Monday, December 28, 2015

Not Your Usual Fair Lady.

She's a better looking woman as a man than I am as a woman!
(Photo by Andyindia. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
If there's one word that grabbed a lot of attention in the US this year, it would be *transgender*.   There were plenty of articles and even a TV show focused on transgender individuals and the struggles they go through as they evolve into what has been labeled as their *true self*.  
Of course, the transgender community was handed its most celebrated member when the Olympic athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner transitioned to her true self - Caitlyn Jenner.  She came out on in a big way, introducing herself on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair.  She even appeared in her own reality show on E! TV docu-series called "I am Cait".

While the transgender community in the US continues to fight to be accepted by US society, transgender individuals have long existed in Thai society.

Kathoey (also spelled katoey) or *ladyboy* is a Thai term that refers to a male who is so feminine, on every level, that it becomes almost impossible to differentiate him from a person who was born a girl.  Transgender women, transvestites and cross dressers fall under this category which many Thai people feel should be a third gender.

Many ladyboys dress as women and undergo medical procedures to fully transition from male to female.  This includes breast augmentation, hormones, and Adam's apple reductions. Others may wear makeup and use feminine pronouns, but dress as men, and are closer to the Western category of effeminate gay man than transgender.

The ladyboys that are the transgender women so readily pass for women that you won't know them to be male and their body language does not give them away either.  Their beauty often makes them the object of envy of *real* girls.  I have to admit, I've seen enough photos and even a couple of videos on YouTube and I am stunned by just how gorgeous the ladyboys can be - I can understand of the *real* girls.  There's even a beauty pageant for ladyboys called "Miss Tiffany's Universe".  The contestants look so better than many a Miss USA contestant I've seen!

In Thailand, ladyboys are well integrated into Thai life.  Several popular Thai models, singers and movie stars are kathoeys, and Thai newspapers often print photos of the winners of female and kathoey beauty contests side by side. The phenomenon is not restricted to urban areas; there are kathoeys in most villages, and kathoey beauty contests are commonly held as part of local fairs.

However, while ladyboys have long existed in Thai society, it does not mean that they do not face social and legal impediments.  For example, families, especially fathers, are often very disappointed when a son becomes a ladyboy.  Legal recognition of kathoeys and transgender individuals is non-existent in Thailand.  Even if a transgender individual has genital reassignment surgery, they are not allowed to change their legal sex and should they commit a crime that lands them in prison, they would have to stay in a prison according to what their gender was at birth.  Discrimination in employment also remains rampant.

Rose.  Thai lady boy or Thai lady girl?
(Photo from AsianTown.NET)
Ladyboys work predominantly in occupations that would be typically categorized as female occupations e.g., as models, in shops, restaurants, and beauty salons.  But there's a high proportion of ladyboys also working in entertainment - as actresses, as dancers in caberets and as sex workers. 

So how can you tell a lady boy from a *real girl*?  These are supposedly some clues.

Too Tall:
Generally Thai girls are short and most ladyboys, being male, are taller than the average Thai girl.

The Dress Code:
Ladyboys typically dress a lot sexier than most girls. Add a generous amount of make up, feathers and glitter and you get a girl that has become so feminine and flamboyant that things start to get suspicious.

Too Feminine:
Ladyboys wear too much make up.  Oh....and they may over enthusiastically flick their hair back.  Keep your eyes out for anyone who looks like they live on a fashion catwalk.

Overacts and Overreacts...a lot:
Ladyboy wants to be the Diva!

Big, Really Big Boobs:
Asian girls are notoriously flat chested so big boobs that are often provocatively displayed is a good indicator.  A ladyboy will not hesitate to invite you to check *how real they feel*.  Squeeze the cantaloupe.

No Bra!
Thai women are not about to go outside the house without a bra on.....unless they are a ladyboy.  

The Voice:
In the majority of the cases, voices are still what gives many katoeys away. The pitch might be higher than the typical man's voice but it somehow sounds unnatural.

Adam's Apple:
This is a tricky one as Adam's Apples can be surgically removed, but if she has one, chances are she's not a she, she's a he.

The Elbows:
Elbows?? Supposedly men's elbows are more square than a woman's.  I'm surprised some Thai doctor hasn't figured out how to shave down the man's elbow to make it more *girl like*.

I'm sure we'll cross paths with a lady boy or two and I'm sure we'll wonder if he's a he or if he's a she but it'll be far easier to just go to a cabaret show and watch them strut their stuff.  We only have 3 nights in Bangkok and I've proposed, to my two travel partners, that we see a cabaret show.  I've found four venues that offer what look to be good performances and this being Thailand, prices are very reasonable. 

Calypso
Alcazar
Mambo
Playhouse

I have no idea how my travel partners will respond to my suggestion of a cabaret but I think they're open minded enough to say yes.