Susan Aldous on her Memories of Unforgettable Ladies
Ten years ago, Pornchai Sereemongkonpol and I, began researching and interviewing ladyboys for our book of the same title. Initially, we were asked to find one protagonist to encapsulate the transgender experience. This of course was impossible. Maverick House agreed to our proposal of a broader sampling of people in order to present a multi-dimensional set of intimate, colorful voices. I still marvel at what a profound foray into Bangkok’s infamous red light district vibrant cabaret turned out to be. The women were as eclectic as the gyms, airports, slums, fancy offices, department stores they worked or lived in. More importantly, the journey into the hearts and minds of our interviewees, through their generous, unprecedented candidness, was unforgettable.
Our most senior interviewee, Auntie Nong (as we affectionately called her), was illiterate and living in abject poverty most of her life. However, she was truly rich with a unique set of experiential, historical and cultural insights. She passed away just over six years ago. Her poignant, final words in the last chapter of Ladyboys still elicits a deep response from within me.
“What would I like to be in my next life? I’m about to move on to it any day now, so I’ve given this question a lot of thought. I want to be reborn as a woman who is a traditional dancer, with a loving family and a home she can call her own. I would obviously wish for the exact opposite of the life I have now. When I recite my prayers, I usually say, ‘What horrible karma I’ve made in my past existences is beyond me, but goodness, please hear me and acknowledge the good karma I’ve done so far. I wish for the next chapter of my life to be peaceful.’
“I used to think that whatever will happen, will happen. I’m like a rotting log and my existence doesn’t really matter very much to the rest of the world. If I were to die in this squalid room and nobody were to ﬁnd me for days, then so be it. I had to try and accept long ago the thought that nobody really cared about me. However, I’m more at ease with my mind now that I know there are people, especially in the gay and transgender community, who care about me. They adopted me as if I was their older relative — their auntie — and they promised me that I wouldn’t end up being a corpse with no relatives. They have also promised me a proper funeral. In most circumstance, this wouldn’t be an especially nice pledge to make to an elderly person, but in my case, it is a heart-warming one indeed. I now know that I won’t be forgotten. Whenever people come by to check on my well-being, I feel as if they are breathing a little bit of life back into my fading existence. I’m an orphan auntie after all.”
“Would you care to adopt me?”
A decade on, I am extremely grateful that we adopted Auntie Nong by carefully listening to and recording her story. Publishing it has turned out to be a legacy to her indomitable spirit. A spirit which overcame brutal obstacles in order to live out the most genuine representation of herself possible. While exceptionally humble, she remains a powerful soul, whom we could all learn from. Those of us able to place her story on page certainly did! May she Rest in Peace in that knowledge.
You can purchase a copy of Ladyboys here.