Close Encounters of the Transgendered Kind

by Brian

“$400, all you can drink,” says a young Taiwanese man standing in front of a Thai restaurant in downtown Kenting.

I mull over the proposition—not a bad one, considering that three drinks could easily cost that much. Seth, however, saves me any further deliberation by paying $800 for the two of us.

The charge grants us unlimited access to a limited drink menu offering gin and tonics, rum and cokes, screwdrivers, and draft beer. The cocktails are certain to be watered down and the beer topped off with ice, but all you can drink is still all you can drink.

The décor inside consists of Buddha statues, elephant figurines, brightly-covered tapestries, photos of white sand beaches at sunset, and similar Southeast Asian clichés. Though a board in front of the place displays an extensive menu, nobody here is eating. Aside from the pair of foreigners the clientele is composed of middle-aged Taiwanese couples drinking beer. Upstairs a DJ provides background music from a booth that overlooks the patrons.

The man who greeted us outside takes our order for two gin and tonics. After bringing the drinks, which live up to their diluted promise, he takes a moment to talk to us.

Like many young Taiwanese, “David” speaks English well and is impeccably groomed. Between his blue contact lenses, eye-rolling, and tendency to playfully touch his hand to Seth and my arms, I’m quite certain that he’s gay. But in Taiwan, and East Asia in general, even the most sensitive gaydar can register false alarms.

Back in the States most Taiwanese guys younger than 30 would be instantly labeled flamers due to their too-perfect hair, china doll skin, handbags, coordinated outfits, and effeminate mannerism. Here, they’re just one of the boys.

Of course, in America we have the likes of the Jersey Shore men who spend more time primping and preening than their female housemates. Such specimens, however, are nonetheless testosterone fueled savages who would break off a beer bottle and shank a man for messing up his hair. Their metrosexual Taiwanese counterparts are waifs without a hint of masculinity.

I’m of the belief that manly men are becoming obsolete in a relatively safe, civilized world populated by increasingly strong, independent women. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the human race transitioned from two distinct genders into a single androgynous one. In this regard East Asian men, and the emasculated stateside hipsters they helped spawn, are ahead of the curve.

When David leaves I ask Seth, “Do you think he’s…”

Before I can finish my sentence with the word “gay” Seth, about to take a slug of his drink, says, “Yep,” accenting the last syllable with a smack of the lips that echoes into his half-empty cup.

Seth has has, or at least claims to have, a good nose for this sort of thing. The previous day, while seated on a bench in front of the Love River (yes, its real name) in the city of Kaohsiung, he informed me that the world over, riverfronts fronts are a meeting place for those seeking casual homosexual encounters.

While I have my doubts that this is a universal rule, I may never be able to hang riverside again without casting suspicious glances at nearby males.

The woman at the table next to ours, seated with her husband, keeps shooting expectant glances up the stairs. About midway though our third drink it becomes clear why.

The mid-tempo music cuts out and is replaced by a loud, driving dance beat that samples a female voice. In front of the DJ booth a dancer wearing a red sequined bikini and matching headdress appears. She flashes an enormous smile, twirls, and strikes a pose with her ass out and arms held high before beginning a slow descent down the stairs. Making a detour through the tables in an effort to entice the male patrons, she ends up in front of the bar on a stripper pole that wasn’t there two minutes ago.

The heavily made-up lolita spins about the pole, her preternatural smile never wavering. Several minutes into the performance a second girl, tall and attractive but shy, makes her way down the stairs, followed closely by a third who’s the least comely of the lot. United, the trio begins a choreographed performance that includes a pair of wardrobe swaps and systematic passes through the crowd.

Females who sell their sex onstage are adept at making every man in the audience feel as though the show is intended exclusively for him. In the case of these dancers, they’re either very skilled at this aspect of the job, or in fact focusing their attention on me and Seth.

“They’re definitely looking at us, yeah?” I ask Seth.

“Mmm hmm,” he says, not taking his eyes off of the performance.

“You have a favorite?”

He looks and looks at me with an expression that I can’t decipher. I hold his gaze until he finally says, “The one on the right is a pretty goddamned sexy thing,” referring to the dancer with the surgically implanted grin.

“I like the tall one. And she keeps staring at me.”



“He keeps staring at you.”

“Are you talking about David?”

Before I have a chance to hear his reply the music changes to a slow-grind jam and the dancers once again disperse into the crowd.

