Dear Pa Farang,
As a twenty-year military man now stationed in Thailand, I’m faced with something I never encountered at home. I’m writing to you, because I can’t discuss this with anyone at the base. I might add that I’m considered handsome, a man’s man, and 100% heterosexual.
I’ll lay it on the line. My ex and I divorced last year after a twenty year marriage, mostly good, occasionally one or snafus, and we raised a couple of good kids. The military life can be a lonely one without some companionship, and last year, to my utter joy, I fell in love with Tilac, a stunning 22 year old girl who is a wonderful conversationalist, and has taken over my house, washing my clothes, making dinner, and generally keeping a good house. Initially, I had noticed that her hands and feet were a bit on the large side (the latter she told, me, was because she swam a lot as a youngster). Anyway, Pa Farang, the girlfriend of a buddy told him that Tilac is no lady at all, but a man! I thought this was absurd, and told Tilac, who ran out of the house in tears. She’s been away for two days, and I’ve never been sadder. I don’t know what to do. As a Baptist, I’m going to have a difficult time accepting this, if it turns out she is, in Thai nomenclature, a Ladyboy. I must add that we had normal sexual relations, so I never saw anything like this coming.
Do you know of any other westerners who’ve been faced with this? And how is a man supposed to react to this? Have I been deceived? Was she after my money? And how am I supposed to react now? I’ll admit it: I miss her.
– Sergeant in Suspense
While you’re obviously in pain, I do want to ask, as a Baptist, isn’t premarital sex prohibited by your sect? If so, and you have violated that rule, why are you worried about with whom you have violated it? This is not a column dedicated to spiritual matters, but you might want to sort this one out. These dilemmas are common in Thailand, and have convinced many a westerner to consider the merits of the Buddhist philosophy.
Now to the specifics of your challenge. Based on what you’re saying, Tilac is, indeed a Ladyboy. This does not make you, as my colleague Uncle Go would put it, a “gay king”. It is estimated by scholar Richard Totman that between .01 to .05% of the Thai population are ladyboys, so at roughly 62 million people, that would amount to between 62,000 and 310,000 individuals in a geographical area the size of France. Ladyboys often determine their future while in their early teens, and begin living and dressing as women at that time. As a rule, Thai families are far more accepting of the preferences of their adolescents that are western families, and in Theravedic Buddhism, being a ladyboy is often considered a result of certain activities in past lives. The Thai philosophy, therefore, is one of compassion or sympathy, as each Thai may have been, or could be, a ladyboy in another life. Throughout Thailand, you will encounter ladyboy entertainment shows, and Thai soap operas often feature them as characters. Ladyboys sometime have sex-change operations , some do not. From your description, Tilac did.
What should you do? If you’re in love, I suggest you re-contact Tilac, who is probably waiting for you, but concerned about your reaction. Tell her that, as a western man, you find the situation not common to your culture. Show The Good Manner by discussing things calmly, and follow your heart. Even though bringing your ladyboy girlfriend to an important business dinner may be something you may want to reconsider, most Thais will accept your relationship. This will not be the case in other SE Asian countries, and you may have a problem getting her into your own country, as her passport will identify her as being male. Incidentally, you will often hear the word “katoey”, instead of “ladyboy”. Many ladyboys consider this a pejorative term, so be sure you ask Tilac which word she prefers. Tilac is a lady, and should be treated with the same dignity with which you’d treat any other lady you care deeply about.
– Pa Farang
Read Pa Farang’s other columns for more advice on relationships in Southeast Asia