Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ladyboy Interview

Ladyboy Interview: Part 1of 2 - Bohol, Philippines 

Eat your hearts out, ladies! Because some of these babes are prettier, sexier, and absolutely more feminine than you are, and they're not even women. They're Ladyboys! Ladyboys, if you haven't heard of them, (hope I get this right) are transgender males who often dress and present themselves in public in woman’s' attire. The popular narrative about this is that Thais, and other Asian cultures, consider Ladyboys not to be precisely male or female, but legitimately something else, a 3rd sex. OK...

I've been to Thailand a good number of times and yes, one does see them mixing in "normal" (let's read that as average) hetero-centric society. In fact, the truly fascinating thing about ladyboys in Thailand, to me, is that unless THEY choose to make an issue of their gender identity, pretty much no-one else does... except, that is, foreign tourists who are fascinated by them.

The first time I heard the term, I had just climbed into a Tuk Tuk, one of those motorcycle rickshaws that serve as taxis in Bangkok. I wasn't seated behind the driver for more than a minute or two before he turned around and went into the common Tuk Tuk driver routine of trying to sell me something other than the ride. At first he offered me (what I understood to be the services of) a prostitute, asking if I wanted "a girl?" and when I declined that, and without skipping a beat, "a boy?" and then, not knowing what sort of taste I had in sexual partners for hire, he asked "you wan' ladyboy?" I declined that option, too, by the way; I was in town to see the temples and klongs, in other words looking for stimulation of a cultural, not sexual nature. My blasé and ready for any variety of tourist he might encounter, although determined to make some sort of sale, driver, then shifted into offering me bargains on emeralds or rubies, and then when I declined even that, as well, asked me "you wan' seafood dinner?" By then, we had arrived at the Sheraton Royal Orchid, my hotel, and I was left to ponder over a Chang beer in the lobby bar, the concept of Ladyboy. I found the term itself, so up-front and unabashed, so straight forward, but inelegant a use of language, to be interesting, as I found the matter-of-fact way it is offered in conversation. Here, was something truly different.

During the several tours of Thailand that I took over the next few years, I caught glimpses of ladyboys in stores and on the streets and on Bangkok’s modern Metro, an elevated rapid transit system that moves its population around the city. And, as I would see over and over again, the only folks who seemed to acknowledge them as something outside the ordinary were foreign tourists. 

Then, a few years after that Tuk Tuk ride, I was on a budget tour of the country and seated with my brother, (often my traveling companion) at a large group table, having lunch in, I believe it was, the city of Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. As luck would have it our "waitress" was a ladyboy. She (I believe it is correct to call her that even though under her garments one would find biological evidence to the contrary) was late twenties, quite pretty and wearing makeup, but in this case with the larger hands of a man and that telltale bodily proportion of wide shoulders and narrow hips (the opposite a woman's) that showed her to be transgender. Chatting up waiters and waitresses is something I do ordinarily; I find this harmless acknowledgement of a fellow human's intellect and personality to be informative and fun. And I didn't see any reason not to engage this one in some polite chit chat about the city we were in, the weather, and the experience of serving tables... whatever came to mind. We had a pleasant exchange, one without any hint of either of us acknowledging that there was anything out of the ordinary happening. And in her mind, I feel certain, that WAS the case, exactly.

The peculiar thing about this, though, was that the biggest contingent within our dozen-strong tour group was a group of middle aged gay men from the New York City area. My brother and I (who are not gay, by the way) got along famously with these guys, who turned out to be great traveling companions... HOWEVER, they, who were seated to my immediate right as I had my little 10 minute chat with our ladyboy waitress, seemed to be very put off by my behavior. I guess, they simply couldn't get with the Thai program that ladyboys are just average people and there is nothing to make a fuss about or really, to even notice, about them. They are just more people in the eternal crowd of humanity that one shares the world with.

I was reminded of all this as I came across this video on YouTube.  Its creator is a guy whose successful and popular series of videos about his experience in moving his life to the Philippines, is one I've watched a good deal. His agenda is simply to show other Westerners what life is like in the Philippines. He is the very picture of a well adjusted, middle aged man, who earns part of his living (I think) describing in his videos his experiences and giving advice to others interested in following his example.  I've enjoyably watched his modest, but interesting, videos about the cost of living, renting apartments, dating Philippine women, dealing with immigration rules, etc. etc. etc. And, I guess, it is no surprise that eventually he would do one on ladyboys in the Philippines, as well.

What I like about this video so much is its authentic spontaneity. Apparently, he saw a ladyboy, one who was appealing in her dignified way of being, while shopping in a mall and politely asked if he could interview her. A charming slice of life, I think. The interview is quite revealing, as the interviewer casts about for worthwhile questions to ask,  and the ladyboy subject gives frank and heartfelt answers in response. One is left with the impression that this video gives a good view of the average life of the average ladyboy. This is a very unpretentious, very human exchange. Great stuff... great YouTube video! 

By the way, this series, as of this writing and according to the 'stats' posted alongside the videos, seems to draw in the thousands to low ten thousands of views per video. This, I think, is pretty successful, but not overwhelming, compared to some of the YouTube superstars' level of success in drawing views. Those guys draw in the hundreds of thousands of views, ordinarily. This particular video, the ladyboy interview Part 1, though, shows almost 160 thousand views, this morning. In other words, there's much more interest in this one. Further, there are a GREAT MANY videos by other producers about Thai ladyboys posted on YouTube. And I'll point out that while this one seems to me to be straightforward reporting about an interesting facet of life in a corner of the world where life is quite different from the US, not all of the video offerings in this ladyboy genre are so. Some of them seem to me to be motivated by, or drift into, pure titillation with something that both fascinates and puzzles us; something that we find appealing, but in a way that makes us uncomfortable.



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