Times Get Tougher for Ladyboys in Thailand

| Aug 3, 2020
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As we all know, Covid-19 is seriously affecting international travel and the tourism industry across the globe. 

In 2019, Thailand welcomed over 39 million tourists, but due to Covid-19 has seen its visitor numbers decimated. There have been no international visitors to Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Bangkok and other well-known, popular vacation destinations for over 4 months. In a country where tourism accounts for some 15% of its annual GDP this is close to being disastrous.

And all this despite a very low number of people affected by the virus–indeed, the country has passed 50 days with no locally transmitted cases. Even the number of infections due to returnees is very, very low by world standards; with the number of serious cases even lower.

But still, no inbound tourists, and no apparent light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, at least in terms of the reintroduction of international flights and tourist arrivals.

Very feminine ladyboy.

As you’d expect, all directly employed hotel staff, external tourism operators, suppliers of goods and services to hotels, tour guides, car hire companies and so on are all being badly affected. The ripple effect in terms of job losses, permanent loss of business and companies folding cannot truly be estimated.

And amongst all of this we have the thousands of Ladyboys who perform nightly in the famous cabaret shows such as Tiffany or Simon in Pattaya or Phuket. All of them, suddenly, unceremoniously, finding themselves out of a job. No tourists, no performances. No performances, no income.

Unfortunately, many Ladyboys have few other skills apart from being “entertainers,” dancing and lip synching, drawing admiring tourists by the thousands to the world-famous shows. Often being an entertainer can also mean working in bars and club, with the seamless spin off into sex work. Not all, but many, Ladyboys drift into associated sex work due to the need to earn money for hormones or reassignment surgery. This (big) temptation is always there as, in reality, relatively few of the showgirls (the leading ladies or the biggest stars) earn really good money. Most Ladyboys survive on tips from tourists to supplement their average salaries.

Many other Ladyboys who do not work in the entertainment industry are also affected. There is a high percentage of such women working in other vulnerable business sectors such as hair salons, beauty shops or massage centers. Whilst some of these businesses do have local patronage, many rely heavily on tourists to survive. Some of these businesses have been reopened, but were also closed the longest.

Being a Ladyboy is difficult in terms of career prospects in the best of times. Being a Ladyboy without a job and needing to earn money to buy food and the necessary hormones to keep up their daily regimen is clearly doubly difficult.

Although daily life is getting back to normal, there are still lingering effects on the medical side due to the lockdown (and daily curfew). which Thailand endured. Many Ladyboys cannot get visits to doctors for prescriptions, or consultations or appointments for surgeries (essential or cosmetic) and so on. 

Whilst there are certainly plusses in Thailand’s handling and containment of the pandemic, social support for vulnerable minority groups is not, and never has been, a strong point of the country. As a large, visible group Ladyboys, tolerated but not totally accepted in the past, now have to work out where to go from here.

But as a highly fragmented, disorganized group, spread throughout a country of over 66 million people, it’s not going to be easy to get back on track and rebuild their lives in the short term. And definitely not without tourists.

The country as a whole badly needs international tourism to start again. And Ladyboys maybe need it more than most!

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Category: Transgender Community News

Christine B

About the Author ()

Christine has written numerous (at least 150) articles, columns, op-eds, features & stories for well known T magazines, websites & e-zines; she also works as a part time fiction editor for Club Lighthouse Publishing, and is a co-editor of an award winning T-girl Magazine. In addition, she has written 8 adult books mainly in the T sub-genre which have been published by Club Lighthouse Publishing, for whom she has been the best selling author for the last 5 years.

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