androgynous, half-women/half men: the ladyboys of
Bangkoks 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 Bangkoks 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 mens 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?