In Thailand, it can be difficult to tell a ladyboy from a lady. The story of the backpacker who thought he was spending the night with a beautiful woman — only to find out later that it was a beautiful man — is practically a cliché in traveler’s circles in Southeast Asia.
Some ladyboys would like to drop the “boy” from their identities, and an easier alternative to a full-on sex change is castration. That’s right. Castration. If that word is sending shivers up spine, don’t fret — Thailand’s Ministry of Health banned cosmetic castration this Wednesday, and doctors performing the operation could face up to six months in jail. Formal sex-change therapy “requires rigorous physical and mental evaluation of the patient,” while castration can be done in 15-20 minutes and can cost as little as $125. The short time frame and cheap cost is why the procedure has become so popular.
The country has become a leader in sex-change therapy, due to its large number of ladyboys (a term which covers anyone from a transvestite to a man who has had a sex change). That’s a whole new form of medical tourism that I hadn’t thought about.