When you go browsing for info on what life is like here in the Philippines you are most likely to come across the same general information about the great beaches, the warm climate, the positive exchange on your money, friendly people.. yadda yadda. What you will rarely come across is the unavoidable reality that you will likely cross paths with more transgender “ladyboys” here than you normally do in your own home country. Unless of course your home country is Thailand.
(And yes, in case you were wondering, the person in the photo on the left is.. a Ladyboy. She won the Miss Tiffany beauty crown in 2004.)
Prior to coming to the Philippines, while living my 49 years in the U.S., I think in total I have seen perhaps five transvestites (not the same thing) and perhaps two actual transgendered persons. I’m from a fairly small town and even though I’ve been to Los Angeles and San Diego plenty of times I was usually too busy either at the beach or shopping to engage anyone of their niche. Maybe that means I’ve led a somewhat sheltered life in this particular regard.
But all that changed since literally my 2nd day here in the Philippines. Here, you will cross paths with ladyboys and gays on a regular basis. They are walking about the same sidewalks, working in the malls and at the same marketplaces and beaches. On my second day here I went directly to the nearby mall (only 3 blocks away, so I usually walk) and I went upstairs to the food court to try and patch in to the wifi signal while getting myself some breakfast. As I’ve mentioned before, everybody here already knows who is ‘local’ and who is ‘new to town’. Even I, being here only 6 months in Basak can spot a new foreigner versus a seasoned one from across the mall in a crowd. I know who frequents here nearby and I know a new face when one shows up. So it was little surprise that my second day here as I was having trouble getting the wifi signal that everybody who worked in the food court knew I was fresh off the plane.
It wasn’t even fifteen minutes before several of the food vendors came by to offer assistance. Without even getting up from my table, in my first 30 minutes I met about 3 or 4 ladyboys, perhaps 3 gays and 4 straight women all of whom were close friends working there in the mall. It was a bit overwhelming, I will admit. To be barely getting your feet on the ground and right away have so many people start telling you their names,
asking where you’re from, how long you’ll be in the Philippines.. the usual battery of questions I still get when meeting new Fiipinos anywhere in town.
Now, before I get much further into this I should probably give you my working definitions to avoid any confusion. I’m sure there is a more detailed, politically correct version of these definitions but I’ll just share with you the ballpark definitions I’ve been familiar with.
Straight – Men who prefer women and vice-versa. Fairly traditional and straightforward, no pun intended.
Gay/Lesbian — Men who look like men who prefer the same. Women who look like women who prefer women. Many gays in the U.S. are indistinguishable from Straights in general society, but here in the Philippines gays for the most part are faily open and obvious about it. The women, not so much, but I have met and known several ‘butch’ lesbians here. For the most part though the lesbian women here are not ‘butch’ and in every way appear as if they are straight. That can be quite a bummer for us single guys since more often than not they are very attractive.
Effeminate – These are still same as gays but here in the Philippines they sort of have their own distinction. These are men who, while they will wear make-up, carry a purse and maybe even wear women’s shoes or skinny-jeans.. are not trying to look like a woman. They aren’t exactly trying to look masculine either. They sort run their appearance on the border between the two. Between them and the ladyboys, the Effeminates weird me out just a bit more to be honest. The only good thing is that they are usually a bit more respectful and not so ‘grabby/touchy’ as most of the ladyboys.
Transvestite — This is a man who spends the majority of his time during the week looking like a man, but then spends his time on the weekend dressed up like a woman. They seem to be into all sorts of fake boobs and even fake butts and for all I know may be straight or gay or bisexual since they are sometimes married to a woman. But they are into it on a part-time basis, almost like a costume of some sort that they put away during the week while at work or going about their daily life. There don’t seem to be very many of these here, but I have seen a few. Even during their ‘off-time’ the tight shorts, shaved legs and plucked eyebrows are something of a give-away. In my book, the only straight men who ever shave their legs are professional or Olympic swimmers. From what I’ve encountered, most Filipinos are not known for their ability to swim despite growing up on an island. (Just saying.)
