On May 15th at 10:30 PM, Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2009 will air on Thai television stations. This beauty pageant for transwomen has become extremely popular, not just in Thailand but around the world. Miss Tiffany’s is a trans cabaret located 90 miles southeast of Bangkok. One of the first all-transgender cabarets, it is located in the same town as its rival, the Alcazar. The shows at these venues regularly pack the 2000 seat theaters with both Asian and western tourists. The Miss Tiffany’s Universe Pageant is a yearly beauty pageant for transwomen that draws contestants from all over Thailand and is a fundraiser for Thailand’s Royal Sponsored AIDS Foundation. Part of the pageant’s mission is to promote acceptance for transgender people worldwide.
This year, they have narrowed the contestants down to 30 finalists. The winner is offered the equivalent of $2,700 US dollars, a Mercedes Benz, a diamond-studded crown, a trophy, and the winner is Thailand’s representative in the Miss International Queen pageant open to transwomen around the globe.
It is important to note that “kathoey,” the Thai term for these transwomen, is not exactly the same as how we might think of transwomen. The term “kathoey” suggests that the person is a type of male, unlike the term “sao praphet song,” which suggests a female sex identity, or “phet thee sam,” which suggests a third gender. Wikipedia argues that kathoeys are more visible and accepted in Thai culture than in western cultures. “Kathoey” may refer to a range of men, some who undergo hormone replacement and sex-reassignment surgery, others who dress as males but use feminine pronouns or adopt some culturally feminine habits, clothing, or makeup.
It will be exciting to see who wins the contest. Each year, the pageant draws millions of viewers and is publicized globally. Thanyaras Jiraphatphakorn was crowned Miss Tiffany Universe for 2007. In the interview segment of the show, she was asked if it was possible for a ‘kathoey,’ translated as ‘ladyboy’ to ever become a politician. “Sure, it is. In the future, there might be a prime minister who is a ladyboy…Society should judge people by what they do rather than considering what sex they are,” said Thanyaras. Hopefully, a future free from stigmatization, prejudice, and violence against transgender people will come sooner rather than later.