I can think of no reason in the world why anyone in the world would be interested in the sexual orientation of a 65 year old occasional writer but in an effort to give credence to some of the observations in the article that follows I think it will be helpful to state I am not Gay! And nor am I homophobic!
Having started with such a statement perhaps I should continue by stating that I very much subscribe to the (commonly accepted?) notion that there is a female side, even chromosomes within all males and a male side to all females. The extent to which this is manifest can vary with each of us according to our personas, traits, needs and of course our upbringings.
I well remember having a discussion with my good friend Charlie back in 1970 when he was training to be a teacher in Southampton and visited Bournemouth for the weekend at the same time as I had returned home to Bournemouth from London. We were visiting the home of two attractive sisters Michelle and Nicole and the conversation had digressed to the fact that our mind could influence ones response to physical sensations. To illustrate this I switched the lights of the lounge off and then first Michelle and then myself held Charlie’s hand in the dark and gently caressed his inner thigh.
‘Well Chas, was one more pleasurable than the other?’ I asked.
Of course unlike the Coca Cola taste test Charlie could not distinguish one from the other and would have found both pleasurable if he was not somewhat nervous about what I might have had in mind! However if the light had been on I suspect he would have encouraged one touch and recoiled from the other.
My point was touching is touching and feels the same whoever is doing the touching – our response is conditioned by our mindset.
I know that 45 years later both Charley and his son Simon will read this article and hopefully I have caused no offence nor released any skeletons from long locked cupboards. However if the distribution of this article extends to the committee of the Bad Krozingen tennis club in Germany where Charley now lives and he is banned from the showers I guess he will now know who is to blame!
And to develop this theme even further last night I was reading the second part of Russell Brand’s Autobiography ‘My Booky Wook – This time its personal’. I am not a great fan of Russell Brand although I find him sometimes humorous but I do applaud his honesty and he is one of the few people I know who has written openly and ‘come out’ about being a sex addict (Michael Douglas is another) rather than a serial philanderer (Step forward Tiger Woods).
Brand wrote about an occasion where a party developed apace and for the first time in his life he found himself in an unplanned threesome sharing a woman with his best friend. During the next hour he inevitably found himself both adjacent to and inadvertently touching a naked male for the first time and discovered that in the situation he found himself this was surprisingly not repulsive. Normally he would find the idea of being with a naked man of zero interest but perhaps his female side had been awoken and so it was quite acceptable.
Who knows? There is much we do not know about the human psyche but this laboured introduction is to make the point one does not have to be Gay to be fascinated by and find Ladyboys attractive!
So let me begin.
A few weeks ago I was riding my motor bike around Pattaya in Thailand where I saw many posters advertising the forthcoming ‘Miss Tiffany’s Universe’ Beauty Pageant. In an earlier article I wrote about my friend Peter who came close to have his most prized possession separated from the rest of his body by his furious knife wielding wife (http://notesfromanomad.net/2014/01/03/17-the-king-never-smiles-and-nor-does-peter-observations-of-life-in-thailand-and-the-unkindest-cut-of-all-dec-5-2013/) and I immediately recalled Peter telling me how he had once interviewed several very attractive contestants following a Ladyboy Beauty Contest.
‘That could be an interesting option for a Friday night’ I thought and headed off to Tiffany’s Theatre to find out tickets were either £37($62) upstairs or £47 ($78) for downstairs VIP tickets. Bearing in mind that a cinema ticket in a luxurious state of the art Thai cinema far more ornate and comfortable than most cinemas in the UK and North America costs just £3.60 ($6) this was quite a hefty tab but I quickly reminded myself that I have attended 35 Leonard Cohen concerts in the last 6 years paying up to £150/$250 for front row tickets so it was a no brainer. I was going and I purchased two tickets so I could go with a Thai friend (female) for a professional assessment of who was the most attractive of the contestants!
