Thai ladyboys are a unique and fascinating part of Thailand's culture. No matter where you go in the country, you’re bound to meet at least one beautiful Ladyboy.
Tyson Peveto is an American travel writer living abroad since 2017. After three years in Bangkok, he currently lives in Germany with his wife and dog.
When most people think of Thailand, the first thing that comes to mind is its lively and exotic culture. From the capital city of Bangkok to the small villages scattered throughout the countryside, there is no shortage of interesting attractions and activities to enjoy. But Thailand is also home to a special type of attraction that is unlike anything else in the world – Ladyboys.
Ladyboys are transgender individuals who have chosen to live their lives as women, and they can be found throughout Thai society. Although they may be unfamiliar to many tourists, ladyboys are an important part of Thai culture and should not be overlooked. Here are 10 interesting facts about Thai Ladyboys that you may not know.
Photo: Tariq Tahir
The term transgender is rarely used in Thailand. Instead, the common term is Kathoey, which translates to “third sex” in English. This term is used to refer to transgender individuals and those who identify as a different gender than their birth-assigned gender.
Kathoey can be broken down into several different categories, depending on their gender identity and presentation. The most common type is the E-kathoey, who dresses as a woman and identifies as female.
There are also the A-kathoey, who dresses as a man but still identify as female; the P-kathoey, who dress as both genders; and the T-kathoey, who dress like men but identify as women. Kathoey has become entirely common in Thai society, much like everyone else, they go about their daily affairs: shopping, meeting with friends, using public transport, and visiting the temple.
Buddhism is an important part of Thai culture, and it plays a large role in understanding transgender individuals in the country. Buddhists believe that karma from past lives can determine one’s gender identity, which explains why some people identify differently than their birth sex. Specifically, Kathoeys can be born as a result of sexual misconduct in a previous life due failures to carry out duties expected of them.
For example, when a man refuses to support a woman that is pregnant with his child. Whatever the reason, the common belief is that there is no escaping the karmic consequences of our actions in this life and previous ones. Consequently, everyone has been or will be Kathoey in a future life. This has led to a greater acceptance of transgender individuals in Thailand, as they are seen as having already paid for their misdeeds.
Unlike some countries where transgender people are persecuted, transsexuals in Thailand are widely accepted and respected. They are often seen as being more advanced souls due to their understanding of both genders and their ability to transcend gender roles. Kathoey are free to dress, behave, and live as they wish in Thai society, they can choose whatever name they want and don’t have to worry about people judging them.
This has allowed transgender individuals in Thailand to gain greater visibility in recent years. Having said that, Kathoey’s acceptance in Thai society can vary depending on the area in which they live. In the bigger cities, it is more normalized to be a Ladyboy whereas in more rural areas, they are tolerated rather than accepted.
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Photo: Marc Heffernan
Under Thai law, male-to-female transsexuals are considered men and are thus unable to change their gender status on legal documents including ID cards. This can pose serious problems for transgender individuals, particularly with regard to marriage and employment opportunities.
Thai Ladyboys are also prohibited from changing their birth gender on their passports, a fact which can lead to confusion and unwanted scrutiny at border control and immigration checkpoints. Same-sex marriage is also banned in Thailand, meaning that when the partner of a transsexual dies, the deceased’s family receives any and all assets and possessions, leaving the transgender partner without legal rights or claims to anything.
There are several tell-tale signs that can be used to distinguish a Kathoey from a cisgender female, depending on their presentation. Those who present as male will often have larger hands and feet than other women, as well as broader shoulders and less curves. Those that identify as females may have Adam’s apples that are visible as well as longer legs relative to their torso length. They may also use more masculine language and gestures.
Kathoeys also tends to wear heavier makeup than other women and dress in more flamboyant clothing. However, these signs can be misleading as many Ladyboys are able to pass for cisgender females if they so choose. In general, the best way to tell a Kathoey from a cis-female is by asking them directly. Check out this Tozome article for a more in-depth deep dive into the different ways to recognize Thai ladyboys.