Transexual/Ladyboy — This is a man who devotes himself full-time to becoming in every way he can afford to look exactly like a woman. For them it does not stop at just putting on nice dress and shoes or plucking eyebrows. Despite the local poverty level many of the ladyboys here find a way to support their need for constant doses of female hormones. I don’t know if they are the same thing as women’s contraceptives, but seem to be similar. I asked one ladyboy what sort of changes do the pills make. ‘She’ said that ever since taking them it changed the texture of his skin, made his body hair less prominent, redistributed fat in such a way as to make him look more ‘feminine’ and.. shrank down his genitals. To me, the hormone treatment alone is what sets them apart from the transvestite who is just playing dress-up on the weekends. Ladyboys will work their job as a ladyboy and basically go about their complete routine as a ‘woman’. Most of them their family eventually accepts it, though not easily. Ladyboys, if they can afford it, will also get breasts implants and various cosmetic surgeries to make the whole look complete. That’s dedication.
As a side note, in both the Philippines and Thailand, Ladyboy Beauty pageants are a regular event. Even some of the smaller cities will have local beauty contests just for
ladyboys. When I had to go to the U.S. Consulate office a few months ago I went to their location in Cebu which is on the ground floor of the Waterfront Hotel. As my taxi pulled into this very large and expensive hotel the parking lot was filled with large banners advertising the Ladyboy Pageant they were hosting there the following week. The banners had the photos of contestants on each one. To be honest all I really noticed at first glance were lots of images of some very pretty Asian women. It gets to a point at this level that these guys could easily pass themselves as a woman. These are not the big shouldered, hairy-backed drag-queens I’ve seen along Los Angeles boulevard or Sunset Strip. The ladyboys here in Asia are on a whole other level. And because many –real- Asian women are somewhat small-breasted and slender.. the gray line of distinction gets more and more difficult to see. From what I hear, Angeles City and Manila (Philippines) and Bangkok (Thailand) are famous for this level of committed transgenders.
So, getting back to me being surrounded by real women, gays and ladyboys at the mall food court.. I suppose imagining yourself in my situation you might think it so overwhelming you’d be running for the exit in a heartbeat. (Not that it would do you any good, they are outside the mall as well.) I’ll give you an idea of where I’m coming from with this. When I was younger I was very dogmatic in my thinking. Everything was black or white, right or wrong and people were either good or evil. Over the years I’ve come to the belief that while I still subscribe to an absolute morality, nobody (including myself) is all good or all bad. Some people are worse than others, some are nicer than others. But we all have our own issues and dark vices if we’re honest with ourselves. I happen to enjoy –real- women (a lot) and I’d be lying to say that I married every woman I ever had carnal knowledge with. I’m not a gambler or a thief, but when it comes to women.. it’d be fair to
say that’s my Achilles’ heel. I won’t go into a full blown theological discourse here, but it’s kinda splitting hairs really to begin arguing the lesser or greater evil between fornication, hatred, gossip, homosexuality, thieving, lying, adultery or any other moral vice. Yah, the consequences are different.. but they’re all wrong. A fornicator or adulterer calling a homosexual ‘the greater evil’ (or vice versa) still boils down to the pot calling the kettle black. That’s just my opinion.
So, there I was. Brand new in the Philippines and suddenly I have about a dozen new ‘friends’. All friendly, smiling faces and going very much out of their way to stop and chat with me every time I went to the mall for my groceries and household items I needed for my new studio. Now, I’ll give you the quick and direct synapsis of how things went with this particular gaggle of ‘new friends’ over the course of the ensuing two months. What eventually transpired is the same thing that has happened to every other foreigner new to the Philippines. It was not long before they were hinting they’d not eaten.. so, being a nice guy I treated them to some lunch. Then that became a daily expectation. Upon leaving, several of them would hit me up for money. It was always something different. They needed money to ride a jeepney home, or lunch money, or cell phone load money, or dinner money. Then it progressed to ‘loans’. Loans to get them through the week, loans to pay their utilities, buy diapers, get medicine. You get the picture. At first I was still doing rough math in my head on the money exchange rate and told myself, “Well, it’s only a few bucks.. and they’ve been so nice to me.” Well, that began to add up really fast. In the end I had to change my cell phone number and make a point to disassociate with them entirely. I even avoided the mall for a period until I got word that the worst offenders had been fired from their jobs and were no longer there.