It is probably appropriate to comment at this junction that Ladyboys (or Katooeys) are both common and openly accepted in Thailand and usually not subjected to scorn or disdain. One may be at a hotel reception, checking out at the 7/11 or ordering from the waiter in a restaurant when one realises that perhaps the lady serving you is after all a male. And Yes there are ladyboys who enter the sex industry and clients that actively seek them out as well as clients who are surprised when they discover who or what they have elected to enjoy!
(There are also those clients who are either too drunk or blind and/or ladyboys who are so skilled in their arts that the whole transaction is completed without the unsuspecting farang being aware he had spent a ’short time’ with a male rather than a female!)
Pattaya has long been a mecca for Ladyboys because as well as being the single most popular destination in Asia for western men to meet Asian women (and ladyboys!) it has long possessed two theatres that host Las Vegas type revues 4 times an evening 7 days a week aimed very much at the tourist trade. These are impressively choreographed with a cast of around 100 singers and dancers, 20 production numbers, 20 very impressive costume changes into some of the most flamboyant outfits I have ever seen and all featuring numbers aimed at the increasing numbers of package groups from China, Japan and Korea as well as western audiences.
Just as aspiring actors and actresses flock to Hollywood so do Ladyboys to Pattaya in the hope they will get an opening in one of the smaller revues at Ladyboy Bars and eventually will make it into the chorus line of one of the main theatres and maybe even a solo spot (there are now three opportunities with the recent opening of another theatre The Coliseum modelled very much on the Roman antiquity!)
I always take visitors to Pattaya to either Alcazar or Tiffanys and I well remember my 88 year old mother saying ‘They can’t be men – they have breasts’ which led to an explanation from myself on hormone treatment, implants and the taping up of a penis so no bulge is evident in pre-op Ladyboys.
More recently, just a few weeks ago, our three kids were on a visit to Thailand and I took them to Alcazars but they were less impressed believing there was too much evidence of surgery and the cast looked bored and the lip synching was also off. With 4 shows a night I accept at times the cast looked as if they were going through the motions but that could have been because on Songkran Day it had taken hours to navigate the gridlocked traffic and water throwing to reach the theatre. Not one of my better decisions to choose that day to go to Alcazar’s but I certainly did not agree with the kid’s assessment that a surrogate female or two had joined the cast – they are always all male.
For a sympathetic and interesting introduction into the world of the Ladyboy in Thai society one could do a lot worse than buy or download a copy of ‘Beautiful Boxer’, a Thai film that was successfully received at Festivals and independent cinemas in the west, about Parinya Charoenphol who became the first ladyboy to fight at the Lumpini Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. Parinya subsequently became a household name throughout Thailand and significantly raised both the profile and acceptance of Ladyboys in Thailand.
And so it transpired that at 830pm on May 2 this year I found myself in the VIP area at the Tiffany’s theatre as all the contestants made themselves available for interview with the press and photoshoots with sponsors. No one was going to accuse these girls of looking bored or going through the motions and some of the contestants were quite simply ……….stunning and I was in my element circulating and snapping. We eventually took our seats about 15 rows back and just perfect for photography as I was elevated, near enough for close ups and far back sufficiently to photograph the entire stage.
There appeared to be 4 main elements to the audience – friends and family of the contestants, Ladyboys who had not qualified or who were friends of contestants and/or who aspired to compete in future years, a fair number of members of the Gay Community (and Thais do not hold back in demonstrating their sexuality despite being inherently conservative Buddhists) and curious onlookers into which category I would place myself.
And then the show finally began with a nicely choreographed opening number featuring all 30 contestants in their cocktail dresses followed by the two comperes coming on stage. I have to say as I gazed at the 30 contestants posing at the end of the number that they looked magnificent! As this was being broadcast live on one of Thailand’s innumerable TV Channels I soon discovered that just like an American NFL game there were lots of pauses for the advertisement breaks.
In front of us we had a gay guy and six very attractive ladyboys and to my right a western guy in his 40s and I soon deduced from his enthusiasm, waves and camera that one of contestants was his girlfriend.
