I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Poi. We talked about girl stuff; hair, makeup etc. I asked her if she cut her own hair. She did. She continued on describing how she layered her hair around her face. She wanted highlights. Her hair was too dark for her taste. I asked her where she lived and about her family. She had a mother but her father had passed away. I responded with sympathy. She said, “Oh no I’m not sad. If he had not died I could not be “this” as she pointed to her body.
Poi was a “ladyboy”. A ladyboy (or a kathoey กะเทย) is a transgendered person who is born male but lives as a female. Some ladyboys have had gender-reassignment surgery (hormone therapy, reconstructed female sex organs, breast implants, facial surgery). Other ladyboys have cosmetic surgery but retain their male organs. And others simply dress as women with no medical enhancements. In the Thai culture sons have the responsibility to bring spiritual blessing. Daughters are to financially support the family. Therefore some poor families raise their boys as girls. They are apt to give them hormones at a young age. Sometimes a Monk informs the boys they have ‘a woman’s spirit trapped in a man’s body.’
I was fearful when I first began to speak to Poi. I have dealt with women in the sex industry but never a ladyboy. And yet, there I found myself, a homeschooling mom of three little ones standing in the middle of the red light district in Thailand speaking with a half-dressed ladyboy. At first it was a little overwhelming. But as I became more comfortable so did Poi. Ladyboys are some of the most vulnerable in the Thai and Cambodian culture. They are truly the outcasts of their societies. They are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and self abuse: injecting all sorts of chemicals into their bodies – some even commit suicide. There culture is fatalistic. They see no way out.
As humans we all need to feel loved. I spent time with people committed to helping the Ladyboy’s plight. I noticed they started to heal when they felt loved and accepted. Eyes lite up when they saw those who cared for them. It’s been months since Poi and I spoke. I’m still processing. There aren’t easy answers. But I do know we are all made in the image of God. Dignity is deserved by all. And I know we are to love no matter no matter how. Isn’t that how God loves?
May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:4-5, 12-14)
There are two great organizations working to free Ladyboys from their plight. Glenn Miles, at love146 and Ruth, founder of Sons & Daughters of Cambodia, work tirelessly to come to the aid of these children. Get involved, be a part of bringing shalom to their lives. And pray! Pray like crazy.
Lord, thank you for being a God of love, who selflessly surrendered to death by crucifixion for the sake of sinful men and women like us. Thank you, Maker of Life, that you were not bound by death but that you rose again on the third day. Thank you that you have made us your children, heirs to the promos of new life, and that our lives here on this earth can bring you glory. Direct us away from selfish indifference and toward selfless action. Cause us to move and live and give and act as you direct your Body. May thousands, millions, tens of millions – dare we pray – billions of lives be impacted as your people discover more of the role we have to play in our world. Come quickly, Lord. but until you do, teach us to live lives worthy of the calling you have given us. Amen
(Adapted from a prayer composed by Michael and Danae Yankoski, Zealous Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice, p.9)
Advocate for freeing those under bondage in the sex industry.