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Offline thaiga

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Ladyboys on parade
« on: April 27, 2014, 12:37:19 PM »
While still legally categorised as male, Thailand’s transsexuals will continue to face problems every April, when the conscription draw rolls around

With her long hair, fair skin and delicate feminine body, Bee, a 21-year-old transsexual, draws attention wherever she goes. As much as she may appear to be a woman, Bee has had no surgery or implants, but she does take female hormones. But there are still those who see her as no different than a man with long hair.


finer faces in the crowd: Transgender women stand out among the men on the first day of conscription in Bangkok’s Ratchathewi district. Gaining exemption from conscription can be difficult. PHOTOS: Patipat Janthong

Once they reach the age of 21, every Thai born male becomes eligible for military conscription for a period of two years. Bee was not an exception. On April 1, she was one of eight transsexuals who went to report for the annual conscription draw in one Bangkok district.

Bee had not brought a doctor’s certificate that would have granted her exemption from conscription, so she found herself with all of the young topless Thai men queuing for the draw.

“I was so humiliated when the registrar asked me to take off my shirt and go and sit with the men. Many of them made fun of me and called me ‘katoey’ or ‘Toot’ [Thai slang for transvestite],” said Bee.

However, that was just the beginning of her bad experience. Since she had no breast implants, had not undergone gender reassignment surgery and did not have a doctor’s certificate stating that she had gender identity disorder, she had no choice but to follow the standard procedure that every Thai man has to do.

“It was red,” said Bee, referring to the card she drew from the box that meant she was to be conscripted. “I was in shock. My whole world stopped. Everything around me became blurry. I don’t remember much of what was going on there. The next thing I remember was that I had a paper in my hand with the date and unit I had to report to.”

Some people try to avoid conscription either by attending military school, paying bribes to the local military recruiting office, or by declaring themselves sick or unfit and thus unable to join up.

The army has never kept records of the number of transsexuals who are exempted, since they are all registered as “male”. The army classifies all men who are eligible for conscription as types one to four. Type one are healthy men who are physically and mentally ready to be conscripted. They will proceed to the next step, which is the conscription draw.

Type two are men who are not physically fit or who have had physical modifications such as breast implants or gender reassignment surgery. Type three men are unfit to serve, usually through some illness, and type four covers disabled men.

“Transsexuals can fall into any type. The army has never classified them as being transgender in official reports. They are all recognised as male,” said Col Thananat Panpremjaroen, assistant director of the Registration Division, part of the Territorial Defence Command.

“There is no record of the number for transsexuals who come to report for military conscription each year. But for each district in Thailand, there will be at least three to five transsexuals who come to be conscripted,” Col Thananat said.

This year, 550,000 Thai men reported for the conscription draw. After the screening process, 100,865 were conscripted into the military. But each year, the number of conscripts required changes. The total depends on how many each unit needs, and the Registration Division conscripts that number from around the country to fill that quota.

Even though most transsexuals are exempted from military service, Col Thananat said if the number of conscripts required is more than the number of people who are classified as type one, people who fall in the type two category will also have to be conscripted, even if they have already had surgery such as breast implants.

THE EXEMPTION

Bee’s experience was not unusual. Each year, many transsexuals across the country fail to provide enough evidence for their military recruiting committee to review in order to gain an exemption.

A transsexual who is conscripted because they don’t provide the committee with enough evidence can appeal to the senior conscription committee of the province where they are registered. The committee comprises the provincial governor and other government officials appointed by the governor.

“Transsexuals who want to appeal must bring a Sor Dor 9 or Sor Dor 43 [registration or conscription documents], and the appointment letter they were given by the recruiting unit with the specific date and unit they are to join, to the military recruitment office at their district office. Then the request will be sent to the governor’s office for consideration,” Col Thananat said.

Three categories of transgender people are recognised by the Thai army: those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery, those who have breast implants but not gender reassignment surgery and those who have not made physical changes to their bodies.

“The first two types are easy to deal with. As soon as we realise that their appearance is more like a woman, we normally issue a letter to exempt them. But the third type is difficult since their body is just like a typical man’s body. They will need to bring a doctor’s certificate saying that they have gender dysphoria. Otherwise, how is the committee to know?” Col Thananat asked.

