Pachalee sat down at the bar and shook out a single slim Russian cigarette which the young boy at the bar lit for her.
I watched her for a while from across the bar as she drew smoke lightly into her lungs. She managed to look both elegant and relaxed dressed in her cream-gold blouse and knee length skirt. She had the same presence as a film noir femme fatale. The kind who knows where the body is buried and knows how to keep the hero on his toes right up until the point she blows a hole in his back with the gun she keeps in her make-up bag.
Putting an age on her was near impossible. She was over thirty and maybe under fifty. She wasn’t young though her high cheekbones made her seem it. She wore her make up well. It didn’t look caked on to hide pock marks, acne or stubble. It looked as though it had been carefully applied. The fact was, however, that katoeys rarely fall out of bed as women. Remaining feminine and elegant (if they are the type who seek elegance) is a full time job. They never look completely like natural women but, on the other hand, the best of them never ever look like men. Most of us wake up in the morning being what we are. The ladyboy wakes up in the knowledge that she has to maintain herself. As the years roll on this becomes even more of an effort.
She looked at me and smiled. Her eyes sparkled catching the bar lights. Small crows feet showed at the corners of her eyes but, otherwise, her skin looked young. “I’m Pachalee. Are you Roy?” Her voice had some gravel but it was mainly honey. The gravel could have had as much to do with the cigarettes as her gender.
“You were studying me. Do I pass?”
She stood up and straightened her skirt before walking towards me and sitting on the next stool so her face was less than a foot from mine. Her perfume mixed with the menthol of her cigarette spun a kind of intoxicated feeling through my gut and I found myself gazing at the pearl white of her teeth between the shining blood red glimmer of her lips.
“I have known a number of men in my life. I’m not a young inexperienced girl. I know the burning conflict in your heart when you decide to meet someone like me.”
“You speak very good English.”
“Thank you. I learn from book.” She laughed.
The conflict was there. It was true. I grew up with an aversion to homosexuals and homosexuality that is, I think, typical of most western men. I remember my first feelings on first seeing a couple of men kiss on a World in Action documentary and feeling that wave of utter disgust. I remember laughing at all the clichés of camp men with handbags and being horrified at the scenes in prison movies where a guy might be raped by another guy. As I got older I became at first tolerant and then, when I had my first openly gay friends, completely accepting of the idea. But it always remained with me as something beyond my understanding. Why would a man ever want to go with a man when God had given us women who were pretty and smelled nice and a near perfect design for all our sexual needs?
So why did I become interested in ladyboys?
Where did that fascination begin?
Maybe the first time that I felt some deep dark yearning was in Barcelona. There was this “woman” in a skin tight multicoloured costume. She walked with an exaggerated femininity and had legs that that seemed to go on forever. I saw her walking towards me and immediately got this sense of wow. As she came closer to me she locked eyes with me and I felt flooded with this sudden irrational and intoxicating erotic intensity. In all my life I’d never felt anything so sexually powerful. It was as if she looked right into me and knew exactly what I wanted from her and without any kind of playful coyness it made her smile this wide deep and dirty smile. There was no clue in her that she was anything but wholly female but I later saw pictures of her in a Spanish magazine extolling her life as a woman born as a man. I never heard of her or saw her again but the notion that this being was a transsexual laid something deep deep inside me. Had I met her socially and found her half as self obsessed, materialist and boring as the average Thai ladyboy I dare say I’d have been able to forget her pretty swiftly. But the fact she was this erotic enigma who’d had such a powerful effect on me I had to sit down for half an hour left this seed inside me.
When I came here to Bangkok I wasn’t looking for ladyboys. And once I found myself in bars full of incredibly sweet and feminine playful girls the last thing in my mind was some erotic fantasy of ladyboys. But I’m sure that deep down there was a part of me which expected, maybe, I’d run into someone on the streets of Bangkok who just might have as powerful an erotic effect upon me as that Italian model in Barcelona.
The friends I made here, however, had a considerably different outlook. For most of them, ladyboys were thieving Aids-ridden men in drag who you wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole. I always objected to this point of view but only philosophically. I never made any approaches. And of course the kind of ladyboys I met going around the bars weren’t often the kinds of women who were liable to tempt me. There are some who look pretty when they shut up but most ladyboys populating the bars have all the eroticism of dick grabbing pantomime dames.