Now, since then what I have found is that even when you get to know and hang around some really cute girl it is almost guaranteed she has either a close friend or relative who is
a ladyboy. There are just that many of them here. It gets kinda confusing because Filipinos identify both the gay men and the ladyboys as ‘the gays’. Every ‘gay’ I’ve run into here is very effeminate in their mannerisms, so there isn’t much confusion as to who is ‘gay’. It’s not like the U.S. where you find out years later that some masculine co-worker wasn’t straight. Here, the effeminate men will often wear make-up.. not to look like a woman but to tone down their masculinity. (As if wearing skinny jeans or micro-shorts wasn’t already doing the job.) To be honest, even for a somewhat civil person like myself, it kinda weirds me out to see some guy touching up his foundation while standing in line next to me at the ATM.
Meanwhile, back to the ladyboys. Over the last six months I’d guess I’ve seen several hundred of them as I go about town just doing my usual routine. In the U.S. you generally won’t see them unless you either live in a gay-oriented city or go to some specific side of town. But here, you might just want to buy yourself some lumpia or boiled corn and only then realize the person behind the counter is a ladyboy. The most likely places I’ve seen them working is at barber shops, salons, massage places, food courts, marketplace or malls. I’ve even seen them at the local Catholic church for Sunday Mass when I was there to shoot some photos.
But what I’ve shared so far is just an introduction. Now that you know to expect to see them when you get here.. how does that affect you as you go about your day just living and breathing, walking about the Philippines as a Foreigner?
In the U.S. it doesn’t take much to be anti-social. In fact, everyone is so busy it takes quite a bit of planning to be social with your friends and neighbors apart from seeing them at work. But the Philippines is absolutely a social culture. Complete strangers will think nothing of asking you if you’re married, where you live, what you do for a living.. the whole nine yards the first time they meet you. They aren’t being rude or purposely intrusive.. it’s just how they interact. They are a very networked people. Telling some older woman you are still single might lead to her introducing you to her niece or neighbor. Mentioning you have an ailment or legal issue may result in them calling up their doctor-friend or attorney in the family to help you out. That’s just how it is here. When it comes to being social, I know everybody’s different. Me, I like to be social. I probably enjoy meeting strangers too much and have even suffered for it at times. I’m slowly learning to be a bit more critical of who I meet, what I hear and who it’s coming from. Which brings me back to the whole ladyboy issue.
Out of the many ladyboys I’ve seen at a distance in the last six months I have been on
speaking terms with two of them. I’ve asked my own questions. I’ve watched their behaviors and tried to make sense of their motives. It hasn’t done my reputation around town any good at all, believe me. Around here, everybody notices everything. Talk to a ladyboy on a public street for more than 10 seconds or be seen sharing a table getting burgers with five or six of them and word starts getting around. Especially when you are a foreigner that people take notice of to begin with. Local, older Filipinos pretty much consider ladyboys and gays as the pariah of society. On a good day most people will ignore them. On a not so good day a ladyboy or gay may be told they are not welcome in a particular place of business. Normally, when by myself, I have little trouble getting a cab or tricycle. However on one occasion when I went with a group of them to a local dance club.. as soon as the drivers saw that I was with them.. they wouldn’t take me. We got turned down by about 6 or 7 taxis and tricycles before finally jumping on several motorcycles (hubble-hubbles) to get on our way. But it was worth running around with them for a few months to glean some first-hand observations which I will share with you now.
If you are a somewhat social person, I’d say expect to sooner or later find yourself sitting across the dinner table with a ladyboy. I know that may sound kinda crazy from the comfort of your own country if you’ve never been here before, but here’s how it may transpire. You get off the plane and make the Philippines your new home. Soon you meet the woman of your dreams. (And yes, she’s a real woman in this scenario.) You then meet her family, get married, get a home and maybe have a few kids together. Life is grand. As time goes by many of the family events will likely be held at your home if it’s larger than anyone else’s. That’s when you’re asking for someone to pass the lechon and the cousin, or brother or close family friend who happens to be a ladyboy is handing you a plate of roasted pork. As I mentioned before, dating Filipinas here almost always means they went to school with guys who later became either gay or ladyboy.
