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Thai Ladyboy

Thai Ladyboy ( Thai: กะเทย; Kathoey [kàtʰɤːj] )

Kathoey is a word of Khmer origin referring to the famous Third Gender in Thailand. Although Kathoey is often translated as "transgender" in the English usage, this term is not used frequently in Thailand. Most common English translation of Kathoey is "Ladyboy", a term that has become popular all over the world. Before the modern times, the term Kathoey was originally used for hermaphrodites, human being who have both sexes, male and female, but nowadays it is mainly used to describe the transgender women, MtF, or effeminate gay male, this regardless of whether the individual has undergone surgery or not, has long hair or not, uses make-up or not, and wears female clothes or not. A significant number of Thais perceive kathoeys as belonging to a third gender, while others see them as a different kind of man or woman. However, when considering transgender women as a specific group in Thai society, most refer to themselves as "phuying", which means women in Thai, a minority refers to themselves as "phuying praphet song", i.e. a second kind of woman, and only a few refer to themselves as Kathoey.
Despite Kathoey's number may seem surprisingly high in Thailand, statistically the prevalence of transgender is not higher in this country than in the rest of the world. According to some scholars, the numbers differ from 50,000 to 300,000; probably the exact number is in the middle or so and is in the world average. What seems to change in Thailand is not the prevalence, but the visibility. Kathoeys are openly accepted rather than stigmatised in this tolerant nation. There are strong cultural reasons why trans women have a relevant place in the Thai society.
It is not a modern phenomenon and, at least in part, lay in religion and religious attitudes of this country. About 95% of the Thai population follows the rules of Theravada Buddhism, which is a localized form of Buddhism that has it’s origin in Indian Hinduism. In Buddhism, there are 4 genders, not only male and female, but also Bhatobyanjuanaka and Pandaka. Pandaka meant that the person belonged to a socially stigmatized class of gay men dressed as women. Bhatobyanjuanaka was originally associated to hermaphrodite, but many subsequent texts would include in this category people who may be mentally of another gender, so has now become the common interpretation of kathoey according to Buddhism. The belief in the existence of more than two sexes and modern interpretation of Bhatobyanjuanaka could be the one reason for the accepting attitude of the Thai-society towards kathoey.
Throughout the country, many kathoeys work in predominantly female occupations, such as shop assistant, waitress, beautician and receptionist, but they also perform well-distinguished cultural roles like entertainers at weddings, photographic and fashion models and of course dancers in Ladyboy cabarets and cultural shows. Several popular Thai models, singers and movie stars are kathoeys, while some others are business owners, politicians, mayors and government employees. Kathoey beauty contests are commonly held throughout the country, including the famous Miss Tiffany's Universe. Beginning in 1998, this beauty contest takes place every year in Pattaya, during mid-May, and is opened to all transgender women who may or may not have gone through sex reassignment surgery. All contestants need to have Thai nationality and be between the age of 18 and 25. With over 100 applicants, the pageant is considered to be one of the most popular transgender beauty contests in the world. According to the Miss Tiffany's Universe website, the live broadcast attracts record of 15 million viewers. In addition to the considerable cash prizes, crown, car, jewelries and other gifts from sponsors, Miss Tiffany's Univers is Thailand's official representative to Miss International Queen.
In contrast to all this, it's no secret that a large number of them also work as prostitutes, go-go dancers or bar girls. Prostitution in Thailand is officially banned but still tolerated, either for kathoeys availing or women providing. Far worse would be to be unable to send money home. And a popular kathoey can make a lot of money as sex worker, far more than she would as a dancer or fashion model. Although there is a tolerant attitude of Thai’s towards transsexuals, kathoeys currently face some social and legal impediments. Families, especially fathers, are generally disappointed if a child becomes a kathoey, and they often have to face the prospect of coming out. Legal recognition of kathoeys and transgender individuals is non-existent in Thailand, and although trans people have had genital re-assignment surgery, they are not allowed to change their sexual status. Discrimination in some employment roles still remains rampant.
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