At Findmate, we currently offer three gender options upon registration: male, female and ladyboy. As many outside Thailand, Philippines, et. al. are curious about ladyboy online dating, we wanted to take a minute to separate fact and fiction so you have a little more information before you start chatting. Understandably, some of our western users are confused or even offended by the ladyboy designation, which may be taken for a slur. In fact, ladyboy refers to a specific grouping of gender identities in Thailand, and is the preferred English-language term in the country (though you should be respectful in your usage—more on that later). In most parts of Southeast Asia, terms like transsexual, transgender, non-binary and intersex haven’t yet caught on widely, and acceptance of LGBT communities is typically fairly limited.
Thai Language Terms
kathoey – Usually translated as “ladyboy”, or occasionally as “transgender”
phet thi sam – “third gender”
sao praped song – “second-type lady”
ying kam pedt – “cross-gender woman”
phuying kham phet – “transsexual woman” (a recent term)
Tom – masculine-presenting female; may or may identify as a lesbian (butch)
Dee – roughly equivalent to a “femme” lesbian in the western duality
Adam – a male attracted to Toms.
Thailand is something of an exception in many ways, as ladyboys (or kathoey) are a recognized and broadly accepted (or at least, tolerated) “third” gender identity. What the term ladyboy constitutes is less specific than western LGBT identities like crossdresser/transvestite or lesbian:
“There is a performative aspect to the way drag artists use dressing up as the opposite sex (often in exaggerated tones), whereas being a ladyboy is a state of being, akin to transgenderism: ‘We are this way all the time.’
Nor is the term, necessarily, derogatory—although it may feel that way to a casual observer. [Ladyboy dancer Thanyakarn] Rattanarak says it depends on the intent with which the word is said. ‘We are happy for people to call us ladyboys, if they talk nice,’ she says.” (The Guardian)
Ladyboy embraces many varieties of effeminate gays as well as transgendered women: the common thread is generally accepted to be that they are genetic males who identify as either female or a distinct, femme third gender. (There isn’t the same recognition of biological females who identify as male in the public sphere, though the Tom/Dee binary, which bears similarities to the western butch/femme dynamic, has some overlap.)
Thai culture is deeply influenced by its traditional Buddhist faith, which, unlike many religions, has no prohibitions against homosexuality. Thai ladyboys have easy access to hormones without requiring a doctor’s note, and the country is one of the world’s leaders in cosmetic and gender reassignment surgeries. There are a number of popular beauty pageants for kathoey, some of which are even used to help raise funds for the upkeep of temples. Thailand is one of the few countries in the world to have special policies and accommodations for LGBT prisoners, while universities have begun to offer trans-specific uniform options. Parinya Charoenphol (also known as Nong Toom), a ladyboy Muay Thai boxer, famously drew international attention by defeating both male and female opponents in order to get enough money to pay for reassignment surgery. The Guardian:
"I don't equate femininity with weakness," she replies on being asked why she would choose to make money from something so aggressively masculine if she always knew that she was a woman. ‘I also knew that I had to be strong, and to protect myself and the people I loved. I was born into poverty and there weren't many ways I could earn a lot of money.’ Does she feel like a man or a woman when she's fighting? ‘I don't think about gender. I think about winning.’”
This is not to say that kathoeys enjoy true equality. Being born kathoey is widely regarded as a punishment for an error in a past life, and as such they are often treated with more pity than true respect. Their opportunities in society are severely circumscribed, as this excerpt from a fascinating report on ladyboy cabaret performers in the UK’s Debrief shows:
“Thai trans people also experience other forms of workplace discrimination. When I ask 23-year-old Nicky […] about this, she initially tells me that ‘it’s easy to find work for ladyboys’. But when I push her – ‘how about if you want to be, say, a doctor or lawyer or politician?’ – her response is quite different. ‘That would be difficult’, she replies quickly; ‘yes, that would be tough!’ According to [an] ILO [International Labour Organization] study, in Thailand transgender people ‘are often excluded from mainstream jobs, especially in the civil service… They are routinely asked about their sexuality in job interviews and subsequently denied the job’. As a result, the majority of trans people ‘including those highly qualified, have no other choice than to earn a living by engaging in limited stereotypical jobs such as cabaret performer, make-up artist, or in cosmetic sales and public relations.’”
Online Ladyboy Dating
As the above makes clear, even within ladyboy culture there is a great deal of diversity. Their partners include straight men, lesbians and other transgendered people. Our best advice for those interested in dating a kathoey is simple: treat her with respect and as an individual. Be curious about her as a person rather than as a fetish object. If her physical characteristics are of importance to you, such as whether she has undergone reassignment surgery, be sensitive in asking. Ladyboys use feminine pronouns, so refer to her as ‘she/her’ unless asked otherwise.
That’s all for this week’s post, so we’ll leave off with a quick link to a beautiful series of intimate portraits of Thai ladyboys by photographer Soopakorn Srisakul. Please note, some of the photos are NSFW!