There then followed an ambitious and nicely choreographed dance number with sound, costumes and choreography as impressive as anything I have seen in a Las Vegas show which gave the 30 contestants time to change into their Evening dresses – and what evening dresses they were. Sure some may have been over the top but most were absolutely fantastic and far superior to what we see every year on the Red carpet previewing the Oscars. I found myself thinking over and over about how much the dresses cost and whether they were funded by Tiffany’s once a contestant qualified.
The first part of the competition featured each competitor being introduced and walking down a staircase from the rear of the stage to be replaced by the next competitor posing and waiting their turn. The commentator gave information about each competitor and on a giant rear screen there was a film of the contestant shot at a local viewpoint with Pattaya in the background. And to the sides of the stage were three Victorian Nannys, each on stilts hidden behind long skirts who looked as if they had been transplanted straight from ‘Mary Poppins’ and who slowly gyrated and twirled their umbrellas as each contestant descended.
When local favourites or contestants with lots of friends and family in the audience appeared there were shrieks and screams of delight which reminded me of a Beatles concert in the 60s!
Number 21 Nitsa Katrahong looked ravishing and made an early impression with a very elegant dress slit to the waist but still trailing a train and petite number 25 Rachaya Noppakaroon had a bouffant dress that was as wide as she was tall. Number 26 Chanisa Punyashupwith with her black hair and a gold and black dress looked very Latin and posessed the very definition of an hour glass figure due to her diminutive waist. And I swear Number 27 Samitanun Suwanpirom would make the final five of any Miss World Contest.
The judges were a mix from Thai society, the sponsors, Charities and well known Thai stage and screen personalities and to me at least their sartorial dress sense was best described as interesting including a purple cloak with matching trousers and jacket, and trousers with inside leg black and the outside leg white! Not quite matching the elegance of the competitors but clearly the judges had been hard at work as once the 30 competitors were gathered on stage – and not for the last time I thought ‘I have never seen so many stunning women in one place’ – four awards were made.
No 21, the forementioned Nitsa Katrahong was judged Miss Sexy Star (she certainly was), No 3 Nattarika Roongroth was adjudged Miss Congeniality (we will have to take the judges word on that), No 17 Trithipripa Thippaphada was adjudged Miss Photogenic (any of the 30 could have scooped that award in my book but Trithipripa’s evening was far from done) and the award for best costume went to Number 10 Minlananin Santap.
On the final award I beg to disagree on two counts. Minlananin’s costume was certainly interesting revealing half a waist and covering the other side but with so many stunning outfits it was not for me a drop dead outfit and secondly she was outshone by the sartorial ineptitude of the presenting judge who deserved a bravery award of his own for venturing on stage in his white and black drainpipe trouser suit!
And then there were 10 – shrieks of delight from the audience accompanied the announcement of the final 10 who included Miss Sexy Star, Miss Photogenic and Best Costume and who were next to appear in the swim suit section. But first we had another musical number complete with ghostly dancers (these numbers really were impressively choreographed) whilst the girls changed into their swimsuits.
This part of the competition was interesting because what little I have seen of Beauty Pageants on TV over the years has girls in their costumes displaying their figures. Because for a ladyboy it is her gender identification and female persona that drives her personality (and her body which follows) the swimsuit competition focussed more on the costumes than the surgically (or not) created bodies. Consequently there were some weird and wonderful costumes and again two thoughts sprung to mind – the sheer expense of the costumes and how ornate they were!
Eh – Well – Yes! Just check the images accompanying this article
And then it was time for a 4th Dress change and during this break the audience were kept in stiches by Thailand’s answer to Ant and Dec. If the chemistry works a double act can be great and I had absolutely zero idea what they were talking about but the Male Ant and the Ladyboy Dec were an absolute hoot winding each other up, taking the mickey out of the judges, commenting on the contestants and filling in the time as best they could. Who knows whether it was rehearsed or ad libbed – I suspect a bit of both but it certainly worked until the curtains parted to reveal the 10 contestants in simple tight figure hugging full length evening dresses.
