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One Hundred and One

ladyboy cockThree ladyboys came round to my place the other afternoon for a general social visit and to suggest friends I might like to photograph, and during our conversation two of them mentioned they both came from the same town in Isaan, Roi Et.

Now, the majority of ladyboys I photograph come from Isaan. And of that number, I would say the majority are probably from Roi Et. Why, I asked my two young friends, are there so many ladyboys in Roi Et?

“I not know,” they both said. “But many ladyboy in Roi Et. Many!”

They went on to tell me of a particular muban in Roi Et province that is famous for having a large number of ladyboys. There are, they said, at present 40 ladyboys within this muban. A muban is a village, the smallest administrative district within the Thai governmental system. Taken as an average across the country (I’m looking at Wikipedia here), a muban typically consists of 144 households or 746 persons. So 40 ladyboys represents a significant number of the population. ladyboy Why, why, why, does Roi Et have so many ladyboys, I repeated. Why oh why oh why oh why? And I banged my head against the wall (I feel sorry for that wall, sometimes). They smiled at me again. “Not know!”

They went on to tell me that they were not only talking about ladyboys. “Many, many gay too,” they said. “Not easy find ordinary man in Roi Et.” They went on to explain that the gays sometimes morphed into ladyboys. “Most ladyboy, most gay, they know already from very young. Some want be lady. Some want be gay man. But they know already when still at school.”

I imagine that peer pressure must have some bearing on this. Otherwise I cannot explain why there is such a concentration of ladyboys and gays.

Roi Et (the name translates as “One Hundred and One”) is a rural capital on the northeastern plain of Thailand, depending largely upon agriculture, handicrafts and textiles for its local economy. Like the rest of Isaan the region is relatively poor, and much of the population migrates to Bangkok and Pattaya. Try asking a Bangkok taxi driver where he comes from, and chances are it will be Isaan, and quite possibly Roi Et. ladyboy Career potential for young Thai men in the province is far from good, and the average trajectory of a young Thai male will be early marriage and fatherhood, followed by a lifetime of manual work, possibly enlivened by alcohol and drugs.

It must be a depressing prospect for any sensitive young man growing up there. So, in the earliest years of adolescence, when one’s sexuality is still a floating entity, why not focus on some kind of rebellion. Anything to get out of the trap.

Of course, the shortage of marriageable young men is a problem for the girls of the community. But then ask any Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket go-go dancer where she comes from, and guess what the answer is likely to be.

Girls will be girls

ladyboy cock A friend was asking me the other day if I knew of any lesbian ladyboys. The real thing, he said, not those acting for the benefit of punters. “After all,” he said. “Ladyboys are gays who have taken their feminine side just that bit further. Put two gays into a room, and they are probably going to have sex together. Same thing with ladyboys, surely?”

I pointed out to him that ladyboys are young males who feel happier and more natural living as women. That means they are attracted to men. Not to other ladyboys.

I added that in all the time I have been following the Thai ladyboy scene, I have known only one “lesbian” relationship, and even that was more hearsay than known fact. It was, in fact, a couple I knew down in the South of Thailand. And I would have classified them as two effeminate gays, rather than two ladyboys – although one had silicon boobs.

Ladyboys consider themselves to be female, I pointed out. They would no more think of having lesbian sex than would genetic girls. Possibly even less, I added after a moment’s thought.

I remembered the times I have been privy to ladyboys getting changed together: in my home, ladyboy in ladyboy apartments, in the backstage area of cabaret shows, in the go-go bars. Any malarkey has always been just joking around. And – I have to admit that I notice these things – I have never known a ladyboy to become erect at the sight of her companions during a changing-room session.

This brought me onto another thought, about the way in which a group of ordinary male youngsters starts to feel towards one of their number who decides to become a ladyboy. In the past I have asked about this, but seldom got a satisfactory response.

I remember asking one young ladyboy if her male friends had become interested in her when she started to put on girl’s clothing and makeup. “No,” she said. “They knew me when I was a boy.” She did however say that other boys, friends of friends, began to take an interest, and that she had had a few steady relationships that way. I asked her if gays found her attractive.

