The rain comes down hard, pounding the hot tar roads, splashing into the covered walkways. The message is clear: no one’s leaving the campus tonight. It doesn’t bother anyone, though, because the show’s coming to us.
The music blares to life and they troop in, bedecked in skirts and jewels and elaborate headdresses. The crowd erupts in shrieks and squeals – organisers had kept the evening’s programme secret and most people hadn’t expected to see the Alcazar Show.
Ladyboy shows have long been one of the highlights of Thailand for tourists. The cabaret numbers are stuffed to the gills with flamboyant costumes and fancy lighting, and sometimes compared to other world-renowned cabaret shows such as the one in Paris’ Moulin Rouge. There’s one major difference, though: in these Thai cabarets, most or all of the performers are transgender or transsexual. And the Alcazar Show is one of the most popular cabarets in Pattaya, Bangkok.
After the show a couple of friends and I sit down with two of the performers, Teep and Orm. Teep, a soft-spoken man with a shy smile under the thick stage makeup, has been a performer for over 10 years, travelling to countries like Switzerland, Germany, Australia and China to put on shows. He speaks in a mix of Thai and English: “I have worked in a few places. Compared to everything else I’ve been doing, Alcazar has the best welfare, a supportive family environment. I really like working here.”
Orm, too, is still wearing her stage makeup – it’s so thick that I can’t picture how she looks like without it. It’s been three years since she completed her surgery, but she tells us that was just the physical change. Inside, she’d always been like this. “I’m not becoming a woman. I’ve been like this since I was born, ever since I can remember. This is me. My parents are very supportive, and I’m a good person who takes care of my family. This is just how I am.”
It’s this strength that helps them deal with any mockery or discrimination. “Our audiences are really supportive, but sometimes when we walk on the street people spit at us,” Teep says.
Orm smiles and tosses her (perfect) hair. “We just ignore them. I treat their words like air.”
“We love those who love us. But we don’t have to love those who don’t love us. It’s about mutual respect,” Teep adds.