More than Meets the Eye: Lady Boys in Thailand

E-CityLife – Chiang Mai, Thailand

As I sat outside a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, I paid close attention to every woman as she walked by.

Not enough makeup. Hair too plain. Clothes too ordinary.

I was waiting to meet Neung, a 21 year old French major at Chiang Mai University. All I knew about her was she had won various beauty pageants, and she could speak English well enough for me to interview.

Neung is a kathoey or ‘Lady Boy’ as she prefers to be called. The word kathoey refers to a biological male who exhibits transgendered behaviour, everything from effeminacy to complete sex reassignment.

Neung describes herself as a woman born in a man’s body, and has been taking estrogen pills and injections since secondary school to make her body more feminine.

Having lived in Thailand for the past six months I thought I had developed an eye for distinguishing lady boys from ‘real women’. After all, they are seemingly everywhere; sitting in the university cafeteria dressed in their uniforms, working in almost all the beauty salons, trying on skirts at the mall, and performing in drag on stage at virtually every community performance.