Sun, Oct 09, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Jirayut Roddon won the man of her dreams by changing gender

Thai transsexuals are pushing the boundaries of acceptance and are finding success, happiness and love

By Griffin Shea  /  AFP , BANGKOK


Jirayut Roddon has lived the kind of love story that makes her friends believe in destiny.

It began ordinarily enough, more than a decade ago. She

finished school, found a job, left her parents' house and fell in love with the boy next door.

Of course things are never that simple. Although Jirayut, who goes by the nickname Ball, had lived as a woman for years, she was actually a man when she fell in love with a guy who in her words, "only liked slim, beautiful women, which was exactly the opposite of what I was."

Falling in love was the push Ball needed to get the sex change operation she'd always wanted but once her physical transformation was complete, she had lost track of her dream man and didn't meet him again for six years.

But when they found each other, what a spark.

To see her now, it's hard to imagine a time when Ball would have been a man. At 30, she's pretty but dresses conservatively with a sweater over her tank top. She says her style was flashier when she was younger.

"I think the hormones mellowed me out," and she laughed, at the photo studio for Preaw, one of Thailand's top fashion magazines, where she's found success as a hair stylist.

Ball can't remember the time when she was truly a man either. She remembers pilfering her sister's skirts even as a small child, and always getting teased by the other kids at school for being a kathoey, which translates roughly as "ladyboy" but sounds like a slur in adolescent taunts.

"Once when I was eight, my dad hit me when he found me wearing my sister's skirts. I was his only son, so I think he wanted me to grow up and get married to carry on the family name," Ball said.

Despite the troubles at home, Ball refused to change. By middle school, Ball says she knew she wanted to be a woman but it wasn't until high school that she found a group of friends like


"I used to go out with my friends to department stores, and go into the changing rooms to switch into women's clothes. Then we would go out dressed as women, and when it was time to go home we would change back," she said.

By the time she was finishing college, she was dressing as a woman full-time and still living with her parents.

"After some time, my dad opened his mind. I never asked him what was going through his head, but then one day he told me it was fine to have two daughters. I was probably 19 or 20 then," Ball said.

Taking the leap

Once she finished school, she hopped between a couple of jobs, including one helping her mom sell meals at a store. That's when she met Khake, her husband-to-be. Good-looking and charming, he was easy to spot when she was out with friends. Ball thought she had lucked out when he ended up working in the same store where she and her mom were selling food. But he was clear that he would only date someone who was physically a woman.

"So I decided to make myself beautiful," she said.

Becoming a woman in Thailand is easier and cheaper than almost anywhere in the world, even more so now than when Ball began her transformation 10 years ago.

And Thai hospitals are world-renowned for their sex change operations.

Ball spent about 150,000 baht (US$3,750) on a series of operations over three years. While that's a fraction of the cost of the procedure in developed countries, it took her years to save the money.

She started with breast implants, which she received in 1997 at a Bangkok clinic that she remembers as a "slaughterhouse."

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