Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand’s Third Gender

Quite a while back Maverick House Publishers contacted us here at www.thai-blogs.com and asked whether we were interested in reviewing one of their books about ladyboys. Since that isn’t exactly Richard’s cup-of-tea, the task was with me. Just looking at the stats at thai-blogs the interest shown in this third gender is truly amazing. Three of the top-ten most viewed blogs here are about layboys with more than a hundred thousands individual hits between them, most of which have come via Google.

Ladyboys, The Secret World of Thailand’s Third Gender researched and written by Susan Aldous and Pornchai Sereemongkonpol features a collection of stories of ladyboys from all walks of life. That is comparison to another book review I done Male Bodies, Women’s Soles http://www.thai-blogs.com/index.php/2007/03/14/male_bodies_women_s_souls?blog=8
which only consisted of interviews with an assortment of university students. Not much of a variety altogether, and so, in comparison, this book wins hands down. What I’ve done below is give yous a brief summary of three of the ladyboys stories, with links to three more.

Mali, Go-Go Dancer

In the introduction, Susan & Pornchai write “You have our admiration, and with hearts full of love, we wish you all the best”. The first story however, may confuse some readers as Mali turns out (in my opinion anyway) to be a deceiving con artist.

Meaning jasmine, Mali, now 30 was brought up in poverty-stricken Isarn working as a buffalo herder. Fatherless and with a mother hundreds of miles away, Mali was raised by aunts and grandparents. Mali sensed her third gender ways very young and while at school hung around with ladyboy buddies and made cheerleader outfits from hay. Mali goes on to have her first sexual experience at the age of 15 and shortly after decides to quit the farm and catch a bus heading for the big city of Bangkok.

Mali got her first job working in the kitchen of a pub in Thonburi which put on ladyboy shows. Impressed, Mali would often sneak out and get a glimpse of their beauty. Mali soon hit it off with a waiter Mee who becomes the first person to satisfy her needs. Needing a bit more cash, Mali gets introduced to a Silom gay go-go bar and starts work there as a dancer. “When I began to become more female and grow my hair long, Mee lacked anymore interest. The clients too became less and less interested in this female-like gay” even though she still had a muscular build and manly face.

Besides putting on make-up, Mali begins hormone therapy and starts ‘taking them like candy’. Her chest grows quick. And it is then that she starts work as a go-go dancer in Patpong. It is there where Mali begins to explain in great detail how she and her fellow ladyboys con customers (who believe she is a real woman) by using surgical tape to seal their manhood underneath and wearing tight-fitting bikini bottoms. The customers have no idea that the dancers are actually endowed. She goes on to say that her pubic hair is also shaved in such a way to deceive customers and clients even more (seen through her bikini bottoms). Then, if she gets ‘off’ and taken to a hotel by a client, she goes out of the way to deceive them even more. Mali goes into explicit content which I won’t repeat here.

Mali goes on to say that she would never have sexual reassignment treatment and says that those ‘real’ ladyboys don’t hang around the ones who still have their manhood. Finally, she admits that she isn’t interested in foreign men as boyfriends, she prefers Thai men as a relationship is more than just about the sex.

(And that’s a guy? Calypso Cabaret, Bangkok)

Mimi, Fashion Columnist

After Mali, Mimi was a breath of fresh air. Born a Thai-Chinese, Mimi found out she was a gonna-be ladyboy by the age of 12 when classmates around her gave her the title ‘katoey’. She relates that her parents didn’t give a darned and gave her their initial understanding, a rare thing in Chinese culture due to the amount of family face involved. They did of course think it was just a passing stage. Mimi explains that even though ladyboys aren’t allowed to wear blouse and skirt to school, they bend the rules by wearing girly stuff such as pink watches and sticking Hello Kitty stuff on their bags. This was all part of being in the Fairy Gang. Mimi says that due to the ladyboy gang, none of them were ever bullied at school; a thing that would probably never happen in the West.

When Mimi didn’t stop fooling around at playing ladyboy it was then that her parents began getting serious about her behaviour, possibly bringing shame to her clan. Nevertheless, Mimi did bring face to the family when she excelled at school and secured a place in the Faculty of Arts at one of the Kingdom’s top universities. Being in the arts department Mimi had a whole bunch of ladyboy and gay classmates.

Interesting bit about one of her ladyboy buddies Noon who came from a Muslim family. She had gone through full genital reassignment surgery but her father still didn’t have a clue. Getting the support from her mother though (who even paid for the operation!) she fooled her father into thinking his daughter was a hippy with long hair who preferred baggy shirts to tight spaghetti tops.

After graduation, Mimi gets a job as a translator at a woman’s mag and her working life begins there. She does however, explain that being a cross-dressing ladyboy the workplace is still full of prejudice against transgenders and they often find it hard getting employment. As for a relationship, Mimi says “Against all odds, I still hope to meet a man who shall overlook my birth gender and care more about mutual understanding. I want him to take me as an individual”. She also goes on about the different types of ladyboy such as gay king and gay queen etc… She is currently saving for full sexual reassignment surgery.

Pui, Caberet Girl

Straight away, Pui claims “I don’t think of myself as a katoey, or even gay. They are just words other people use to identify me” and how about this for stirring a bit of controversy “In my opinion, gay and katoey are the same in the sense they are both attracted to men. What differentiates us is how we dress and present ourselves in public, which to me is superficial and therefore of little importance. I find labeling ridiculous, but if I had to choose between gay and katoey, I would choose katoey”.
Even though, Pui would label herself a ladyboy she has done nothing to make her body more feminine, never taken any hormones and never undergone any surgery.