Kristine (yes, very much a real woman) is a really close friend of mine and someone I have an immense amount of respect for. When we go somewhere we’ll often bring along a friend of hers. Some of them are gay. Ok, so her friend is gay. The three of us catch a tricycle and get a beer in town or go for some swimming at a local pool. It’s nothing to get over-reactive about. To her, these are her friends and if they are important to her then I will respect that. That’s how I look at it.
In another instance, I had run into a foreigner at a local dance club here. Through him I met his Filipina girlfriend and several of her friends that joined us that night were gays and ladyboys. It just kinda comes with the territory, literally. Now, I suppose if you put some effort into it you can find some ‘safe zones’ if all this weirds you out too much. You can isolate yourself to only meeting certain members of her family, only go to certain restaurants at the mall and never meet anyone new. That’s a bit dry for me personally, but it can be done and plenty of ex-pats go about their day without so much as noticing the whole gay/ladyboy contingency. It can be done. More so in the smaller provinces in the country since ladyboys and gays seem to be more present in the bigger cities.
As I mentioned before.. with the first batch of gays and ladyboys, I had to go out of my way to disassociate with them due to their whole gold-digger/leeching mentality. They were working as a group and I really didn’t like those odds. Later I met and got to know another ladyboy who at first seemed a bit more reserved, but I soon found that there were constant requests for money. As an American, we just do not mix money and friendship. I’ve had so many friends over the years and it’s just ingrained in our own Western culture that the best way to remain friends is to follow two simple rules. Rule #1, never borrow money from your friends. Rule #2, never hang out with your friend’s wife alone. For a foreigner, nothing will kill a new friendship faster than constantly being hit up for money. And it’s got little to do with whether we “can afford it” or not. It has to do with being wanted for WHO you are.. not for WHAT you have. Now.. at the risk of sounding very stereotypical of a group, I am going to tell you what I have observed directly in my interaction with any ladyboy I spent more than five minutes in conversation with and it is this;
If you don’t set hard boundaries..
most Ladyboys are VERY aggressive and possessive of you, right away.
I just heard this morning from Delia how she took notice the other day of two foreigners who were having a conversation amongst themselves in a mall. They were approached by two ladyboys who made a strong effort to introduce themselves and offer their companionship to the two men. The two men responded by being very loud and vocal that these two ladyboys were NOT welcome and that they needed to leave immediately. Now, some might think that’s kinda rude and over the top, but honestly.. I don’t blame them. I know that smacks of discrimination and not being politically correct and all that, but here’s what you have to take into account. Those two guys have probably been here long enough to learn what I just wrote a moment ago; the vast majority of ladyboys are very aggressive about getting a foreigner boyfriend. Or even just a boyfriend, period. And if a foreigner seems available.. they are all over it. I’m a fairly civil and respectful person. I don’t like to get rude with people unless it’s the only option left. And for this reason, the mere fact that I would even respond in a polite tone to a ladyboy is all that’s needed to kick some sort of drama into gear.
I’ll give you some examples. Just two days ago I got into a tricycle and found myself sitting next to a ladyboy. No big deal. I was only going about a mile. There was an elderly, Filipina woman in the tricycle with us. I said, “Hello” and the ladyboy asked me the same questions any other Filipino would ask about my nationality, etc. Not an involved conversation but I was being civil. Now, this particular ladyboy was one of the few that was not aggressive. But I noticed the looks I kept getting from the older woman in the sidecar with us. She was completely astounded, and not in a good way, that I would even so much as speak to this outcast of society. Because as far as the ‘old school’ Catholics go.. these ladyboys are nothing less than the spawn of the devil himself. They really do not find them amusing in any way at all. This woman gave me this look like, “With all the single Filipinas we have here.. you’re going to talk to ‘that thing’?”. There is that much of a culture clash here being as how most of the ladyboys I’ve noticed are in their teens or early 20’s.