Also Read: 10 Easy Ways to Recognize Ladyboys in Thailand
Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom
Nowadays, there are many transgender people who have been successful and gained major accomplishments in various areas of Thai life. Kathoeys have made a name for themselves as pop stars, models, actresses and even political figures such as celebrated film director turned politician Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, who was elected to Thailand’s National Assembly as the country’s first transgender Member of Parliament in 2019.
There are also many successful business owners, beauty pageant winners and even sports stars such as Parinya Charoenphol who is an accomplished Muay Thai boxer. The success of these individuals has allowed ladyboys to break out of the societal stereotypes that were once associated with them, allowing them to gain greater respect in Thai society.
Photo: Nana Plaza Bangkok
Thai Ladyboys often have their own unique language which is known as “Girly Speak”. This is a form of slang that uses feminine vocabulary and grammar, creating a unique way for transgender people to communicate with each other.
Many Kathoeys prefer this type of language since it allows them to express themselves in a way that is more comfortable and true to their identity. Examples of “Girly Speaks” include words such as “pom” (man) and “dee” (woman). Ladyboys also use a range of hand gestures and body language which is unique to the Kathoey community.
Believe it or not, kathoeys have also been making waves on the pageant circuit for many years now. The Miss Tiffany’s Universe pageant is one of the most renowned trans-inclusive beauty competitions in Thailand. It has been running since 2002 and features a variety of contestants from all over the country who compete for the crown each year.
Other popular pageants include Miss International Queen which is an international transgender pageant held annually in Pattaya and Ladyboy Gold which takes place in Phuket every April. Kathoey beauty pageants offer an opportunity to showcase their talents as well as a chance to be accepted and celebrated in Thai society.
Perhaps the most famous place to witness Thai ladyboys is in the renowned cabaret shows that take place in Bangkok. These shows include a variety of acts such as song and dance routines as well as comedy skits. The ladyboy performers have become some of the most popular attractions on the city’s nightlife scene due to their vibrant costumes, energetic performances and unique charm.
These spectacles have been around for many years and can be seen regularly at venues such as Calypso Cabaret show which started out in 1987 and is said to be where Ladygaga gained a lot of her inspiration, Mambo Cabaret show which opened its doors back in 1994, and the hugely popular cabaret show at the Mirinn Theatre in Bangkok.
These shows offer an unforgettable experience that allows visitors to admire just how much of an influence the Thai ladyboy community has had on the culture and entertainment scene in Thailand.
See tickets and availability for the Calypso Cabaret Show
Despite the advances made in recent years, kathoeys still face a great deal of discrimination and prejudice in Thai society. Many transgender people still struggle to find employment or access education due to their gender identity which can lead to poverty and exploitation. In addition, many suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to social stigma and family rejection.
There are also some areas of Thailand where violence against transgender people is unfortunately not uncommon, examples being Thailand’s sex trafficking industry and prostitution gangs where there have been numerous documented cases of Ladyboys suffering serious injuries and in some cases, even death.
Further, excessive drugs use such as estrogen has led to rapid ageing and obesity among Ladyboys and in some cases reduced mobility in later years. Despite these challenges, the Thai ladyboy community continues to fight for greater acceptance and recognition.
Ladyboys have become an integral part of Thai culture and continue to be celebrated for their unique beauty and charm. From fashion shows to beauty pageants, these talented individuals are making their mark in society and slowly but surely gaining greater respect from their fellow citizens.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to achieving full acceptance in Thai society, yet each day more progress is being made as people gain a better understanding of this vibrant yet often overlooked segment of Thai society.
If you are interested in making connections with ladyboys in Thailand, there are several options available. You can visit a ladyboy bar in one of Bangkok’s red light districts, approach a street hooker in Sukhumvit, visit a ladyboy massage parlor in Phuket, Pattaya, or Bangkok, use an online escort service, or arrange a date through a Thai online dating site.
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