On the tiny diving haven of Koh Tao lies a wooden, open-air venue simply painted black, Queens Cabaret – the island’s only cabaret bar to feature exotic and sultry performances from local Thai Ladyboys. Every night at 10:20pm, Koh Tao comes to a halt with the spotlight shining firmly on Queen’s Cabaret, known throughout Thailand for performing with a more dynamic poppy playlist.
Each member of the performance crew at Queens Cabaret are born male, but then underwent the necessary procedures to become a ladyboy. They work hard every day during the high season, starting work at 2pm with two hour dance practice until 4pm. Afterwards, it’s a three hour break during which many of them relax until 7pm when they begin the make-up and costume process. ‘The make-up is like war paint for them.’ Roman, the French boyfriend of one of the performers tells me. ‘They are usually shy but after the make-up, they change into someone else.’
Around 10pm, Queens Cabaret begins to attract customers. Our group ventures into the dark venue, many of us unsure what to expect from a ladyboy show. Seated right in front near the stage, we order our drinks – perhaps to brace ourselves for the upcoming show?
The bar suddenly goes dark. The audience begins to clap and cheer in excitement. A minute passes and the stage lights brighten with Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance pumping through the sound system. The curtains are slightly lifted, revealing what looks like Lady Gaga herself dressed in a tight red short skirt dress. The audience are ecstatic.
The ladyboy excels in her dance routine, seductively teasing the audience with her performance. The audience members, especially the ones who have never seen a ladyboy show, have their eyes wandering about on the performer’s body. ‘Where do they put it?’ a friend shamelessly asks me.
Lady Gaga’s act was greeted with a huge applause. The next few dance routines were a mix of old classic tunes before arriving at the halfway point with Madonna’s Two Minutes. The performer, dressed in the same black outfit Madonna wore in the music video, dances to the cheers of the now very lively audience. Some were noting how she looked more like Madonna than Madonna does!
Though, the Cabaret show was extravagant and entertaining, it was the reaction of the audience members that was really intriguing. The majority of the male audience members, perhaps unsurprisingly, watched with the exact same defensive pose: backs straight, chest out and arms crossed with a beer in one hand. Their faces transparently expressing sexually confused emotions. ‘That one in the back surely has to be a woman!’ a British lad shouted to his friend.
The reaction from the female audience members was even more intriguing. A good half of the female audience members were very supportive of the ladyboys, cheering with endless cries of ‘Wooh!’ The other half however, possessed eyes of envy, continually comparing their own bodies with that of the performers. ‘Her body is so slim!’ an American girl cried out in envy.
After a few dance numbers, the show came to a climatic finish with a ladyboy rendition of Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love, to which Queens Cabaret immediately erupted in a burst of energetic claps and joyful cheers. Bam-Bam, the performer who was acting as Beyoncé, is considered the “Big Sister” within the group. Later after the show, she informed me that she absolutely adores Beyoncé, listening to her songs and watching her music videos before every show. Bam-Bam may have been born a man, but she damn sure was feeding the audience with authentic Beyoncé bootiliciousness.
Exiting Queen’s Cabaret, the unfamiliar image of a ladyboy didn’t seem so strange anymore. Audience members were enthusiastically asking for photos with the performers, male and female members shaking their hands and even giving them friendly hugs. Strangely enough, it all just became another aspect of life.
By Brendan Wan