Thai Ladyboys / Transexuals
No Thailand website would be complete without mentioning ladyboys (Katoeys), and a single man’s trip to Thailand mentioned to friends will often come accompanied with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge reference to the ladyboys of Thailand. Though certainly not unique to Thailand it has to be one of the most famous countries in the world for the phenomenon of transsexuals and transsexual surgery.
What is a lady boy, the same as a transvestite?
A ladyboy often referred to with the Thai slang term katoey, is not to be confused with a transvestite, the latter being men that simply dress in woman's clothes and the former that undergoes extensive surgery and hormone enhancement to change sex from a man to a woman. If anybody claims to tell you that they can spot a ladyboy a mile off, in many cases they can, but in many cases it is also impossible to judge without a full medical examination.
How do they become ladyboys?
Thailand is reputed to be the best place in the world and probably amongst the cheapest to receive transsexual surgery due to the amount of practice they have, and some of the results of surgery can be surprising with many lady boys that have spent a lot of money on surgery and also started with the correct hormonal imbalance that means they are not hairy, have big hands, or strapping six footers, being impossible to tell apart from women.
Usually a transsexual / ladyboy / katoey will start taking female hormones at an early age to inhibit male growth, before using surgical procedures such as breast implants for the transformation. The final stage of transsexual surgery is full sex-reassignment.
Why are so many ladyboys in Thailand? Is there social acceptance?
Nobody has the definite answer to this question, a fair guess is that the mai pen rai (no problem) attitude of the Buddhist Thai people is a large part to do with it, though not all Thai people are as tolerant as you first may think. It took a long time in the west before gay people were accepted socially on a local level let alone on a national level, but in Thailand this is different. There are many famous ladyboy Thai boxers, TV stars and music stars in Thailand and a yearly lady boy beauty contest, Miss Tiffany's.
Nong Tum is one of Thailand's most famous ladyboys, who has recently had a film made about her kickboxing career called Beautiful Dancer. Also, an interesting note is that many ladyboys work in the sex trade and many a gay man will have their sex changed to become more available to foreign customers and in turn make a better profit.