Book Review: by Lang Reid
has been a fascination about ladyboys and this book Ladyboys, The secret
world of Thailand’s Third Gender (ISBN 978-1-905379-48-4, Maverick House
publishers 2008) has been co-authored by a Thai Pornchai Sereemongkonpol and
long stay expatriate Australian author Susan Aldous (The Angel of Bang
Right from the introduction, the authors state plainly the direction of the
book, “Focus attention on the individual rather than the dilemma of whether
to refer to them as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’.” The book then covers nine ladyboys
(or katoeys) and looks at them all as individual people and in doing so
highlights the differences and common factors.
The book begins with Mali the go-go girl, who openly admits that she is a
prostitute, and undoubtedly would have taken that course whether she had
stayed as a male. She tells of an amusing interlude in her life where she
was called up for national service as all young men are in Thailand, but was
rejected medically as having a “misshapen chest”.
Mimi the fashion columnist had realized from the age of eight that she was
‘different’ from the other boys at school, but has been fortunate in having
understanding parents who have allowed her to be herself.
The next chapter showed yet another of the types of person that are given
the ladyboy label. Pui the cabaret performer is more of a cross dresser who
dresses as a man during the day, but then assumes the role of a female at
night and performs in the Calypso girls cabaret. “Being a ladyboy is more a
state of mind than body,” she says.
There are some sad cases such as Lily the aging prostitute who described
“How to keep my penis hidden between my legs,” followed by some
unintentional humor, “After I got a handle on things…”
Patchara the street walker did not hate his penis, but was just indifferent
to it, yet missed it after the gender reassignment surgery. “I can do
anything as long as I focus on the money.” She does not like the fact that
society differentiates between natural women and surgical women - her ID
card will always state “Mr.”
Sarah the entrepreneur found that katoeys are considered freaks of nature,
but despite that has been a very successful businesswoman.
Nicky the air hostess went all the way through to the Miss Tiffany Universe
2006 contest, and is in a stable relationship, but regrets she is unable to
bear a child. Hers is a very ‘human’ story.
Others include the famous Nong Toom, the boxer, who has adopted a child.
The message is simple. Ladyboys should not be looked upon as ‘freaks’ - the
so-called long necked Karen women are much more of a freak show. Thailand’s
third gender, as the book cover says, is just that. A third gender, and
should be accepted for what they are - individual human beings who should be
given respect by other human beings.
A fascinating subject and treated in a non-threatening way. The authors are
to be applauded with the stance they have taken. This book is well worth the
B. 525 on the shelves.