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Why are “Transgender Women” So Popular in Thailand’s Sex Industry?

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Why are Transgender Women So Popular in Thailand's Sex Industry

(CTN News) – WHY are “transgender women” so prevalent in Thailand, and why do they make up such a sizable portion of the sex industry? Additionally, why did the ping-pong ball act? —Luke, an American living in Bangkok

The Straight Dope team is continually saying, “PICK hotter subjects.” Stop discussing the environment and give us something we can hashtag. So here it is, a piece on what is perhaps the most infamous sex business in the whole globe.

However, they are in for a surprise since half of this will be about Buddhism, and the other half will be about how the American military might can manipulate other economies. What could be more appealing to the American audience than sex, religion, and guns?

The Thai sex trade is flourishing, which should be no surprise to anybody. It is believed that there are over 200,000 prostitutes in the nation, and the sector generates $2.5 billion to $4 billion annually or about 1% of GDP.

(In the US, “arts, entertainment, and recreation” account for a similar amount; I presume some of these things are the same.)

Thailand may have more socially integrated transgender women than anywhere else.

Even though the estimated prevalence of transgender Women people in the population is the same as in most other countries, or about 0.3 percent, kathoey—Thai slang for transgender women; the English term “ladyboy” is generally regarded as pretty offensive—is frequently the most noticeable aspect of the industry.

In one research of 200 transgender women there, the participants were found to be, on average, more educated and wealthy than the nation as a whole, suggesting that transgender women in Thailand may be more socially integrated than their counterparts elsewhere in the globe.

And in contrast to some people’s preconceptions, every research participant identified as a female or transgender woman; none were guys who dressed as women only to draw in tourist money.

Thai transgender women are now more prominent in the cultural environment because of the sex trade. What gives, then?

It turns out that a lot of it is probably Buddhism. About 800 years ago, Buddhism was introduced to Thailand from India, and now, 95% of Thai people identify as Buddhist. Traditional Buddhists have never really been fans of the concept of sex.

Sticking anything into any physical orifice, “even if merely the diameter of a sesame seed,” is a spiritual failure for a monk since attaining nirvana entails realizing the absence of all desire (not an optimistic bunch, these guys).

The Buddhist rule of monastic behaviour known as the Vinaya outlines 27 types of humans, animals, and things that one shouldn’t have sex with, including men, women, deceased women whose flesh has or has not been eaten away by animals, female monkeys, wooden dolls, and so on.

Contrasted with this general aversion to having sex, heterosexual and gay intercourse were seen as equally wicked, at least in the eyes of monks.

Also surprisingly clearly defined in Buddhist literature, transsexualism is extensively detailed in many tales.

According to the historian Peter Jackson, pre-existing Thai gender norms combined with Buddhist philosophy in a manner that specifically confused homosexuality with transsexualism; for many years, gay males were only seen as having women’s inclinations and often referred to as kathoey too.

Even while same-sex tendencies were long considered immoral in Thai Buddhism, they were also believed to be innate, which meant they couldn’t be altered throughout a person’s lifetime and had to be tolerated.

No one is suggesting Thailand is an ideal example of the equal-rights movement, so this isn’t precisely the same degree of popular acceptance as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

However, compared to Christianity’s effects in the West, Buddhism has likely contributed to the development of a society that is more accepting of deviation from traditional gender and orientation norms; Jackson describes the vibrant if peculiar, gay and transgender women subcultures in Thailand.

The story’s sex business portion is considerably easier to understand. In the course of their service in the Vietnam War, nearly 700,000 American soldiers travelled to Thailand, which served as their designated destination for rest and leisure.


A boom in sex-related companies resulted from spending in restaurants, bars, and brothels, which topped 40% of Thailand’s export revenues and were cheerfully covered by the American government.

transgender Person Jobs Problems

See also Korea during the Korean War and after then, as well as the Philippines when the US held bases there.

Since no culture has yet been sufficiently supportive of transness that it is easy for an openly transgender person to find another job, transgender communities everywhere engage in prostitution significantly more than the general population.

According to the National Trans Discrimination Survey conducted in the U.S. in 2011, 11% of transgender persons have engaged in sex work for pay, and 26% of transgender people have lost their employment due to gender identity or presentation.

These patterns stand out even more in light of Thailand’s high-profile sex trade. Let’s say that the mechanics underlying the ping-pong ball trick are rather straightforward. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination or past Google searches.

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