“Sometimes,” she said. “But usually gay only interested in man. ladyboy Gay like talk with ladyboy, but not sex. Many Thai guy can go with man or lady, not hundred percent one way or other way. So also like ladyboy, same girl. Better, sometimes, because easy sex. Ladyboy will always have sex. Not same girls. But Thai guy no respect for ladyboy. Have sex, then go away, forget.”

Ladyboys do however enjoy the prospect of watching two men have sex. Sometimes, when I’m taking photos and the model is having difficulty turning herself on, she will delve into her handbag and pull out her mobile. There will be porn clips stored there, and watching one of those will quickly do the job for her.

I stand there listening to the squawks and thumps coming from the mobile’s speaker, and wonder to myself if there could be anything less erotic. But then again, who am I to judge? I find a girl with a cock to be my own particular turn-on. Maybe it’s me who is the weird one.

An eyeful

ladyboy cockThe latest must-have accessory for ladyboys appears to be coloured contact lenses. It has reached the stage where a model with standard brown Thai eyes is something of a rarity, and during a shoot I now frequently find myself confronted by bright blue or hazel eyes, or even by a shade of solid brown that gives the wearer a foxy, rather opaque appearance; not particularly a pleasant one.

Although they are far from being a new idea in Thailand, cosmetic contact lenses have recently become much cheaper and are being made in a range of sometimes startling colours. Ladyboys being ladyboys of course have to go right over the top and they choose colours that contrast oddly with their natural skin and hair tones.

In person, they don’t look especially bizarre, but under photographic flash the lenses take on an extra bright quality. Also, there is no getting away from the fact that a lens is a lens, and it has no expression – so I am getting, literally, a glassy-eyed look.

Musing this over, I recall other fashion trends of the past few years. There was the craze for dyeing hair red or blond, or an in-between colour that was a Coca-Cola shade. One model even turned up for a shoot with her pubes dyed blond, which actually was very effective. The hair colouring was good, because it gives a real lift to the photographs

Then there were the talon-like fingernail attachments, often ladyboy with vibrant colours or strange designs. Again, yes, quite good for photos, and they had the added advantage of hiding chewed nails and fingertips – details that are important in close-up, because scruffy nails and skin is a turn-off. Some years ago, when vampire films were all the rage, I would see ladyboys with vampire tooth-caps. Some of these were good quality, but I did ponder the wisdom of going to a dentist and having a perfectly good incisor tooth filed down to take an enamel fang.

And let us not forget the mania for tattoos, which in Bangkok has been going on for some years and which now must surely have reached its peak. It is at the stage now where, when I find a ladyboy who does not have some kind of tattoo, I involuntarily comment on the fact. The most common is a Buddhist prayer that is tattooed onto the left shoulder blade, but massive illustrations covering almost the entire back are becoming the semi-norm. Ladyboys never do things in moderation. Quite what they will think of these works of art 20 years from now is anyone’s guess.

A novel approach

third sexThailand’s ladyboys receive little serious coverage in the media, and also I don’t know of any work of fiction that attempts a serious explanation of the phenomenon. When I wrote No Angel, available now for download from Amazon, I wanted to describe Thai ladyboys in a credible way, and to describe what it is like to know them intimately. I also wanted to place them against a realistic background. Whether or not it works, I really don’t know.

What I did do however was to draw upon many of my own experiences. The material was just too good to ignore. Consequently, much of the book is pure documentary. So, yes, there really was an Angel, and she was much as she appears in the story. Her background was the same, and her appearance and personality the same. But of course there is a point where the real-life Angel and the fictional Angel separate, and the character depicted in the book can be regarded as fiction.

There was also an Apple, and the Twins. At least, the original inspiration for them existed: in the story, the characters quickly left their origins behind and became pure imagination. third sexSuki and the travelling cabaret really existed. The Major has his origins in a real-life character, but he never did have a sliding panel and two-way mirror. The three Kevins I met, although in real life they weren’t called Kevin.

The apartment on Suan Phlu existed, and disappeared in similar circumstances to those described. The drunken apartment manager and the Mousekeeper are both based on reality. So too is the mansion apartment in Ramkhamhaeng, and much of what is described in the book actually happened there.

What is however a complete work of fiction is the political background against which the story is set, and the characters and events depicted. Bandhit owes his existence purely to a Chinese man I knew many years ago in Hong Kong, who had the same startling appearance. Arthit, Prakit, and Chao Cheewit have their existence only in the mind of the author.

