difference, and whilst with some of them, you have a reasonably good idea, it is scary that with many-I would have had no idea at all!
In our last week there, I stayed in my partner’s crew hotel which is based in the very tacky Patong area of Phuket. This neon city is entirely built to cater to tourists, and is not the sort of place I would chose to stay in if I were paying for accommodation. That said, no visit to Phuket would be complete without a visit to take in the crazy atmosphere of Bangla Road with it’s Go-go bars, ‘ping-pong bars and shows’, clubs, noise and neon madness of the place. The surrounding streets are lined with boutiques that sell fake designer clothing, handbags, electronic goods, etc.
There were also lots of interesting food stalls around. I adore Thai food. I saw these deep fried chicken feet at one stall which looked very odd. I had just eaten, or I think I would have tried one-though I’ve heard this is not the best way to eat them, as it makes them too chewy.
We got a babysitter and decided to go to watch a Lady boy Show. There were two, but my uncle recommended Simon cabaret. He suggested getting the VIP tickets, but not in the first 2 rows. This was good advice for us-the men in the first two rows were frequently picked on by the lady boys and drag queens to use as comedy props for their performances.
Some of the dancers and performers were obviously male, and were really ‘dragged’ up for comedy value, others were so beautiful that my partner insisted that the show MUST be a mix of men and women… It was not. They are ALL transgender men. The show was good, I’ve seen better, but it’s obviously all about wowing you with their constructed femininity.
After the show, the dancers line the street outside and pose for pictures with anyone who wants one, though they will charge you for the privilege, and some of them were quite aggressive, trying to jump into pictures and charge you for the privilege. It’s quite a head-screw seeing these beautiful lady boys, knowing that they are not quite what they appear to be…
Afterwards, we wandered back to our hotel past go-go bars with women/ladyboys (I couldn’t be sure which any more by then) pole dancing at the entrance of the bars to entice tourists in from their walk up Bangla Road, and were persuaded into a so-called ping-pong show! These X-rated shows tend to be offered free to tourists to attract them in through the doors. the bars make their money by selling massively priced drinks.
We didn’t stay long, but long enough for me to realise that there is nothing sexy about the shows-it is pure comedy, and very seedy and tacky, though you do have to wonder how these women learn to perform their ‘tricks’… I saw one woman blow out candles on a cake through a straw, she then went on to insert a kids bicycle trumpet which she proceeded to honk, and then she ‘smoked’ about 4 cigarettes simultaneously, literally dragging on them, so that they burned orange. I had no idea that a woman could do that with her genitals! That was really enough for me, and I wasn’t particularly interested in waiting to watch the ping-pong finale! Honestly, it was funny to a point, more because it’s such a shock to us as foreigners… After a while though, the initial shock factor wears off, and you become a bit de-sensitised to the humour value and although it is still mildly intriguing and moderately amusing to wonder how the woman will humiliate herself for you next, it wasn’t enough to hold our attention or justify the insane cost of the bar bill. Box ticked-lets get outa here!
That was our one and only night in Patong. It made me feel quite grossed-out looking at the prostitute bars. It’s very ‘in-your-face’. In a lot of the bars, the prostitutes wear matching outfits so that the girls can be easily identified and the bar allow them to work as long as they can get the punters to buy lots of drinks. the typical view is to see lots of paunchy, fat, balding, greasy, older white men, surrounded by very young Thai girls, and lady boys. I think what is worst about seeing it is knowing that it is extremely doubtful these girls and lady boys can enjoy their work with these slime balls. A very high percentage of the sex trade workers also end up with HIV and other nasty STDs-so what happens in Thailand doesn’t always stay in Thailand-regardless of what they believe!
I spoke to my uncle about it, and he explained that in Thailand, the women tend to get married young, and most are divorced with children by their early 20s, as the men ‘trade them in for a younger model’. It is normal in Thailand for children to be raised by their grandmother, and the parents go to work, often living away from their children completely. Those who have decent language skills tend to get work in hotels or restaurants as waitresses, so that they can send money home to their mothers who are raising their children. Those who don’t have an education or language skills often turn to prostitution because they don’t have other skills that translate to work within the lucrative tourist industry.
So… Have you got a reaction to this? Do you think you would be able to tell the difference between a woman and a lady boy? Are you shocked, excited or disgusted by any of it? I’m intrigued to know… Leave a comment at the bottom of this page:
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