Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lady Boys

Drawing by Trish Dagle
The first time I encountered "lady boys" was a few years ago when I traveled with Chad to Thailand for a conference.  I began to notice them serving in restaurants.  I tried hard not to stare and simply get of the shock in my mind.  They wear heavy make-up, flawless hair-dos and cute dresses.  They tilt their head and point with a perfectly manicured finger.  When we visited this Christmas, I felt more comfortable looking at them without shock and judgement in my eyes.  It's hard because it's so incomprehensible.
From what I've noticed in the American transgender population, men make this choice of their own free will.  I'm sure some of the men in Thailand make the choice to change their sex, but in Thailand this is a family choice made when the boy is young.
Boys in Buddhist culture take care of the spiritual needs of the family.  They are to be monks periodically and interned with the gods for their parents' souls.  Although job opportunities go to the men in Thailand, the girls are responsible for carrying the financial burden of the family.  The boy has no responsibility to care for his parents in their old age, that is for the girls.  You can see how this religious and cultural family system contributes greatly to poor families sending their girls off with a trafficker to the city.
What if the family only has boys and no girls, who will take care of them as they age?  In this case, one boy will be chosen to be the girl of the family.  It could be the youngest boy or it could be the one who shows the most feminine traits.  This decision will be made between the ages of 3-5, long before a boy can have any say in the matter.  From that point on, the boy is dressed as a girl and treated as a little girl in every way possible.  Some families even have sex changes surgically done on their boys to change them into a girl.  Sex change surgery only costs about $1,625 USD in Thailand.  Another scenario where a family will change the sex of their boy, is if the village monk declares the boy has a female spirit.  They believe the sex is then incorrect and begin treating their little boy as a daughter.  Lady boys then fall into the same trafficking danger as any other young girl in Thailand.  There are 10,000 lady boys in the red light districts of Bangkok.
When Jesus speaks of "the least of these," lady boys fall into this group. If you can tell who the lady boy is, then they will be the last chosen client at a bar, bringing upon themselves the wrath of their boss.  If the customer can't tell (and believe me, I'm sure I passed many lady boys that I never gave a moment' thought to because in my eyes I saw just another girl passing by) and hires the boy, the boy must do everything he can to disguise the reality during sex.  If the customer should realize that he is having sex with a boy rather than the girl he thought he was buying, the likelihood is that he lady boy will be badly beat and threatened.  Lady boys are the bottom of society in the sex industry.  They are the unwanted and the unclean  And God told us to love them.

Until recently, there was absolutely no ministry to these lady boys.  What happens if this life is not what they want?  What happens if they want out of the sex trade, but want to remain a girl?  It is so very, very complicated and messy and there is one woman in Bangkok who felt God call her to this group of people.  She strips away a lot of the messiness and simply looks on them as children that God loves.  She runs a safe house with a bakery for the lady boys to work in and learn a trade.  It is a safe place.  A huge part of her work is rehabilitation.  The problems in each boy are deep.  The issues include family, society, religion and culture as well as abuse, exploitation and trauma.  Through love, she has dedicated her life because she realizes that it will take the whole life of each of these individuals to find healing and wholeness.
It makes me want to weep when I think about how messed up this world is.  It feels hopeless and impossible.  But I praise God that there are people out there opening small windows of hope to "the least of these."

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