The term kathoey or katoey generally refers to a male-to-female transgender person or an effeminate gay male in
he term "kathoey" is not an exact equivalent of the modern western transwoman — it suggests that the person is a type of male, unlike the term sao praphet song, which suggests a female sex identity, or phet thee sam, which suggests a third gender. The term phu-ying praphet thi sorng, which can be translated as "woman of the second kind", is also used to refer to kathoey. Australian scholar of sexual politics in Thailand Peter Jackson claims that the term "kathoey" was used in premodern times to refer to intersexuals, and that the usage changed in the middle of the twentieth century to cover cross-dressing males. The term can refer to males who exhibit varying degrees of femininity — many kathoeys dress as women and undergo feminising medical procedures such as hormone replacement therapy, breast implants, genital reassignment surgery, or Adam's apple reductions. Others may wear makeup and use feminine pronouns, but dress as men, and are closer to the western category of effeminate gay man than transgender.
Kathoeys are often identified at a young age, and are considered to be "born that way". They may have access to hormones (available without prescription) and medical procedures during their teenage years.
The term "kathoey" may be considered pejorative, especially in the form "kathoey-saloey". It has a meaning similar to the English language "fairy" or "queen".
Kathoeys usually work in traditionally feminine occupations, in shops, coffee bars and restaurants, beauty salons and hairstylists. Many also work in entertainment and tourist centers, as dancers, in cabaret shows Alcazar and Tiffanys in Pattaya are among the best known or as prostitutes.
Kathoeys are more visible and more accepted in Thai culture than transgender or transsexuals are in Western countries or the Indian subcontinent. Several popular Thai models, singers and movie stars are kathoeys, and Thai newspapers often print photos of the winners of female and kathoey beauty contests side by side. The phenomenon is not restricted to urban areas; there are kathoeys in most villages, and kathoey beauty contests are commonly held as part of local fairs.
Some believe that this higher acceptance is due to the nature of the surrounding Buddhist culture, which places a high value on tolerance. Using the notion of Karma, some Thai believe that being a kathoey is the result of transgressions in past lives, concluding that kathoey deserve pity rather than blame.
Pattaya: Kathoeys on the stage of a cabaret show.
A common stereotype has older well-off kathoey provide financial support to young men with whom they are in a personal relationship.
Kathoey women currently face many social and legal impediments. Families (and especially fathers) are typically disappointed if a son becomes a kathoey, and kathoey women often have to face the prospect of coming out. However, kathoey generally have greater acceptance in
In 1996, a kathoey education student murdered a young woman. This was followed by negative coverage of kathoey in the Thai press; the Rajabhat Institutes (teacher training colleges) then closed their doors to all kathoey. The decision was reversed after protests by homosexual and feminist groups.
Also in 1996, a volleyball team composed mostly of gays and kathoeys, known as the The Iron Ladies, which was portrayed in two Thai movies, won the Thai national championship. The Thai government, concerned with the country's image, then barred two of the kathoey from joining the national team and competing internationally.
Among the most famous kathoeys in
In 2004, the
Following the Military Coup in
Revues and music groups
Following a similar group in
The Lady Boys of
Ladyboys is a 1992 documentary film made for Channel 4 TV and directed by Jeremy Marre of Harcourt Films . It relates the story of two teenage kathoey who prepare for and enter a rural beauty contest and then leave for Pattaya to find work in a cabaret revue.
The story of the 1996 Iron Ladies volleyball team underlies the humorous and successful 2000 movie The Iron Ladies and the 2003 sequel The Iron Ladies 2. The 1996 team and the movie inspired other kathoey in the nation to step up for themselves.
The 2002 Thai film Saving Private Tootsie tells the story of a group of gays and kathoey who need to be rescued after a plane crash in rebel-held jungle territory. The film explores anti-gay attitudes in various ways. It is loosely based on an incident in December 1998 when a group including a popular singer and his kathoey makeup artist survived a plane crash.
The life of the kathoey kick boxer Nong Tum is related in the 2003 movie Beautiful Boxer. Unlike The Iron Ladies 1 & 2, Beautiful Boxer used a serious tone.
In the 2005 Thai martial arts film The Warrior King or Tom yum goong, the main villain, Madame Rose, is a kathoey, and there are two references to this in the film (for the US release these were edited out). She is played by Jin Xing who is herself transgendered.
The book Ladyboys: The Secret World of Thailand's Third Gender gives an intimate portrait of