Now, that was a mild situation compared to what I call the whole, “Elaine Fiasco”. It all
started about 10 days ago. It was about 8pm and I had decided to take a walk to the mall for a snack. To leave my small burb of apartments there is only one driveway to get in or out, it’s a side-street that leads to the main road. At night it is dimly lit only by a few bulbs along the side of the building. But I’m used to it. So as I was leaving to go to the mall I was sending a text and focused entirely on that. When I looked up it was because I nearly bumped right into this really beautiful Filipina who now works at the midwife services office at the end of my driveway. (This girl is a real woman, by the way. And very cute.) She was out there to give some scrap food to the local dogs that hang out at my apartment. We just exchanged a few words, she went back indoors and I continued on to the mall. So on my way home as I approached my driveway I kinda looked around hoping to run into her again for a more thoughtful introduction as I had completely been unprepared the first time. But.. nobody there, so I continued down the dark driveway into my apartment complex.
And then I heard someone calling out from behind me, “Hey!”, so I turned around. From about a hundred feet away I could see her waving her arms trying to get my attention. I waved back and said, “Hi!”, but I couldn’t see her that well in the dark to know for sure if it was really her or not. Seemed the same height and general features. I could tell she was walking toward me so I stopped and waited. But as ‘she’ got closer I realized two things.. this was not the cute girl I had just seen an hour ago and this ‘girl’ was in fact a ladyboy. Talk about awkward.
So now this ‘girl’ in a big sweater is holding out her hand all smiles and happy that I waited. Now, the best way I could describe what he/she looked like is to say that he looked like a miniature, Filipino version of ‘Elaine’ from the Seinfeld show. Hence, I refer to him/her as ‘Elaine’. I spoke up right away and said, “Hey.. I thought you were someone else.. I couldn’t see too well in the dark so, you know.. sorry for the confusion.” Even from a few feet away I could smell the liquor on his/her breath. I made a half-wave and walked away to get home, which was now about fifty feet away. And here is where I will make my point. These ladyboys can be VERY aggressive and very persistent. They are out to have a boyfriend and it is my guess they want a boyfriend who has the money to buy them all the paraphernalia they need to keep up their feminine appearance. I’ve bounced that theory off of Delia and she agrees, that’s the motive.
So as I’m walking away, ‘Elaine’ starts following me. So I stopped. Again I said that it was all a matter of mistaken identity, I thought she was someone else and that I had a lot of work to get busy on. ‘She’ kept rambling about how she just knew she was in love with me (that didn’t take long) and that only I could “fix her situation”. As if this wasn’t clear enough, ‘Elaine’ then went into a detailed description of specific acts necessary to alleviate his cravings. Even from a real woman this kind of situation would freak me out. So this was pretty much over the top for me. It was dark where we were at and again I walked away, more quickly this time. And.. there he is, right beside me. At this point the gardener happened to be passing by so I walked over to him and said, “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s followed me here.. he’s been drinking and I’ve asked him to leave.” The gardener told ‘Elaine’ something in Tagalog and right away she/he was rushing to get outta there. Maybe he threatened to call the police, I don’t know. But the moment the two of them started talking I was already making my way quickly into my apartment.
And all this because I waved at the wrong person in the dark. But my point is.. not ‘all’ ladyboys are so possessive, but many of them are. The one in the tricyle was very demure, shy and not invasive in the least. ‘Some’ are quite nice and wishing to behave much like a ‘real-girl’ they are very pleasant in so many ways. I only mention the warning about the possessive ones because it is something you will run into eventually. They are curious whether you are ‘okay’ with being sociable with them or not. The next most logical step is for them to be curious if you like them in particular. That’s just how it is here.
A few days later I was riding a tricycle down the main street in town to take care of an errand in Maribago and.. who do I see? ‘Elaine’ is out on the side of the road waving his hands over his big hair and blowing kisses at me as my tricycle passed by. It’s a good thing I’m moving to Bohol in a few weeks. Not sure what’s left of my tattered reputation here could take much more of this overt, over-the-top behavior.
