What’s Up With Lady Boys in Thailand?

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this post in 2009, after spending a few weeks backpacking in Thailand. In the years since, I have lived in Thailand and come to understand the important role Lady Boys play in the Thai social scene. It can actually be an honor to have a child become a Lady Boy, and these brave men and women are part of what makes the country so great.

 

Thailand is Filled with Lady Boys.

Lady Boys are men who either dress like women or who are in some stage of actually becoming a woman through surgery.

A ladyboy cabaret in Bangkok, Thailand
A lady boy caberet show in the Pinklao area of Bangkok, Thailand

Most times they are easy to pick out of a crowd, though some have had so much work done or had such a feminine physique to begin with that it’s tough to identify them.

Lady boys are extremely popular in Thailand, working in every legitimate part of society.

They are especially prevalent in beauty salons, shops, cabarets, restaurants, tourist centers, entertainment districts and beauty pageants. Surprisingly, considering how many nearby countries forbid homosexuality, they are an accepted part of every day life.


While many live legitimate lives, another aspect of the lady boy culture is that of prostitution and deception.

Especially in Phuket, Bangkok and other tourist destinations, many lady boys will do whatever is necessary to part someone with their money. To this day we have till not gotten a real answer as to who is hiring them.

A lady boy caberet show in the Pinklao area of Bangkok, Thailand
Each of these women was born as a man

Are they straight men who can’t tell it’s a lady boy? Gay men? Gay women? We have mostly been told it’s straight men, but only by a few people and we are still not sure.

All we know for sure is that the lady boys were out in force at the Full Moon Party. I have no idea what went on under the cover of darkness, but as the sun came up I saw dozens of drunken male partiers hand in hand with lady boys.

My personal favorite were the jocks, frat boys and meatheads who you know are the most homophobic and anti-gay people around while sober. Karma at its finest.


When Drunken Frat Boys and Lady Boys Meet

However, there were also a ton of young guys – maybe in their late teens or early 20’s – walking around with lady boys. These kids clearly had too much to drink and had no idea that the beautiful woman they were locking lips with was clearly a man who may or may not have found some affordable plastic surgery.

A lady boy caberet show in the Pinklao area of Bangkok
Many Lady Boys have full surgery, making them hard to spot even in daylight

The biggest commonality they all had was the presence of a big bucket of booze in their hands that they continued to drink well after sunrise. I saw a lady boy take a sip while flirting with a guy then turn her head and spit it out on the sand. It seems that they pretend to be partying with their new lover but in reality are staying pretty much sober.

So if they are not doing it for free booze and they know that when the guy sobers up he will probably no longer be interested, why do they do it? Sadly, the best theory I have is that they rob the guys then leave them.

At one point I saw a guy flop down on the sand followed immediately by his lady boy friend. She laid on top of him, caressed him all over, put the back of her head on his chest, pretended to get a text message, got up and walked away quickly.

The guy was drunk and didn’t really know what happened, but I saw him checking his pockets and his hand came out empty handed as he stumbled away.


The Lady Boy Community at the Full Moon Party

I continued to watch as a group of lady boys hung out together and occasionally split off as one of them spotted the drunkest Westerner they could and began to flirt.

Lady Boy and tourist - Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand - Full Moon Party
I think this lady boy may have picked this guy’s pocket before pretending to get a text and leaving him drunk on the sand

Often, within minutes, the pair was kissing. In the background the rest of the lady boys would laugh and cheer her on silently.

All this said, I don’t want to say that the lady boys were the only ones playing the “let’s take advantage of the drunken Westerners” game.

I saw tons of real Thai women pretending to be interested in men far too drunk to sweet talk them in any way shape or form. It’s sad to say, but it’s just another part of the business of the full moon party.

To learn more about the Thai Lady Boys, visit Wikipeida.