In Thailand’s tolerant society, transvestites and transsexuals
glitter at annual pageant broadcast nationwide
PATTAYA, Thailand The Miss Tiffany’s Universe pageant contestants were perfectly made up, coifed and draped in glamorous gowns, convincingly masking their hidden truth that they were all born boys.
Through extensive plastic surgery and hormone popping, Thai men are expert at transforming themselves into transsexuals with long, lithe limbs, silky skin and supreme femininity. Thirty transsexuals selected from 60 entrants from around Thailand competed in the annual Miss Tiffany’s Universe pageant, broadcast live nationwide on May 19.
Ratrawee Chirapraphakun, who was crowned Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2006, said she competed in the pageant “to tell society to give transsexuals career opportunities and to be fair to us in all career fields. We don’t have to be just beauticians or beauty contestants. We are just as capable as the real men and women out there.”
Ratrawee received a $2,600 grand prize and a new car.
One contestant, 25-year-old Suphaphit Sri-amorn, described getting injections to make a softer, more effeminate chin, and taking birth control pills to suppress male hormones that would have made her skin rougher and more hairy. Only her protruding Adam’s apple and lower-pitched voice revealed her secret. “I couldn’t do anything to help my voice,” she said in a throaty tenor.
While Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, is widely tolerant of gays, transvestites and transsexuals, many must overcome family pressure and even domestic violence.
“My parents wanted me to be a soldier or a policeman because I’m their only son,” said Suphaphit, who at the pageant looked more feminine than many women. “I was so stressed, I nearly killed myself. Why couldn’t I be a normal man?”
Many contestants described being accepted by their families only after proving that they would be professionally successful, and not a financial burden.
“My father used to kick me, punch me, hit me, everything. I just had to be strong,” said contestant Patcha Kitjarnuwat. “My parents accept me now … because I take care of the entire house. I send them money. I built their house.”
Miss Tiffany’s, one of Thailand’s most famous all-male cabaret theaters, has held the annual beauty pageant since 1998 in a gaudy Roman-pillared building in Pattaya, about 70 miles southeast of Bangkok. Pattaya is known for its seedy nightlife and is a popular destination for foreign tourists.
The Miss Tiffany’s pageant is held to promote tourism and also the rights of gay and transgender people.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 26, 2006.