[Almost a year and a half ago I wrote an article about Fah, whose life as a Thai ladyboy taught me a lot about how people see themselves. This is an update on Fah’s life.]
I have been invited to attend an important event in the life of a friend of mine. It is an event that I never thought would happen. Nor did she.
I wrote about Fah in 2014, but I’ve actually known her since about 2005. When she was eventually appointed CEO of my friend’s Bangkok company in 2011, she was 41 years old, and had to all intents and purposes reached the pinnacle of her life and success. The fact that she was a ladyboy had effectively been submerged by the fact that her intelligence and, somewhat surprisingly, empathy made her an impressive, successful business executive. She was surrounded by employees and others who respected her and made her happy. Her life was good.
However, I also wrote about one part of her life that was not so good:
“I also learned about her sad realization, at the age of twenty-seven, that she was never going to have a lifelong romantic relationship. Not interested in the more transitory love life of some transsexuals, and not really attracted to the kinds of men that are attracted to ladyboys, she understood, in her very logical way, that “love and marriage” was not going to be in her future.”
Strangely, this may not be as true as she thought it was, and how that unfolded was itself quite unexpected.
Stories in the “Lives” series are based on real people, but with enough changes in the facts so that the players are not readily identifiable. Sometimes it is easy to do that, sometimes not so much. In the case of my friend Fah, there was no real likelihood that I could hide her identity completely. She would certainly know the article was about her (how could she not?), and so would her closest friends. It couldn’t be helped, but with her permission I published the article anyway.
When the article was published, Fah sent her father a link to my blog page, and suggested that he might find my writing interesting. She didn’t specifically point out the article about her, but obviously he would have spotted it if he cared to look. In her diffident, almost aloof, way, it was an attempt by Fah to communicate her feelings to her father.
Fah and her father have a difficult relationship. Fah’s dad is a university science professor (hence his excellent English, and perhaps hers as well), and she gets her highly rational approach to the world from him. When he suspected that she was headed in the direction of becoming a ladyboy, he sent her off to university in Bangkok, in hopes that the change would redirect her thinking. That is not what happened. Since that time, she has lived in Bangkok as a woman. While she visits her parents in northern Thailand regularly, and always as a woman, not a man, her father is still very uncomfortable with her life choices. He is proud of her success in business. He understands that many people admire and respect her. He has even assented to calling her Fah, rather than the name he gave her as a child. But he is still very old school, and having your eldest son become a ladyboy is not something he can deal with easily, even now, twenty-five years later.
If you asked Fah, she would say that she thinks her father loves her, in his own way. He is not a demonstrative person in any case (nor is Fah), and he certainly retains his discomfort with Fah’s life, but she has never felt unwelcome when she goes back home. She has never felt that her younger brother, he with the loving wife and children (grandchildren!), is somehow the preferred child.
Still, the relationship between father and Fah is not full of hugs (real or virtual).
To Fah’s surprise, her dad read the story about her, and immediately focused on the quote about Fah’s love life, particularly her resignation that she would never have one. Instead of sending an email (they always communicated by email), he called her on the phone. It was completely out of character. Even more surprising, he came right out and asked her to talk about it, directly and openly, with him. Why did she think she could never have love and a relationship, just because she was a ladyboy? He wanted to really understand his daughter, and her feelings. (Fah tells me that, when he used the term “daughter”, she almost passed out in shock.)
They had a long talk, and Fah says that, for perhaps the very first time, he gave her advice that rang true in her life. He said that she shouldn’t assume she was the only person in her position. That was not at all logical. If she felt alone, unable to find someone she could love and live with for the rest of her life, there was every possibility that there were other people, just like her, also resigned to being alone, and for the same reasons. Would she be interested in getting to know other intelligent, empathetic ladyboys who were living within the mainstream community?
Fah, taken aback, said yes. Her dad then said “Well, after that it is just a practical problem. How do you find those people, in order to meet them?” By implication, Fah and her father being two smart people, this is something they should be able to figure out.