The choice of illustration for a cover gave me some problems, third sexin that I had plenty of material to choose from but that I had to make the final product acceptable to potential readers, rather than catering to my own interest in ladyboy bottoms. I discarded two versions, which I’m posting here, before deciding on the version that appears at the top of this column.

I would welcome the feedback from anyone who reads the book. A review on Amazon would be great, as it pushes the book up the search engines. The first one and a half chapters can be read for free by clicking on the thumb of the cover in the Amazon store.

A gay view

ladyboy cockI had some interesting insights recently as to what prompts the formation of a ladyboy. I was talking to a young gay guy, who was 18 years old and had just landed a job at the makeup department of one of Bangkok’s largest department stores. He was explaining that he is from Roi Et, in Isaan, one of the regions that has more than its fair share of ladyboys.

There were, he said, many young gays growing up in that province. Life in and around Roi Et is not easy for working class Thais, and the temptations for the average young man to take to drugs, booze or petty crime, rather than succumb to the mind-numbing manual work that his father and all those before him had to do in order to survive, are considerable.

He said he found the girls of his neighbourhood to be consistently pushy, eager to get married and have children, anything to get away from their oppressive and poverty-stricken home life. Several of his friends had got girls pregnant when they were in their mid-teens. Some had knuckled down ruefully to mundane lives, while others had simply run away.

When he was an adolescent, my young friend had had no particularly gay inclinations. He and his friends had done the usual things that youngsters do, flashing their cocks around, but there was no sexual frisson between him and any of the members of his group.

At the same time, he was wary of girls. He was excited by them, but had heard so many horror stories of older boys being trapped into marriage, that he began to distrust them. “I was scared of even being in the same room, breathing the same air, in case I made one pregnant!” he said.

When he was 14, he had had a crush on an older boy, who had been working in Bangkok. The boy told him how easy it was to make money in a gay bar, and that there was no need to actually be gay to do it. Then the older boy had shown him a few things, which made my young friend reconsider his attitude towards his sexuality.

As he grew up, he began to seek the company of older boys, and to find comfort in going to bed with them. ladyboy cockHe said there was no feeling of involvement, it simply became a sexual adventure. He began to move in Roi Et’s gay circles, and this of course brought him into the world of ladyboys. He told me that he was very much aware, in the early years of adolescence, that there were kids of his age experimenting with dressing as girls. None of his friends seemed to find this strange, but he was also aware that these fledgling ladyboys were causing considerable upset to the conservative adults of the community.

It was understandable that their families were upset, he explained, but also he could see that their rebellion – for that is partly what it was – was upsetting the established order.

“There was a lot of tolerance for them, but at the same time people were angry at them because they were rejecting their community standards. They were upsetting everything. But this only drove them on to be even more flamboyant and outrageous.”

The girls were also upset, he said. The young ladyboys found regular companionship with older boys and with men, even married men. They always seemed to have money, because their men friends gave them gifts. Nobody expected a ladyboy to work in the fields or the factories. Not the attractive ones, anyway.

What made them experiment in the first place, I asked him.

“Some were naturally effeminate. Some did it simply because their friends did it. Some did it because it meant belonging to an exclusive group. Some identified closely with their mothers, because their fathers were drunk or violent, or both. Some saw a theatrical career ahead of them.

“You must remember that we Thais do not condemn people for their sexuality,” he said. ladyboy“We also do not think it strange that someone prefers to dress as a girl, and to behave like a girl. There is no shame for a man to have a relationship with a ladyboy.”

He added that an attractive ladyboy can always find men who will support her. If she stays in her home village or town, she will be taken care of and probably be able to save enough money to open a small business – maybe just a food stall, or a stall in the market selling flowers or clothes. But enough to get out of the dreadful dead-end of labouring jobs.

Had he ever had any desire to become a ladyboy himself? No, he said, although he had joined in sessions with ladyboys, putting on makeup and even dressing up. “They were fun times, but I just didn’t feel I could go that extra step and become a ladyboy,” he said. “I am a man. I have a cock. I look like a man.”

Being gay seems to have released his creative abilities. He enjoys doing makeup, and has an ambition to study interior design or landscape design. “I understand ladyboys,” he told me. “I understand gays. I understand straight guys. From where I am, I think I have a pretty good understanding of people.”