Thai ladyboy culture is strong in both quality and quantity. No matter where you go in Thailand, you’re bound to meet at least one beautiful ladyboy.
So, you might want to know why there are so many ladyboys in Thailand.
Thailand is, to a degree, open to the concept of gender fluidity. And 5 main reasons support this openness: Thai attitude, Thai Buddhism, Thai media, Thai beauty Contests, and Thai cosmetic surgeries. All five reasons work together and push Thailand to be even more welcoming toward LGBTQIA2S+.
But of course, there is more depth to the story. The members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community in Thailand also struggle with their daily lives. Read on to get a bird’s eye view of the ladyboys’ situation in Thailand.
***For the sake of convenience, this article will refer to LGBTQIA2S+ as LGBT.***
Why Are There So Many Ladyboys in Thailand?
Ladyboys are everywhere. They are not just a group of people in Thailand but are also present in your neighborhood. The thing is, they might not be expressing themselves to the fullest.
There is no definitive answer to why the ladyboy culture in Thailand blooms more than in the neighboring nations or even most countries. But the general reason is that Thailand is more open to gender fluidity.
To a certain degree, Thai people just accept ladyboys as who they are. Most Thai understand that ladyboys don’t become ladyboys because they choose to be; they become ladyboys because that is how they function. It’s like having 10 fingers. You don’t decide to have 10 fingers — you just have.
However, this kind of acceptance doesn’t come naturally. Thai people took time and effort to suppress the discrimination too. They just did it efficiently. 5 factors make Thailand embrace ladyboys, gender fluidity, and LGBT better than many other countries.
1. Thai Attitude
As you probably know, Thai people love to conform to groups and communities. But while conformity dictates many parts of their behavior, they are also paradoxically easygoing.
This means while Thai people are quick to call out anything out of the ordinary, they are even quicker to forgive and let things go.
The most obvious example is the red light crossing. There could be as many as 122,000 cases of red light violation a month. And that is in Bangkok alone. (Source)
Of course, the violators were punished, but the punishment was insignificant. They will just live on and commit it again. That’s why Thai people ignore red lights like it’s normal.
So when it comes to ladyboy culture, Thai people figuratively see it as yet another red light crossing. At first, they see men acting like women as traditionally unbecoming. But the more they see it, the more ladyboys become “normal.”
Unlike red light violation, being a ladyboy is not a crime. It doesn’t hurt anyone. So, Thai people have an easier time accepting it.
Another Thai characteristic that helps people accept the ladyboys culture is humor. Most ladyboys play clowns in a group, lighting up the mood and atmosphere. And Thai people love that. As a result, ladyboys are usually beloved in groups of friends.
2. Thai Buddhism
When you hear an argument against LGBT, you often hear about religions as part of the reasons. Of course, this happens in Thailand too. However, it is not as harsh and brutal as in other Christian or Muslim countries.
One thing to note is that Buddhism has sects and other variations. This means that the practice and ritual differ depending on the region. For example, Shaolin monks have a more aggressive and violent image than monks from Tibet. This concept of differences is similar to Catholicism and Protestantism in Christianity.
In Thailand, the locals practice a variation of Theravada Buddhism (which is considered “less strict”).
Some Thai people believe that being LGBT is a form of punishment. They argue being neither male nor female was caused by your sin of sexual immorality in a previous life. (Source)
Of course, this is impossible to prove.
But regardless of the legitimacy of their claim, the state of being an LGBT is not a sin itself. So, it is awkward to use Thai Buddhism to argue against ladyboys. And if you did, you would probably rouse more sympathy rather than hatred. Repenting for the sins of the unknown previous life would sound unfair to most people.
Want to know the 5 Precepts (Rules) of Buddhism? Check out our article: “What Is Forbidden in Buddhism?“
3. Thai Media
In the modern world, the media holds virtually limitless power.
And with such power to influence people, Thai media plays a significant role in setting up the stage for ladyboys to shine.
The first appearance of Thai ladyboys in the media is difficult to pinpoint. However, it might go back further in time than you think. In 1954, there was already an indie silent black & white film about “Katoey,” or ladyboy, in Thailand. This film was called “กะเทยเป็นเหตุ” (Katoey Pen Hade) or “It’s All Because of Katoey.” (Source)
This film depicts the unrealistic relationship between straight men and a beautiful ladyboy. Since Thai people love humor, the film has a comedy vibe in its storytelling. (Source)
But this comedic aspect also shows that Thai people of the time see ladyboys as a laughing stock.
But as time passed, ladyboys gained more presence in the entertainment media. Most of them started off with a focus on comedy. However, many also succeed in healthcare, fashion, and other lifestyle TV programs.
Seeing ladyboys appear in the media every day eventually becomes normal to Thai people. And their attitude starts to change. Ladyboys are no longer just a laughing stock but talents rivaling those of straight men and women.
4. Thai Beauty Contests
On a worldwide scale, you might have heard of Miss International Queen. It is arguably the biggest pageant for trans women in the world.
In Thailand, these kinds of pageants exist as well. And they offer a variety of contests for the audience to attend and enjoy.
Mr. Gay World Thailand
As the name suggests, this is a contest for gay men to flex their appearance supremacy in fancy costumes. But that’s not the only thing they do.
