Why are Ladyboys or Katoeys So Accepted in Thailand?

Photo copyright – Ladyboy show, Thailand – randomidea, Creative Commons License

One thing many westerners are surprised about when they come to Thailand are the number of ladyboys in the country. Thinking of Thailand as a Buddhist country and somewhat conservative, it is a jolt to the senses when you see so many ladyboys just going about their business like any other Thai.

Known in other countries as ‘transexuals’ or ‘transgender’, Thais call them ladyboys or, in Thai, ‘katoeys’ and they are everywhere. In Thailand, you’ll see ladyboys on Thai TV and in movies, they are make-up ‘girls’ at the top department stores in the country, serving food at restaurants, even students in high schools and universities.

The Acceptance of Thai Ladyboys – Although a conservative country, Thailand is Buddhist too and this has a great deal of impact on how Thais deal with people. The Thai form of Buddhism often believes, as long as someone isn’t doing something to harm anyone else, what business is it of the individual what other people do?

Thais are good at accepting some of the oddest behavior and, most of the time, don’t seem to judge it either. It just is. Just like any other aspect of their lives.

This attitude too has carried over into Thai life when it comes to ladyboys or transexuals. Unlike in the west, where few average Americans or Europeans would have ladyboy friends, many Thais have friends of the transexual persuasion.

Looked at as just like anyone else, they hang out with them, go shopping, eat dinner, see a movie – just like they would with any of their heterosexual friends. As a westerner who saw much bigotry and hatred in the US when it came to acceptance of homosexuality or transexualism, I’ve always loved that Thais are so open-minded.

Thai Ladyboys in Schools – Something that would never happen in the west is acceptance of young ladyboys in schools and universities. Not all schools are equally accepting but, you will see in a fair number of Thai schools, ladyboys who have already decided they have no interest in being a boy or heaven forbid in growing up to be a man and they’re already dressing in women’s clothes, growing their hair and wearing make-up.

Some schools even allow them to wear girl’s uniforms. Others have even taken to opening ‘pink bathrooms’ particularly for the transexual students at the school.

By the time they get to university, most katoeys or ladyboys have made the full transformation to woman, whether they’ve had a sex change operation or not. You see these women all over Thailand, wearing the short skirts and tight blouses of any young Thai university girl, and they’re loving it too.

Thai Ladyboys in Entertainment – Every Thai soap opera, or lakorn, has a ladyboy in the cast somewhere. They feature prominently on game shows, talk shows and just about any entertainment channel in Thailand.

Movies too will often have roles for ladyboys, with one of the most popular Thai movies of recent years being ‘Beautiful Boxer‘, the true story of a Thai ladyboy who was a professional Muay Thai fighter.

In Pattaya, the most popular show in the country is the Tiffany’s Show. In fact, in 2001, Tiffany’s Show was the number four most popular show in the world, behind only the Moulin Rouge in Paris and two Las Vegas shows.

Thai Ladyboys in Beauty Contests – One of the top beauty shows in Thailand is Miss Tiffany Universe, with every contestant a katoey.

Transexuals come from all over the country to compete in the competition, with the event televised on national TV in Thailand. The winner wins around $3,000 in prize money, a new car and lots of other goodies.

The one thing you will also notice when you come to Thailand is Thai ladyboys are unlike any transexuals anywhere else in the world. Not only do they look like women, they are often mistaken for women and are frequently more beautiful than most real women.

It’s no wonder Thais seem to love them so much and to be proud they are part of Thai society.