As I began to research transgender life in Thailand one factor stuck out to me. This was the fact that transgender individuals “kathoey” are still subject to the draft when they turn 21. If they are drafted in many cases they have their heads shaved, an act which is degrading to these individuals. Some kathoey are excused from draft because they have taken hormones and developed breasts. If this is the case they are determined unfit for service because of “malformed chests”. Others are not so lucky, these are dismissed from service for reasons described as “mental disorders” and some are even described are “permanently insane”.
As you could imagine this is very damaging to their future careers. One kathoey lost a potential job because she was supposedly insane. This does not seem fair to me. I do not think that it is right that these women’s careers have to suffer because of something as small as being dismissed from the draft. Because more and more kathoey are having trouble finding work because of the insane mark on their draft they have begun to argue that their dismissal should be worded differently. Thailand officials have started to brainstorm and have started to use the reason that “this individual’s body does not match their birth certificate” as opposed to “mental disorders”.
Another issue that the kathoey have with the draft is that they are occasionally mocked or degraded in front of large groups of people. Some are made to strip in front of groups while others who are taken to private areas are ordered to do various things by officials who are using their power in inappropriate ways. This disgusts me. I think that anybody in a position of power who uses that power for corrupt reasons is a coward.
One way that Thailand’s transgender culture varies from the United States is that there are much more transgender individuals in Thailand. As many as 1 in 165 Thai males become kathoey while in the United States only about 1 in 2500 men live as women. This and the fact that there are less hate crimes against transgender individuals seems to suggest that life for transgender individuals in Thailand would be easier than in the United States. However, this may not be the case. While there is a thriving night scene in Thailand that sometimes involves kathoey as entertainment a large part of how kathoey make their money is through red light districts. This is very dangerous work and can be unreliable in many ways. Also many nightclubs have started posting signs that say no prostitutes or kathoey. This discrimination makes it hard to determine what gender variant life is like in Thailand because it seems to vary depending on the situation and on the individual.
It is because of the reasons listed above that I have concluded that no one can judge the acceptance of a culture to gender variant life. It is difficult for those who are not living their day to day lives as a transgender individual to understand what it must be like and understand the troubles that they face. I believe that much more research would need to be done to fully understand what it is like to live as a kathoey.