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Review of “The Third Sex” by Richard Totman

The wide world of ladyboys isn’t limited to bars. Ladyboys are human beings and they have their own lives and histories. This should be obvious but for some who view ladyboys as nothing more than objects it may be outside of their normal thoughts. Perhaps “The Third Sex” by Richard Totman was written partially for people like that. It appeals to a much larger audience however.

The Third Sex

There is a long history of ladyboys in Thailand. Rather than being considered transgender, a lot of the ladyboy of the past were considered to be a part of a third sex. Neither male or female, these kathoeys took up their own positions in society. Their existence has long been chronicled but little was said of it until very recently.

After going through a bit of the history of kathoeys in Thailand, “The Third Sex” details the lives and histories of a number of Thai ladyboys followed around and interviewed by the author. The realities of their lives come into full view by reading what they experience. Not all are sex workers of course, though those who are are also mentioned.

Richard Totman has taught in the United Kingdom and Thailand. His book on kathoeys was released nearly fifteen years ago but it still remains relevant. It reads as if it could have been written only yesterday, though surely there would be more mentions of Facebook and smartphones if it were a little more modern.

At just under 200 pages, “The Third Sex” is also a quick read. I got through it in a single day the first time I picked it up, though even a leisurely reader probably wouldn’t take much longer. It is really interesting and although it is not short on the science behind the subject, it goes by quickly with little jargon or mumbo jumbo. This book is simply an account of the history and modern existence of ladyboys in the land of smiles written in plain English.

Perhaps most interesting is the way that the book shows that Thai ladyboys long been a part of local society. This really destroys the myth pushed by anti-sex activists that ladyboys are simply a response to demand for sex from foreigners. In fact most ladyboys are not in the sex industry. They can hold jobs of all kinds like anyone else as the story about the ladyboy kickboxer in the book illustrates perfectly.

“The Third Sex” is of course available at Amazon and many other online book sellers for a reasonable price. Something that makes it stand out however is that it is also available at many book stores across Southeast Asia. I have personally seen the book for sale in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok and Pattaya. It is probably available in other cities too. It’s worth picking up if you find it and have any interest in the lives of the ladyboys we all love. A Kindle version is also available for those want the book right now.

The Third Sex by Richard Totman. Published 2003 by Silkworm Press. Reprinted by Souvenir Press, 2004.

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