Being LGBT in Thailand

Storytelling Thailand

Thailand is very well known as being a highly tolerant country where differences, when it comes to sexual preference, are all accepted and contribute to make Thailand the first gay-friendly country in Asia. Indeed, the LGBT community is very well represented in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, or again Phuket and the living circumstances of gay people residing in Thailand rank the country 16th on a world scale.

The “GHI” survey, tolerance toward LGBT in the world

According to the survey « Gay Happiness Index », a worldwide country ranking which is based on the combination of 3 main topics (public opinion, public behavior, and life satisfaction), Thailand scores 67 points out of 100, with 1549 participations in the survey. Therefore, the country ranks in the top 20 in Asia, according to the same survey. Then comes Taiwan, 34th, and Cambodia 35th. In comparison, France gets 63 points and ranks 21st on a global scale.

If the situation isn’t that easy for all gay Thai people, gay-friendly places and bars are numerous, and lots of Chinese tourists spend their holidays in Thailand in order to finally be themselves, far from a more repressive Chinese society. There are growing numbers of them who motivate Thailand to focus on the gay commercial market, using more slogans like « Go Thai, be free » for instance, adding Chinese songs in the cabaret shows,  and until suggesting special trips for gay friendly tourism. Thus, Chinese tourists globally represent the biggest demand in Thailand : 6,6 millions in 2017,  against less than 700 000 Americans, and 500 000 French people.

Officially, Thai law currently does not recognize same-sex marriages but they can be celebrated by buddhist priests sometimes.

Thailand - Bangkok - LGBT

Third gender

Gender identity and sexual orientation are obviously two different things. Being transgender is about an individual’s gender identity, while being gay is about an individual’s sexual or romantic attraction to people of the same gender. In other words, everyone possesses both a gender identity and a sexual orientation.

Thailand is one of the country where transgender community is the most visible. Ostracized in other parts of the world, ladyboys, trans people or again called katoeys, are apparently well accepted in Thailand. The transgender community is so strong that every year, 15 million viewers watch the Thai transgender women candidates contesting in Miss Tiffany’s Universe, since it’s broadcast live on National Thai television.

If Thai people are very open-minded, half of the reasons why they seem that socially accepted is going to be about buddhism. Indeed, buddhism recognizes four different genders : male, female, hermaphroditism and the non-normative male sexuality, which is actually the closest state of the katoey gender. Thus, religion plays a key role in this community’s acceptance in so far as many Buddhists believe that transgenderism becomes a question of karma. There is actually a belief that a person is born a katoey because he committed adultery in a previous life and must pay for his wrongdoings.

Very early in life, if it actually starts with the sorting of blue clothes and pink clothes, « boys’ toys » and « girls’ toys » or telling young girls must be « pretty » and boys must be « strong » , it continues into puberty and adulthood as social expectations of masculine and feminine expression and behavior, and often becomes even more rigid. But gender does not simply exist in those binary terms; gender is more of a spectrum, with all individuals expressing and identifying with varying degrees of both masculinity and femininity.

Having said that, transgender people actually identify as a gender different from their biological sex : and that’s why katoeys, expressing a strong desire to be a different gender and to be treated as such, start when they can, a long journey with hormone therapy and surgery to live openly their affirmed gender, and be themselves.

I didn’t find any reliable survey about the number of katoeys in Thailand, statistics varying too much from a study to another, but sometimes reaching 1 200 000 that means 2% of the Thai population, the path to make it truly accepted is still long. Work pressures remain very strong, and in the incapacity of finding a job, they have no choice but to become a huge part of the social stigma, the sex industry, and an entertainment of a kind for tourists, eventually living in a sort of fake integration.

However, lots of them live in a different world. They want to study, plan career ambitions as well as they want to build stable relationships. Starting to speak up, they’re helped by the voice of famous katoeys in Thailand, highly mediatized as a thai boxer, a model, or again singers, and hope they’ll become more and more to live public and honest lives.


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