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Nalin Satearrujikanon: The Future Is Ladyboy

07 February 2024
“It was only when I began learning English that I first heard the word ‘Ladyboy’,” Nalin Satearrujikanon says. “My friends said, ‘It’s like trans, but insulting’… I decided I wanted to reclaim this word; I am Ladyboy.”

Nalin shares this anecdote over lemon-flavoured iced tea in the Bangkok suburb of Ari. Shiny high-rises and eye-catching skytrains obstruct the skyline from our vantage point. The streets are lined with vendors and barbeque grills that emit a strong, smoky hue. A black Tesla is parked out front; a blinged-out tuk-tuk zooms past, narrowly missing it by a centimetre. Bangkok, known to many as a fun two-day stopover before heading to a tropical island or jungle venture, harbours a lesser-known, vibrant, creative and queer scene.

Nalin Satearrujikanon, a fashion designer, model, photographer, director of The Peppers casting agency, DJ, party planner and creative director of Nalinchan Studio, is a central figure in this often-colliding scene. The legacy she hopes to leave is both an extension and an encapsulation of the above-mentioned roles, all under the guise of her campaign, ‘The Future is Ladyboy’.

The Future Is Ladyboy Campaign, 2021

I reached out to Nalin to get her perspective on the city, her country and the ambitions driving her talents and projects. “What is it like to be young, queer and creative in Bangkok in 2023?” I ask. “To be fair, I love my country. It’s getting way better than the last ten years, but I wish it were more progressive. For outsiders and foreigners, they think Thailand is very open but it’s not. I wish transgender people had more chances and opportunities to do things here. I got lucky. That’s why I do so many things to show the transgender person that if I can do it, you can do it too," Nalin shares.

In 2021, Nalin launched the feminist campaign "The Future is Ladyboy" as a response to the viral "The Future is Female" campaign. She first encountered the term when someone used it to describe her. It was only after learning English that the definition was registered.

Since that day, Nalin has been on a mission to reclaim the term ‘Ladyboy’ (กะเทย in Thai, pronounced ‘Kathoey’) as something to be proud of. A statement on her Instagram states the name “is a phrase that challenges gender stereotypes and celebrates gender fluidity. It aims to promote acceptance, inclusivity, and equal rights for individuals who identify as transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming. The message behind the design encourages people to embrace diversity and celebrate differences.”

The Future Is Ladyboy Campaign, 2021

Beyond the phrase, her label, Nalinchan Studio, also designs gender-neutral clothing suitable for everyone. Inspired by designers like Rei Kawakubo, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela, Nalin designs and produces clothes in her home studio. The pieces are sophisticated and timeless, a contrast to the otherwise poppy and colourful emblems in the city.

Nalin was first introduced to the fashion industry while modelling. Asking her how she ended up with different jobs and where it all began, she shared, “One time a casting director found me on Instagram and gave me the chance to be a model. Back in the day, a transgender person didn’t have access—maybe backstage or in makeup but definitely not on the runway. Or maybe trans women wouldn’t reveal themselves. Often, organisers would cut me off, but he continued to believe in me. And that was the moment when my life changed forever.”

Now, with her modelling casting agency (The Peppers Casting) she hopes to do the same for others. Despite her years of experience in the studio—in front and behind the camera—Nalin says she is so happy to finally ‘‘have a real job” while also stepping in to support others navigating the industry.

She scouts her friends and friends of friends. Many of her models, while incredibly striking and beautiful, don’t necessarily conform to Thailand’s conventional beauty standards. Most advertisements strewn across the city are images of wrinkle-free, bright and intensely airbrushed men and women. “I’m so sick of it!” Nalin exclaims.

The key to her success as a casting director is not only the models’ diverse shapes, appearance and ages but also their ability to play a character. She pulls out her iPhone as we’re talking and shows me a recent shoot she cast for, pointing to a tall guy in the back. “Look at him! He is not a model, just a student from Phuket, and this was his first job. But he was having so much fun and got so into it! It was beautiful.” By expanding the boundaries that Thai society places on fashion, space is being created to express that there is beauty and power in difference.

This desire to express diversity speaks to the environment Nalin was raised in. “We have so many different people living in Bangkok: Thai-Chinese, Thai-Western, Thai-African, and we are open about that; then there are the tourists too and we all mix.”

This thrown-together feeling is reflected in the city’s urban planning (or lack thereof) too, with a “cyber-punk” Bladerunneresque feeling enveloping the town. There are moments when you feel like you’re in a small village and others when you’re in any cosmopolitan city. “It’s a mess!” Nalin says. “But that’s what makes it so fun.” There is something for everyone in the ‘City of Angels’. The party scene is a further testament to this.

“People party until the morning and there are always monks waiting out in front of the clubs for their blessings and food.” Nalin says. Clubs often sit next to temples and “religion in Thailand can exist together”.

We finish off the interview and head to her home studio through one of the many pink Tuk Tuks parked outside. As we zoom past the many street stalls, I ask what is next for Nalin and what her dreams for the future are.“I just want people to remember that one time, one person started to reclaim the term ‘Ladyboy’. That’s my biggest dream.”

Peppers Models
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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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