CHIANGRAI TIMES – The Thai army conscripts adult males over the age of 18 each year. But it historically has disqualified transgender people from the process, classifying them as “having a permanent mental disorder.” Transgender activists have protested that this stigmatizes them.
Samart Meechai, the 27-year-old transgender person who filed the case against defense officials, welcomed the outcome. She says transsexuals will “no longer be viewed as crazy people.”
A court in Thailand has ordered the military to stop labeling transgender people as being mentally ill.
The court Tuesday did not bar the military from rejecting transsexuals and did not stipulate a new wording for the rejections.
Defense spokesman Col. Thanatip Sawangsaeng said the ministry will comply, and has proposed the new phrasing: “Current sexual status does not match that of birth.”
Thailand’s military, which forces all young men into a conscription lottery, has traditionally dismissed as “insane” any would-be conscript who shows up with long hair and hormone-enhanced breasts.
This is a dilemma somewhat unique to Thailand, known for its large number of transgender females or “katoeys”: those born as males who live as women.
The issue was explored at length in “The Lovely Conscripts,” published by GlobalPost last year.
But kathoeys have now successfully pressured the military to drop its “insanity” label. This designation is more than just insulting, they say. It goes on a permanent record that all potential employers expect of applicants. As you might imagine, it’s harder to find a job when you’re labeled by the state as a total psycho.
The new term, according to the Bangkok Post, is “gender identity disorder.” Still a disorder, yes, but remarkably less disparaging.
Politically active kathoeys have badgered the military on this issue since 2006, when a hotel receptionist nicknamed “Sweetwater” began insisting the insanity label was sabotaging her career options.
“Don’t they understand this ruins our lives?” she told GlobalPost last year. “It’s stuck to our record. Even if we’re opening a bank account, or trying to get a visa to some foreign country, people see that I’m supposedly insane.”
What the terminology shift doesn’t address, however, is the groping and ogling katoeys often experience when they submit for conscription exams.
“The army doctor, this young guy, brought me into a small curtained room,” said another kathoey in GlobalPost’s “Lovely Conscripts” article. “There were people climbing up to the second floor to look inside, hoping to see some sexy scene. A lot of people attend these events just for fun. Of course, transgenders are the highlight.”