The contestants looked stunning and each came forward to select a question that they had to answer. My inability to understand Thai means I cannot report on how many answers featured the responses ‘My family’ or ‘World Peace’ but I got the impression most of the contestants were a cut above such trite responses.
For me Number 27 was going to take all the beating but what do I know about Ladyboy Beauty Contests and alas my favourite Samitanun Suwanpirom did not make the final three who were No 21, Nitsa Katrahong who had already scooped Miss Sexy Star , No 17 Trithipripa Thippaphada already acclaimed as Miss Photogenic and now looking as if she fully warranted a place in the final three which was rounded off by number 25 Rachaya Noppakaroon who had started the evening in the bouffant Blue Dress.
All of a sudden it looked as if number 21 Nitsa Katrahong was going to take some beating as she looked truly ravishing with an angelic smile, beautiful face, magnificent hair and the perfect figure. Indeed if my favourite Samitanun, the eliminated number 27, was not the most beautiful woman in the world then Nitsa was surely a more than worthy substitute. I would have zero doubts that 99.9% of any men who were fortunate enough to take her on date would report back that she was the most beautiful woman they had ever dated if not the most beautiful woman in the world.
Now anyone who lives in Thailand will testify that the Thai’s are at least worthy rivals to Indians for their love of bureaucracy and paperwork in triplicate –so the final three and one final hurdle to jump which was a second interview.
And then the final three lined up, hands on hips, mist or liquid ice on the stage floor and last year’s winner sitting on her throne and Miss International from Brazil waiting to the side to crown the winning contestant.
First to be eliminated and the second runner up was Miss Photogenic, number 17 Trithipripa Thippaphada which meant the final two were numbers 25 and 21 who grasped hands and waited anxiously for the result somehow maintain almost perfect smiles.
It had to be Number 21 surely?
Yes and it was a popular result and Nitsa’s response was that of a lady – hands to her face, restrained tears whilst she knelt to let Miss International and last year’s winner adorn her with her crown.
And then we had the presentations of prizes (£20,000/$30,000 and a car to the winner) and photoshoots of the final three for the press, and then all 30 contestants on stage for the finale.
I would stake my life that nowhere else in the world were 30 more attractive females gathered that moment and only one would have struck one as surgically enhanced. Indeed Number 19 Panisara Srichomphoonut had such a beautiful face I am not sure why she bothered to enhance her breasts which took eyes away from her most attractive face! The features that most contestants had in common were not big boobs but elegance, attractive faces and slender physiques.
Once the show was over the three finalists were onstage for at least another 15 minutes as it appeared the press demand for photos was insatiable whilst other competitors were happy to circulate and be photographed with their families and friends. I watched with interest as one family who had obviously come to Pattaya for the contest gathered for a family shot with a proud mother and father and adoring younger siblings all gathered around to share their family member’s moment of fame.
And the girls were lovely – attractive, giggling, and laughing and all the time ladylike and feminine. There was absolutely zero doubt in my mind that they were 100% women in their mannerisms and personas.
I hope it is not demeaning to write they were like a group of adorable creatures and I felt like a kid at a petting zoo looking at the fluffy rabbits or a flock of Flamingos and I wanted to pick one up, take her home and put her on the mantelpiece as an attractive display or work of art!
Indeed it was when I jokingly commented ‘Can I take one home please’ as an observation that I realised just why some western men are attracted to ladyboys and indeed have ongoing relationships with Asian ladyboys and return several times a year to spend time with them. And I have zero doubts that it is normal heterosexual men who are attracted to Ladyboys just as they would be attracted to a beautiful woman – there is no difference except the Ladyboys are probably more ladylike!
And as for the show –it was great value for 2800 Baht/£37/$62 and indeed the friend I went with without prompting commented to me after the show – ‘That very good show. Not expensive’
Now when I think that I normally go to the cinema with friends in Thailand and ask what they think of the film the response is normally ‘OK’ or ‘So So’ or ‘50/50’ that is praise indeed!
