Does Thailand Care About Transgenders? The Truth Will Shock You

Central Thailand Bangkok

Transgender communities have always been broadly unaccepted majorly around the world. It seems like everyone think they are not welcome in this world as if they themselves have decided to be who they are. It…

© Bangkok ,Thailand

Transgender communities have always been broadly unaccepted majorly around the world. It seems like everyone think they are not welcome in this world as if they themselves have decided to be who they are. It is quite an odd concept that I never understood, how people can play God and shun ones that are different to them so blatantly. A deeply unsettling reality of our world, I try to forget about it at times but that does not remove the huge issue it imposes.

Above : A Thai transgender woman seated in a café, checks her phone and casually passes time.

However, I found that in Thailand this huge issue that separates a big part of our community from one another, is eradicated. In Thailand, the people there revere and honor the transgender society. In fact, there is no such word as “transgender” in their common tongue. They are called Kathoeys and they are broadly accepted all over Thailand without as much as a second glance towards their identity. That was one of the many things that I admired endlessly about Thailand. Their openness to all sorts of people, their welcoming nature and their kindness excels everything else.

Upon my stay in Thailand, I got to know about Kathoeys who are a very variant kind of community. They are (as what nowadays people call them) gays, transgenders and men who prefer to represent women. You will find all these kinds of people in the Kathoey community and it actually doesn’t strike the locals are strange or weird in any way. The locals are used to their community and welcome them to be part of theirs. It is after tourists and Westerners started entering Thailand, for business or tourism purposes, that these beautiful people were labelled as Ladyboys.

Now as much as the statement holds true in the Western world, the term Ladyboy is not an entirely kind or nice thing to call Kathoeys.

Above : Three stunning Kathoeys casually dressed and out and about in the city of Pattaya showcasing that they can live ordinary lives apart from their glamorous nightlife businesses.

Kathoeys in Buddhism

The reason why these people were given a whole new name and community is because of their identity represented in Buddhism. In the Buddhist culture, there are typically 4 recognized genders. Talk about woke!

There are the males and females, then comes the “pandaka” and “bhatobyanjuanaka”. Kathoeys are also known as bhatobyanjuanaka and they are intersexed individuals. That was what the original meaning of the word meant. However, nowadays as the name Kathoeys is used for homosexuals and cross-dressers the original context is a bit blurred.

However, there is still room and loads of welcoming in Thailand to all casts of such people. Ones who are confused about their gender/sexuality, ones who are born with confusing genders/sexualities and ones who are attracted to the same gender! So regardless of who they really are, they are all broadly accepted just like the other people are.

Above : A kathoey dressed in carnival wear is seen singing and dancing while bathed with neon green lights as she drives up a roaring audience.

The Famous LadyBoy Shows

Upon coming to know about Kathoeys in Thailand I consequently found out about ladyboy shows as well (excuse the name). And let me just say…they are terrific fun! Way better than standup comedy and cinema; these shows combine everything full of glamor, fun and humor. The first ladyboy show that I attended, there were three shows in it. Each one was pumped with energy and music, making the crowd go up in an uproar of delight every time the phuyings burst out into a dance.

The Kathoeys are more commonly known as phuyings as they like to be called that more. The word means woman in Thai and as they represent the female part of the community they prefer to be called that. As much as the ladyboy show was enjoyable, they are not always of such quality. Sometimes, around the cities of Thailand there can be very cheap and low quality shows delivered by inexperienced ladyboys.

Above : A bunch of ladyboys participate in a beauty contestant and are ranked as winners by having crowns placed on their heads.

Thankfully, I was with a well-informed friend of mine who knows his fair share of information regarding these shows. He steered me clear off those bars that were only meant for cheap pleasure. Phuyings truly know how to stir up a great crowd, so if you are headed to one of these shows…make sure you know where you are headed and for what purpose. The ladyboy show I attended was booming with music, dancing and a fair amount of speeches given by each Kathoey. Each speech was lauded with multiple rounds of applause and it was generally a great night for anyone looking to having a great time.

There are also performances for each song by the hosts of the show as they dress up in fancy glittery outfits that are bound to stun you. The main theme of every show is to bring you music, dancing and gorgeous fashion. Some of the girls on stage dress up as famous celebrities such as Rihanna and Lady Gaga so as to make their performances realer and more authentic for the crowd. Not just that but the girls also love to retell stories and reenact myths and fables from historic times. Told you, it was like having a concert, play and fashion show all at once in one night. 

The energy of the phuyings is incomparable and infectious! When the show ends, the whole crowd finds itself drained of their energy and feeling content that they have spent their night in a proper way.

Above : An elegant Phuying dressed in feathers and glamor catwalks in front of her audience.

Kathoey Beauty Shows

It is known all over Thailand that the Kathoeys are some of the most beautiful people there. So much so that there are beauty shows held for them to compete in. And eventually the winner is photographed and has her picture posted in the local newspaper. That was another thing I loved very much about Thailand and their approach towards such people. They never made them feel alienated or left out. They were treated as justly and equally as any other woman participating in a beauty contest.

Above : A group of beautiful Kathoeys performing for a crowd on stage.

In doing so, the Kathoeys earn a respectable spot in society and do not have to reduce themselves to beggars or sex workers. Although some do but that is not based of their identity but actually depends more on their personal choices. However, the country does its part in allowing these people to feel one with the community as well as provide them with opportunities such as beauty contests and shows at bars and clubs where they can earn for themselves.

The first Kathoey beauty show I went to…it was a bang! Each participant was dressed in the most glamorous and glitzy outfit I had ever seen. The runway on which the phuyings walked on was surrounded by the viewers and each cheered on for each outfit. Afterwards the judges would determine which participant was the best according to the majority of the crowd’s opinion.

However, since I was accompanied with a friend of mine who frequented these places, he knew the Kathoeys quite well as well as the management. After the show, he took me backstage with the beautiful women and we got to chat for a bit. Terrific women with wonderful stories that were all very different in their own ways. There were 10 participants in total out of which 5 were rejected by their families at a young age and they had resorted to earning their living by selling handmade bracelets and jewelry. As they grew older came to know about the trend of beauty shows and Cabaret nights (lady boy show nights), they were more inclined towards them.

Info & Credits

This story was produced by Roomarella editorial team.

Keep Exploring

Stories we think you will enjoy reading next