RASHMI OBEROI | 5 OCTOBER, 2016
Spectacular In Every Form
The first thing I said after watching the famous and fabulous Tiffany’s Show in Pattaya was… Wow – What a show!! And that came straight from my heart. The performers are stunning, extremely talented and breathtakingly beautiful. The stage, props, costumes, music and dances were out of this world. Glitterati pales in comparison to these top notch entertainers.
For those that are unaware, this show is the Original Transvestite Cabaret Show in Pattaya and now is in its 42nd year. It originally started as a one-man show performed for close friends in 1974 – on New Year’s Eve to be precise. Over the years it has reached great heights with its popularity and originality. The show is a household name in Thailand and famous in Asia as well as around the world, attracting audiences from all corners. In fact, it is now one of the top four spectacular and best shows to see.
The fame of Tiffany's Show is undeniable and has become one of the ‘must-see’ shows plus is a recommended tourist destination that has contributed to the successful growth of Thailand's most popular resort city, Pattaya City. Millions of international visitors from every part of the world have experienced this spectacular performance and enjoyed the marvellous, talented and beautiful Tiffany's performers. Tiffany's Show is a palace of decadence, spectacular elegance, and enjoyment that is not to be missed.
A mix of showcasing Thai dancing and costumes, a Chinese legend with beautiful choreography, dances from Russia, France and Italy, a story from Saigon, traditional Korean dancing and even Bollywood glamour of a Maharaja holding court, you are slowly hypnotised as they weave you into their magic spell for an hour. My personal favourite was the ‘One Man Woman’ performance and a perfect ‘Tina Turner’ replica. The grand finale is Tiffany’s Follies that glitters and shines. From time to time charity concerts are also held here including Miss Tiffany’s Universe and Miss International Queen Pageants. Like they say: All the World is a Stage, and back stage at Tiffany’s is like another world, of make believe, deception, glamour, and lots of hard team work. Kudos to them!
I give full marks to the performers – the ‘Ladyboys’ or ‘Kathoey’ as they are known by. A peek into their lives brings forth a cauldron of mixed emotions ranging from confusion, pain, emancipation, freedom, independence and finally acceptance in society. Their lives have never been easy…it’s only been an uphill task to fight against discrimination, for their rights and for acceptance. Over the years, they have earned their mark and are part of Thai society. You can almost feel the pain behind their smiles and the masks they put on.
Their voices are the only give-way when you speak to them as the manliness and huskiness never goes but if you didn’t have an iota of an idea about them…you would walk past one and think that you had just crossed an amazingly beautiful woman dressed up to the hilt with make-up done to perfection. They are ‘head-turners’ without doubt.
My interactions with them were in many facets of everyday Thai life – as a waitress, as a masseuse, as a beautician, as a shop-keeper and I found them extremely pleasant and polite. One of them serving us at the restaurant where we had our last dinner in Bangkok was a riot. Extremely charming, full of beans and a comedian to boot – keeping us entertained and laughing. Another, present in the Royal Thai Naval Club was confident and carried herself with aplomb. Our morning breakfast at our hotel was always a pleasant experience thanks to one such lovely person. Yes, they are people like us – with feelings and emotions. In fact, it was very easy to start up a conversation with them and have a general chat. I was informed by others that they made great friends…better than men and had more compassion and understanding about life in general!
Although the terms ‘kathoey’ or ‘ladyboy’ are rather vague, simply put, both terms refer to a male who dresses as and adopts the mannerisms and identity of a woman. Though the term is often translated as "transgender", this word is rarely used in Thailand. Instead Thais use the term kathoey. Ladyboys are numerous in Thailand and are seemingly accepted by society, not only in the cities but in the countryside as well. Thai Buddhism does not specifically regard homosexuality as a sin and has no prohibitions regarding the lifestyle. Though kathoeys face discrimination, they are gaining acceptance and have made themselves part of Thai society. They have not yet attained equal status with those who are not transgender. Restrictions come with the identity: the inability to marry someone of the same sex, and not being able to officially change their birth sex on birth certificates or passports.
Many have found success in the entertainment business or in fashion, while the trend of kathoeys being a regular part of entertainment such as movies, music entertainment, and television shows is rather recent. Kathoeys are more visible and more accepted in Thai culture than transgender people are in other countries in the world. 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.
Strangely there is a fascination for Thai ladyboys as seen by the revenue generated by all the tourist ladyboy shows. The sheer number of ladyboys living peacefully in Thailand raises interest I reckon, though I was extremely comfortable in and around their presence so I can’t fathom why anyone would look down on them or treat them as unequals. You need to see things from their perspective.
Many ladyboys not only dress as women but also undergo feminising medical procedures such as hormone replacement therapy, breast implants, genital reassignment surgery, and Adam’s apple reductions. And others prefer to simply sport male clothing, wear make-up and display their long, black womanly locks. Bottom line: there are many different shades of ladyboys under the Thai sun, and while living or travelling in Thailand, you will happen upon a significant number of them – and you may not even realise it!
What I admired most about the Thai people and their culture is that they are so open minded and accepting. They are generally friendly, easy-going, and quick to smile – you see more smiling faces here than anywhere else in the world and they are just too polite to get into any awkward situations or arguments.
It is also relevant to note that Thai people are deeply religious, and Buddhism plays a significant role in their lives. Buddhism teaches compassion and emphasises the importance of family, friends and social harmony. This laid-back, tolerant lifestyle instils a specific mentality into Thai people, one defined by acceptance. Therefore, this fundamental acceptance, guaranteed by religion and supported by a unique collective comity, has empowered transgenders to just be themselves.
Granted, that as a whole, Thai society seems to have a greater tolerance of homosexuality than in the West, but this does not translate into absolute equality. India has a lot to learn from this as we still live in the dark ages with pre-historic laws and rules and well, a closed mind set.