UPDATE: I’ve inserted Noy’s commentary on ladyboys at the bottom.
Today´s candy didn´t start off very promisingly. I put on two Miya Shinmas – Kaze and Feuillage Vert (green leaves), both samples of which I got awhile back from Luckyscent which, interestingly, doesn´t seem to sell them. They both were really soapy on me, before Vert went off in the disheartening direction of privet and Kaze in what smelled to me like a rather plastic rose. They´re pretty light. I did fret. Is there something about my tropical locale that just rejects perfume?
Then I tried Carthusia´s Via Camerelle and was cheered immediately. I´m not a fan of some bits of the line I´ve sampled; Fiori di Capri´s overbearing florals gag me, although Mediterraneo is a perfect all-season fragrance, particularly in winter, a breeze of citrus and a cool glass of tea. Replace the tea with some musk and sandalwood and you´ve got Camerelle. Is it genius? Nah. But it´s delicious – a lime gelato in the Cinque Terre, served up with a suggestive smile by some sloe-eyed Italian boy in a white shirt, his curls of dark brown hair blowing in the breeze. Whiff of armpit – his, not mine. (I checked.) Thing I love about Italian and French men: your appeal as a woman doesn’t evaporate with your 30th (or 40th, or 60th) birthday.
But Via Camerelle should work here, because it´s such a hot-weather snack of a fragrance. So then I wished I´d brought Guerlain Mitsouko, because I wanted to conduct an experiment on my theory of environmental incompatibility and Mitsouko just seemed, off the top of my head, like the wrongest possible thing to wear to Patong Beach. Mitsouko is my queen, my most elegant lady, and walking her around here is like taking the Mona Lisa to happy hour at Hooters. I dug around in my sample bag and came up instead – miraculously – with Guerlain L´Heure Bleue in the parfum, which is also a strong contender in the wrongness category. I was excited – how would my melancholy beloved wear, mashed up against the roast bananas, roadside garbage, strutting ladyboys and general sleazy charm of Patong, which, judging by the pornographic tee shirts and hardcore action on Bangla Road, is getting a little less family friendly?
I waited for sunset, splashed on some LHB and took my stroll.
Is the suspense killing you? What happened was so peculiar. L´Heure Bleue on me is very … proper, the variant being the degree of melancholy on any particular day. Even the parfum, which is way stronger on me than the EDP, keeps its velvet gloves on like a lady, and (whispers) sometimes that powder-heliotrope thing can get a little cloying. But this! Holy moley! I wandered down the beach, through the crowds at Bangla, and back up, working up a sweat, and my velvet lady danced around in front of me in a sarong, every inch of her reinvented as one of Gauguin´s Tahitian beauties. It was all smoke and incense and hot brown skin on me – no, seriously – the inside of a temple. It was fabulous.
Top photo: Thai ladyboy band Venus Flytrap (what a great name!) The ladyboy phenom here is just one more thing I´m a little confused about. They seem to be pretty accepted – you can go see them in cabaret shows, and they´re out in public. Maybe Noy will enlighten? Basically they´re transvestites, but they´re not. I wonder how they fit in culturally, and/or to whom they are providing services? Separate from the old joke of discovering at an awkward moment that, you know, the lady´s a dude, seriously – some of them are drop-dead gorgeous, and there are interesting shadings and variations in the level to which they´re looking female. Many of them seem to be deliberately androgynous – splitting it right down the middle, provocatively.
Ladyboys. Wooooo…could write a book on that. They’ve been around a long time. In terms of societal “roles,” they have been part of animistic rituals and the like for ages, and were part of the entertainment scene since at least the 1920s. Every Thai drama must have a ladyboy sidekick to simper and screech…so they are present in mainstream media, but also reduced to caricature. Not unlike how queer folks are often treated in Hollywood films.
They have become a significant part of the sex industry here — they are undoubtedly a tourist draw, but I do think that they have many male Thai patrons as well, a large proportion of those probably men who are usually with women, I’d guess.
I guess you can say that ladyboys are tolerated — more conservative Thais might not like many ladyboys’ overt sexuality (maybe just as much as their flouting of gender conventions), but are not going to seek them out to bash them…we are kind of laissez-faire here, and save our ire for drunken shootings and the occasional murderous coup. But tolerated would really be the functional word, with ladyboys contained in the special role of campy confidant, make-up artist, the village queen, someone else’s crazy kid, etc.
I could really go on at length, but it is wicked late here. I will pass on an excellent essay to you when we meet next, and suggest also the film Beautiful Boxer, which, while formulaic, is also a moving examination of the real-life story of a Thai boxing champion who later went through sex-reassignment surgery. (Medical tourism is hot here, yes, and many come from abroad to do this surgery…)
Last thing, in reference to sweetlife’s comment about Takarazuka and lesbianism in Japan — I did not find lesbianism to be verboten there. (I lived in Japan for some time.) There are no laws declaring homosexuality illegal, and there are some legal protections. There is also a thriving scene, magazines, organizations, etc.
Lesbianism is, however, hardly discussed outside of queer circles, which is its own vast problem, and there is a tremendous amount of societal pressure to get married, have babies, etc. Really a difficult situation, but not forbidden. Queerness in Thailand is more open but also…not discussed so much. Most of my Thai gay friends (particularly the Sino-Thais, I’ve noticed) are not out to their families, and they are in their 30s and 40s, it’s a really don’t ask, don’t tell situation. In both Japan and Thailand you’d likely find higher numbers of queer people living in marriages with people of the opposite sex and having children…while stepping out on the side…than the States. Do your public and familial duty, and then sneak off to explore or engage in your individual desires. And never, ever let the two worlds collide.
Venus Flytrap photo, thaiphotoblogs.com; Gauguin Tahiti Women with Mango, mpa.org