Editor's Note: Robert Ganshorn was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front at Purdue University before creating one of the first Public Television documentaries on gay lifestyles broadcast during his graduate studies at Indiana University. Failing to become the Gay Walter Cronkite, he is retired from Ganshorn & Associates in Chicago and now lives in Thailand with his loving partner of 31 years.
One of the constant things I discover when trying to learn about what is below the surface appearance of things is that initial impressions are wrong.
In my wanderings through my new country I have run across dozens of katoey who appear happy, have boyfriends, and also jobs in very public locations such as grocery stores, flower shops, restaurants, and shows. But in attempting to learn more, I have learned that they too suffer from discrimination and exploitation.
One Thai friend, who proudly showed me his video of himself in drag, owns a bar in a gay friendly part of town. As I don't get out much, I was talking with him during the day about katoeys- who are also referred to as "Thailand's third sex." He told me that other than in special occasions like New Years he discouraged katoeys from remaining in his bar as he felt "they were too disruptive for business" and the patrons of the bar came here to meet Thai men anyway.
Some katoey have to leave their isolated rural villages and some are estranged from their families. If they find a wealthy boyfriend all is forgiven of course. Hmmmmm. Sounds like the American dream...
Many katoeys are transgender and to afford their operations are sometimes prostitutes. Not frequenting brothels or places that exploit others, I was blissfully ignorant of this.
Recently I asked a hetero English fellow I had met (who had lived in Pattaya for nine years) if he "had ever had too much to drink and took home a katoey?" He told me he had, and when he discovered his error he paid the girl, and sent her on her way "unwrapped." He also allowed that there are many katoey who are so beautiful it is the rare hetero guy who has not made this mistake. Some heteros go the whole "Monty" and later blame it on the drink.
My question is what about the possible violent acts against these katoey who are walking the streets. No information seems to exist, but it is a Buddhist country and they generally are a non violent people.
Thailand is a country who might have as a national slogan: "No problem!" There are problems and no place is paradise, but I will say that this is a particularly mellow atmosphere and the attitudes of "live and let live" predominate. Even foreigners who live here chose Thailand because they wanted out of what the West has had to offer.
Imagine the equivalent of the below article appearing in "The Indianapolis Star". It's from the current edition of the "Pattaya People" news magazine:
LADYBOY WELFARE PROGRAMME
New Programme to Help Katoeys
Ladyboys (or Katoeys in Thai) have had a bad Press in recent years especially here in Pattaya. Therefore on the 3rd of April a meeting took place at City Hall to discuss a possible Programme to help these people in the near future. Dr. Somchai Sipeanchan, a representative of Swing and Sister Groups, presided over the meeting. (I must assume these are Swinging Sisters) Swing and Sister are groups formed by ladyboys intended to help each other in the community. also at the meeting were staff members from the Banglamung Hospital and Social Welfare. Although there are many stories about illegal activities involving drugs and theft, some ladyboys who work in bars are often victims of mistreatment, get their belongings stolen and are generally looked down upon in society. This programme is hoped to help get them involved in more community activities...
So the Thai solution on how to stop discrimination against katoeys is to actively involve transgender persons more in the general community.
Maybe I do live in paradise.