First, some background. The term “ladyboy” refers to men in this country who dress up as women. This condition — if that is the proper word — is largely accepted by Thai society. Ladyboys can be found working in all kinds of jobs such as the cosmetics section in drugstores or even as bank tellers. Admittedly these occupations pale in comparison to the United States, where a cross-dressing man can become head of the FBI, but they suffice.
Like all things in life, there are both good and bad permutations of the species. The latter can be found in the area around the go-gos and bars of Nana Plaza in the post-midnight hours, aggressively soliciting unwary tourists. They must do good business as any given night will see well over a dozen lined up along Soi 4, checking their makeup and chatting with their friends.
My issue with them is their boldness. When passing by on my way home, a few of the bolder ones will sometimes grasp my arm and when I say (in Thai) no thanks, they won’t let go, even going so far as to intensify the encounter. In the past month, I’ve had my left nipple twisted (ouch!) and my crotch grabbed. Though the standard advice is go out of your way to avoid these night creatures, I decided I wasn’t going to cede the street to them. If my wishes would not be respected, then I would escalate. It is not just my distaste at being touched; some of the ladyboys are pickpockets and use the close contact to try and lift a fellow’s wallet. This had happened to a tourist staying at my hotel/apartment complex few days earlier.
To dissuade my would-be muggers, I decided to employ my folded, compact umbrella. If they were going to ignore my protests, I could use it as a club to swat at their hands. This tactic got its first trial a few nights ago. While talking with a couple of streetwalkers (women), a ladyboy strolled up and took hold of my arm. When I declined the offer and he began to press in, I swung and knocked his hands away. Unfortunately, this had the exact opposite effect of what I’d intended. Before I knew it, he was screaming and swinging his purse at me. I responded with another swipe that connected solidly to the head, but this seemed only to further enrage him. Startled, I retreated across the street where I stumbled and fell. As I lay there, a lady’s high-heeled shoe landed next to me. It seemed my assailant was going to attack with his entire wardrobe.
Scrambling to my feet, I retrieved my weapon I had dropped and continued to back up. Reaching the other side of the street, we squared off again and I landed a third umbrella blow, this one around his ear which had to hurt, but didn’t slow him down one bit. Who would have thought an effeminate guy in makeup and a dress could absorb this kind of punishment?
That last blow had bent the shaft of my impromptu club, rendering it useless. So I initiated Plan B: run for it! The ladyboy followed in hot pursuit, throwing his high heels at me, then pausing to pick them up for another toss. This reloading allowed me to open up some distance between us. Finally, about a block from my apartment, a motorcycle taxi driver who had witnessed the scene drove up to inform me that my assailant had given up the chase. I was hugely relieved as I did not want him to discover where I lived. It was scary, how furious he had gotten.
Being a red-blooded American, my inclination is to now begin toting a baseball bat. But besides looking silly (and just asking for trouble), this kind of weapon could easily inflict serious damage; injuries that the Thai police might frown upon. Their sympathies in a conflict of this nature are always going to be with their fellow Thais, meaning that even if I (in my view) justifiably defend myself, I could wind up in jail.
There is absolutely no point in doing anything deliberately foolish in a foreign country. So, I am going to begin curtailing my explorations of the seamy Bangkok nightlife. I have nothing against ladyboys or the transgendered; I simply do not want another altercation.