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Transvestites glitter at Thailand pageant

Transvestites glitter at Thailand pageant

At the Miss Tiffany Universe pageant--which boasts dozens of gorgeous, lithe, smooth-skinned contestants--one thing is undeniable: Thailand turns out some of the most beautiful transvestites and transsexuals in the world. As contestants glided across the stage in glittering ball gowns Saturday night, one might never have guessed they were all born boys. Only when they open their mouths do their vocal cords reveal the truth. "Most people can't tell because I'm very petite, but when I talk they know," said 21-year-old Wararat Saengchai, who started taking female hormones at 14 and underwent sex change and breast implant operations a year ago. If she keeps quiet, her delicate features could fool anyone. Others must rely on foam-padded bras and girdles to create womanly curves. Miss Tiffany's, one of the most famous all-male cabaret theaters, has held the annual beauty pageant since 1998 in a gaudy Roman-pillared white building in Pattaya. Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, is widely tolerant of homosexuals, transvestites, and transsexuals--one reason, perhaps, that men who opt for the transformation here are so stunning and convincing. "Western countries may not give their people the opportunity to change because they can't accept it, whereas here we do," said Punyapat Daengnoi, 24, who underwent a sex change two years ago. "We become beautiful because we are accepted and can be happy that we can be ourselves." Many contestants came from rural provinces across Thailand and describe being accepted by their families only after proving that they would be academically and professionally successful and not a financial burden. But for others, like the 2005 winner, Tiptantree Rujiranon, there needs to be even greater acceptance. Even this pageant--broadcast live on national television, with a grand prize of $2,500 and a new pink car--is not enough. "There are some who still will not come out," 20-year-old Tiptantree said after being crowned early Sunday. "I want 'second-sex' women to be able to live in society like men and women and have the same rights as people of any other gender." (AP)

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