The secret lives of Thailand's ladyboys

Lada, Olive and Jessie star in Thailand Ladyboy Superstars Cabaret. Photo / Instagram, _my_
Lada, Olive and Jessie star in Thailand Ladyboy Superstars Cabaret. Photo / Instagram, _my_

Their silky smooth skin glistens under the spotlight. There's not a hint of hair to be seen. Plunging necklines dominate while ample bosoms spill out of corsets and sequins. There's not an Adam's apple in sight.

In fact, they look exactly like women. Every part of their bodies precisely as you would expect in a woman - except for one thing.

The world's most glamorous showgirls just happen to be men.

I'm introduced to three of the stars of Thailand Ladyboy Superstars Cabaret two hours before showtime, and Lada (obviously the Queen Bee of the cabaret), Jessie (the "newest" member of the trio) and Olive (quiet as a mouse) appear in full dress, hair and makeup. There are enough sequins to sink the Titanic and eyelashes that seem to stretch all the way to heaven.

These girls might not have undergone full gender reassignment quite yet, but that doesn't stop them from considering themselves part of the club.

After all, they've already had their breasts implanted, silicon injected into their bums and their Adam's apples shaved off; it's tough work being a woman.

In town as part of the big top dance-off that is the Ladyboy Cabaret, they guarantee you will be "infatuated" with the string of "gender-straddling" starlets.

"The show is a sexy, cheeky and glamorous night of adult fun and entertainment for ... those who are simply curious," says the brochure.

The world's curiosity is catching up and these ladyboys are cashing in with cabaret. Photo / Instagram, _my_
The world's curiosity is catching up and these ladyboys are cashing in with cabaret. Photo / Instagram, _my_

It's no exaggeration; with more than 200 costumes, 100,000 feathers, 200,000 sequins and 350,000 diamantés, expect to be bedazzled. And a little intrigued, to say the least.

Sitting down for our interview, we get right down to business. Jessie tells me she chose to get her breasts done first, she only injects a small amount of silicone into her backside ("I don't like too big", she explains), while Lada chose the Adam's apple first. "Every operation is painful, but ladyboy want to be beautiful," she explains.

"Ladyboy in Thailand, they always wear a dress. My uncle got me my first dress. He bought me the dress for school, I was so happy that day."

The razzle-dazzle of the girls' Australian tour is a far cry from their humble beginnings in Thailand, where life as a ladyboy isn't as easy as we might believe.

Lada gestures with her hands: "People are more accepting, but the government, no". She explains the Thailand government isn't as accepting about their "sex".

That sex is fast becoming accepted as a third sex - a gender that identifies neither as male or female - not only in Thailand, but globally. In Australia, citizens can now identify as gender "X" rather than male or female.

But not in Thailand. They tell me their family were all accepting of their choices, but that the sentiment isn't felt outside the family unit.

"Most families are accepting because it's a career and it's considered a good career in Thailand, the girls can earn a lot of money," the show's director Damien Syred explains.

"Now they've come overseas, it's something most Thai people don't get to experience."

But he tells of the "hard life" the girls endured, as sex workers who clawed their way from Thailand's night-life to develop their own empire. The world's curiosity has caught up, and now they're able to cash in on cabaret.

But leaving the safe confines of Thailand's ladyboy district means more chance of crossing paths with unwitting foreigners. In Thailand, "they always know", but when it comes to tourists, many are not quite as sexually savvy.

"The first time is uneasy," Jessie says.

"The first time I tell a man I'm not a real lady, sometimes we have to bargain. But when I meet men I try to explain that lady boy, we still have hearts, it's just our bodies are not the same.

"In Thailand they all know, but if you meet some guy from another country who come to Thailand, some guys, they don't know we lady boy, I have to say, 'I'm a lady boy'. Some men are OK, some men, it's like, 'Oh wow', and they run away.

"But some men, they want to try," she giggles.

• Thailand Ladyboy Superstars Cabaret is playing in Sydney until June 19. For more information, visit www.ladyboycabaret.com.au.

- news.com.au

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