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Ladyboys - what exactly is behind this term?

“Ladyboy” or “Ladyboys” - many people have heard this word at least once in their lives. The term “ladyboy” became known and used worldwide in connection with Thailand's sex tourism. Originally, this meant the male prostitutes in Thailand in general usage, who at first glance cannot be distinguished from female prostitutes.

Ladyboy - more than just a man in disguise

Ladyboys, or the “Kathoey” as they are called in Thailand and Laos, have a long tradition. It seems like they've always existed in Thailand. Some of the origin myths from Buddhism speak of three distinct genders - male, female and the kathoey.

In earlier times, “Kathoey” was used to refer to all people whose behavior, appearance or sexual orientation did not fit into social norms.

Today, the term Kathoey is used exclusively for men who feel trapped in the wrong body, as well as for men who like to dress up as women and present themselves as such in public.

For a long time it was believed that a person was born as a kathoey to atone for the guilt he had inherited from his previous life. Even today, many monks hold this view, fueling the resentment that many kathoeys still struggle with.

Ladyboy - a term especially for tourists

The term “ladyboy” most likely comes from the time during the Vietnam War, when American soldiers discovered the cities and beaches of Thailand. The kathoeys quickly attracted attention, exotic beauties who didn't look like they belonged to the male sex. Since the Thai name Kathoey seemed too complicated for Western usage, a suitable term was quickly found: Ladyboy.

With the increasing popularity of Thailand as a holiday destination, the number of ladyboys who prostituted themselves also increased. This was partly due to the demand for ladyboys, especially from tourists from western countries, who were looking for a very special “holiday flirt” during their holiday in Thailand and thus offered the kathoeys a source of income for “easy” money.

Life and Acceptance of Ladyboys in Thailand

Thailand is a wonderful, exotic and peaceful country. The population of Thailand is almost exclusively Buddhist. Magnificent temples, priests in traditional robes and breathtaking flora and fauna characterize Thailand's image.

But it is not only the impressive landscape and the hospitable population that attracts a large number of tourists to the beautiful country every year. Thailand still ranks among the top spots for tourists looking for fast-paced, exotic, sexual adventures. Sex tourism still takes place here, although prostitution is officially banned in Thailand.

Thailand's ladyboys play a major role in the red light district. The reason for this is the less high level of acceptance that the population of Thailand has for their kathoeys. The Thai population tolerates their Kothoeys rather than fully accepting them. The kathoeys of Thailand can move freely in society and live out their inclinations unhindered at an early age, but successes in equality and acceptance have only been recorded in the last decade.

Today you can also find ladyboys in jobs outside of the red light district. Since the change in the rights for kathoeys, ladyboys in Thailand finally have better chances of a regular job and a normal life.

As of 2012, ladyboys were still not legally recognized and could not have their gender changed on their papers.

A big and important achievement for equality was achieved in 2005. Up to this point, a ladyboy was not drafted into military service, but discarded as mentally ill or psychotic. This rejection in turn led to personal problems for many ladyboys. Since young men of military age in Thailand need proof of their military service status in order to be able to take up a job or attend one of the many universities, many of the ladyboys who were decommissioned due to their inclination, and had no other choice than to go into prostitution to earn a living.

Another earning opportunity for a ladyboy in Thailand is one of the many shows that the tourist can visit in the big cities. Probably the most famous show can be found in Pattaya, on the eastern coast. Ladyboys have been performing here in Tiffany's, the city's oldest drag cabaret, since 1974.

Femboy, Bigender, Dragqueen or Transgender?

The term that best describes a ladyboy is “transgender woman”. All other terms such as “Femboy” are incorrect and should not actually be used. The term kathoey is used almost exclusively in Asian languages. In Europe or other countries, the term ladyboy is also used, but like the English term “shemale” it has negative connotations and is usually mentioned in connection with pornographic content.


Put simply, a crossdresser is a person who prefers a style of clothing that does not suit his or her gender, for example a man who wears only women's dresses and skirts. Sexual orientation plays no role in a crossdresser.


A femboy is also not necessarily homosexual. A femboy is a young man who finds certain female behaviors personally attractive and therefore adopts them.

Ladyboys don't have much in common with drag queens or drag kings either, since a drag queen is not necessarily transgender, but maybe just enjoys dressing up.

There are also major differences from a real ladyboy when it comes to the term bigender - a person who identifies with both genders.

However, most ladyboys want a sex change. Since there are so many kathoeys in the country, Thailand's plastic surgeons are now recognized worldwide as luminaries in the field of sex reassignment surgery. Due to the cheap prices and the skill of the plastic surgeons, many European or American transgender women are drawn to the country to have their final transformation done here.