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The Loveliest Ladies in Thailand

My readers who have been to Thailand are surely familiar with the phenomenon of the Thai kathoey, or ladyboy.

Those who haven’t, prepare to raise your eyebrows. In a good way.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

First time visitors to The Kingdom are often taken aback by the elegant beauty of the women that breeze by them on the street, smile to them across a bar, or cut their hair in a beauty salon. They are are even more taken aback when it is pointed out to them that said woman was, in fact, born a man.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

I have hesitated to write about this facet of Thai culture, because I’m far from an expect and have many unanswered questions myself. But this is what I have come to know. Kathoeys are known at the third gender in Thailand, different from gay men and women and transgenders as we understand them in our home country.

Kathoeys are born men but identify as women, and live their lives as such. They often undergo surgery to make the transformation complete — Bangkok is the sex change capital of the world, after all! Kathoey culture is not confined to urban centers, however — they live just as often in small villages and remote islands. They often work in female-dominated occupations, such as retail, restaurants, and salons. They also often find work in the entertainment industry, as both sex workers and as performers in cabaret shows.

One such floor show is The Queen’s Cabaret in Koh Tao.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Here, every night at 10pm, the ladyboys of Koh Tao put on a highly flirtatious and slightly salacious show. It’s free, though you do pay a high price for the beverages that are bussed to your table. I’ve been several times over the years, and I’ve never failed to be entertained. Damn, can these ladies dance.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

The general tolerance shown to ladyboys throughout the country is admirable, especially when compared to the treatment that transgendered people receive in my home country. In Thailand, kathoeys are prevalent in pop culture, appearing in beauty contests, reality shows, and in advertising. Some schools and other public institutions are even instituting separate kathoey restrooms, marked by and intertwined male and female symbol. Kathoey activists are currently campaigning for a third sex to be added to passports and other official documents.

That is not to say that ladyboys (and really, those that go against the grain in any culture) don’t have their fair share of hardships. But Thailand is looking in the right direction, it seems.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Ladyboy shows are on offer in tourist hotspots around the country, from Bangkok to Phuket and beyond. They range wildly in price, talent and scandal level. In my opinion, the Queen’s Cabaret is the perfect balance of all three.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

If you come to this country, I encourage you to learn a little bit about this fascinating bit of Thai culture. Do a bit of research. Chat to the kathoey working at 711. See a cabaret show — cheer loudly! And hopefully bring a little bit of this Thai tolerance home with you.

Queens Cabaret Koh Tao

Have you heard of the Thai ladyboys? What’s your take?

14 Responses to “The Loveliest Ladies in Thailand”

  1. rob says:

    Thailand seems a curious country.

    Outwardly very socially conservative, yet *the* sex-tourism destination. And apparently the Thai government was more than tweaked over this SNL skit making fun of the sex tourism industry…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boq1uJnhiy0

    Tolerant of ladyboys, yet “outraged” at a sexy calendar for an airline (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/335384/thai-netizens-roused-by-sexy-calendar-music-video)

  2. I loved the show we went to! The ladyboys were GORGEOUS!!! And they had such an incredible amount of excitement and joy.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Casa Rosada

  3. Kathryn Allen says:

    Learning to become tolerant, and even supportive, of those who are outside of our cozy tribes is a big step towards reducing violence in the world. It’s hard sometimes, good for you being open…

  4. What a great, enlightening post! So often transgendered culture (especially in Thailand) is portrayed as seedy and deviant, so it’s nice to see it celebrated in a healthier way.

    One thing I wondered about though is whether the ladyboys want to be viewed as transgendered or whether they think of themselves as women? It seems like the real sign of progress would be for them to be able to use a women’s restroom or have the sex in their passport listed as “F” if that is what they view themselves as, but perhaps they enjoy being something in the middle (best of both worlds!)?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..What We Ate: Shanghai

    • Alex says:

      Steph, I’m pretty sure that they self identify as “the third gender” — kathoeys were the ones who campaigned for that on the passports! It’s an interesting question though — I’ll have to ask someday!

  5. Thanks for sharing this part of Thai culture! It’s great to see that Thailand is so opened-minded about a topic that is still experiencing so much non-understanding in western culture!

    xx
    Melanie

  6. Sam says:

    Ah they are so talented ! They do a better GaGa than Gaga. Then again the novelty of being harassed by the ‘girls’ that hung around near Diza bar wore off, fast.
    Sam recently posted..How to Eat a Rainbow Cake

  7. phil maxted says:

    Great blog entry and so true Alex I have a lot of transgendered friends and the thai culture is probably the most tolerant in the world and getting more acceptance as the years go by. Certainly better than the Uk.

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