Mikayla Viny, Ava Binder
The transgender community in Thailand varies greatly from that in the United States. In Thailand, they recognize a third gender, which is termed “Kathoey”. This term was originally used to describe gays or feminine males, but now it is widely used to specifically describe male-to-female (MTF) transgender people. Over the past decade, Kathoey has been recognized constitutionally in hopes that introducing an additional gender identity will help reduce discrimination throughout the country of Thailand. While there has been a raise in awareness about this topic, people in Thailand who identify as Kathoey still face many societal barriers that many transgender people in the United States also encounter on a normal basis.
In Thailand, there is an impression that the Kathoey are pretty well accepted. They are seen everywhere and seem to live just like anyone else in the society. Unlike the United States, there is not a lot of violence against the transgender community there. However, the Kathoey do have a difficult time when it comes to the professional workplace. “First of all in Thailand, we’re pretty well-accepted, we can walk in the street and we don’t have to fear that someone’s going to shoot you in the head. At the same time, the most difficult thing is at a professional level, that people don’t accept people like us,” said Jenisa Limpanilchart, a businessperson in Thailand, to CNN. No matter their educational level, background, or experience, many companies do not want to hire them and there is no legal procedure in place that deals with how to handle this type of discrimination. These type of issues also occur regularly in the US.
Since 2015, there has been a lot of discussion about the third gender in Thailand in relation to political and social issues. The biggest controversy with this is Thailand’s army draft. Every year, Thai men who are 21 years old must either volunteer themselves to serve in Thailand’s army for six months or take their chances in a lottery. This lottery is when a man either gets a black ticket which allows them to go home, and if they get a red ticket, it means that they must serve for at least two years. This draft is particularly troublesome for transgender people because some kathoey believe that since they were born male, is it their duty to be a Thai soldier. Furthermore, people who identify as kathoey are put at risk of stress and humiliation during the draft itself. It becomes an issue of human rights more than anything else. Many transgender women who are drafted fear that they will be undressed, stared at, and publicly embarrassed, making the whole process far more difficult. As for the army draft, exemptions can be made under certain circumstances. These include when someone is physically or mentally incapable of serving in the army, or for transgender women, if they can prove that they are not identifying as female to be exempt from serving in Thailand’s army. This further explains how even though kathoey in Thailand are widely acknowledged, they still face typical transphobia and discrimination on a regular basis.
While it does seem as if the Kathoey in Thailand are much more widely accepted than the transgender community in the United States, that is not always the case. While the Kathoey still live as normal members of the society and are tolerated, they face a fair amount of discrimination. It is difficult for them to get hired by companies, and even if they do get hired they still face many challenges in the workplace. On top of that, there are issues with the army draft system in Thailand. Some citizens believe that since the Kathoey were born male they should be forced to participate in the draft, but others believe that this causes too much humiliation and they should not be forced to potentially serve in the army. These are similar issues to the ones that the transgender community faces in the US. Certainly none of these issues of discrimination are going to be solved overnight, but steps are being taken to do so, such as the push to include a third gender in the Thailand constitution and government documents.
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