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Book Review: by Lang Reid


There 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 Kwang prison).
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.