On 20 July, one of the most popular events in the Pattaya calendar took place, Miss Tiffany Universe. For those of you who don’t know, this annual event is a beauty pageant open to transgender women. The event is, of course, held at Tiffany Show on Pattaya 2nd Road and is broadcast live on national TV. The prizes are pretty impressive too with last year’s winner walking away with a Honda Jazz RS and 200,000 baht in cash.
What is a ladyboy?
A ladyboy is essentially a man who actively chooses to adopt a feminine appearance. Kathoeys, as they are sometimes referred to, can be simply transvestites that enjoy dressing as women but more often than not, they identify themselves as being transgender and pursue relationships with men.
How are they referred to?
Kathoeys rarely refer to themselves by this term. They prefer to be recognised as women (phuying), girls, ladies or even simply as ‘ladyboys’. It is polite to refer to them in the feminine gender classification as referring to them as men can be insulting.
When were ladyboys first recognised in Thai culture?
Transgender people were recognised in Thai culture as far back as the 14th century. In the same manner as they are widely accepted in modern Thai society, this was also the case from the 14th century until the 19th century at which point western influences and attitudes to homosexuality saw it moving more underground. Homosexuality was eventually decriminalised again in 1956.
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Why are they so widely accepted?
Ladyboys are common in everyday life. In fact, it is hard to walk down a street in Pattaya without seeing one. They work in a wide range of jobs, live a normal life and families readily accept children who wish to identify as transgender. It is quite common for children of a relatively young age being recognised as being a ladyboy. In other places in the world, they may be ostracised but in Thailand, they just form part of daily life and are now very much seen as the ‘norm’.
The religious aspect
Thailand is around 95% Buddhist, a relatively liberal and accepting religion. However, some more extreme Buddhists believe that transgenders are paying the price for misdemeanours in a previous life. Public displays of affection are generally something of a taboo area in Thailand so this along with the religious aspects means that using some common sense would be wise.
Ladyboys in more rural areas
Ladyboys are generally accepted as part of Thai culture and, therefore, are not intended for novelty value for tourists. In almost every village up and down the country, you will find ladyboys. They probably won’t be dressed in the same manner but it is common for them to wear makeup and behave in an effeminate manner. This is not only accepted but in some cases, it is encouraged.
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Ladyboys and tourism
Regardless of what country you come from, if you mention Thailand, you are likely to be questioned about ladyboys. Westerners, in particular, are fascinated by them and not only from a sexual point of view. Due to their popularity and perceived uniqueness, the ladyboys will always form part of the tourist industry especially in cities such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
Tourists including men, women and transgender people like to have their photographs taken with ladyboys. On the whole, requests are quite well received and ladyboy bars are popular with straight men too. In many bars, the ‘girls’ tend not to be too threatening and are quite happy to talk and understand the boundaries.
The popularity of shows in Pattaya
Ladyboys, ladyboy bars and ladyboy shows are common in Pattaya. In addition to Tiffany Show, you can also go to other venues around the city such as Alcazar Cabaret Show and Colosseum Show. In addition, TJs bar in Naklua and various bars on Soi Buakhao have girls performing each night. These are reasonably well attended especially in the high season.
Ladyboy bars often have beauty contests which are taken very seriously and can be entertaining. Although the prize money isn’t always anything special, it is the recognition of being the ‘best looking girl in the bar’. Whilst this may not be politically correct in many western cultures, it is widely accepted here in Thailand.
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Ladyboy sporting events in Pattaya
Ladyboy bars in Pattaya frequently participate in volleyball and water polo competitions. These are again popular and tend to be well supported. If you look in the local press you will frequently see adverts to these events.
The popularity of ladyboy shows around the world
Such has been in the increasing acceptance of ladyboys in Thailand that they have now started to take their shows around the world. The Bangkok Ladyboys frequently perform in cities around Europe. In fact, ladyboys are becoming increasingly accepted everywhere and ladyboys are now auditioning more mainstream shows.
Ladyboys and their association with crime
Sadly, ladyboys in Pattaya have developed a reputation as being associated with crime. This is accounts for only a minority of ladyboys but has tarnished their image. Some bars sadly have some ladyboys who can be quite aggressive in terms of how they approach you. Avoiding any form of confrontation is highly advisable as it can be met with violence. Common sense should always be adopted and if you do, you will almost certainly remain safe.
Ladyboys in hotels and condos
It is common to see kathoeys working in hotels and condos and in effect, doing normal jobs. In addition, they will happily be accepted as being your ‘girlfriend’ if you are in a genuine relationship. However, many hotels and condos, especially the ones toward the higher end of the market, tend to not look too favourably if they stay with you on a short-term basis.
Ladyboys have become increasingly prevalent in Pattaya in recent years and are accepted by people from all walks of life, countries and even religions. In spite of some of the negative press that they receive, they play an important role in Pattaya and help to boost the profile of the city around the world. This will be to the benefit of everyone.