Mixed Nuts bar in Manila. Picture: Myladyboygirlfriend.com
Mixed Nuts bar in Manila. Picture: Myladyboygirlfriend.com

A night at a ladyboy bar in Manila

WARNING: Sexual content

THE billboard on level one of the two-storey, triangle shaped building reads "Lady, Oil and Midget Wrestling".

The billboard above it on level two reads: "Mixed Nuts No Cover Charge - No Show Charge - Birdies Martinis - The Entertainment Capital and Only Ladyboy Show in Manila". The building sits on a major four lane Manila highway, for everyone to see.

I walked up a flight of stairs and into an air-conditioned club.

It's 1am. There's a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on multiple TV screens, and Major Lazer's Bubble Butt is playing on the speakers. A beautiful woman, about 21 years old, was doing the most erotic lip sync I've ever seen on the spotlit dancefloor.

She was wearing pale blue stilettos, denim shorts and a cowboy hat: hypnotising a crowd of half-a-dozen white men with the spinning white cotton string of her nipple tassels.

The performer's name, I learn, is Mariel. She's a star of the 13-member Mixed Nuts team. She is one of seven with breasts and a penis, two of the 13 have breasts and a vagina, four are trans women who had never had any surgery or taken hormones.

Mixed Nuts is not a drag venue. It's a bar that caters for men who are sexually attracted to transgender women and feminised men.

You can’t miss the sign. Picture: Myladyboygirlfriend.com
You can’t miss the sign. Picture: Myladyboygirlfriend.com

"Ladyboys have great bodies, they are normally better looking than regular women, they really are," the Australian man I'll call David said as we sat in a soft-padded booth facing the dancefloor. He's 42, and looks like a ginger Piers Morgan.

"I just think they are beautiful, they have this exaggerated femininity. I come to Manila for relaxation one weekend a month. I've had sex five times today with five different people, three women and two transgender," David - who wanted to keep his identity a secret - told me.

"In the Philippines I can walk down the street with a trans woman and nobody really cares what gender your partner is," he said. "It's more relaxed here."


David's playing style is referred to by sexologists as gynandromorphophilia (often shortened to GAMP). But it's not a medical condition, it's just a term for people attracted to people born biologically male, but who look, act, or are women, this includes cross-dressing men, drag queens and transgender women.

And GAMP is a very common orientation too.

Porn download data suggests there are more men attracted to trans women than there are men attracted to other men.

The clientele is typically a western man, who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing this part of his life at home. Picture: Mixed Nuts bar
The clientele is typically a western man, who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing this part of his life at home. Picture: Mixed Nuts bar

"I guess I'm a variety of bisexual. I like trans women and women, I am not attracted to men - not at all," David said. "I come to Manila because the trans women here are beautiful. But I am not really ready to explain this part of my life to friends, and more especially my family. I'll have people asking: 'Why, why, why?' and people who think I've been living some kind of lie because I present as straight."

Before I went to Mixed Nuts, I had done some reading.

I'd looked at a study by Dr Ogi Ogas, an American computational neuroscientist. He said his analysis of anonymous internet histories indicated that those who watched trans porn almost never watched man-man gay porn - they tended to watch heterosexual porn as well.

Similarly, not that long ago, researchers at America's Northwestern University attached penis enlargement censors to a group of male research subjects as each one spent time in a room watching a variety of porn.

The researchers found that trans-attracted men were just as likely to get an erection when watching heterosexual porn as a heterosexual identifying man, and the trans-attracted men didn't usually get erections when watching gay porn. It also found that the men who got erections watching the gay porn rarely didn't get erections watching trans porn.

That said, at Mixed Nuts I also learned the difference between "straight" and "gay", even "trans" and "gay" in the Philippines is not the same as we tend to understand it in Australia.

Let me explain.


So it was just after 2.15am and I was talking to a guy in his late-40s from Britain who I'll call Martin.

"I come to Manila rather than Bangkok because they speak better English here. I really enjoy the company of ladyboys, I love that they have a unique perspective on things in the face of so much difficulty," Martin said.

