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One of the stars of Phuket Simon Cabaret touches up a nightly transformation

Phuket's Katoeys Give Performance of Their Lives

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Phuketwan Photo Special Above

WE have come to the logical place to ask about life as a transsexual on Phuket: backstage, in the vast, cluttered dressing room at Simon Cabaret.

The entertainers are beginning the process that will see most of them perform on-stage as tall, elegant and in many cases, stunningly beautiful women.

Sexual reassignment is about to bid for blockbuster status, with Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow to star in a film portraying the life of the first gender-switcher, Einar Wegener, who became a woman in 1931. Kidman will play Wegener, Paltrow his wife.

Backstage at Simon tonight, the transformation will be complete but temporary, as it is every night, enhanced by glorious sequin and feather costumes that will inevitably wow the audience.

Makeup is being applied to faces. And it is the faces that tell the story. We see faces that are soft and feminine, faces that are masculine, faces young and not so young. Faces that belong to women, and faces that belong to men.

To change sex, to go from man to woman, remains the gender equivalent of climbing Everest. Yet judging by the number of ladyboy katoeys on Phuket, it is a no-turning-back undertaking that many more want to make.

''Yes,'' said a trans-gender woman who once worked for Phuketwan as a reporter, ''there do seem to be more people who want to change now.''

Our own 'Nicole' has lived as a woman for six years, gained a pair of breasts four years ago, and is now saving for the operation that will soften her voice.

She is, by any measure, beautiful. She is teaching. She has a boy friend. Life seems to be good. Yet we wonder about her future, and so does she.

Thailand seems to have a high tolerance for ''trannies'' but around the world, their lives are filled with danger and, sometimes, disappointment.

In Hong Kong, a male-to-female transsexual has just been granted permission for a judicial review of a decision by the Registrar of Marriage that prohibited her from marrying a man.

It is the first attempt to seek clarification from the courts on whether the Marriage Ordinance, in relation to transsexuals, breaches Hong Kong's Basic Law and the Bill of Rights.

In Australia, forced to travel on a passport that identified her as a male, one candidate for sexual reassignment told a newspaper recently that she was subjected to ridicule by a passport officer who insisted on calling her ''sir'' even though she was wearing a skirt and jacket.

When Stefanie Imbruglia arrived at Bangkok airport, a passport control officer asked her to account for the discrepancy between her appearance and the gender on her passport.

''At the top of his voice in front of a hall full of people he looked at me and looked at my passport and said, 'Male or female?' Everyone turned around. It was scary.''

Ms Imbruglia's deepest fear: being detained in a male prison. Now Australia has agreed to restore an intelligent innovation: the right of transsexuals travelling abroad for gender surgery to gain a passport in the appropriate gender.

As it happens, Phuket Prison has more than a few katoey inmates who do not share Ms Imbruglia's dread. This only goes to show the extraordinary breadth of everyday sexual preference.

And katoey experiences, like sexual preferences, differ wildly. Japan's Haruna Ai, 37, took the Tiffany title this year in Pattaya of the world's most beautiful ladyboy.

With the prizes comes the world's attention, and another dose of the constant fascination with the mix of feminity and masculinity.

Simon Cabaret, where we spoke to four of the stars backstage, thrives on the fascination. The stars are representative of the conundrum.

One star ponders the sex change because she now has a boyfriend, but knows the consequences ad the importance of the decision.

Some boys enjoy being girls, but they also like being boys. All four of the entertainers we spoke with had some conflicts defining themselves in puberty, sometimes in rural village environments lacking the tolerance of Phuket.

But they endured. And Simon Cabaret poses the perfect environment for both boy-girls and girl-girls who love beauty and entertaining, as most katoeys do.

There are many others, though, who aim for a life off-stage, performing as women in every kind of job, although actually winning a job, any job, is regarded as the hard part for many.

One contestant in the Tiffany contest, Roxanne from Penang in Malaysia, lost out and decided he should work with weights in a gym to become a male flight attendant instead.

''I am just a guy with make-up,'' he told a newspaper, which is something that could also be said about two of our Simon Cabaret stars.

''Most of my sisters who are in their 40s regret changing their sex,'' he aded. ''Yes, you look sexy and beautiful when you are in your twenties, but not in your forties.''

We suspect being a katoey in Phuket is easier than in Penang. But there are inevitably some who fail to understand that most of us are a mixture of male and female, yet always in individual proportions.

Those who understand that best, and who choose to change, temporarily or permanently, remain the torch-bearers for celebrarting the difference.

To achieve that individual balance, Phuket's katoeys will go on giving the performance of their lives.

Phuket Simon Cabaret holds two shows every night at 7.30pm and 9.30pm. Bookings at the door, by calling 076 342011-15, 076 342114-6, or email info@phuket-simoncabaret.com

Comments

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"Imbruglia's dread. This only goes to show the extraordinary breadth of everyday sexual preference". This comment shows the author doesn't understand GENDER. I feared going to that male prison, because I am a WOMAN. My sexuality is a separate issue...!

Posted by stefanie Imbruglia on April 23, 2010 11:12

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Sorry to inform you Stefanie, but you are biologically a MAN for the rest of your life. I does not matter how many operations you put yourself through. You cant operate away your chromosomes. You can call yourself a transgender or katoey for that matter. But you are not, and will never be, a woman. Why not just accept the fact and accept you new identity as a Katoey?
As to the prison fear, why fear going to prison? Are you criminal? Otherwise, dont dread something that will never happen to you.
I would for sure dread to be put in say, an american maximum security prison now that i think of it. But why should I worry about that?

Editor: I think some places, including Australia, now accept the potential for men to become women and to have their passports changed to record that, officially. It could even happen in Thailand.

Posted by christos on April 23, 2010 13:39

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It is possible to change your gender identity in many countries, yes. But no matter what your passport says, and what liberal/progressive societies decide concerning passport status and so on, Stefanie and every other katoey will never biologically becoma a man. Its just not possible to chang your chromosomes..And that's it. Even though it is not PC to declare this inconvenient truth. Nature will not bend to some rules set up by liberal western countries.

Posted by christos on April 23, 2010 19:58


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