In Thailand, the growth of a transgendered female population has led the Thai culture to classify a third gender role, commonly termed ladyboys. The Thai language also uses the terms “kathoey” or “sao praphet song” (meaning ‘second kind of woman’) to categorize this gender role (Winter 2008, 47). A transgendered female is a born male who undergoes a male-to-female identity change. There is much discussion as to why a kathoey thinks of herself as a female even though she is in a male’s body. Though personal relationships and individual events can supply an environment which an individual can flourish and become a successful kathoey, the conclusion based on first hand data presented in the journal article Thai Transgenders in Focus:Their Beliefs About Attitudes Towardsand Origins of Transgender is there a biological reason over personal relationships or other circumstances(Winter 2008, 58).
Naturally, from a young age, a kathoey finds herself interested in beauty and woman roles (Winter 2008, 57). A kathoey’s desire is to be recognized as a woman, this means her appearance and actions must fit the part. All of the ladyboys who refer to herself as a kathoey cross-dress and wear make-up. There are ladyboys who undergo reconstructive surgery to modify their male body to match their female mind (StickmanBangkok.com, 2010). The types of procedures that one may undergo include: nose jobs, injections, breast implants and even the extent of getting a vagina. Because of the concentration of ladyboys in Thailand and the commonality of these procedures, the cosmetic surgery industry in Thailand has increased (Brummelhuis 1999, 125). Hormones are another tool accessible to kathoey for body modification. Regarding relationships, it fits the gender role of a real woman that a kathoey is attracted to men. It changes between individuals but it is likely that the more macho the man the more lady-like a kathoey looks (Brummelhuis 1999, 129).
The documents cited interview ladyboys in the sex work industry which narrowly illustrates the acceptance of kathoeys in other careers. Based on the knowledge at hand, sex work provides lots of opportunity for ladyboys, who sometimes charge more than real ladies (Brummelhuis 1999, 131). The prospect of wealth in this “western-orientated market” motivates kathoeys to become sex workers (Brummelhuis 1999, 131). It is noted that males who are not kathoey recognize the opportunity of gaining wealth and status in this line of work and as a result become cross-dressers or “fake kathoeys” (Brummelhuis 1999, 128). This popularity has the effect of an increasing acceptance of ladyboys in the Thai culture.
Individual opinions of the kathoey exist but the general feeling based on data collected by Dr. Winter is an acceptance of kathoey as a third gender role by the Thai people (Winter 2008, 50). Like the parents of kathoey children, the trend of the general population is a growth in the acceptance of these ladyboys as time carries on with their presence (Winter 2008, 50). The more common something appears the less strange it seems. The attractiveness of kathoeys has led to beauty shows entirely composed of this transgender. The spectacular event invites tourists and locals to recognize the beauty of kathoeys (Brummelhuis 1999, 131).
The male-to-female transgender, Thai ladyboy, has found a third gender role in the Thai culture. The efforts made by kathoey to look like real woman satisfies their inner desires and strengthen their unity as a gender. Though the documents cited do not provide insight into the careers of kathoey outside sex work, this occupation holds a special place for their gender role. The success found in this line of work provides an open environment for kathoey to thrive. The beauty of some captures the attention of an audience in a magnificent performance. The toleration and acceptance by the Thai culture of kathoey will continue to rise.
Han Ten Brummelhuis, “Transformations of the Transgender: The Case of the Thai Kathoey,” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services (1999): 121-139. DOI: 10.1300/J041v09n02_06
Sam Winter, “Thai Transgender in Focus: Their Beliefs About Attitudes Towards and Origins of Transgender,” International Journal of Transgenderism (2008):47-62.DOI: 10.1300/J485v09n02_06
“An Afternoon With Some Thai Ladyboys,” last modified June 13, 2010, http://www.stickmanweekly.com/StickmanBangkokWeeklyColumn2010/Bangkok-Ladyboys.htm