The World of the Kathoey and Ladyboy

The Third Sex

In at least one story of creation there were three children born. There was a boy, a girl and another. The Kathoey should be considered that Third Sex. The Kathoey or Ladyboy occur in all societies under a variety of names. In Mexico they are called Vestidas, in India they are Hirja, in the West they go under a variety of names like Shemale or She-male.

Some countries are more tolerant or accepting than others. Thailand is amongst the best places to be a Kathoey and estimates are that 1% of the population are of the Third Sex. They work in all sectors of society from boxing to bar girls, movie stars to singers.

Today the Australian Society of Human Rights is trying to get recognition of the Third Sex which they propose to call the Intersex.

The Ladyboy goes to extraordinary lengths to 'become' herself. Much of this will be determined by finances available to her.

At its simplest it is taking female hormones to encourage the growth of breasts and electrolysis to remove facial hair. Breasts can be further enhanced by implants. Many will go no further than that...others will.

A sex change today will start at under two thousand US dollars. Cheap for some, but far outside the means of many. The price goes up depending on requirements. The procedure in the hands of a skilled surgeon can produce results that would fool most. There are more than a few stories of a man marrying a Kathoey and not being aware of this for years...or ever.

What does it matter really? If both partners are happy and in love and nobody is being hurt.

NOTE:

The video below shows some very beautiful Kathoey readying themselves for the Miss Tiffany show. There is mention made of Hermaphrodite which I believe to be incorrect when applied to Kathoey. In humans, a hermaphrodite is someone born having both male and female sexual organs. Whereas this is a possibility with Kathoey the odds would be something in the order of six million to one. This is clearly not the case.

Miss Tiffany

Lady Boy at Show

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/zaphodsotherhead/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/zaphodsotherhead/

Why Do They Laugh?

I often wonder why some people laugh at Ladyboys. Rarely an open laugh or guffaw but more a conspirital snigger behind a hand. "He's a Kathoey" they may say. Or perhaps "She's a Ladyboy".

There must be something to be learnt from the words used in the recognition. He or She? Whatever, they are not the same as us.

The Kathoey always spend more time on make up, they dress well and walk with pride and heads held high. Kathoey look good. It is not without reason that a Thai girl can be complimented by saying she is as beautiful as a Ladyboy. Get it right though...don't say she looks like a ladyboy or you will get your face slapped.

A Girl Trapped in a Mans Body

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/zaphodsotherhead/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/zaphodsotherhead/

You can tell by.....

Everyone seems to have their own little methods of determining whether the person they are talking to or dating is a Kathoey. This may be the size of her feet or her voice or presence of an Adams Apple.

Well I would not rely on any of those three. Some 'real' women have big feet and there are surgeons who can change the length of the vocal chords to affect the voice. The Adams apple is easily reduced by surgery.

Tallness? Well as in feet there are big women out there. I have heard of length of forearm quoted as well as dimples above the buttocks.

It is all rubbish. The only sure way is if she tells you what she is. And if you really want to know and ask and she turns out to be a real girl then I reckon you will have killed any chance of romance by asking.

A Beautiful Lady Boy

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/adactio/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/adactio/

Sexual Confusion

Can you imagine being trapped inside the wrong body? This is the every day world of the Kathoey or Ladyboy. The Kathoey may be physically a man but is really a girl! A girl trapped inside a mans body. A Kathoey is not a gay man. S/He is not interested in gay men. S/He is interested in real men, love, romance and wooing in the same way as a normal girl. So in effect the Kathoey or Ladyboy IS Heterosexual.

And, as a normal girl (inside of a mans body) things can sometimes get really confusing. Sometimes a Kathoey will find that she is a Lesbian. So there is more truth than fiction in the Eddie Izzard joke of "I am a Lesbian trapped inside a man's body."

The confusion may not end there because a Ladyboy may be bi-sexual too though this could be more for financial reasons than by inclination.

Chiang Mai Lady Boy

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/martinamor/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/martinamor/

Myth, Fact and Supposition

In most Western cultures a man having sexual relations with a Kathoey would be considered as homosexual. This would not be the case in cultures who accept Kathoey.

Kathoey enjoy being Kathoey. They love dressing up and the associated glamour of being a girl. They are more interested in the romance of a relationship than the physical side.

The Ladyboy does not have to have surgery to be accepted as Kathoey.

