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This page has been created as "fair usage" entirely to allow assessment and appreciation, by those concerned with the subject, of the unique portrayal of teenage transsexuality in the article, especially by young people affected themselves, their relatives, friends, medical personnel, policy-makers and academics. All copyrights are wholely acknowledged.




© Nation Multimedia Group, 2002
44 Moo 10 Bang Na-Trat KM 4.5, Bang Na district, Bangkok 10260 Thailand







Jan 17, 2002

Her Own Woman

By Aree Chaisatien and Thaweechai Jaowattana

Does your body belong to you? For transsexual and renowned makeup artist Pansit Sukarom, aka Pok, it definitely did not. She experienced excruciating pain before the happy realisation that her body belonged to her - and not to society.
      Like male students at the Faculty of Communication Arts at Rajabhat Institute, Pra Nakorn, Pansit "Pok" Sukarom wore pants. However, like most female students, she had breasts, curved hips and beautiful long hair. In order not to look like a girl who was privileged to wear pants, she was allowed to wear skirts.
      For four years Pok lived with this feminine look, thinking that this was her real self.
      But then came graduation day. Since her degree would be conferred by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Pok was told she would have to have her hair cut short and dress like a man in order to receive her degree. It was an extreme form of discrimination against "second-typed women" such as Pok. She chose to disappear from the ceremony.
      That was 10 years ago. But actually, Pok's "disappearing act" began much earlier. Brought up in a well-to-do family with freedom to do anything she wanted, she had a happy childhood. But it was only when she was asked, "Hey, are you a katoey? or "Are you a tua-dam?" that Pok began to feel she was abnormal. ("Katoey" refers to transvestites and transsexuals, while "tua dam" literally means "black bean", a Thai slang for homosexual.)
      She began to wonder what a katoey really was. "I doubted myself whether I was a 'katoey', and what a 'katoey' does to be called that," recalls the personable Pok.
      The answer, she learned, is that "katoey" in many people's minds, signifies a physical disability, or behaviour that deviates from the 'normal'.
      Even now, all studies on the topic in Thailand, be they medical, psychological or sociological, continue to be narrow- minded, according to Pok. "In-department research, even by professors, on types of 'katoey', the reasons for being 'katoey', to effects on health such as Aids, reflect discrimination, so that one must be 'normal', as opposed to 'katoey', which is 'abnormal','' comments Pok, now a graduate student of Women's Studies at Thammasat University.
Thammasat University, Bangkok

      Quite often Pok wondered why a person who lives an ordinary life and never does anything wrong toward others is often hurt, intentionally or otherwise. "I was always seen as 'other', even in Women's Studies classes," says Pok, referring to her course at Thammasat - one of only two universities in Thailand to offer this relatively new Master degree programme.
      According to the course curriculum, the programme is designed "to build a society of critiques, with acceptance of diversity and to understand the social phenomenon today's women and men are experiencing".
      Pok is among the first batch of students in search of this new discourse. And yet, she has found that her 'otherness' continues to be an issue among her classmates.
      "'Come, come in together,' was how a female friend put it when we were going to the ladies' room. And that hurt. To me, it means that I am still other," explains Pok.
      "Another painful incident was when I received a welcome card from a friend with an illustration of a small white tower in a lush jungle and a heart-striking sentence: 'I am glad that you are courageous to study in the course. You will no longer feel lonely like this tower,'" she continues. "But I don't think I am brave at all. Again, I was located as other."
      But these were minor quibbles compared to an incident that drove her to tears. "In the class, when students were divided into five groups with one male student, I was one of those who was given the title 'Mr'. I suddenly realised that I was counted as one of them," she said. "My first instinct was to walk out and not to come back here again."
      And yet, thanks to the course, Pok says she has learned that her public identity was just one in a series of all-powerful, socially-constructed dichotomies that govern most people's behaviour: male vs female, normal vs abnormal, us vs them. "Just recently I has realised that I was framed," she says.
      "I used to dress in line with the transsexual's long-standing motto: 'Long hair is the diamond crown for all transsexuals'. Every feature from head to toe - like the face, breasts, hair and hips - must look perfect (from surgery), so that real women can't compete," she says.

Katoey girls in a Thai shopping mall

      For years Pok stuck to the image, including wearing skirts and high-heeled shoes. "More often than not, people say 'You are so beautiful', or 'Your complexion looks very feminine'," illustrates Pok, who now happily claims to have found her new identity-short hair, unisex clothes like T- shirts, jeans and flat shoes.
      But it is not only her look that was 'framed'. She was also categorised by career. "People look at our beauty, not our ability. Careers designated (by society) for transsexuals and gays revolve around beauty, and I followed [this mentality]." For a decade, Pok trained herself to perfection in her profession as a makeup artist for renowned Praew magazine. She has just returned from a fashion shoot in Singapore.

Praew Front Cover 2 Praew Front Cover 1
Front covers of Praew magazine, said to be Thailand's 'Vogue', not necessarily showing the make-up artist work of Pansit Sukarom

      Despite a promising and lucrative career with a full working schedule seven days a week, she admits that it is not her real calling. "As a child, I dreamed of being a lawyer but I learned that my image would never solicit any respect. But my present career is OK. It helps me stand on my own feet."
      These days, the stigma and the pain are relics of the past. Now Pok is looking beyond the 'frame' into the future with her new-found identity. "Thanks to the theory of 'Politics of location', relocating myself as 'subject', not 'object', has opened up a whole new world for me. I can represent an alternative identity of transsexuals. Although the society as a whole can't be changed in the near future, women who see me will accept me as a trendy beauty professional while men can easily approach me without fearing to be seen as womanising," she says.
      Understanding, not sympathy, is what Pok expects from society. "See me as an ordinary human being who has equal rights to lead a life. An ordinary, capable human being, " she adds with a smile.
      Her hope for a more pluralistic society now lies with future generations. "I wish to be an expert on the science I am studying, in the hope that it will be useful for those who travel the same road."


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