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Interview with Regina about the transgender culture of Thailand

Stefan Arestis
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As soon as we mention we're going to Bangkok, our (straight male) friends are quick to shower us with the “ladyboy” jokes also offering advice on how to spot them“!

We always try to challenge stereotypes about transgender people in Thailand, the most common usually emanating from a guy's fear that “they” are plotting to trap and seduce him. The reality, of course, is that “they” really are not! Most are simply trying to lead a normal everyday life, just like you and me, in a world that still hasn't fully accepted its transgender community.

Out adventure gay toru of Thailand

LGBTQ tour of Thailand

Discover how Thailand earned its moniker ‘The Land of Smiles' on a gay tour with Out Adventures. The boys over at OA run four annual departures through the country with stops in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi and Phuket. Their April departure even aligns with the country's famous Songkran water festival. As the old circuit ditty goes, LET'S GET SOAKING WET!

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We have many transgender friends around the world who we've met in our travels, like Finn from Berlin. We take great pride in the LGBTQ bond that unites us: as gay men we are ultimately part of the same rainbow family, undergoing the same daily struggles of acceptance. We, therefore, take great pride in using our online platform to have an educative influence for transgender issues by challenging stereotypes and promoting a positive image of our transgender brothers and sisters.

One of our very good trans friends is Regina, who we met when we were out partying in the gay bars of Bangkok. Like us, Regina loves travelling and has stories from all around the world to share. Regina was also open to telling us all about her transition as well as her experience living/working as a trans person in Asia.

Looking to connect with transgender ladies?

If you want to meet transgender ladies while in Bangkok we recommend using the website MyLadyboyDate. This site isn't just for hooking up but also for people looking for a serious relationship.

Hi Regina, please introduce yourself:

Hello Nomadic Boys! I am Regina Ladera, 35 years old, originally from Iloilo City in the Philippines. I am a freelance hairdresser and makeup artist consultant. I am usually based in Bangkok, but I travel a lot because of my job and frequently go to Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei and Dubai.

My main base is in Bangkok. I absolutely love it here! It's like my playground to relax and just be myself. It's also one of the best places in Asia for shopping, beauty enhancements and beauty treatments.

Regina transgender girl in Bangkok
The stunning and super glamorous, Regina!

How old were you when you first realised that you felt ‘different' to the gender you were born?

I was born male, but from a young age, I always acted and felt feminine. It became more apparent when I was around 7 years old. I always wanted to wear dresses, grow my hair long to braid it and play with makeup. I was always fascinated by how you can change/elevate a person's face with just a few strokes of the hairbrush! I also used to love playing with dolls, girly toys and all my friends were girls when I was younger.

As soon as I was allowed to use the internet at home I would look up YouTube videos about makeup and spend hours watching hair beauty tutorials. It's something I was always obsessed with! I also used the internet to read up about transexuals, homosexuality and gender. The more I read, the more I was able to “define” that I clearly identified as ‘female' but was born in the wrong body. This happened more in my teenage years: an exciting realisation that the “difference” I was feeling was actually something others also experienced and that something could be done about it.

So I made it my goal in life to achieve the ideal body external appearance to match the gender that I felt within.

Transgender female Regina posing at the Mall
Our very pretty friend Regina posing at the Mall

Were your family supportive? How did they react?

I'm not going to lie, it hasn't always been easy. But as I was always so effeminate as a young boy, I think they quickly realised that I wasn't going to follow the “traditional” Catholic norm expected of men in the Philippines – ie marry a girl and have lots of children…! I remember my parents arguing about this when I was a little boy, particularly my father. But over time, they just grew to accept this and moved on.

I think the fact that I was so effeminate from a young age made the whole ‘coming out' a lot easier for me and for my family. By the time I was in my twenties and ready to consider surgeries for transitioning, they had grown accustomed to the idea that I was not happy in my skin. They respected my decision and have only ever shown me love and support throughout all the surgeries I have had.

I am fortunate that no one has ever victimised, bullied or ostracised me in my family. I have many trans friends, for example, who have been thrown out by their families or even bullied into leading “traditional” lives and being forced to marry a girl!

I am also very fortunate because I have an amazing openly gay uncle who is veeeeery active within the LGBTQ community. Once, he even entered a pageant competition in drag! He is one of my role models in life and has always been a huge source of inspiration to me.

