All my life, my heart has sought a thing I cannot name.

— Remembered line from a long-forgotten poem.

Beautiful, androgynous, half-women/half men: the “ladyboys” of Bangkok’s redlight districts are of a separate tribe.

Courteous, sweet, kind, soft-spoken; they can also be pushy, rude, mean, loud, aggressive, and — in rare instances — violent. They are honest and loyal to those they like; thievish and mendacious to those they dislike. A smart person never gets on the bad side of a Thai ladyboy.

The ones from upper-class and middle-class families seldom wind up working as “katoey” prostitutes (“katoey” is a mildly derogatory Thai term for “transsexual”). The raucous go-go bar/brothels of Bangkok’s Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy redlight districts employ ladyboys from lower and lower-middle class backgrounds, almost exclusively. Although there is little overt social discrimination against transgendered people in Thailand, there is rampant employment discrimination and poor katoeys can only find work as beauticians, cabaret performers, and — of course — as dancers/hostesses/prostitutes.

Many begin their hooking careers by catering to the sexual needs of Thai men. Then, they hear that Westerners often desire “something different” in the way of sex (and can afford to pay a lot more for it than Thai men). So, eventually, most ladyboy prostitutes drift into the dark, smoky, cavernous, air-conditioned white men’s nightclubs. Here, they flatter, flirt, cajole, and grope their smitten johns. At the end of the night, it can bring them money, gold jewelry, and — if a “girl” can really play the game well — an apartment, a car, even a house. But, most katoeys will never see these things, too many traps await them: drugs, alcohol, AIDS, gambling, and the biggest trap of all: chronic inattentiveness to the ravages of time. No man desires an old transsexual.

The people featured herein are not merely “nightcrawlers” who prowl for “tricks” in the Bangkok demimonde. They are also flesh-and-blood human beings who feel, laugh, cry, love, die . . . they have their hopes, their dreams . . . . .

In the end, are they really so very different from the rest of us?

The Erotic Fine Art Photography Of
Angelo Victor Mercure

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