So.. getting back to the two ‘rude’ ex-pats; you know that expression, “give an inch and they’ll take a mile”? Well, what I’ve found out here is that if you so much as are ‘nice’ to a ladyboy, and you are a foreigner.. they will take that as their cue that you are open game. They will ‘fall in love’ in the time it takes an eyelash to hit the floor. You think the bad-girl/Filipina gold-diggers are aggressive? Double that and you have the resolve of a ladyboy. Again, I hate to sound like I’m just stereotyping but what data I’ve observed any time I get into a conversation with them is that there is no room for just being an acquaintance or friend. I suppose in their own mind they are convinced they are ‘in love’ after five minutes but that’s neither here nor there. If you are a ‘nice guy’ and think you will easily walk away without some level of drama after a five minute conversation.. you have not yet begun to see what drama really is. Why? Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth.
We men often times make light of how dramatic (real) women can get compared to us men. Now, personally, I myself do not buy into this belief ladyboys have that they are a woman trapped in a man’s body. I just don’t buy it. I believe in choices. Some men figure life would be easier as a woman and make the choice to reorient their entire life to that. I know.. I know, they don’t see it that way and they are entitled to their own opinion. But, to me, if a person is starting out at first base confused about their gender in life.. is it really all that far a stretch when they begin to behave, not as a woman.. but as a Man acting like what he –thinks- a woman acts like? Do you see what I’m saying here? REAL women for the most part do not hit the high end of the drama scale as often as ladyboys do. Now, if they really were women trapped in a man’s body, they’d act really naturally and similar to most any other woman. But they don’t. Everything from their mannerisms to their emotions are copies and expressions of their observations of women. And even with ingested hormones, they are not functioning on the full plethora of hormones real women operate from.
I could be in a room full of real women and if someone drops a book on a table with a loud sound.. real women don’t start throwing their hands up and letting out a scream followed with panting and fanning their face for air. But ladyboys do. That’s what I’m talking about.
What I do see is more of an economic edge in making that gender transition here in the Philippines. Unemployment here among men is over 40%. The majority of retail jobs here are held by women. The big attraction for foreigners here is towards.. women. Foreigners spend lots of money on.. their girlfriends. The real women who get a foreigner (ie; ‘rich’) boyfriend end up living the Cinderella story. So, it’s not that big a stretch to see where a lot of young men take a realistic look at the job market, perhaps their own gay inclinations and come to the conclusion that they stand a much better shot at the Cinderella scenario if they redirected their attraction to men via a ladyboy lifestyle.
Again, that’s just my two-peso theory. You can say I’m totally off-base all you want. All I know is.. the pieces fit. The only advantages to being a ladyboy in the Philippines boil down to nabbing a rich foreigner, either for the night or the long haul if they can pull that off. And statistically, odds are most men are not going to stay in a committed relationship with a ladyboy. Remember I mentioned that most of them are in their teens and early 20’s? I believe there’s a reason you rarely see a forty or fifty year old ladyboy around here. (Although I have seen one really old ladyboy in town repeatedly, but a friend of mine seems to think he has mental problems.) But in regards to the ‘end game’, the future does not look too well for most ladyboys down the road. Filipino men are notorious for treating them badly. Most foreigners just visiting are only here for a week or two. The ones that stay longer have millions of beautiful, real Filipina women to choose from for a wife and family. I don’t know if they convert back into regular men later in life or what, but ladyboys seem to just disappear once they get past their late 30’s.
This indicates, to me, that the end-game Cinderella story of meeting their Prince Charming is just not a viable likelihood and they eventually give up on it. Now, I’m sure it happens once in a while. I was at a nice café just a while ago and in walked a large, Norwegian sort of elderly man with his effeminate, 20 year old Filipino boyfriend. Not a ladyboy, but as I observed them from over my laptop during their dinner, it seemed to me they were live-in companions and not some quick pick-up. The café I was at is not cheap, not even by American standards. About three days later I saw the same ‘couple’ in the mall grocery store shopping together so that kinda confirmed my hunch. Delia says she sees foreigners walking around with ladyboys every once in a while, but not at the same frequency as with Filipina women.
