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.