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Ladyboys 101: Who and What are Thai Lady Boys?

The first thing I should say is that our “Ladyboy 101” articles are aimed more at those totally new to the Ladyboy scene (and Thai Ladyboys in particular). While those of us who have lived around Ladyboys for many years don’t think twice about who they are or what to call them (usually choosing to simply ogle and drool over the more attractive ones), for those totally new to the world of Ladyboys – it can take a little time to get your head around the concept of a ‘third sex.’

What Do We Mean By The Term Ladyboy?

The term ‘Ladyboy’ actually began life as a pornographic term to describe sex movies involving Asian transsexuals (specifically those from Thailand), much like the word ‘shemale’ which was also first coined in the porn movie industry. But while the word ‘shemale’ still remains an offensive title, and something you should try to not use to describe or call a transsexual, the word ‘Ladyboy’ has generally become well accepted by Thai transgendered communities.

Today the term Ladyboy has been adopted by Thailand’s transgender population as a more positive word which gives them identity and unity. It is now generally seen as the unofficial English translation for the Thai word ‘Kathoey’ (Thai transsexual). While transsexuals outside of Thailand may still take offense to the word Ladyboy, within Thailand it is often the preferred word to describe a transsexual’s gender. Ultimately the word Ladyboy is used to describe a Thai male who acts and/or lives predominantly as a female.

Why Does Thailand Have So Many Ladyboys?

This is a long and somewhat complicated question and one which we can explore in more detail in another article. It basically comes down to a combination of many factors such as history, culture and religion, all of which have a place for transgendered people in modern day Thailand. (Thailand also has a significant tomboy population – female to male transsexuals).

Ladyboys are widely accepted in Thai culture, though not without some prejudice, here transgender is certainly not the taboo it is in many other countries of the world. Growing up in a Western country most males will be taught and encouraged to ignore any feminine urges and feelings which contradict what it is to be male, whereas in Thailand a far more open and fluid understanding can be found. Yes, many Thai families will prefer their sons to grow up as strong male figures, but often those who develop female tropes and tendencies are far less likely to be ostracized by their families and communities, and will often be able to find Ladyboy role models, whether they be in their schools, local communities, or even icons in the national media.

Ultimately, Thailand’s Ladyboy population has found a place in the country’s huge tourist industry, with the novelty and uniqueness of Ladyboy cabaret shows being among the nation’s biggest tourist attractions, and Ladyboy bars and GoGos making up a significant part of the adult tourist scene.

What’s The Difference Between a Ladyboy and a Transsexual, Shemale, Transvestite or Crossdreser?

As opposed to the terms transsexual, transvestite, crossdresser or shemale, the term Ladyboy (Kathoey) specifically refers to Thailand’s transgendered population (although some will use the term to refer to any Asian transsexual), while the other terms are generally used for persons of any nationality or race.

The terms previously mentioned (Transsexual, shemale, transvestite, and crossdresser), are also all associated with certain looks, sexual desires, or lifestyle choices, whereas the term Ladyboy is the all-encompassing word that can be used to refer to a large spectrum of transgender types, from young gay males who dress and act femininely, to post op Ladyboys who have had every operation possible, and live as a full time female.

Forget What You Thought You Knew

If you’ve never been to Thailand and never met a real Ladyboy before, don’t base your ideas and notions on transvestites / crossdressers you may have seen in your own country or in movies. The Thai Ladyboy population is simply like no other in the world. While many more closed-minded folk will refuse to see Ladyboy as being female, those more educated and experienced find it very difficult to accept them as being male. Hence, Ladyboys are commonly accepted in Thailand as being the “third sex”.

Posted on Gods of Thailand August 24, 2014 in


Kal is known as the Ladyboy Guru of Thailand. In addition to this article, Kal will be sharing his Ladyboy advice and expertise every week on Gods of Thailand. Click here to sign up for our Ladyboy Newsletter and get these updates emailed directly to you in real time.

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