Ladyboy Shows Are A Lot Like "Willow"

Mueang Chiang Mai, Thailand

"So is THAT a ladyboy?"

Mike is my travel roommate for Thailand, he’s straight, and ever since we got here and he learned about the existence of ladyboys, he has asked me that same question about a hundred times. Especially about the females I know he finds attractive. However, we aren't even at a ladyboy show, we are sitting watching some sort of cultural dance, one that involves lots of twirling and fancy fans.

“I don’t know Mike, let’s wait and find out, shall we? If she pulls out her penis at the end of her little dance, then I’d say yes. Otherwise, I know just as much as you do at this point.”

To me, Mike seems obsessed with whether or not every beautiful woman we encounter is or isn’t a ladyboy. I think he’s terrified of being duped halfway through an intimate scenario. Or maybe it’s already happened (fool me once!) and he just hasn’t told me about it. Either way, I can’t blame him. If I was told that approximately half of all the hot men I met at a given location could possibly have a vagina, I’d be on high alert too.

I think Mike's under the impression that since I’m gay, I somehow have an almost supernatural awareness about these things, and can sense a penis even when it’s hidden under layers of toile and spanx. Sadly, though, I cannot. I find the ladyboys of Thailand to be just as enigmatic as he does, and completely indistinguishable from any other beautiful woman.

Asian men are at an advantage in the female impersonation department, I feel, since many already have softer, more feminine facial features than many other ethnicities. Anyone who’s ever seen Patrick Swayze or Wesley Snipes in the movie "To Wong Fu," knows that some men can be much less…. convincing. A blind person could have told you that Patrick Swayze wasn’t a natural born woman from miles away, across a hazy Irish bog. I don’t know why that came to mind, but it’s an interesting visual.

So were the ladyboys, in my opinion. Interesting visuals. However, that’s pretty much all they were. We went to a ladyboy show, to see what it was all about (Mike didn’t attend, just to be clear), and I presumed it was going to be similar to the fun, bawdy, drag shows I knew and loved back home.

Au contrair!

This show had about as much humor and snarky banter as The Rockets. It actually reminded me of another one of life’s great disappointments, which is the show we saw in Paris at the Moulin Rouge.

Both of these shows, both the one on offer at the Moulin Rouge and the ladyboy show we attended at the Simon Cabaret in Phuket, suffer from what I have dubbed "The Willow Effect. "

Yes, I'm talking about that "Willow," the movie from my 80s childhood, that featured an entire cast of what we then called midgets and now call little people. I know what you're thinking, what can the 1988 American fantasy epic starring little people have in common with the transexual shows of Thailand or the topless female dancers of Moulin Rouge? Well, that's easy, they were all directed by Ron Howard.

No, I'm joking. Only "Willow" was directed by Ron Howard (that we know of).

What they have in common, is that all these productions have a defining characteristic that consequently makes the talent pool from which they must draw from, very, very, small. In the case of Willow, that was literally true, as it was a movie that starred a historical number of little people. For the ladyboy shows of Thailand, the point was to feature only women who were originally born men. And for the Moulin Rouge performance, well, my friends and I still aren't sure exactly what the point of that show was, but it involved only women who were willing to be on stage without their tops on.

Working within these parameters, even if the point was just to parade these special people across the stage like show ponies, the casting director would have had their work cut out for them. And yet, each of these productions requires so much more. In Willow, they needed the little people to also act; the ladyboy show requires that the performers be able to dance; and the Moulin Rouge show needed all the topless women to also be pretty and... ambulatory? (I'm being generous here).

When the factor of whether or not your performer can act, or dance, or...jiggle(?) is unabashedly secondary to the defining characteristic that got them the gig in the first place, you end up with performances that are likewise unabashedly second rate.

With Willow, it was just some stilted acting in an otherwise high budget epic. But in the ladyboy and Moulin Rouge shows, the novelty that the dancers are transsexuals, or that the women are all topless, wears off almost instantly, and then what you are left with is a painfully boring evening of loud costumes and mediocre dancing. There's no real point, or plot to speak of, so both nights just drag on like an amateur talent show. I hate to mention it yet again, but shows like this also always give me a slight case of PTSD -- yes, left over from a never-ending, plotless, pointless, show of furious scarf waving I once saw called SHEN YUN. Even to this day, sometimes all of that fluttering silk and meaninglessness still haunts my dreams.

Important Notice! The fact that I napped through the greater part of all these female-centric shows could very well be due to the fact that I am not sexually attracted to what they had to offer on any of those occasions. I wasn’t buying what they were selling, if you catch my drift, so the whole thing just seemed like a yawn.

Still, let’s say I was the intended audience. I couldn’t shake the feeling that both the Moulin Rouge show and the ladyboy show were the kind of thing you’d show to horny businessmen, but only with the understanding that it didn’t much matter what the performances were like, because the real purpose was for them to select which one they’d like to spend time with “after the show.” More like a live menu than a live performance.

Who knows, I could be wrong, or maybe I’m just not a fan of cabaret shows in general if they don’t have Liza Minnelli in them.

One final update, just FYI -- we spoke with her after the show, and it turned out that the woman with the fan, in my photo above, wasn’t a ladyboy after all. She was an actual lady, which I understand are similar to ladyboys but with one fundamental difference, and I know that Mike was a big fan of the fact that she was born without a penis.

A big fan, but as you can see, clearly not her biggest.