In fact the relationship between Women and Ladyboys in Thailand is quite interesting – Women have Ladyboys as friends and are also fascinated by them. I was describing the Show to a female Sales Executive of a Hotel Resort a few days after the competition and she said
‘You know, many ladyboys are more attractive than us real women but they spend a lot in the beauty shops’(and on surgery?)
The unspoken message was
‘We women don’t stand a chance!’
On another occasion I recollect being at a small bar in Koh Samui some years ago that had a Ladyboy cabaret and after the show the performers circulated and sat at tables with the patrons.
The conversation at our table between a Thai woman and Ladyboy entertainer went something like this
‘That was very good. We enjoyed the show. Where do you come from’
‘Thank you I come from Bangkok’
‘You have very nice breasts. How much did you pay’
‘You are very kind. I paid 60,000 Baht for the Silicone’
‘They look very nice. Can I feel them’
‘Of course. No problem’
‘Ooh they feel real – no difference from mine’
It was all very natural, straightforward with zero sexual innuendo taken or implied. The two of them could have been talking about the consistency of the sole on a pair of boots!
About the time that this article is being written my friend Peter who features at the beginning of the narrative will be interviewing the three finalists and he always asks his friends if they have any particular questions that they would like him to ask.
He said the result is always predictable.
Most of the guys want to know ‘Do you still have a cock?’ reflecting the male’s preoccupation with sex is indeed a global phenomenon whereas women will always ask ‘How much does it cost?’ (the surgery not the sex!).
And the question any writer who tries to describe the role of the Ladyboy in Thai or indeed Asian society will often be asked is
‘OK Mate – if you find them so bloody attractive have you ever been with a Ladyboy?’
I have always believed in being proactive whenever possible so let me answer that question before it is asked and end this piece with a true story which like the opening paragraphs of this article also took place in the 70s.
In early late December 1975 I found myself in Papeete, capital of French Polynesia better known as Tahiti where talents as disparate as Paul Gaughin and Marlon Brando have enjoyed the company of multiple Polynesian partners. I should also add that in the South Pacific it is also common for families with an absence of daughters to dress and raise one son (often the youngest I believe) as a female so there is someone to help with the domestic chores of cooking, cleaning and indeed dancing and entertaining.
This was of course all unknown to myself as a young 26 year old on vacation from a teaching position at Sydney Grammar School and travelling around the Pacific for two months and planning to meet my girlfriend Heather (another reader of this article 39 years on!) the following week in Western Samoa.
By 1975 Papeete was an expensive destination with little accommodation on offer for budget travellers like myself but I had found myself a rather basic and down at heel centrally located hotel – perhaps best described as a flop house, the antiquated American name for a brothel!
When I booked in I was certainly not aware that most customers booked their rooms by the hour not the night but when Papeete was hit by a tropical rainstorm I was certainly not going anywhere and amused myself playing cards with the other residents. The other residents were all female, between 20 and 30 and best described as ‘working girls’!
Except they were not doing much in the way of work as the same storm that precluded me from leaving the hotel was certainly putting a damper (literally!) on the sex drive of any males looking for female company in downtown Papeete!
So we played cards. The girls practised their English on me and I practised my Grade 9 O level French on them and it slowly dawned on me that my pleasant companions were indeed working girls, hookers, prostitutes – call them what you will.
After a while two of the girls laughed and said ’Maybe you would like to spend some time with Sylvie’ who was not unattractive but did not quite have the looks of the two teasing me.
‘Non merci, je pense elle n’est pas pour moi mais si vous etes libre……….’
And so the evening went on with regular rejoinders about whether I wanted to spend time with Sylvie which always set all the girls off laughing.
Eventually I retired to my room (alone) and I remember sleeping fitfully thinking I must be the only person on the planet sleeping alone in a brothel.