Interview with Regina about transgender rights in Thailand
A night out in Bangkok with our gorgeous friend Regina

What operations have you had?

I was in my late twenties when I was finally emotionally (and of course, financially) ready to start transitioning. I have to date had 3 operations: rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty and breast augmentation. I did all 3 in Bangkok because this is where you'll find the best and cheapest doctors that specialise in surgery for transgender people. I recommend Dr Theerapong who has a clinic in Rama 2 next to the Central Mall in Bangkok.

My first surgery was when I was 28 and had a rhinoplasty to enhance the shape and size of my nose. This was the least expensive of my surgeries and cost me 12,000 bahts (around $365).

In the same year, I had blepharoplasty, which is basically eyelid lift surgery. As well as lifting my eyelids, this reduced the appears of any under-eye circles I had, which makes my face look more youthful. This cost me 20,000 bahts (around $610).

Finally, just before I hit my 30s, I had the most important surgery: breast augmentation, which gave me real boobs! This was the most important surgery for me. I've always wanted to have real breasts. Up until this moment I had to wear either fake silicone breasts or a latex fake breasts bra to give me the appearance of having a cleavage, which obviously never felt “real”! Having real breasts just made me feel more feminine and was an important part of my transitioning. This surgery was also the most expensive costing me 45,000 bahts (around $1,370).

That's it for now. I intend to *keep* everything else as it is(!) and just focus on beauty enhancement.

Regina transgender female in Bangkok
Regina gives us the lowdown about the surgeries she's had

Which are the correct and incorrect words use when referring to transgender people?

Transsexual, transperson or transgender are the main words to use to refer to someone who is like me, ie people who emotionally and psychologically feel that they belong to the opposite gender they were born.

I know that many people use the word “ladyboy” to describe male to female transgender people in Asia, particularly in Thailand and the Philippines. This word is actually seen as very offensive within the global transgender community as it implies you're a streetwalker, so I recommend avoiding it. We may use the word “ladyboy” jokingly between us in the same way that black guys use the word “nigger” affectionally between them or Spanish gay guys use the word “maricon” between them, but it would be extremely offensive if someone else was to use this word to describe them. In other words, it depends on context and intent. But to be on the safe side, I recommend avoiding using this word.

The same applies to the words “shemale” and “tranny”. They are both seen as derogatory and should be avoided. There is a reason why Ru Paul stopped using the phrase: “Ooh, gurl, you've got she-mail” from season 7 of Drag Race! She also said to Michelle Visage in their podcast that same year:

β€œDid you call me granny girl? That's your new thing because we can’t say it with a T anymore!”

But as I said, it depends on the context and intent. The thing that upset me the most was one time when a staff worker in a supermarket in Manila referred to me as “Sir”. This was horrible and made me feel so bad – like a massive slap in the face! In Thailand, I have never had this problem. The Thai always call me “Miss” – which is one of the many reasons why I love Thailand so much!

Another example of how our terminology has evolved, this is a deleted clip from Ru Paul's Drag Race season 6 of the “She-male or Female” mini-challenge (this was the season that featured one of my favourite Asian transgender sisters, Gia Gunn):

Have you ever been victimised for being transgender?

Overall I have never had any problems. Other than the odd silly name-calling like that supermarket work in Manila who called me “Sir”, I've never been bullied or victimised. I put this down to the fact that I look and act feminine – after all I've been practising from a very young age! But most importantly, I treat everyone I encounter with a great deal of respect and politeness. I strongly believe that if you treat people the way you want them to treat you, you will never have any problems in life!

I do have friends who have been bullied for being transgender. One of my closest friends was out shopping with her family at a mall in Manila. She went to use the bathroom and (obviously) went into the female toilet – she identifies as female and also dresses up and acts like a female. As she was washing her hands, a group of teenage girls started to verbally abuse and physically harass her, telling her she should not be in there, pushing her, called her a “pervert” and threatened to call the police! My friend ran out in tears. She now tries to avoid using public bathrooms unless they are gender-neutral or instead she just holds it until she gets home!

There was an incident recently where this happened again to another trans person in a mall in Manilla, this time the janitor of the toilet confronted her and it resulted in this poor girl being handcuffed. This incident went viral in the Philippines and has been crucial to our ongoing discussion about introducing gender-neutral bathrooms:

What gender do you have on your passport?

My passport is Filipino. In the Philippines we do not (yet!) have progressive rights for transgender people, in particular the right to change legal gender. There have been various legal battles by people for permission to change the gender in their legal documents, but the government has yet to make any laws about this.