This time, however, they move straight towards our table. There is no time to think, let alone protest, as two of them grab my hands and whisk me towards the stripper pole. I think they’re going to make me dance, an embarrassing prospect because I fit just about every stereotype of Bad White Guy Dancing. Instead, to both my relief and surprise, the still-grinning sexpot pushes me back into the stripper pole and lifts my hands up and over my head, pressing them to the vertical bar.

From my new perspective, the dancers demonstrate the Monet effect: striking from afar, but somewhat of a mess up close. Seeing them at this distance under bright light I notice, for example, that the jaw of the lead girl is rather wide, while the tall one has fine hairs covering her face. But it isn’t until the third member of the group says something in a disturbingly deep voice that I understand that these aren’t women at all. With force equal to a thousand thrusting ladyboy schlongs, the meaning of Seth’s cryptic remark is driven home.

But the show must go on. Smiley pulls my shirt up and over my head then comes around to the front and rips down my jeans. My back against the pole, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, with my arms strung up behind me and a frenzied crowd cheering on my captors, I feel like the star of a strip-club rendition of the Crucifixion.

It’s hard to keep track of which dancer is where as they circle around me. One of them, standing to my right, shoots a hand down my shorts and gives my shaft a playful caress. Although I know these are men, my penis is not so easily persuaded. I am perhaps several synaptic messages away from living some sort of adolescent nightmare about having an erection in front of a crowd of people.

A cup of ice down my pants brings me down to size. And just in time. Moments later my boxers are pulled off. Sparing me from full frontal nudity is a succession of smaller and smaller cardboard circles held in front of my sex.

I’ve always been a bit of an exhibitionist, and now that the threat of a public erection has passed I’m actually quite comfortable. This remains true even as the cardboard circles disappear altogether and are replaced by a napkin draped over my genitalia. It is held in place by a kneeling dancer on either side of me, one of whom also holds an empty beer mug at the base of my scrotum. The third pours beer down my chest. The sudsy liquid flows over the napkin and into the mug below, revealing a very clear outline of my alter ego through the soaked paper.

My pants are pulled up, my shirt returned to me and I walk, still bare-chested, back towards my table to a chorus of cheers. An older Taiwanese woman sitting next to her husband clutches my arm and yells, “Very good.” The fact that married couples are attending this show together speaks volume about the sexual liberation of the Taiwanese.

The 1/5 full mug of ball beer sits next to Seth, who examines it and me with an equal amount of astonishment.

“Wow!” and a few stammering sentences are all he can manage.

“You were…but they…and then…with the…wow!”

“Guess you were right about them,” I say. “I mean, about them being dudes.”

“Yep,” he says again with the same exaggerated lip-smacking “p” sound, reticently gloating.

A few stray ice cubes remain in my pants and I go to the bathroom to remove them. As I’m washing my hands and coming to terms with what just occurred I say aloud, “Only in Asia.”

In the business hours that remain Seth and I do our best to take advantage of the all-you-can-drink promotion. For Seth this includes downing, in the name of solidarity, the partial mug of Brian Beer.

The dancers, changed into street clothes, sit at an adjacent table a few rows over smoking cigarettes and sipping cocktails.

“Are they looking over…?”

“Yep,” interjects Seth. “They can’t stop staring.”

David comes over to chat and congratulate me on my performance. The tall dancer approaches him and says something in Chinese.

“They want to take a picture with you. It’s OK?”

I give my consent and he calls them over. The spell is totally broken. A man, not a woman, is sitting on my lap for this picture. But I’ll be goddamned if he doesn’t look pretty good.

The most mannish of the three, the third wheel to the horrifyingly convincing duo of ladyboys, says something to David.

“She wants to know if you and Seth will go for a drink with them,” he translates.

“Maybe,” I say, buying us some time.

David leads me to the street and shows me the place where they’re going. As the dancers shuffle out the tall one blows me a kiss.

Any man with half a libido and a shred of honesty will admit, if only privately, that he’s put to himself the question of whether he’d get down with a shemale. Tonight, Seth and I face this moment of sexual truth together. The answer, at least for now, is “no.”

Instead, we go to a place across the street where we meet a pair of Taiwanese girls. It feels good to be in the company of women who are actually women and don’t arouse contemplation of latent homesexual longing.

The girls flirt, hold our hands, and give every indication they they’re ready to do more. But just before closing time they cop an excuse about waking up early and leave us full of liquor and unspent sexual energy.

Frustrated, we stagger onto the now-quiet streets of Kenting.

“Fuck,” says Seth. “Hey, where did those trannies say they were going?”