Kathoeys are NOT transvestites. Transvestites may be heterosexual or homosexual males who like cross-dressing. Kathoeys are transsexuals. In Thailand they are not looked on as men at all but as another type of woman.

Mai-Chai-Poo-Chai (I'm not a Guy)

Kathoey deserve greater recognition...

And they are getting it. They have been given their own toilets in some Thai Universities.

Although they are accepted they do get bad press. If a Bar Girl cheats a customer it will get scarcely a mention. If a man robs a client it will hardly get a line in the press. If a Kathoey does anything wrong it will get a paragraph...or two.

Accept the Kathoey for what they are. The Third Sex...another human being and just the same really as Tom, Sheila or Sheila. Kathoey are fun the same as anyone else. Kathoey are clever the same as anyone else. Kathoey get sad, angry, lonely, hurt, bored and hungry the same as anyone else.

And they cry too......

Read The Following Article To Learn More

                                                      The Ladyboy

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Comments 20 comments

Tinker 7 years ago

I recently finished a program for MA in anthropology. Among the coursework was a course in gender where we looked at cultural implications of gender as a social construction rather than as a biological determination. Some of the most contentious ideologies around gender involve the so-called third sex. I wish I had found this essay while the class was ongoing. You could have made an important contribution to our discussions. Thanks for a particularly unbiased view of people who through no fault of their own often incur ridicule or violence.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thank you for your comments Tinker. I thought of expanding the article slightly. I may well do later.


Will Apse profile image

Will Apse 7 years ago

One of the interesting things about lady boys is the license ordinary Thais give them to be outrageous. Thai people are rather restrained in most circumstances but Lady Boys are often extravagent and way over the top. They seem to serve a useful social function in that way just as gays in the entertainment industries in the West add some vitality.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia Author

You are right Will and in spite of being mostly accepted by Thai society it surprises me that so many Thais lump the Lady Boy and Gay into the same category. Newspaper articles on Gays or on Lady Boys always seem to end up talking about one or the other as if they are the same thing.


Will Apse profile image

Will Apse 7 years ago

There is a big seperation between official attitudes in Thailand (including newspaper stuff often) and the views and lives of ordinary people. No politician would admit to being gay. No lady boy would ever get elected to public office. At the same time ordinary people really won't condemn anyone's sexual choices or orientations as long as adults only are involved. 'Up to them" is one of the commonest phrases you will hear when it comes to relationship issues.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia Author

That is a favourite of my 'wife'. "Up to you!"


David 6 years ago

I found this interesting site about how the psychology of a Buddhist society influences the numbers of kathoey there -

www.theasiatrust.org

This 58 minute documentary follows the biggest hermaphrodite happening in the world, Thailand's Miss Tiffany Beauty Pageant. Rose, White and Tanya battle it out to become Thailand's most beautiful boy-girl in front of ten million television viewers.

Taking the crown, Tanya returns to Sydney Australia, where she is forging a new life away from her strict father who is a major in the Royal Thai Army. Tanya then travels to Los Angeles USA where she wins the Miss Universe Hermaphrodite Pageant to become the most beautiful Hermaphrodite in the world.

Inter-cut within the film is Dr Preecha, the worlds greatest sexual reassignment surgeon performing colon transposition for vagina, and the illuminating exploration of what Buddhism refers to as Yab Yum or 'both both,' the Buddhist belief that the supreme entity is non-dualistic thus forging the androgynous psychology of Thailand's contemporary Buddhist society.

With unprecedented access to the unseen before three top Thai cabarets shows the film also uncovers the extraordinary hermaphrodite cabaret world where identical twin boys Hong and Yu have followed each other into the hermaphrodite sex and we meet more identical twin hermaphrodites Jep and Jane who speak about the fluid psychology Buddhism has forged in Thailand, the land of the free.

A film exploring the fixed ideas of monotheism, non duality and the flux which interconnects us to the great mystery.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia Author

David, thanks for the comments. The video is quite interesting. There is a big problem though with the commentary and write up. The Kathoey/Ladyboy are NOT hermaphrodite! A hermaphrodite is a person who has both male and female genitalia and the Kathoey do not. I daresay there may be one or two but it is not common, very rare in fact.

One could not choose to be a hermaphrodite. You are born that way. Corrective surgery later in life can make you one or the other.