“Just because someone shows up with long hair and acts feminine doesn’t mean they will avoid conscription without having a doctor’s certificate from one of the 19 certified military hospitals across Thailand.”

When asked if any men pretended to be transgender to avoid conscription, Col Thananat said as far as he was aware no one had ever used this excuse.

CONSCRIPTING KATOEY

The conscription process can go quite smoothly for transsexuals who are well-prepared and have all the required documentation to submit to the recruiting committee. But as well as preparing documents, they should prepare themselves for humiliation.

Meen is a 21-year-old post-operative transsexual who went to report to the military recruiting unit in Nonthaburi’s Bang Bua Thong district this year. Meen was fully aware of what she had to take with her to gain exemption.

“I had the doctor’s certificate and all the other documents ready for the committee to review. I read up about it on the internet, and found out that if I wore clothing that partly revealed my breasts, the doctor would not even ask to check anything since it would be obvious that I was a transsexual,” Meen said.

She arrived at the recruiting unit at 7am with her parents, wearing a dress that revealed a little of her upper body. She followed the instructions, submitted all her paperwork and sat in the designated area for transsexuals. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until she was called to see the doctor.

There was one man in the room who was not a doctor. He was not on the recruitment committee. Meen doesn’t know who he was. All she knows is that he was wearing military uniform and he asked her to strip. Meen asked him if that was necessary.

“He said, ‘Yes.’ He said he wanted to see how my sexual organ looked after surgery. He said he had never seen one before,” Meen said. To make things worse, the man said his friend had never seen one before, and would also like to see it.

“I felt so humiliated and I didn’t know what to do,” Meen said.

Even though it was a private section meant for physical examinations only, it was open enough for everyone to see what was going on.

Meen told the man that she had read about the conscription process and how to gain exemption on the Thai Transgender Alliance’s website, and it did not mention anything about his request.

“The man got really angry and told me he wanted to talk to whoever gave me that information. So I called P’Note [Jetsada “Note” Taesombat] from the Thai Transgender Alliance,” Meen said.

As soon as Meen made the phone call, the uniformed man walked away.

Then Meen returned to the queue and waited for the normal conscription process, without having to undress.

Col Thananat explained that only three people at a recruiting unit have the right to examine anyone’s body — the doctor, one member of the senior committee and the senior provincial military recruiter. He added that any physical examination must be done behind closed doors.

“Anyone who feels they have been violated can contact the Territorial Defence Command directly to report the incident and specify where, when and what happened. We will investigate the incident, and act accordingly,” Col Thananat said.

KEEPING IT CLINICAL

Anekvich Temboonkiat, the deputy director of psychiatry and neurology at Phramongkutklao military hospital, told Spectrum about the psychological assessment that a transsexual has to take before they report to the military recruiting unit.

People with gender identity disorder who are called for conscription must have a psychological and behaviour assessment some time between November and February, before the conscription draw starts in April.

“Ninety-six transsexuals came for assessment at our hospital this year. We sent the results to the army medical department and they pass that information on to the recruiting unit,” Dr Anekvich said.

Dr Anekvich explained that all transsexuals who come for assessment have to register as outpatients. Then they will have to answer some basic questions, mainly about their childhood and any illness they may have had in the past, he said.

Then they will meet with a psychiatrist for psychological, behavioural and physical tests, which involve a series of true or false questions and some images. Altogether, there are more than 500 questions in the test.

The psychiatrist will interview them and evaluate them. A final review of the results is made by three psychiatrists, including the one who conducted the original tests. Within a week after that, the results will be sent to the army medical department and to the patient, to take to the recruiting unit.

Dr Anekvich explained that the reason there are so many questions in the assessment is that there is no simple tool to evaluate transsexualism. The evaluation is done purely based on the person’s history, and the test is only there to verify whether what they say during the interview is true.

Until 2012, the military did not document the number of transsexuals considered to be type two (men who are not physically fit or who have physical modifications).

“A revolution is under way,” Dr Anekvich said. “Ten years ago, we classified the transgendered as mentally ill. Today we classify their condition as gender identity disorder.”

There will still be people who try to humiliate them, or make them feel different. But Dr Anekvich said that in the near future, transsexuals would be recognised and accepted as women.

