Thailand is a country known for two main reasons: its beautiful islands and its spectacular Kathoeys or “Ladyboys”. The term “transgender” is rarely used among Thai society.
I could affirm that the number of homosexuals in Thailand is the same as in any other part of the world, but due to the large amount of tolerance that exists in that country and of course the feminine traits that many Thai men have, if any guy already has homosexual/transgender tendencies, its also likely that he decides to become a ladyboy and live openly as a woman in society.
Its very important to mention that although transexuals are well tolerated and also play an important role in Thailand, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are entirely accepted.
There’s still some discrimination in the professional life. It is relatively easy to find Kathoeys working practically in any branch of the fashion, beauty and entertainment industries. There are talented make up artists, stylists, coordinators, hairdressers, actresses, singers and models everywhere, but a ladyboy lawyer, doctor or banker?. Not yet.
Since 2007, Kathoeys have been fighting to change the legislation in Thailand to allow the sex change in official IDs but there has been no possitive results yet.
Buddhist beliefs, which I personally find very interesting and which I will surely write about in a next article, or the 5 precepts of Buddhism are not compromised in any way by showing tolerance for gay and transgender people, or even, for being one of them:
-Prohibition of killing
-Prohibition of stealing
-Prohibition of the practice of any sexual misconduct
-Prohibition of lying
-Prohibition of ingesting substances that alter the state of consciousness
Because these precepts are not rules or imperative commandments but are adopted voluntarily for a healthy living in society, life in Thailand happens to be chilled and respectful most of the time.
Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation allows Thai society to be more open and tolerant to eachother and the way every person decides to live their own sexuality.
Buddhism in Thailand does not consider homosexuality a sin, therefore it doesn’t have any specific prohibitions regarding their lifestyle.
According to some articles I read, it appears that the also called “third gender” is not only tolerated but many times driven.
In some schools, particularly in Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, is now allowed that Kathoey students attend to classes wearing make up and feminine hairdos. The schools have also allocated separated restrooms exclusively for them.
Plastic surgeries, including the sex change, are now a speciality in Thailand. Its low costs and excellent results attract thousands of people around the world every year. Do you have any doubts? You can confirm it by seeing pictures of the Miss Tiffany’s Universe contestants, beauty contest held each year in Pattaya. Thai Kathoeys are spectacularly beautiful and feminine!
Unfortunately, as in any other country, prostitution is a social problem and a sad reality in Thailand. The sex tourism popularity has considerably increased over the years.
The history of prostitution in that country goes back to XIV century, when it was legally practiced. In 1905, with the abolition of slavery in Thailand during the reign of Rama V, prostitution was banned, but it wasn’t until 1960 that eventually became an illegal practice.
Vietnam war brought, not only to that country, but to neighboring regions as well, a significant increase of prostitutes. The demand of them by American soldiers triggered a considerable increase in the amount of girls and ladyboys working on the streets.
In 1957 were estimated to be 20,000 in Thailand. By the year 1964 that number had grown to 400,000 and by 1972 there were at least 500,000. Since then, the sex industry hasn’t stop growing.
Laboral limitations and poverty are the main reasons why ladyboys see themselves forced to trade sex for money principally with tourists, but it’s very important to note that prostitution isn’t in any way exclusive of the third gender.
Living in Thailand gave me the opportunity not only to witness the social and laboral roles that Kathoeys play in that country, but also learn to be tolerant with how everyone decides to live their own life.
Tolerance is respect. I consider myself lucky to have transgender friends whom I love and admire. Once again I prove to myself that traveling brings not just good memories but it also educates.