The Philippines is an incredibly poor country and these women make a relatively comfortable living. Picture: Mixed Nuts
The Philippines is an incredibly poor country and these women make a relatively comfortable living. Picture: Mixed Nuts

Then I was interrupted by a tall, dark-skinned trans-Barbie doll who tapped my shoulder very politely asked: "Do you want a blow job?"

I explained that I am gay, and she said that didn't matter because "I am really a boy, I don't have breasts and I have a cock".

And she said: "Straight and gay men sex me".

A sales pitch? Perhaps - the Philippines is dirt poor and the name of the game at Mixed Nuts is to get white men to buy drinks.

But her comment made me wonder a few other things, like how Martin was attracted to trans woman who didn't take hormones - therefore didn't have breasts - but wasn't attracted to say, very feminine gay men.

"Well most of the trans women I date in the Philippines don't take hormones, but I am attracted to them and I am not attracted to men. It's a strange thing, I know," he told me. "What can I say? The difference is that a ladyboy has no body hair and has a higher voice, they wear perfume, they look like women, very feminine, certainly more woman than man."

Then the 3.36am curve-ball: we were joined at the table by Valarie. She knew she was beautiful; with her hair piece, perfect skin and black contact lenses, there was something even a little bit humanoid about her. She told me her boyfriend, an American living in Vietnam, "is a GAAAY."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

Vienna breathed in with her nose, lent in, and whispered "because he wants to get a vagina."

Oh that old story: boys meets girl, girl has a penis, boys likes penis so much he wants to get a vagina. I guess that settles it all then: men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but we are really all humanoid aliens secretly controlled by an intergalactic illuminati. Or maybe I was just asking too many questions.

Women working in the bar are all stages of transsexual. Picture: Mixed Nuts bar
Women working in the bar are all stages of transsexual. Picture: Mixed Nuts bar


I've often heard some of my transgender friends complain about being treated like a dirty fetish - on one occasion with make-up running everywhere because of her tears and broken heart.

American writer, TV host and transgender activist Janet Mock writes about this problem as a "pervasive ideology says that trans women are shameful, that trans women are not worthy of being seen and that trans women must remain a secret - invisible and disposable".

That said, while it's not surprising men travel to Asia to explore their desires for the third sex when it's still a source of shame in Western countries, it's important to note that discrimination and violence against transgender women remains common in the Philippines.

A Spanish colony for many hundreds of years, pre-colonial women-led Filipino tribes gave transgender woman roles as Shamans or community leaders.

The Spaniards by contrast had been subjecting gay men to capital punishment during the Inquisition and banned any form of cross-dressing back in their home kingdom (even in the theatre and during cultural events).

This was just before they sailed into and then claimed the 7000 island archipelago. Unsurprisingly, the status of trans people quickly plummeted.

It was hard not to think of the case of Jennifer Laude, 26, the Filipino killed by American marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. After Pemberton's lawyers first tried to argue there was no evidence Pemberton killed her, they then argued he did kill her - but only after realising she was trans in the hotel room. Therefore, he told the court, he felt "repulsed" and "feared he would be raped" - so he strangled her to death.

Convicted US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton is currently in a Filipino jail after he killed Jennifer Laude. Picture: EPA/TED ALJIBE/POOL
Convicted US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton is currently in a Filipino jail after he killed Jennifer Laude. Picture: EPA/TED ALJIBE/POOL

And while we didn't hear about it in Australia, within the same week two other trans women were murdered in the Philippines by fellow Filipinos.


It was 4.18am and Martin was telling me he "couldn't give a shit" what people think of his attraction to transgender women. But he has a wife ("a stale relationship ... we haven't had sex in six years") and child.

"I couldn't leave my wife for a trans woman, she would find that so humiliating, then I would have to explain it to my kid who is only 11," he told me in a drunken, sombre tone - a strange contrast to the camp, fun rendition of Greased Lightning being performed on the dancefloor.

"I met my wife not long after I lost my virginity which I didn't lose until I was in my early 20s. Looking back now, 30-odd years ago, I should have just ran with my transgender attraction," Martin said, pushing out a deep breath.

"I should have found a transgender woman and had a serious relationship with her, then I probably wouldn't have the complications I have today."

Luke Williams is a journalist. His new book Extreme Asia: When Westerners go East will be released in 2018.

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