As the years move on, however, the sweet and feminine playful girls can start to seem like money-grabbing harpies who make the same jokes over and over again and whose conversation, in either English or Thai, is enough to make you want to jump into the Chao Phaya. I started to think more and more of the deep dark feelings I had about that one ladyboy. It was nothing to do with wanting to get buggered (I can’t think of anything I desired less) or seeing some woman with big tits and a giant hard on. It was, for risk of sounding like some fucking aesthete, much deeper and much more subtle. Maybe I just wanted to meet some magical hermaphrodite.
Pachalee’s advertisement caught my attention mainly because it wasn’t an obvious sexual overture. “Mature Thai Ladyboy seeks the company of a man with good taste”.
She chose the bar. A pleasantly dark place with piano jazz and a mixture of Thai, Chinese, Japanese and farang clientele enjoying drinks in lounge chairs. Through the large wall size window fairy lit party boats crawled along the river.
“What made you answer my request?”
“I don’t know. What made you put it there?”
“I like company but I don’t like Thai men much.”
“Isn’t that a little racist?”
“Of course. But then when a man like yourself chooses to live in Bangkok instead of marrying a nice Englishwoman and starting a nice little family of English children isn’t that racist ?”
“True. I have just about every major human vice. I’m racist, sexist, lazy, boring..”
She smiled… “Not lazy.”
I took a drink and she lit another cigarette taking care not to blow smoke my way. “Can I ask you a really rude question?” I said.
“Absolutely not…” she laughed. “But I’m forty three years old and I’m still in possession of everything… I keep them in a glass jar under my bed.”
“That wasn’t what I wanted to ask.”
“Oh? See… Now you made me admit to everything for no reason.”
“I was just wondering if you’d ever lived outside Thailand.”
“About eight years. I studied in England when I was in my twenties; I had a boyfriend in Germany for a while. He wanted to marry me but I never wanted to. He was the kind of man who’s good for a young girl but I knew I didn’t want to be with him forever. And I love Thailand. I might not want to spend time with Thai men but I like the weather. I like that nobody really cares what you are here. Would you be sitting with me like this in London?”
“Why not? Why wouldn’t I?”
She leaned in close to me. “Let me tell you a secret. I don’t like gay men. If I speak to gay men after about ten minutes I want to hit them. There’s something missing from his soul. He might know how to dress and how to dance but in some way most gay men feel like straight men who have failed at staying straight. Do you know what I mean?”
“Okay. All my life I have been a katoey. You know? Some people think a katoey is the same as a gay man. Some katoey are really just very effeminate gay men. Not me. The problem is that for someone like me life is very hard because I know what I am. I am not a woman and I would not want to be a woman. At the same time I am not a gay man or a man in drag.”
“I may be something else but I could never say what that something else was because most katoeys, like most gay men, make me want to hit them. Unfortunately the same thing goes for men who want to go with katoeys. These are like straight men who just want to do something that is dirtier than usual because they are so bored with normal sex that they need to feel they are doing something unusual and dirty just to feel alive. But then, for most men, what happens in Bangkok doesn’t really count. A man on holiday in Bangkok can do all kinds of things that he would never do back home and then go home feeling as though nothing in him has really changed.” For the first time her poise was minutely broken. “I’m sorry but I want you to understand me. I’m not looking to be someone’s excursion into weirdness and I’m not looking for money. I have a business here. I have a shop in River City which exports Thai antiques.”
I interrupted her and explained myself to her. I explained the feeling I’d had when seeing the model. She seemed somehow pleased. She seemed even more pleased when I talked about how I hadn’t felt this again since but was intrigued by her advert. She joked with me about the difference between what middle class Thais are brought up thinking about the English and what the English are really like. I told her about some of my friends in Bangkok and she laughed always maintaining her poise.
The bar was closing and I paid the bill. She said she’d pay next time. We left the bar together and walked along the river until there was no way to go but into the streets. I hailed her a taxi and she kissed me on the cheek saying that she didn’t expect I’d call her again but that if I wanted to she’d be really happy to hear from me.
I felt at a bit of a loose end. I hadn’t at any point been able to keep it in my mind that she was anything other than a woman. I didn’t know what this said about me but I didn’t get much sleep that night. Not until I’d wacked one out anyway.
© Roy Wilson. All rights reserved by the author.