In my passport, I am the gender I was born with: “male”, which makes travelling quite a stressful experience for me. Whenever I go to the airport I have to ensure I match my passport picture, which means I can't wear a dress, I have to minimise my makeup, tie my hair back and not wear any earrings. It feels dehumanising for me and I hate it.

But I don't ever let this suppress my love for travelling. I've just had to learn to accept this as the price I have to pay if I want to travel – at least until I can apply to legally change my gender!

Regina interview about transgender rights and travelling
Regina in Taipei: being transgender will NEVER hinder her love for travelling!

Why do you think Thailand is such a popular destination for transgender people?

Thailand is generally super LGBTQ friendly with a large thriving Asian transgender community, particularly in Bangkok and Pattaya. I personally love Bangkok the best. It's like my paradise of happiness and enjoyment. I feel comfortable expressing myself here.

I put this down to the fact that the Thai people are so respectful. The majority of Thais are Buddhist, which is a very accepting and tolerant religion. To give you an idea, most transgender people in many other countries in Asia have no option but to become to earn money by offering their services. In Thailand, this is not that case. You will see transgender people everywhere in Thailand as we have full employment rights here.

It is interesting though because whilst Thai society is so accepting and tolerant of transgender people, the country still hasn't passed progressive LGBTQ laws for us. It's a strange anomaly! For example, Thailand still hasn't passed the right to change legal gender law nor does it (yet) formally recognise the “third gender”. FYI: the only places in Asia that recognise the third gender are India, Pakistan, Nepal and Taiwan. This is the next step for trans rights in both Thailand and the Philippines in my opinion.

To give you an idea of just how “trans-friendly” Thailand is, some high schools have a “third gender” toilet for pupils, and in 2015, the Bangkok University published guidance for their transgender students to advise them how they can dress and still keep within the official dress code. This is the leaflet they published for it:

Thailand school uniform for transgender pupils

What's the best way to meet transgender people in Bangkok?

One of the best ways to meet transgender people is to head to the “ladyboy” bars of Bangkok on Nana Soi 4. Nana Plaza is like a big playground for bars, particularly Obsession on the ground floor and Cassanova on the second floor.

Another popular strip to check out to meet ladyboys in Bangkok is “Soi Cowboy” near Asok station. This small road is full of hot GoGo bars, however, it is more fun orientated here, usually attracting older foreign men looking to meet transgender girls. Cockatoo Bar is the most famous one here. For more, I recommend heading to Pattaya, which also has many transgender bars. It is around 1.5 hours drive south from Bangkok.

When I want to just hang out with friends we head to the gay bars on Silom Soi 4. My favourite bar is Stranger Bar because it has become the most famous in Bangkok for both drag queens and transgender people. If we go to the gay bars of Silom Soi 4, then we almost always end up at one of the gay clubs around the corner at Silom Soi 2, like DJ Station or GOD!

I also recommend using gay dating apps to meet transgender people especially Grindr and Tinder. I find that in Thailand, it's much easier to be open about myself on these apps. There is far less stigma towards transgender people in the gay scene of Thailand compared to other places in the world where even gay men dismiss us as being just streetwalkers or masseurs offering a happy ending!

If you're looking for serious long-term relationships with transgender men or women, I recommend using the MyLadyboyDate website. All the users on this website are more serious than on Grindr/Tinder and are looking for long-term relationships.

Stranger gay bar best bar in Bangkok for drag shows and the transgender community
A night out with Regina at Stranger Bar

Is there a supportive community or organisation for transgender people in Bangkok?

There are several excellent LGBTQ organisations. The best one for transgender people is the Tangerine Community Health Centre. It is a health clinic run by mainly transgender staff specialising in both health care and counselling for the transgender community of Bangkok. It is located on the first floor of the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre in Bangkok. To find out more about them, check out their Facebook page.

Another organisation I recommend checking out is the Thai Transgender Alliance (Thai TGA) who advocate for a better quality of life for our transgender community in Thailand. For sample, they have published guidelines for transgender women entering mandatory conscription in the Thai military as well as a guidebook to help parents accept and nurture transgender children. They are now campaigning to build a national support network for parents of transgender children and leading the fight for full legal recognition of transgender people in Thailand.

I really value the work of organisations like the Tangerine Community Health Centre and Thai TGA. I always try to support them in any way I can!

