Once upon a fateful night in Cambodia a botched meet up plan with a friend turned into an unwitting date with a ladyboy.
I had split up with my new friends Karin and Nati earlier that day and had one night solo before making my way back into Thailand. I had been trying all week to connect with a friend of a friend who lives in Siem Reap, but my phone wasn’t working in Cambodia which made it difficult to actually coordinate anything. This contact is also a taxi driver, so he never really had a set schedule. We agreed to meet up and a bar nearby for dinner but he never showed. This was fine and I ended up eating alone and people watching, which is usually quite enjoyable. I finished my meal and settled the bill, thinking the night was over and I was heading home.
False. It was merely beginning.
As I walked into the street a ladyboy was also on her way out of the restaurant stopped me and struck up a conversation with me. She was older, from France, and her name was Michelle. She wondered about why I was eating alone and asked me if I had ever been to a cabaret show. She invited me across the street to a wine bar that apparently had a great show on that night. I declined and told her I was on my way out of the country the next day and didn’t have any money left, but she insisted that it was worth it to see and said she would buy me a glass of wine. Now for those of you who may not know, a ladyboy is a man who wants to be (and identifies as) a woman and likes men…so I was like cool a new friend! I was keen to hear her story on how she ended up in Cambodia and agreed to go check out the show.
As we walk up one of the boys from the show leans out the top story window to yell hello and it quickly becomes apparent that she is a regular here. It was a good show they were very entertaining and passionate about their work, and I did in fact learn a lot about my new friend Michelle. The wine flowed as she told me about her life in France, her ex wives, her lifestyle there, and her children. She showed me pictures of her when she is a he as well as pictures of her children on her phone while saying, “I make really attractive babies.”
I was all sorts of confused by now. This did not mesh at all with what I imagined her story would be and I sat there on the couch trying to put all the pieces together as the final act began. “Oh, all the girls love him.” Michelle informed me as she indicated towards one of the men coming onto the stage. Our conversation was momentarily suspended while we watched the group of men, transformed into leopard print clad jungle warriors, perform to Katy Perry’s “Roar”. Michelle turned back to me and resumed our conversation. “I’m not actually a typical ladyboy, you know. I just like to dress up like a woman in my spare time.” She…wait no, he? She for the night I guess? Anyway…she looked at me, I looked at her, Katy Perry roared on. Finally she continued, “I buy and sell oil in the middle east, and when I go there I can’t dress like this you see, people won’t accept it. I actually like both men AND women….but I find women’s bodies much more beautiful.” She placed a hand on my outer thigh for emphasis. Almost simultaneously one of the dancers bounded across the stage towards our side of the room and beckoned for me to join. I looked up at the extended hand in front of me, down at the hand on my leg, and settled my gaze on the glass of wine on the table in front of me as I mused over the unexpected turn this night had suddenly taken. I wasn’t sure how else to really get out of this situation in a hurry but to take the hand of my jungle cat savior and allow myself to be pulled up on stage. Once up there I had no choice but to roar along and get down with the dancers while the whole bar watched on.
And that’s how I ended up on a date with a (maybe) ladyboy.