Fah’s advice from her father was a little over a year ago. I don’t have all the details of what steps they took, although my curiosity hopes I will find out one day. What I know is that the ladyboy communities in most parts of Thailand are heavily weighted to entertainers and the sex trade, with relatively few ladyboys living as women in the mainstream community. Networking within the ladyboy community would not be particularly successful, even if Fah had been tied in to that community, which she wasn’t. Thailand doesn’t have a lot of online dating sites, except those focused on dating non-Thai men. Finding someone like Fah on-line was also not going to be a simple task.
Still, there were options. There are LGBT rights organizations in Thailand. There are even groups of parents of transsexuals. Fah and her father looked at Fah’s own life, and tried to determine how someone looking for her (that is, someone like her) would find her. That led them to the university alumni clubs, and then to some professional organizations. Some of them even have ways of identifying the gender of members, including male, female, and “other”. (“Other!!??”, says Fah.)
It turned out it didn’t take all that long before Fah started meeting like-minded ladyboys.
And how do I know about all of this? Because this week I received an invitation to attend a wedding. Fah and her partner Lek will be getting married in a Buddhist ceremony at the end of June, and I am invited to attend.
Funny. This will be my first Thai wedding. And, it will be the marriage of two ladyboys. Who woulda thunk it?
I spoke to Fah on the phone. She is in no way a blushing bride, of course. That’s not her natural personality anyway, and now she’s a 46 year old company president. Lek (which is a common Thai nickname meaning “little one”) is a 40 year old university chemistry professor, who also teaches Thai traditional dance part-time. I saw her photo. She is not nearly as good-looking as Fah, but Fah says she is incredibly graceful, as you would expect from a dancer. More important, though, she is shy, introverted, even a bit cold, but – as Fah says – easily smarter than she is. While I doubt very much whether that is true, the fact that they are both strongly intellectual, with many personality traits in common, is a good sign.
And there is no doubt, after talking to Fah, that even nine months into the relationship she is completely in love with her spouse to be. Also surprised, perhaps. But absolutely in love.
So I will be attending my first Thai marriage ceremony. There is no same-sex marriage allowed legally in Thailand, so they will not take any legal steps to be married. However, most Thais see the Buddhist family ceremony as being the real wedding anyway. Many gay and lesbian couples have already married in Buddhist ceremonies, and probably some transgender couples as well.
Fah tells me that the ceremony, which will take place near Chiang Rai, in the area where both of them grew up, will be quite traditional. Her parents are attending, more eagerly than Fah would ever have expected. There is apparently still some resistance from Lek’s parents, who say that they can’t figure out how the marriage ceremony – with its strongly traditional roles for bride, bride’s parents, groom, and groom’s parents – can work when neither spouse is the bride or the groom. (Fah tells me they tried to get Lek to make clear which of them was, in their marriage, going to be the “bride”, and which the “groom”. They didn’t understand the answer “It doesn’t really work that way.”)
To Fah’s surprise, both her father and mother offered to talk to Lek’s parents, and try to bring them fully into the wedding planning. Fah and Lek are holding out hope that their resistance will be overcome, and Lek’s parents will participate.
Then there’s the monks, a necessary part of the ceremony. Not all monks are comfortable with ladyboys. Not to mention the caterers, and some kind of Thai wedding planner (although apparently not much like North American wedding planners).
It is all refreshingly banal. Fah and Lek are trying to arrange their wedding, and are finding that there are all kinds of issues that have to be addressed – personalities, customs, even simple practical things. Just like any other couple getting married. It’s enough to make you search for an emoticon, but I love it.
A year ago, or two, or three, if you had told me that my first Thai wedding would be the marriage of my friend Fah, I would have laughed out loud. She probably would have laughed along with me.
Now? I’m just smiling.
– Jay Shepherd, March 21, 2016