Transgender female Regina in Taipei
An activist and a gorgeous lady. Watch out world, Regina's on the prowl!

Are there any transgender-specific events in Thailand?

Oh yes! Thailand is famous for having some of the best transgender events in all of Asia and I think in the world!

I recommend checking out the world-famous Tiffany's Show in Pattaya. It's a massive institution that celebrates the talents and skills of transgender people in the entertainment industry through cabaret. It began in 1974 and has grown massively. Today they even host two renowned beauty pageants for drag queens and transgender females: Miss Tiffany's Universe and Miss International Queen.

I have always loved pageant shows growing up, so when I found out about the Tiffany Shows, I had to get involved! I've been living in Thailand for over a decade now and almost every year, I've participated in the Miss International Queen pageant. And guess what? I've won the crown 7 times now! It is so much fun. I strongly advise all travellers to Thailand to check it out.

Thanks Regina! Any parting words?

I would like to finish this interview by saying to young guys and girls who are confused about their gender identity, you are not alone! You are NOT a freak and you are certainly NOT an anomaly! What you're feeling is normal. And it will get better! Never give up and never compromise who you are or how you feel!

Yes, it is hard to be a transgender person in this day and age, especially in a lot of countries in Asia, but it is slowly getting better. The more we talk about our experiences and share our stories the easier it will be to normalise transgender issues in society. I aim to be a positive part of this evolution by inspiring other transgender people to be proud of themselves and have the courage to be free and happy.

Regina inspiring transgender rights in Asia
Regina my hero! A true role mode for the transgender community

For more inspiration:

Find out about Thailand's transgender culture in our interview with Regina

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author of the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

72 thoughts on “Interview with Regina about the transgender culture of Thailand”

  1. Hi Stefan,

    Nice post! Everytime a good feeling when we can find article with a positive impact on the community. Thanks for that! It contribute so much to change the mentalities.

    Also nice to see that you recommand myladyboydate. We really are doing our best everyday to make a safe place for transgender people around the world. So, 2nd thanks!

    Jessa

    Reply
  2. I love coming to the nomadicboys blog just to read experience you guys had. You both have taken the purpose of travel to another level. A lot of people never travel to a country due to certain stereotypes and here you both are making it easy for travellers to actually know about the country rather than believing those pre conceived notions. Love you both. This also speaks volume about traveling safe as a member of the LGBTQ community, it sad at times that couples from the community don’t share the same privelige as straight people do when it comes to being openly romantic in certain countries. Blogs like this bring awareness and most importantly acceptance and to see love as is, regardless of the gender.

    Reply
  3. Heads up. You don’t look for ladyboys in gay bars. In Thailand, you find them in the regular girly bars and in specific ladyboy bars. There are even dedicated post-op bars, most are mixed. In the Phils there are very few LB bars, but there are many where LBs are accepted; they are almost always freelancers. Meeting a LB for a relationship is next to impossible in a bar; you’d do better in a Mall, TBH. In southeast Asia, women are not offended if men signal their interest, thankfully, so just smile and say hello.

    Although LBs consider themselves to be ‘gay’ more or less (bakla, beki, bading etc in the Phils, kathoey in Thailand) ‘gay’ doesn’t mean what you think it does. It means ‘woman inside’. In the Phils these are classed by appearance — ‘longhairs’ eg Regina and ‘shorthairs’. The latter are vaguely masculine looking. But they all see themselves in the same way, as women inside and NOT as men. LB ‘tops’ are pretty rare and usually are professionals, working a certain class of Western male. Most regular girls — almost all in fact — are ‘bottoms’. So if you want to be recipient, you;re probably going to have to pay. ‘Versatile’ shorthairs are not uncommon but in the Phils they’re called ‘bisexuals’, again, not the Western meaning.

    Oh, and ‘ladyboy’ in the Phils means a pre- or non-operative bakla or gay male, whether long or shorthair (lady on the inside, boy on the outside, see?) ‘Transgender’ in the Phils specifically refers to a post-operative transwoman. Calling a ladyboy that will not be taken as a sign of respect, rather of ignorance, and, if you are pursuing an individual, might damage your chances if she still has the JT and you say you’re looking for a ‘transgender’.

    Reply
  4. Hi!

    I am planning to travel to Thailand (likely Bangkok) for a week in summer. I am a crossdresser and I am looking for a makeup artist and a guide for the trip. Do you have contacts of makeup artists or tour guides that would be interested?

