Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Third Toilet For The Third Gender (Maybe Unc/Aunt Pet Can Apply)

Don't you just love their tolerance? Maybe Unc/Aunt Pet can apply. ;-) From the Beebs:

By Jonathan Head
News, north-east Thailand

The sign to the transsexual toilet in Kampang Secondary School, north-east Thailand
A new toilet sign has been created at this Thai
With its spacious,
tree-lined grounds and slightly threadbare classrooms, there is nothing
obviously unusual about the Kampang Secondary School.

It is situated in Thailand's impoverished north-east, and most of the pupils
are the children of farmers.

Every morning at 0800 they all gather outside to sing the national anthem and
watch the flag being raised.

Then they have a chance to use the toilets, before heading off the first
classes of the day.

Kampang is proud of its toilets. Spotless, and surrounded by flowering
tropical plants, they have won national awards for cleanliness.

But there is something else about them too. Between the girls' toilet and the
boys', there is one signposted with a half-man, half-woman figure in blue and

This is the transsexual toilet, and outside, in front of the mirrors, some
decidedly girly-looking teenage boys preen their hair and apply face cream.


The headteacher, Sitisak Sumontha, estimates that in any year between 10% and
20% of his boys consider themselves to be transgender - boys who would rather be

The toilet for transsexual pupils in Kampang Secondary School, north-east Thailand
The transsexual pupils are delighted with their own

"They used to be teased every time they used the boys' toilets," he said, "so
they started using the girls' toilets instead. But that made the girls feel
uncomfortable. It made these boys unhappy, and started to affect their work."

So the school offered to build the transgender boys their own facility, and
they welcomed it.

Triwate Phamanee is a slightly built 13-year-old who is adamant that he will
one day change his gender.

"We're not boys," he told me, "so we don't want to use the boys' toilet - we
want them to know we are transsexuals."

Vichai Saengsakul, 15, agrees.

"People need to know that being a transsexual is not a joke," he says, "it's
the way we want to live our lives. That's why we're grateful for what the school
has done."

Normal treatment

The transgender boys in Kampang tend to stick together as a group, practising
their somewhat exaggerated feminine mannerisms together and generally camping it

A transsexual pupil at Kampang Secondary School, north-east Thailand
The pupils have to wear boys' uniforms, but use feminine

They still have to wear male uniforms, make-up is not allowed (although some
manage to sneak in a touch of lipstick and mascara), and of course sex-change
surgery is out of the question at this age - the youngest self-declared
transsexual is 12.

But they appear to be treated perfectly normally by other pupils and teachers

I asked the headmaster whether they were not too young to be making decisions
about their gender.

He said that, in his 35 years of working in the Thai education system, he had
come across many boys like this, and they never changed. Many go on as adults to
have sex-change surgery, while others will live as gay men, he said.

Thailand is well known for its tolerance of transgender men, and they are
very visible in everyday life. Sex-change surgery has become a speciality of the
Thai health industry, and it is relatively inexpensive; patients come here from
all over the world for the operation.

'Sweet and soft'

The Kampang school's initiative, far from stirring up controversy, has
instead prompted a discussion in other schools over whether they should be
providing the same facilities.

A ratio of 10% to 20% of boys calling themselves transsexual in a provincial
high school does seem very high, but Mr Sitisak assured me that in his
experience it was not unusual.

Transgender campaigner Suttirat Simsiriwong
When [the pupils grow up] they won't want to go into a transgender
toilet because they will want to be accepted as a woman - so they will go to the
women's toilet

Suttirat Simsiriwong

Which brought up a question that has been rattling around my head ever since
I first lived in Thailand seven years ago: Why do so many Thai men want to
become women?

I asked Suttirat Simsiriwong, who became a campaigner for transgender rights
after she was barred entry to a nightclub at an international hotel in Bangkok
last year.

Poised, articulate and very feminine, it is hard to tell that she was not
born a woman.

"Maybe the numbers of gays, of people with sexual identity issues, might be
the same as in other countries," said Suttirat, "but because Thai society and
culture tend to be very sweet, very soft, and the men can be really feminine, if
we tend to be gay, many of us tend to be transgender."

So does building a special toilet in school advance the cause of winning
wider acceptance for transsexuals?

"At that age it's good for them to have a specific place," she said.

"But when they graduate from school or university, they will know how to have
medical treatment. They won't want to go into a transgender toilet because they
will want to be accepted as a woman - so they will go to the women's toilet."

Discrimination remains

Tolerance, said Suttirat, is not the same thing as acceptance.

Despite their high profile in Thailand, transsexuals complain that they are
still stereotyped - they can find work easily enough as entertainers, in the
beauty industry, the media, or as prostitutes, but it is much harder to become a
transgender lawyer or investment banker.

And their biggest complaint is that they cannot change their legal status.

Despite a proposal during the drafting of a new constitution last year, to
allow them to change the gender on their identity cards, this has not yet been

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