Just recently, I was on a night out with a friend and her boyfriend, who were passing through Bangkok to say hi before heading off for some sun and sea on the islands.
As we sat outside a bar watching the world go by, a ladyboy, or kathoey as they are known in Thailand, walked by in 6-inch heels and a miniskirt. I joked with my friend’s boyfriend that if he was out here as a single guy she might have taken his fancy.
But to my surprise, he had no idea the attractive lady was in fact born a man, well, a transgender person, to be correct.
Needless to say, from that point onwards, I had a fun night teasing him every time his eyes diverted to what he thought was a beautiful woman.
Jokes Aside, What's the Deal With Thai Ladyboys?
We all have a joke like this now and again, but no disrespect is meant – and let's look at this seriously for a minute.
Ladyboys get a bad rap at times, particularly the ones we hear about robbing foreigners in Pattaya while on yaba. But as with any minority group of individuals committing crime, this doesn't represent the entire transgender community of Thailand.
The reality is that the majority are lovely people, and once you get to know a ladyboy the whole mystery thing and age-old jokes drop a way as you see the individual come to life.
For example, I have a ladyboy friend who I met at a language school I previously attended. She's a really lovely person, and quite beautiful too. My next door but one neighbour is a ladyboy. She works an office job and is by all means an average member of society. She's really friendly too and often speaks with my wife and daughter.
Ladyboys are a prominent feature of modern day Thai society, particularly here in Bangkok. Of course, when you first arrive from Europe and see so many ladyboys (comparably with back home), you can’t help but be a little fascinated as to “why Thailand and not other countries” (apparently the Philippines is a rival for the crown though).
But as one of my Thai friends pointed out: it isn’t that Thailand has a gender issue, it is more likely that westerners that want to be ladyboys feel too oppressed to do so, and that gay men are made to feel out of place when they display feminine tendencies.
That really is food for thought, and I have no doubt there is some truth in this.
Don't Get Your Thai Genders in a Twist!
At this point it's worth pointing out that ladyboys aren’t seen as gay men dressed as women in Thailand, nor are they transvestites as we might brand such persons in the West.
No, it runs a lot deeper than that. In fact, in Thailand you have 5 categories of gender to consider:
1. Straight man/woman
4. Tom boy – Girl that wants to be a boy, in mind feels like a boy, and is often seen with a very attractive straight female. It has become quite fashionable in BKK for a young woman to have a tom boy in tow.
5. Ladyboy – Man acts and feels like a woman but was born with the wrong bits and, over time, depending on his/her financial situation, will gravitate further towards being a woman with the help of surgery.
You often hear people say that the ladyboys of Thailand are all amazingly attractive. Of course this isn't the case, and like all genders, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
It's usually the case that the wealthier the family the more “woman-like” a ladyboy will look, because surgery and hormone medication is an expense that not every ladyboy can afford.
However, it is the case that some ladyboys are already blessed with effeminate mannerisms, soft features and a slight build, so should such a man grow long hair and wear make-up, a newbie to Thailand would naturally think he was a woman anyway.
Facing the Reality of Discrimination
Sadly, many ladyboys find it hard to get on in Thai society, especially if they are from humble beginnings. Thailand may seem liberal on the surface, but as with most public social commentary in Thai society, discrimination happens quietly, manifesting itself in stares, employment discrimination and such.
Everyone seems to enjoy the exuberance of a ladyboy friend – but many families wouldn’t be too chuffed if their son married a ladyboy. So while Thailand might seem very liberal and accepting on the surface, it's not always say behind closed doors.
In some cases, the lure of fast money to aid gender development, and perhaps a troubled upbringing plagued with parental and societal rejection, means a fair amount of ladyboys end up as prostitutes, fulfilling a seemingly popular Western male fantasy. A walk down the infamous Soi Nana on any given night of the week confirms this trend.
BUT! There are plenty of wonderful, kind, fully-accepting Thai people who far outnumber those who aren't, and it's for this reason that Thai ladyboys are generally able to integrate and express themselves as they please in Thai society.
My wife told me about the ladyboy in her group at school, and how from a very young age she shared the female toilet with the other girls and was always seen as and treated as a girl. It seems her gang embraced having a ladyboy in the group as a positive addition.
How to Spot a Thai Ladyboy
Having been in Thailand for many years now, I have developed an efficiently trained eye when it comes to spotting ladyboys. It is no secret that some ladyboys can rival the looks of the most attractive of women, but, if you know what you are looking for, you can tell.
For many men, however, a ladyboy is exactly what they are looking for, so much so in fact that instead of trying to see whether a girl is a ladyboy, they are trying to spot if the ladyboy is a girl – because if she is they'll pass.
So, to give those of you planning on visiting Thailand and on the look out for a ladyboy as a potential date, or for those beer goggled Aussies who always seem to end up being fooled – or so they claim, I have developed an 8-point check to make sure you end up with the girl or ladyboy of your choice.
The average Thai man is taller than the average Thai woman, so when you see an very tall, long legged, long-armed Thai woman in a bar or disco, she might well be a ladyboy.
2. Adams Apple
Obvious, I know, which is why many ladyboys have an operation to shave it down. In this respect, this check-point is somewhat unreliable.
3. Big Feet
Thai women in general have fairly small feet, usually around a European 37/38. Ladyboys, more often than not have bigger feet than the average Thai woman. However, if the feet are small, then look out for big toes.
4. Big Hands
Big hands are impossible to change. For sure, some ladyboys have smaller, more feminine hands, but in my experience most have big hands and long fingers, albeit well kept with polished finger nails.
5. Jaw Line
The jaw can be subject to reshaping, but surgery is expensive and not all ladyboys have advanced to this stage. If the jawline looks a tad wide and a tad chiseled, she could be a ladyboy.
6. Forearm Length
This is a big give away. A woman’s forearm is generally more elegant than a man’s forearm. You can look in this area for veins and for muscular formation on the inside of the forearm and the bicep and tricep. Even when slim, Thai women usually lack muscular formation in their arms.
7. Broad Shoulders
Nine times out of ten a man has broader shoulders than a woman, especially in Thailand where women are very slight in build. A surprisingly tall lady with broad shoulders is almost certain to be a ladyboy.
8. Deep Voice
This may seem like an obvious male characteristic, but with the additional barrier of an accent this is not always the easiest aspect to spot – see my video suggestion at the end of this article for proof of this. Some regional Thai accents are also quite harsh in tone, therefore unless a voice is obviously deep, it may not always give the game away.
If you are confident that you can now spot a ladyboy, this video might make you think again. Would you have known? Would you have cared ?
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