Why Are There So Many Lady Boys in Thailand?

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai, extravagant and flamboyant ladies are seen strutting down the street and through night markets. However, even though they are ladies, they are not women. As you will hear often in Thailand, they are “Lady Boys.”  What is a Lady Boy?

A Lady Boy is a transgendered person who is born male, but lives as a female. Some have had gender-reassignment surgery (hormone therapy, reconstructed female sex organs, breast implants, facial surgery). Others have some cosmetic surgery to make themselves look female, but retain their male organs. And others simply dress as women with no medical enhancements.  But it doesn’t stop there.

What divas they are. They know how to move. And dance. I find them fascinating. The best part of my experience at the Lady Boy cabaret was getting to meet them afterwards! Not one photo could be taken without them posing the most dramatic and diva pose imaginable. As we were showering them with compliments of their performance, they were really sweet and genuinely appreciative. As I sat in the crowd and watched their many dance numbers, my mind was blown by a) how much they looked like women, b) their boobs, and c) how well they could dance and perform. You could also tell they loved the attention – they know they are good performers. It also didn’t hurt that we collectively gave them a whopping tip to share between themselves.

So why exactly are there so many Lady Boys seen when visiting Thailand?

Thai men naturally have feminine features

Because of the soft and feminine features that the men of Thailand naturally possess, a life as a Lady Boy may  be inadvertently within close reach.

Thailand has the best plastic surgeons on the world

Thailand is world renowned for having the best and most famous plastic surgeries. In this case, male-to-female surgeries for Thai men are easily accessible, and for a price cut in half compared to North America.

Thai Buddhist beliefs are not compromised by homosexuality in any way

If North America was as accepting and supportive of Lady Boys as they are in Southeast Asia, we would see them almost as much as we can in Thailand. But North America is nowhere remotely close to sharing the same views. Buddhism in Southeast Asia supports acceptance, and there is very minimal judgment towards how Lady Boys live their life. The concept of “karma” allow Thai people generally to be more accepting of differences in others. In homophobic North America, transsexuals are vulnerable to a plethora of criticism from strangers and relatives alike. But in Thailand, gender identity is viewed far differently than that of Western countries. Thai culture not only tolerates the ambiguous gender identity of the “third sex,” but seems to encourage it.

Despite being accepted widely in their culture, there are still many professional and social restrictions that a Lady Boy will face. For instance, they are not allowed to be teachers, nurses, or any position within the social system of society. They are separated from their families, seen as low class and most work in low paying jobs in the major cities. They are also not able to officially change their sex on birth certificates or passports. In a way, they are restricted to this world of theirs, where they must always live, breathe, and perform as a Lady Boy. It isn’t something that can be turned on and off from day to night, like a hobby or side interest. It is a way of life.

19 thoughts on “Why Are There So Many Lady Boys in Thailand?

  1. Fascinating. What a difference culture makes in allowing people to be who they are. The restrictions are also quite interesting.

    I also really enjoyed your post about the cooking class. A perfect way to get a true “taste” of the food and preparation. The quantity of fresh food such as meat, seafood, and produce in many other countries puts the over processed US to shame, Markets here in Mexico are similar, and sometimes I wonder, “Who can possible eat all this food?” I hope you continue cooking at home, it’s healthy and fun!

    • Thanks, Marilyn! I agree with you completely in regards to how meat is prepared/processed in North American in comparison. I did whip up my own pad thai on Friday night – hoping it will be one recipe of many!

  2. Wow those are such great photos Ali!!
    This subject is really interesting and I read about the Kathoeys after coming home , but I just don’t understand if they are really accepted in Buddhism and everything, why can’t they do all kind of jobs? But well, I hope this will change in the future. In Brasil the first teacher transgender just happend last year, so I hope it will change soon. :)

  3. I’m curious about the contraction you mention. You first state that “there is very minimal judgment… generally to be more accepting of differences…” yet in the next paragraph describe what I perceive as pretty severe judgment – professional and social restrictions, separation from families, and viewed as a lower class. In other words – accepted as long as they are *separate.*

      • Hi Kevin! Yes, as I stated, despite the wide prevalence of simply being accepted compared to North America, there are still many restrictions that remain they must face.

        In comparison to North America however, the difference of acceptance, in my opinion, is very great. How they are viewed in Thailand is still far more progressive then back home.

        There is definitely this interesting juxtaposition you mention: “accepted, though separate.” I suppose this ranges in varying degrees. Where I am from, a nightly Lady Boy cabaret show that is supported and encouraged would just never happen (anytime soon).

        There’s that difference between being accepted as a “Lady Boy” vs. being accepted by family as a son, a daughter, or by society as a teacher, a nurse, etc.

        Thanks very much for sharing your comment!

  4. When I had a few days’ wait in Thailand last year, I would walk down and play pool with the lady boys. At first they would be super sultry, trying to get me to take them home, but after they realized I wasn’t going to, they wouldn’t get mad or bored, they’d just relax and we’d have a good time playing pool in the warm air. Good people.

  5. This is trending in Bangkok. Every second soi, you will see it. Some of the most important thing that fascinate everyone is the natural beauty of lady boys is far more fair then the womens. Its spoken by all. Even Thai Women says same. So its something not just surgery but the look is God Gift to Thai Lady boys.

    • So fascinating! Your comment elaborates my first point: Thai men naturally have feminine features. Like you say, it isn’t just surgery, a lot of it is natural.

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