    Thanks!
    KT

    Reply
    • We definitely recommend the Dr that Regina mentions in this article. Also head to the awesome Stranger Bar and ask M the host(ess) who’ll have some excellent tips.

      Reply
  5. Ladyboys from all over the world travel to Thailand for cosmetic surgery. If doctors anywhere know surgery specific to transgenders, it’s in Thailand.

    Reply
  6. This is amazing! I love it, so interesting to hear from her perspective. Didn’t realise some schools had a third gender toilet, thats really cool, great article πŸ™‚ We shall be sharing.

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  7. Super interesting boys! It is great to hear the realities of ladyboys from one. Never thought of the passport issues, but of course if I was a border control agent I would also wonder if it is the same person since she looks a bit different from her photo probably

    Reply
  8. Loved it! He certainly makes a gorgeous ladyboy, much more attractive than most women I know. (isn’t that always the case) How did I know that Stefan would find his way on the stage with the entertainment? You guys are too fun! πŸ˜‰

    Reply
  9. Thanks for sharing. It’s interesting to learn about how other cultures are accepting of transgender people on a level we really aren’t in the US. Hopefully that keeps chaing.

    Reply
  10. Hey, thanks for sharing this interview, I really enjoyed reading it! Regina has a very interesting story. It’s great that Thailand is so open and accepts all genders equally. I sometimes wish it would be like this in Europe as well, I think some people still have a lot of prejudices.

    Reply
  11. I think that one of the reasons why Bangkok is so well known for their ladyboys is because of how open minded and welcoming they are to the community. Fascinating interview (interesting part on the passport info!) Just another reason to absolutely LOVE Thailand!

    Reply
  12. What a fantastic interview and insight into a shemale’s life in Bangkok. I’ve wonderful that Regina feels so accepted and free to live the life she chooses in a welcoming and supportive community. Great work in spreading the love!

    Reply
  13. What a great interview on something I might never have found on my own. I especially loved learning how open and accepting Thailand is towards all sorts of people. May other countries learn from them. Regina–You are beautiful. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    Reply
  14. This was such an insightful interview and Regina sounds like the most awesome person to hangout with. Would love to have her join us for girls’ night the next time I’m in Bangkok!

    Reply
  15. The interview is really interesting – never read a first person piece by someone like Regina before. It sounds like she’s pretty sorted and happy – and certainly in the right place.

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  16. Hahaha. And she is Filipino!!! My BFFs in the Philippines (3 of them) are like you guys and I miss them very much. I had so much fun with them every weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon!

    Reply
  17. Great interview guys (Regina looks like a ton of fun)!
    I’m totally fascinated with the ladyboy/shemale culture of Thailand. I have to admit that most of them make me jealous- they can walk better in heels that I ever will πŸ˜‰
    Great insight into how open the Thai culture is about trans-gender people. I think the rest of the world could take a whole lot of pointers- especially the idea of the third bathroom.
    PS: If Regina gets Sebastien I call dibs on Stefan!

    Reply
  18. Hi!

    Me and friend are gonna write a paper on transgender people in Bangkok next spring and would it be posible to get in touch with Regina?
    We are currently studying at the Swedish Red Cross for nursing.
    And we are looking for contacts who could help us with this project.

    Kind regard

    Emma and Emil

    Reply
    • Hi Delphia, thanks for your comment.

      I asked Regina and she says it was done bt Doctor Theerapong who has a clinic in Rama 2, beside the Central Mall in Bangkok.

      It cost around 12,000-15,000 Bahts.

      Reply
  19. Thank for share this interview.
    That make me remember good souvenirs party in Bangkok.
    About operation, some ladyboy paid less expensive in the smaller “hospital’. Have a little clinic like that not so fat from Central World (Pratunam).
    You can see a lot of ladyboy waiting for get operation or check a post operation.

    Regina also right, ladyboy can work every where, also at 7/11 πŸ˜‰

    Reply
  20. Great interview! I can’t say I would have guessed although I have to say that I’m surprised Regina wanted to be referred to as a ‘shemale’! Piers Morgan recently got into loads of trouble while interviewing Janet Mock for referring her incorrectly; I think she would have had a heart attack if he called her a Shemale! It’s funny that there’s never any stories about Gentlemangirls, only Ladyboys…

    Reply

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