In general, Buddhists are more forgiving of transvariant people, because their religion allows them to believe that the trans people are simply suffering from bad karma from a previous life. This is not to say that gender-variant people live care-free lives in these locations, as demonstrated through the Thai film, Beautiful Boxer.
As a young boy, Nong Toom finds that he is shy and sensitive and that he is more attracted to things that little girls play with. Other boys, including his younger brother, tease him as a result of his meekness, and his parents finally determine that they cannot disregard their son, regardless of his effeminate personality. He tries to suppress these thoughts and feelings until the traveling old monk implicitly encourages him to follow his own destiny. At this point, he confides in female friends and takes on feminine roles in his community, such as selling flowers.
After the failed kickboxing trial of his younger brother, Nong Toom discovers his talent in boxing. In this male-dominated arena, Nong Toom discovers inner-strength and courage. He learns of the financial gains in boxing, and he determines to “fight like a man to become a woman.”
He begins as a boxer – strong, powerful, robust. But he becomes successful after revealing his desire to wear make-up in the ring. His opponents ridicule him, and the critics argue that it is a publicity scheme. In many interviews, he assures all that this is his true identity. After revealing his feminine ways, his fellow trainees avoid him and other opponents mock him. His trainer reminds him of one thing: “You can wear whatever you want, as long as you fight like a man.” He is empowered, at first, by this statement, but as his career progresses, it begins to torment his soul. He does not want to fight like a man – he wants to be a woman. After years in the ring, he is victorious in his financial battle, and his next match is gender reassignment surgery.
Interestingly, the film tends to compare the traditional dancing of Thai women with the traditional boxing of Thai men. They are portrayed as opposites – two ends of a binary. Yet, Nong Toom incorporates both art forms into her life. She first witnesses them at the fair, where she avoids the boxing ring in order to view the dancing stage. In the end, she performs an elegant dance before a brutal match. In addition to the influences of the different art forms on Nong Toom’s life, it is noteworthy to investigate these forms and the assumed binary. Both forms require tremendous dexterity and physical strength. They require precise movements and unwavering grace. Boxers and dancers demonstrate intense discipline and fervent determination. Spectators of both award and acknowledge the aesthetics of the performance. The stages and crowds may be different, but the requirements for success are the same. They do not represent a binary; they simply have different presentations.
Beautiful Boxer is an exceptional film that demonstrates the meaning of courage. Nong Toom is brave in the ring as he faces contender after contender in brutal matches; but he is also valiant while facing the public. He never gives up. He never allows others to bring him down. He pursues his dreams to the fullest. He is an inspiration. Correction. She is an inspiration.
Finally, I must note that this film follows a transgendered human-being, with feelings, hopes, and dreams. In the media world, where gender variant people are portrayed as clowns or jesters, it is essential to applaud this film for retelling the life of this person, this woman. No viewer is able to reduce her experience to mockery, because her emotions and reactions are real and relatable.