'When our minds are beautiful, so are our bodies'

It is at the Miss Tiffany Universe pageant—which boasts dozens of gorgeous, lithe, silk-skinned contestants—that one thing becomes clear: Thailand turns out some of the most beautiful transvestites and transsexuals in the world.

As they glided across the stage late on Saturday in glittering ball gowns, one might never have guessed that they were all born males.

But when they open their mouths, their vocal chords often reveal the truth.

“Most people can’t tell because I’m very petite, but when I talk, they know,” said 21-year-old Wararat Saengchai, who started taking female hormones at the age of 14 and underwent sex change and breast implant operations a year ago. If she keeps quiet, her delicate features could fool even the most discerning eye.

Others aren’t so fortunate, and as they changed costumes backstage, their genetic composition became clear: misshapen breast implants, tissue paper that spilled out of bras, and thick, foam-padded girdles to accentuate hips that will never bear children.

But the hormones they take smooth out their skin and soften their muscles so even their arms and legs appear feminine.

Miss Tiffany’s, one of the most famous all-male cabaret theaters, has held an annual beauty pageant since 1998 in a gaudy Roman-pillared white building in Pattaya, an anything-goes haven popular among sex tourists.

Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, is widely tolerant of homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals—one reason, perhaps, that Thai men who opt for the transformation are so stunning and convincing.

“We become beautiful because we are accepted and can be happy that we can be ourselves and be pretty. When our minds are beautiful, so are our bodies,” said Punyapat Daengnoi (24), who underwent a sex change two years ago.

“Western countries may not give their people the opportunity to change because they can’t accept it, whereas here, we do,” said Punyapat, whose original gender is evident only, because at 1,75m, she towers over the average Thai woman.

Many contestants came from rural provinces across Thailand and describe being accepted by their families only after proving that they would be academically and professionally successful, and that they would not be burdens to their families.

But for others, like Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2005 Tiptantree Rujiranon, there needs to be even greater acceptance, and the pageant—broadcast live on national television and with a grand prize of 100 000 baht ($2 500) and a new pink car—is not enough.

“There are some who still will not come out,” 20-year-old Tiptantree told reporters after being crowned early on Sunday.
“I want ‘second-sex’ women to be able to live in society like men and women, and have the same rights as people of any other gender.” - Sapa-AP

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