If you do free association with the word ‘Thailand’ with a group pf people the word ‘ladyboy’ will quickly appear. It is inevitable, and should be some type of law like Godwin’s Law (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_Law). Ladyboys form the butt of many a joke; as in Hangover 2 there has been many a ‘farang’ who has unwittingly had sex with a ‘ladyboy’:
As Stew asks in the movie, ‘How’s that work?’
I won’t repeat what the ladyboy said in the movie, but the question is relevant. Why are there so many ladyboys in Thailand? There remains a lot of uncertainty about this. It seems the humour gets in the way of getting a decent answer to this question.
In the West there is a strong moral consensus that not only recognises the transgender community but also acknowledges they have the same rights as homosexuals and heterosexuals. There is not the same moral consensus in Thailand.
Here is surely part of the answer. Although new generations of Thais, especially urban Thais are challenging prejudice towards people who are not heterosexual, the prevailing belief is that being ‘gay’ is morally bad.
It is hard outside of certain sections of Bangkok to be openly gay. You can be ‘camp’ but not gay.
The way round this problem in Thailand appears to be a strange compromise. If you want to sleep with men then you can simply become a ‘woman’ to do this. Of course women can have sexual relations with men, even it seems transgender women.
For many it is a sham distinction. For Stew and others it is false advertising – you think you are getting a woman, and you get a man in the process of becoming a woman.
From a gay man’s perspective this seems very unfair. Lots of men are happy to be gay but aren’t happy to wear heels and tight skirts. Why should they? Moreover, for straight men for whom crossdressing is enjoyable face another set of practical problems. They presumably can’t go out without being presumed to be gay and on the lookout for straight men to prey upon.
The confusion leads to heterosexual males (especially it seems foreigners) sleeping with other men. It must also convince Thai men who are repressed homosexuals that they are in fact ‘normal’ red-blooded heterosexuals because they sleep with a ‘woman’, albeit a transgender one.
It would be curious to see what would happen with a sea change in attitudes in Thailand. Supposing being gay became tolerated, would we see a massive reduction in the number of ladyboys in Thailand? Or is the tourist industry so invested in the whole ladyboy scene that many gay men would continue to be ladyboys just for the financial rewards?
The subject is very confusing. It is talked about endlessly by Thais as well as non-Thais. However, what are often overlooked in such conversations are the rights of the transgender community in Thailand. They surely want acceptance not a starring role in a freak show.
The photo above is taken during the preparations for the Buri Rasa New Year Eve Party in Koh Phangan. The men are straight and not ladyboys. They are dressing like ladyboys for the entertainment of the luxury hotel’s guests.