Pui’s story is one of huge success. Born into a poor Islamic family in the south of Thailand, she has never cross-dressed in her village due to social stigma. Arriving in Bangkok at the age of 21, Pui enrolled at Ramkhamhaeng open University and got a job as a female impersonator at a club on Silom Soi 4. At the time, it was The place for gays, fashion designers, models and well-known celebrities. Her club was also the first joint in Thailand to offer entertainment of ladyboys impersonating the likes of Diana Ross and Shirley Bassey. Pui was best known however, for her role as Tina Turner and went on to win as overall winner on a TV show.

On arriving home in the south, Pui was terrified at the thought of confronting her dad whom she believed would be mad at her making a fool of the family on national TV. He was in fact pretty chuffed and was more interested in knowing how much prize money she had won. And it was in the hundreds of thousands. This she used to set up her very own cabaret team, and became even more famous.
To cut a long story, Pui finally joins Calypso Cabaret (presently located at the Asia Hotel in Bangkok) and goes into fine details about just how difficult and rigid it is to become a ladyboy cabaret dancer in Thailand. Very interesting indeed. 20 years later at the age of 49, Pui is still working at Calypso and is considered Calypso’s biggest sister. Besides performing, Pui is also judge of the auditions and trains successful candidates and explains that it often takes a year of training before an impersonator can finally get on the stage. Altogether, a very nice story.

(Super-friendly Nicky: The world’s first ladyboy air-hostess)

Sarah, Entrepreneur

No need to write her story, as I already have for thai-blogs. In fact, yours in name here was the first person to write her story in the English language. It’s here http://www.thai-blogs.com/index.php/2007/08/21/thailand_s_1st_real_ladyboy_2?blog=8″>
What a huge disappointment though, Sarah’s story she gives in the book varies so much to the original she claimed in Thai language (as in my blog) and constantly contradicts herself throughout and makes many mistakes with yearly events etc… I even contacted Pornchai the author about her story (I also asked him whether he had pinched the idea of interviewing her from my original blog!) and he too had noticed the inconsistency but felt overall, Sarah had given her all.

Nicky, Air-hostess (world’s very first and perhaps only one)

Off the subject of the book for a moment. With head held a little high I can proudly boast that I was the very first person to write-up Nicky’s story in the English language. And a great one it is; one that has gone international. Ranked as the 5th most read blog on the whole of thai-blogs here’s the very first story about her successful career move http://www.thai-blogs.com/index.php/2007/07/19/world_s_1st_ladyboy_air_hostess?blog=8″>

After interviewing Nicky once for an article that I was gonna submit for the Daily Xpress free newspaper, I was horrified a couple of days later to find an entire two page article about her in the Bangkok Post. That is an example of how popular her story had got. Yes, I gave up on the idea of submitting her story

Nong Toom, Beautiful Boxer

Nicky may be well-known but in terms of fame she is way behind Nong Toom, such a famous former Thai boxer that she even had a movie made about her life. Her story has been told a hundred times before so I’m not gonna tell it all over again here! Just Google for ‘Nong Toom Beautiful Boxer’.

Overall, Pornchai’s and Susan’s book is very decent. The only real disappointments I found were some of the ladyboys who sold their body; a lot of self-centered sensationalism, portraying themselves as the victim while bragging about how much money they made, and they often claimed a darned lot – more than what I earn (you don’t find out though, what they blow all their money on). Bad things they had done to customers and clients were excused by bad experiences they had once went through. Just too much self-pity.

Being bored of lady-of-the-night stories, I took much more pleasure in reading about ladyboys of proper decent professions. Altogether though, a book well-worth buying. Finally, apologies to Maverick for the delay in reviewing the book. My excuse there was that I knew it was gonna be a huge write-up!

12 responses to “Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand’s Third Gender

  1. Very good blog.Can you tell me where I can the book in Hatyai?I cant And I wont comment anything about ladyboy but I really want to read their part of the story.Good review and hope more are on the way.
    Tq.

  2. Hi Peenam,
    I am the publisher (Maverick House) and you can buy this book through Asia Books or order it from any good bookshop.
    Hope that helps,
    Jean

  3. Dear Jean(Maverick House)
    Tx for the info.I visited the website but it didnt tell me a store in Hatyai,Thailand.I cant purchase on line coz I dont have a credit card.Kindly let me know the bookstore in Hatyai that have this book.

  4. I had the chance to flipped through this book at the bookstore the other day. Very interesting read.

  5. dear o dear. The hiding the manhood thing is a tad frightening. Still, might be a plus for some farang, they just don’t know what they’re gonna find eh.

  6. Good ladyboys

  7. Thanks for the comments. As first though, this blog’s also getting quite few hits.
    Just wondering, as Ben mentioned, how many guys read the first story and thought – “Now i know why she said behaved like that in the room!”

  8. steve Jennings

    The good thing about the ladyboy culture is that it shows Thai’s to be very open and understanding of other cultures and peoples, thus the friendly way Thai’s welcome all to their shores.

  9. Hi Steve, just got back to your blogs on holiday in England. Not got round to internet yet at home (Wichianburi).

    Before I moved to Thailand I thought ladyboys only worked in the sex or entertainment industry. However my doctor is a ladyboy. I am now a favourite patient after I told my wife I thought he was a woman. She told her cousin who works at the clinic, and the cousin told the doctor, adding the word “beautiful” that I certainly did not use.

  10. what the author fails to get through is extreme poverty of thailand and few gainable employment opportunities that drive men to become ladyboys.idea is to prey on western gay men for cash which thai government indifference that pervades this attitude.western men with porn influencing their attitude are fodder for this attitude which is criminal to get ahead in life through illegitmate means.westerners please understand money behind this lifestyle not born gay attitude that is in west

  11. i love thai ladyboy because they are very friendly

  12. We have this book and one or two others similar at our Pattaya Bookshop/book exchange, they are very popular of course here in Pattaya where many Ladyboys ply their trade.