written by Martina

Being Transgender in Thailand

I have lived in Thailand off and on for 16 years with twice yearly visits to Australia. During that time it has been interesting to observe the cultural differences in attitudes to crossdressers and transgenders in Thai society.
Most have heard of the lady-boys in the sex industry but many choose to work in other occupations.

One day I was walking through the cosmetics section of a big department store looking for some new eyeliner. I passed a tall pretty girl behind one of the counters and I heard a voice say in English: "Are you looking for something?" I realised, from the voice, that the pretty girl was a lady-boy and quickly did a U-turn and asked her about eyeliner. She was great and a very good salesperson as I ended up walking away with some very expensive eyeliner and a brush to match, but we did have a lot of fun in the process! The fact is that all the major department stores in Bangkok employ lady-boys in the cosmetics and other areas of the store. They also appear in restaurants and as receptionists in a variety of situations.

I have always have reservations about going out dressed in Australia, but have few qualms about dressing in Thailand. I was staying in a hotel in Chiang Mai last year and although I arrived and left as a guy, I spent the whole time there en femme. I had to book a room for someone else and I went to reception. The girl wanted to see my passport and know my room number, but she never gave any indication about my being dressed as a girl. That is quite typical around Thailand.

I now live in Chiang Mai where I have a very good friend named Cathy and we often go out for coffee or visit a wine bar and no one turns a hair. That is how it is here in Thailand; very refreshing indeed.
I worked at a university in Bangkok for 3 years. All students at all levels are required to wear uniform in Thailand and for universities that means a white shirt or blouse and a black skirt or trousers. If you turn up without uniform you might be barred from attending the class, but if you are a guy and turn up in a girl's uniform (or vice versa) that is OK. We had several students that did exactly that.
I think attitudes in Australia are changing for the better, but we have a long way to go to catch up to Thailand in this respect.

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