“Decades ago, transsexualism was considered a mental illness. Those who came up for conscription were classified as type four, which means disabled people,” Dr Anekvich said.

Now that the human rights and equality issues have been raised among people with diverse sexuality, the military classifies them as type two, which are people who are not physically ready for military duty.

“The pro is that transsexuals now have the same rights as other genders. But the con is they may still have to complete military service if the number of people classified as type one is not enough,” Dr Anekvich said.

Dr Anekvich said that since they had started testing to confirm a transsexual’s status, no one had tried to fake their status.

“All who come in for assessment are genuine transsexuals, and all of them pass the test,” he said.

People who really benefit from the assessment are transsexuals who have not had gender reassignment surgery.

Dr Anekvich said that the results of the assessment will confirm their status and make it less complicated when they go to report at the recruiting unit.

“The only problem we have had since starting our assessments is that they are not widely known about," he said.

"There are still many people who don’t know that they have to do this before going to report at the recruiting unit. I hope there will be more transsexuals coming for assessment as time goes by.”

PSYCHE TEST

Nan is a 25-year-old transsexual who recently attended the conscription draw for her registered address in Surin province. While other transsexuals have faced humiliation, Nan had a very different experience.

“Everyone treated me nicely. I imagined it was going to be worse, but it was not bad at all. When I arrived, an army officer escorted me to sit behind all the topless men. They offered me food and drink. They were all very friendly to me,” Nan said.

Nan did a lot of research before she came to the conscription unit and knew exactly what she had to prepare. She went to get a doctor’s certificate from Phramongkutklao military hospital.

Ms Jetsada of the Thai Transgender Alliance told Spectrum that she took many transsexuals there for the psychological test in order to have a doctor issue the certificate to give to the committee at the military recruiting unit.

The first step was the pre-screening process, which involves a social worker asking some basic questions. This was followed by a lengthy psychological assessment and a final evaluation by a psychiatrist.

“This final step determines whether someone is a real transsexual or not. The doctor told me most cases will pass the test,” Ms Jetsada said.

Nan said that the assessment took the whole day. She said she went to the hospital at 8am and she was not finished until after 3pm. She then waited three weeks for the results.

Col Thananat advises any transsexual who has not had surgery to get a doctor’s certificate from a military hospital in order to claim their right to an exemption. If they are due to attend the conscription draw next year, they can go for assessment at any time from November this year until February next year.

“It will be more complicated to wait to get tested at the recruiting unit on the day, since the doctor at the unit won’t have the time to assess them thoroughly. If the doctors are not sure, they will let that person enter the draft lottery. If they get a black card, they’re automatically exempt. But if they draw red, and are given a Sor Dor 43, they will have to accept it and appeal later.”

TREAT THEM LIKE YOUR SISTER

Col Thananat said that since last year, all military recruiting units in Thailand followed the new procedures for transgender people. There is a special section for them to sit while waiting to be called, which is separate from the men.

The physical examination room is separate from the main area, and is in a closed room that no one can see into.

“I ordered everyone to think of all the transgender potential conscripts as their own sisters. They should all be treated with respect,” Col Thananat said.

He has passed this order on to all recruitment units, but he acknowledged that there are still some units that are failing to follow his instructions, and he has promised to try his best to prevent bad incidents from happening.

“So far, we haven’t received any reports or complaints from any transsexuals regarding military conscription. We haven’t done anything different from last year, when we started to change the way we treat transsexuals who come to the recruiting units,” Col Thananat said.

The military usually doesn’t care too much about the physical appearance of recruits. What they care more about is their hearts.

“If you’re ready, if you think you can handle the pressure and discipline, then this is the perfect place for you to learn to be a man,” Col Thananat said.

"But if your heart is more likely to lean to the female side, we can categorise you as being ‘healthy man, type two’, which means you are exempt due to having gender identity disorder.

“We do have some people who act effeminate but are still conscripted into the forces. We have no problem accepting them. Besides, they seem to adjust well,” he added.

But what has happened to Bee?

After she found out that she had the right to appeal and gain an exemption from conscription, Bee contacted the Thai Transgender Alliance.

With a little help from Ms Jetsada, who tries to help all transsexuals facing problems with conscription, all Bee has to do now is wait to hear the result of her appeal to the military recruitment office.  bangkokpost
Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.

 



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