Transgendered Thais Prefers to Be Called as 'Miss'

by VR Sreeraman on September 22, 2007 at 4:55 PM
Transgendered Thais Prefers to Be Called as 'Miss'

Yonlada Krerkkong Suanyot says she's every bit a woman, except for on her identity card which identifies her as a man.

Yonlada was born male but completed her sex change operation five years ago and has lived as woman for even longer.


Although Thailand has a worldwide reputation as a paradise for transsexuals, with gender reassignment surgery widely available and relatively cheap, the kingdom does not allow people to officially change their gender for legal purposes.

Activists are now trying to change that, proposing a new law that would allow transvestites and transsexuals to legally change their gender and adopt the title "Miss".

It's a minor legal change with profound legal implications.

The difference between Yonlada's appearance and the gender on official documents such as her national identity card and passport has caused her countless problems, including rejection for bank loans and refusal of jobs.

"I have lost a lot of opportunities to work for good companies or even government agencies," she said.

When she tried to get a bank loan to start her own business, the loan was refused because the bank thought she was using a stolen ID.

"I know the bank thought I didn't look reliable," she said.

Some transsexuals also have problems travelling overseas, because they are listed as men on their passports but appear as women at the immigration counter.

Natee Teerarojjaongs, chairman of the Gay Political Group, said he had proposed the legal change to Thailand's parliament specifically to end such discrimination.

"This would clear obstacles for them working and travelling," he said.

Natee is also pushing for the law to cover people who dress as the opposite sex or have undergone some surgery, as well as those who have completed their gender reassignment surgery.

Thailand is believed to have one of the largest transsexual populations in the world.

Transsexuals, known locally as kathoey, have long had a place in Thai culture, with roles reserved for them in traditional festivals, in folk theatre, and even as geisha-style "companions."

Kathoey are also among Thailand's most visible cultural exports, with Vegas-style transsexual cabarets performing to audiences of thousands and popular movies about their lives playing the global film festival circuit.

That history of acceptance, combined with easy access to Thailand's top-rate hospitals, has made it relatively easy for people to undergo a sex change.

Academics estimate at least 10,000 live in Thailand, though other guesses are more than 10 times higher. Even the conservative number would mean that per capita, Thailand has many more transsexuals than most developed countries.

"We estimate that only three percent of transvestites complete their sex change because the medical bills are so expensive, but we want to make sure everyone is equal and can be covered by the law," he said.

There would be conditions to legally change genders, including a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and a background check, he said.

Natee found a sympathetic ear in member of parliament Kanjana Silpa-archa, who heads the subcommittee on women's affairs.

"I believe people should have equal rights. Transgendered people should have the same rights as any other sex," she said. "For a person who is not happy with his sex and who lives as the opposite sex, he deserves the chance to receive what he wants."

Kanjana's committee has taken up Natee's proposal, but the measure still needs approval from the higher-ranking committee on women, youth and the elderly before going to the entire parliament.

The current parliament was appointed by the military after last year's coup, so Natee and Kanjana acknowledge that there's not much time to give the bill a hearing before legislative elections on December 23.

Yonlada said the current system just encourages transgendered people to break the law by getting fake IDs. She admits to bribing a Bangkok city worker to get a fake card with the title "Miss," but said that didn't help in the long run as potential employers found her out anyway.

"If we could really have the title 'Miss,' it would help us live our lives more easily," she said.

Source: AFP
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