When I last looked through iDateLadyboy, the famous Ladyboy dating site, most of the Thai Transgender women listed were shown as living in Bangkok.
But this is a little bit of a misnomer as, in Thailand, Ladyboys are actually everywhere.
The total population of the northern Thai city (where I live about half the time) is hard to assess as the city is very spread out. There are also huge variances in population over a typical year, with both locals and tourists (with around 5 million visitors per annum) coming and going. If I had to estimate, I’d say the generally accepted figures are between 800,000 up to 1 million as resident population.
Given the renowned liberal attitudes in Thailand as a whole to gay and Transgender people it’s not that surprising or unusual to come across Ladyboys here, there and everywhere. Often, you’ll meet a Ladyboy when you least expect. In any event, there is certainly a fair sprinkling of such ladies throughout the city!
Of course, the larger northern Thai cities are a magnet not just for Ladyboys but also for all sorts of people from the surrounding towns and provinces, some of which are very poor. Many nearby villages and towns offer little in the way of career opportunities or the chance to earn a reasonable wage—for anyone, not just Trans women. So, every year many rural people and many Ladyboys make their way to the “big city” looking for work and love or both.
If one looks at the demographics of the LGBT grouping in Thailand, one great debate is whether the number of Ladyboys as a percentage of the population is much higher than in the “west”. It’s possibly not. But a key difference is that most Trans women can live openly and without fear of persecution or aggressive name calling. That said, there are still latent restrictions on career opportunities and lingering, covert prejudices.
In a number of the so-called first world countries regular surveys on the numbers of minorities tend to get carried out. These will be either for governmental statistics, to assess social services to be provided…, but more often by advertising companies for targeted marketing purposes! Thailand does surveys on Transgender people too, but the real numbers are harder to fathom.
However, the percentages of people being either L or G or B or T seem to regularly fall into the 5-7% range of the population of any given country. Sadly, there’s no breakdown for T’s alone (the forgotten minority…!). Yet, if one roots around and extrapolates, and make some key assumptions, then a figure in the range of 0.005-0.007% of the total population in Thailand (10% of 5-7%) could well be Trans people or Ladyboys. Of course, such figures are truly hard to verify as, firstly, as we know, many Trans people are covert and, secondly, what actually is the definition of a Trans person? Should the numbers include cross dressers and other shades of Transgender such as gender fluid?
Still, from my own observations around Thai cities, the country and the region, the above percentages seem a little conservative. Especially when seeing the huge varieties of gender diversity on display not just in in Thailand but in other Asian countries such as The Philippines, Vietnam or Indonesia. As I said earlier, in reality, Ladyboys seem to be everywhere…
Let’s do some more maths. First, assume the populations in the major Asian countries are fairly equally divided between male and female at say 50/50 (even though some countries do have a higher percentage of males). Asia is home to over half the world’s population. Keeping the numbers nice and round we have some 3 billion people of whom180 million might be GLBT and some 15 million or so might be Ladyboys or Transgender people.
To me, this still seems low. I’d argue that the % in Thailand for Trans should be higher, especially given one of my recent visits to Bangkok. And, yes, I know that Ladyboys and other people who tend to not to fit into local societal structures gravitate to cities seeking relative anonymity. But on my last visit, it seemed beautiful Ladyboys were absolutely everywhere!
I met Trans girls in hair salons, doing cosmetic promotions, demonstrating products in shopping centres, serving in shops, working in restaurants as waitresses and also as supervisory staff. I saw Ladyboys buying things in the market, in shops and on the street. Then there were the cabaret shows with up to 30-40 T-girls in some of the larger shows. Ladyboys of all shapes and sizes, some stunning, some not; some flamboyant, some just like “regular” girls…
Indeed, you only have to look through iDateLadyboy, to see a very high percentage of Thai Ladyboys amongst the members.
Anyone want to volunteer to do a comprehensive survey and count how many Trans women there really are in Thailand?