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The Third Sex: Kathoey, Thailand's Ladyboys   Richard Totman

The Ladyboys of Bangkok are back, performing in a Brighton big top and wearing a very small top. Wherever they go, these performers (“kathoey” in Thai) catch the public imagination and Totman, an expert on the psychosomatic cause of illness, fell in with a trio of them during a long holiday in Thailand. He examines kathoey through biology, sociology, sexuality, culture, religion, economics and their own gossipy anecdotes, and puts them in the context of other Animist cultures where there is a “third sex”, usually men who identify as female. These comparisons are sometimes shaky: India’s hijra are “shy and introverted” at one point, then later “loud and sharp-tongued”.

Thais have traditionally accepted and admired kathoey for their beauty, performing skills and even spirituality, but Totman shows that as the country aspires to become more international, kathoey are becoming marginalised and a bit of an embarrassment, even as a gay subculture as we would know it is developing in Thailand. And although I can forgive him for saying Siberia is a country, and for quoting from a 1992 documentary on “BBC Channel 4”, I kind of wish Totman had explained how to pronounce “kathoey”.