The following morning was a Sunday which I guess is not exactly peak time for a brothel and when I emerged from my room mid morning on to the reception hall way there was just one lone girl sitting there, the aforementioned Sylvie and quite obviously very available. It was 1030am and I was due to catch a plane to American Samoa later that day and a week later meet up with my girlfriend Heather.
‘No Michael, you do not need female company on a Sunday morning and besides you will see Heather soon’ said my better half whereas the more realistic half responded ‘Well how else do you plan to spend the next couple of hours you fool. She’s obviously available’
Well when 99% of males have such a debate there can only be one result so my excuse was I was only going with the flow and one thing led to another and before too long Sylvie and I were embracing on the bed.
Sylvie was a beautiful kisser and soon my T Shirt was off and her blouse followed. She had lovely skin which was a pleasure to touch and stroke. My jeans were soon history and when her bra was removed she had not unattractive slender breasts.
This was indeed a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning in Papeete and things were getting serious. My underpants were removed and when Sylvie too removed her pants we had indeed got to the point of no return.
Point of no return is no accidental pun because indeed all was revealed – Sylvie was a man!
And to go back to the opening paragraphs the experience had been most pleasant whilst I thought she was a woman confirming so many of our attitudes to sex are in the head. Kissing Sylvie was pleasurable and exciting when she was a woman but not quite so enticing when I realised she was a man!
Now I am a fairly simple person and easily pleased and what happened next was in its own way something of which I am quite proud and I remember, as clearly as if it was last night, thinking first and foremost
‘She/He is a person and deserves to be treated with respect’
‘You silly sod Michael. Now just how do you plan to get out of this?
I did not jump up and down exclaiming ‘Shit! You’re a man’ taking offence that my masculinity had been offended and that I had been tricked into going to bed with a man.
Like all of us I have a lot of weaknesses but one of my strengths is (was) that I can think on my feet and very quickly get to the bottom line of a situation and I quickly realised I had three choices.
1 To discover if I enjoyed sex with a man. (We are not talking World Class Miss Tiffany’s International Ladyboy here now the chips and pants were down and the clothes were off. This was clearly a guy and there was no point in trying to pretend otherwise!!)
2 To stay there touching, fondling and kissing but go no further.
3 To delicately extricate myself from a situation of my own making without causing offence.
The following will reveal all
Michael (nonchalantly glancing at my watch) -’ Mon Dieu, it is 1115 already?
Sylvie – Oui?
Michael – I have to go – my boat to Moorea (the neighbouring island to Papeete) departs at Midday and I cannot miss it.
Sylvie – C’est pas vrai (Its not true)
Michael – Unfortunately its true. I cannot believe it. I want to spend some time with you as you are very attractive.
Sylvie – You have to go now? Can you at least buy me some cigarettes?
Michael – We must spend some time together when I come back in two weeks. I will come to the hotel and meet you. Here is $20 for cigarettes and breakfast so you don’t forget me’
I never passed a French exam in my life in 14 attempts but my basic French got me through the above and I was dressed, out of the room and out of the hotel within 5 minutes and without causing any offence – I hope!
There was no boat to Moorea but there was a flight to Pago Pago in American Samoa (where interestingly enough more adventures awaited before I met Heather) but they have no relevance to this story.
So when I am asked about experiences with Ladyboys I have at least one amusing story to tell and I am sure there must be a bookfull of stories about the lives of the 30 stunning contestants whose path I briefly crossed at Miss Tiffany’s Universe. (All of a sudden writing a book on Thai Ladyboys is a more attractive proposition to writing a Where are they Now follow up to my book on Yeovil Towns 2004-05 Football Team!)
A few days after the competition I sorted through the images I had taken and discovered I has shot over 500 images of the girls competing at the Pageant and after an initial edit and discarding multiple duplicates etc was left with over 300 images of what I am convinced was the most attractive collection of women that I had ever seen and which included the most beautiful woman in the world.
The only problem is I am not sure which one this was!
© Michael Bromfield 2014