Coffee, Tea, or a Tranny?

That suitably tasteless title is a good indication of what low esteem the third gender is held in not only in Thailand but in many parts of the world. In a story about them in the book I look at a cross-section of gender-benders, from the champion kick-boxer Nong Toom to the grand dame of ladyboys in Bangkok and a young streetwalker in Bangkok who describes what her sex change was like as well as the side effects like not being able to achieve an orgasm.

Winner of the Miss Tiffany's Universe transgender beauty competition

For the transgendered there have been signs of progress, though, like getting separate bathrooms in some schools. Barred from the military draft for having a “permanent mental disorder” (which also kept them from finding gainful employment) the transgendered fought against that stigma and won. (The same battle was fought by the gay and lesbian community in the US back in the 60s. Consequently, in 1970, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.)

The 2,000-strong Transwomen Association of Thailand, led by its flamboyant spokesperson Yolada Komklong, is now campaigning to use the prefix Ms or Mrs, as well as receive state assistance for sex change operations.

Transgender air hostesses

In mid-March, 2011 the Huffington Post reported: “A recent ‘Thailand’s Got Talent’ contestant shocked audience by revealing herself as a male-to-female transgender when her beautiful soprano morphed seamlessly into a masculine tenor midway through her debut performance.”

(Check out the story and YouTube video here)

Yet more signs of mainstream change are in the air. Recently, PC Air recruited transgendered airhostesses. The airline’s president Peter Chan hired six transsexuals out of a total of 100 applicants, the most famous being Thanyarat “Film” Jiraphatpakorn (pictured after her victory and with the airline’s boss). She was the winner of Miss Tiffany 2007, the famous beauty pageant for transsexuals from all over the globe held every year in Pattaya.

Chan’s sincerity seems beyond reproach. He told the press: “I think these people can have many careers, not just in the entertainment business, and many of them have a dream to be an air hostess.”

At the same time, it’s been a windfall of publicity for the airline, though not quite in the same stratosphere as Avianova, the Russian low-cost carrier who made a series of ads showing flight attendants stripping down to their bikinis to suggestively wash and suds one of the company’s jets in 2010. Based on a porn-movie stereotype from the 70s – the libidinous Swedish airhostess offering “Coffee, tea, or me” – the TV ads were quickly grounded amidst international turbulence.

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