I was recently asked what is a Katoey and why are there so many Thai Ladyboys or Katoey in Thailand. Indeed, in some cities, Thai Ladyboys do appear to outnumber the Thai ladies, Pattaya being a prime example.
The normally accepted definition of a Katoey is that a Katoey is a female soul trapped inside a male body and I’m sure in many cases this is true but it doesn’t answer the question why there are so many Ladyboys in Thailand compared to other countries. The generally given answer is that in Thailand, Katoeys are completely accepted making it easier for Thai Katoeys to display their true nature. For some Thai Ladyboys this may be true but it is not true to say that Katoeys are completely accepted. There is most definitely a stigma attached to being a Katoey in Thailand. Acceptance is only superficial. Many Katoeys are shunned by their families and friends. The Thai media, in the main, still portrays the stereotype view of Ladyboys and subjects Katoeys to ridicule. So what is the answer. I don’t know for sure, I’m not a Psychologist, but I think that for the real explanation you have to take a look at modern day Thai Society.
Thai society still operates on the class system. The basic division is between “the haves” and “the have nots” and while there are signs of an emerging middle class, the difference between the 2 classes is still immense. For a young boy growing up in a poor rural family in Thailand, especially if he is not the first born, it can be a daunting experience. It is often a case of the survival of the fittest and for any boy not exhibiting the expected requirements of strength and fitness and other macho behavioural traits it can be a lonely and heartbreaking childhood with little or no hope for the future. For these boys, the benefits of further education which could be the key to a better future is just not an option. They face an anonymous life as a farm labourer or work on building sites for which they are poorly equipped. Many of these boys find an escape from this obscurity by joining the world of the Katoey.
Becoming Katoey brings with it certain advantages as well as disadvantages. As a Katoey, the boy will stand out from the crowd. He will gain the friendship and protection of other Katoeys and the love and attention for which he has been craving, and, at least for the prettier ones, will have a much wider range of employment prospects. Many find work as hostesses in Bars and nightclubs. Some find work in the Media especially television and quite a few find work as artistes in Cabaret at one of the many transvestite shows throughout Thailand. The vast Katoey network will often provide many job offers. Being Katoey is considered, at least by some, as being fashionable and brings a touch of glamour into their lives. Sex, not surprisingly, plays very little part in this, I think, conscious decision to live life as a girl instead of a boy. There are just so many Katoeys in Thailand that if they are all the product of the widely held “Gene” theory then there must be too much Oestragen in the rice! I believe we will continue to see rising numbers of Katoeys in Thailand until there is more equality between the classes with better education and higher standards of living for the poor. Until then,Thailand’s “third sex” will continue to populate the Country.