I am unaware of any Tiffany or other show Kathoey which were hermaphrodite.


Jacob888 6 years ago

A while ago I made a movie on the Miss Tiffany / Miss World Kathoey contests.

A clip can be viewed on youtube via this website

www.theasiatrust.org


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thanks Jacob888


TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

Will Apse makes a great point above, that Katoeys get away with very "over the top" behavior that is considered to be unacceptable for most Thai people. However, that being said, I think he is strictly talking about the ones in the sex industry, I have met several katoeys that do not behave that way at all, and live a very normal life. I actually lived with one for a year and a half (my wifes cousin). Pretty interesting stuff as always Peter.. thanks!


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia Author

TravelinAsia - Thank you for your comment. I fully understand what you mean. Have you thought of degrees of Katoeyness? Some Katoey are not as other Katoey. It is rather like heterosexuals. We are not all the same no matter what we are.


TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

Peter,

I guess there are degrees of katoeyness, degrees of gayness, and degrees of manliness? Not every hetrosexual male enjoys guzzling beer and playing full contact sports( I sure as hell do!) But I know what you mean, we are all different. Good point!


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thanks Jesse.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

Great article, Peter. I've known a few cross dressers here in America. They were bi-sexual or gay. I know some are heterosexual but haven't met one yet.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 5 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thanks Pamela


cleverburrito 4 years ago

An Explosion of Thai Identities: Global Queering and Re-Imagining Queer Theory

"Kathoey variously denoted a person, male or female, who exhibited hermaphroditic features or expressed behavior considered inappropriate for their gender and have long been called a 'third gender/sex' (phet thi-sam) within both popular and academic discourses.

Peter A. Jackson

Culture, Health & Sexuality , Vol. 2, No. 4, Critical Regionalities: Gender and Sexual Diversity in South East and East Asia (Oct. - Dec., 2000), pp. 405-424

Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3986699

Saying "Kathoey are not hermaphrodites" is remarkably inaccurate considering that hermaphroditic people do fall into that category. I'm in the middle of writing a research paper about this very subject so I can't pick it apart any further. However, if the readers of this article are interested, I suggest looking into peer reviewed journals rather than using this article as your only source of information.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 4 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thank You for your comments cleverburrito. I would never suggest that anyone should ever use this article as the only source of reference. Far from it. That is why I would never take Peter Jackson at his word either. I suppose confusion could rise at ones interpretation of the word 'hermaphrodite'. I am most certainly not being "remarkably inaccurate" In the true meaning of the word it is a creature or person who has both male and female sexual organs. To suggest that this is the norm amongst Kathoey is simply not true. Many species are naturally hermaphrodite but in forty plus years in zoos I have only ever seen two animals born hermaphrodite that were not as nature intended.

As I stated in the article it would be possible for a Kathoey to be hermpahrodite but it would be very very very rare.

The Peter Jackson article uses 'Queer' in the title. Here one assumes that 'queer' is being used in the 'gay' sense. True Kathoey are not gay men....though I will admit there are gay men hiding amongst them.

I wish you luck in your research paper. I am 100% heterosexual. I have never had a gay or kathoey relationship and it really does not appeal but in my circle of friends I have all genders. We talk, I am open minded and I have learned a lot from real life.


solidarigee 3 years ago

I am kathoey and I think that this article is well-intentioned, but it is suffers some flaws.

Kathoey is much broader than the "third sex" it is an umbrella term for a diverse range of gender and sexual identities. I think this article does not define kathoey through the cultural understandings that kathoey people use to forge their identities, but rather, the article defines kathoey though a "Western" scope of understanding.

This is not to say the article is "bad" or "wrong." Rather, it could be improved by framing the kathoey with the Thai and Lao cultural contexts in which kathoey exist.

Also, it's spelled "Hijra," not sure if that's a typo or not.

Kathoey is rarely, if ever, considered a third sex, but rather, a third gender. Also, many kathoey do not seek any form of body modification, but simply dress as they feel comfortable (often quite feminine). There is a unique set of gender traits for kathoey people that are not found in men and women in Thailand and this is seen by separate traditional dances (one for each of the three genders of the culture) and washrooms (as noted in the article).

Also, I think looking at the history of kathoey people (especially with regard to colonialism) would be useful in this article.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 3 years ago from South East Asia Author

Thank you for your input solidarigee

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