All participants must undergo trials like written tests, interviews, societal campaign proposals, and more. These processes guarantee that the winner is not only a looker but also a kind-hearted person ready to change society for the better. (Source)
Miss Tiffany Universe
You will hear of this contest if you are interested in Thai ladyboy culture. Why? Because this is the stage where the most gorgeous trans women in Thailand gather together.
The winner of this event will continue to compete in the Miss International Queen. (Source)
You might wonder what a legendary rock star has to do LGBT beauty contest. No, ACDC here is not a rock band. It stands for “Alternative Creature’s Devoted Creation.” (Source)
This contest’s highlight is not the beautiful faces of the participants. It’s the creativity and humor of how they present themselves. The audience of Miss ACDC is bound to laugh every minute. You can almost think of it as a parody contest.
These contests are another factor that encourages all the LGBT in Thailand to express themselves. They also help Thai people accept the concept of gender fluidity faster.
5. Thai Gender-Affirming Surgery
Thailand used to be a world-class destination for those seeking ladyboy surgery. (Source) From genital removal to breast transplant and augmentation. Thailand has almost everything a ladyboy would need.
Since there is no official survey, it is impossible to name the number of cosmetic surgery clinics and hospitals that perform gender-affirming surgery in Thailand. But it is safe to say that it reaches hundreds or even thousands.
The most famous name among these hospitals is Yanhee. They position themselves as a “beauty hospital,” focusing their technology on cosmetic surgery and other beauty-related treatment. (Source)
If you asked a ladyboy where to get Gender-Affirming surgery, about half would say, “Yanhee.”
Of course, this type of surgery only saw a boom because of the high number of ladyboys in Thailand. They wouldn’t be this popular otherwise. On the other hand, these medical procedures also encourage the LGBTs to express themselves further. It’s a loop that makes Thailand more accepting of gender fluidity.
Wondering how beautiful ladyboys can be? Check out our article: “10 Most Famous Asian Ladyboys From Thailand & SE Asia.”
How Are Ladyboys Viewed in Thailand?
The position of ladyboys in Thailand is quite complex. On the surface, the locals accept them as an integral part of society. But if you dig deeper, you will find that such a thing as 100% acceptance doesn’t exist.
Many parents are still skeptical about seeing their sons behaving like a girl. And that is understandable. After all, Thailand had been a patriarchal society for a good chunk of history. Many old-school parents still hold on to that image of a “masculine leader.”
With such conservative parents, the ladyboy-to-be children and teens will hide their gender orientation away from their families. But that doesn’t mean they don’t show their tendencies at all. They usually express themselves openly at schools where friends and teachers are more understanding and accepting.
In a sense, these kids are living a double life. They behave like women during the day at school and act like men at home during the nighttime.
Of course, it is only a matter of time before their parents find out. And once they do, it usually ends in a big argument. However, the parents usually can’t do anything. All they could do was express their disappointment or frustration.
Even though they don’t condone LGBT, they understand that this is a new age. Things are not the same anymore.
Some parents escalate the matter by declaring they wouldn’t financially support their child anymore. Some even send their child to a psychiatrist. But in the end, most of these parents have to accept the reality one way or another.
In the working adult world, ladyboys are culturally accepted, especially in the creative, art, and fashion field. However, this acceptance isn’t 100%. Many LGBT people find building trust in the workplace difficult, notably in the education field, where most personnel are somewhat conservative. (Source)
Interesting Facts About Thai Ladyboy Culture
LGBT Marriage Is Impossible in Thailand
Culturally, Thailand is open toward LGBT, ladyboys, and gender fluidity. On the legal front, however, it’s a different story.
As of 2019, there were around 3.6 million Thai LGBT (around 5% of the population). (Source)
But despite such a number, Thailand’s government still hasn’t legalized marriage between two people of the same sex.
As a result, most LGBT couples just live together. They aren’t recognized as a married couple by law and don’t receive the benefits the married do.
Ladyboys Are Unacceptable in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand
As mentioned, Buddhism plays a crucial role in Thai people’s attitude towards ladyboys. However, the people in Thailand’s southern border provinces are mostly Muslims. As a result, you don’t see many ladyboys in that region.
As you may or may not know, Muslims are serious about gender orientation. So, people there might react negatively to ladyboys and other LGBTs.
However, this negativity doesn’t stop some LGBTs from coming out. They chose to be branded as a sinner to express who they are. (Source)
Ladyboy Culture & Thai Culture
It is unclear why Thailand has so many ladyboys. But the factor you cannot overlook is the Thai Culture itself. Without the flexible attitude and lax Buddhism of Thai people, it is hard to imagine a boom of ladyboys and LGBT in this country.
Of course, the media, the contests, and the surgery also play a crucial part in this. But these three factors came after ladyboys became influential in Thailand. They are additional factors that encourage the locals to express themselves further.
As of 2022, ladyboys and LGBT are still not 100% accepted in Thailand. But if the current trend continues, you might see a day when Thailand is fully open to gender fluidity — culturally and legally.
And if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.
Now you know why there are so many ladyboys in Thailand. But can you tell them apart from women? Here’s how you do: Thai Ladyboy Guide: How to Spot, Meet & Date a Kathoey