And of the poor Filipino men who I hear of that are dating an employed ladyboy, it is so he can sponge off of her. In fact, many ladyboys have college degrees and are more focused on being employed than a lot of Filipino men. But the attraction to “having a Foreigner Boyfriend” is a social positive for both ‘real’ girls and ladyboys. Perhaps even more so with ladyboys since they, in a sense, ‘out-did’ the real-girls by getting him. Other countries, maybe they do it as a lifestyle choice. But here it appears the motive is often a shortcut to get in on the rich-foreigner action. Is it just a coincidence that ladyboys tend to target ‘rich’ foreigners? If they are truly just women trapped in men’s bodies, wouldn’t they be falling in love just as randomly as real women do? Real Filipinas here for the most part marry Filipinos because percentage-wise.. there really aren’t that many foreigners living here compared to Filipinos. And real women here are not as aggressive as ladyboys are, unless they’re working in a girlie-bar that is. Real Filipina women prefer to be approached and in general do not instigate “the first move” to break the ice.
Another thing, I’m not finding fault with them. It’s a tough life here and they’re just trying to find a way to get by. I can understand that. I don’t think they are out to hurt anyone. I think because of the way they throw themselves into what they’re doing.. between the social stigma and constantly getting dumped by one fleeting interaction after another it must be a real downer for them at times. But I still believe it’s a choice they made which they rationalized after the fact. They really do believe what they tell themselves. But I believe that at the outset they figured out they would rather find someone who provided them with some security (like real women expect) rather than be the man who is supposed to be providing some form of security.
Everyone makes choices. Over on the other end of town there are girls turning tricks for $8 and hooked on drugs. Other women stay clean from drugs but are still taking guys home from the karaoke bar because there’s 2,000 pesos in it for them. In my view, there are no white knights in play. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. For some, it’s too much of the bottle, or the casino, chasing skirts or a dishonest dollar. I don’t see ladyboys as bad people. As a momentary acquaintance they can actually be a very lively bunch to party with. But it doesn’t matter to me if a person is a real woman or a ladyboy when either is latching on emotionally right away it tells me something is up and that something is usually Drama.
Another thing, most of the ladyboys I’ve met or observed have been in either Mactan or Cebu. Life is kinda.. ‘gritty’ shall we say in some parts of town and I’m willing to believe that just like some places in California have their share of trailer-park girls versus Uptown girls.. I’m sure it’s entirely possible that somewhere there exists a place where the the ladyboys are the wage-earners and want nothing from their man other than his.. attention. But I myself haven’t seen such a place. Maybe in Thailand where it is a bit more accepted
a practice is where ladyboys are not so desperate and clingy at the sight of a foreigner. So.. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. As for the Cebu/Mactan area.. it’s pretty consistently what I’ve described here. In fact, while attending Sinulog just last week, I was there the night before and despite being surrounded by literally over a thousand people.. two ladyboys found me out of a crowd and latched on to me. Seriously, one wrapped his/her arm around me there on the street and wouldn’t let go. The other one stayed on my other side as I made my way through the crowd. It only took them about five minutes to suggest the three of us going to a hotel nearby. I told them I was just there for the festival and they’d be spending their time better finding someone interested in their offer over near Mango Square. Once they realized there was no money to be had.. they disappeared back into the crowd.
So, my message I do want to convey here is this.. if and when you see a ladyboy in the Philippines, know that they are already getting the cold-shoulder treatment from their own society for the most part. You may need to practice finding that balance between being courteous yet aloof. But all the while you gotta know that their agenda is one they will pursue aggressively if you are as polite to them as you’d normally be to anyone else. Maybe it is better to immediately be blunt and clear that you’re “not interested” so they can just go their way. How you handle it is up to you.
But as a foreign man out and about town, whether married or single.. it is a scenario you will have to handle every so often here in the Philippines. Especially when in the upscale malls such as Ayala mall in Cebu. And not just from ladyboys, the real women.. the man-shark pros, they know where to find rich foreigners and they don’t care if you’re married or not. Some of the real women here are equally aggressive to become a full-time mistress. In fact, the whole mistress phenomena and how it has culturally become a part of the marriage institution even here in a ‘Catholic’ country is yet another issue I plan to investigate and understand at some other time. But, for now.. keep your wits about you, believe half of what you see and even less of what you hear and you’ll do fine.