Trans women are being forced to serve in the Thai army

The Thai army can be a brutal place for conscripts. Last week one conscript was beaten to death by his fellow soldiers.

7 April 2017 by Shannon Power

Trans Thai women who have not had gender reassignment surgery still have to serve in the country’s military under conscription laws.

At the age of 21 men in Thailand can either serve a voluntary six month stint in the army or risk their chances in a lottery. The annual lottery is held in April.

If they receive a black ticket in the lottery they are free to go home. But if they draw a red ticket the men are forced to serve two years.

For trans women the conscription process can be a stressful nightmare. Some consider taking their own lives to avoid serving in the army.

‘Most are stressed and worried that they will be undressed, stared at, or humiliated in public,’ Jetsada Taesombat, executive director of the Thai Transgender Alliance for Human Rights told Reuters.

Proving your gender

Exceptions are made for people with mental illness or who are not physically able to serve. Trans women are offered exemptions but have to go through a humiliating medical examination to prove they are not lying.

While trans women are generally accepted in Thailand they are not allowed to update their official documents to reflect their true gender. A doctor will examine her to check if she has breasts or had reassignment surgery to see if she is telling the truth.

If a woman has undergone surgery she is exempt for two years from serving. But if an army hospital decides a trans woman has a ‘gender identity disorder’, she is exempt for life.

Trans women said describing them as having a disorder is wrong and stigmatizing. But the army argued it has improved its attitude to trans women.

‘The army is instructed to treat and respect transgender women as women,’ Lieutenant Colonel Ongard Jamdee, who is in charge of a recruitment center told Reuters.

Thai men try to avoid serving in the army as there is a chance they could serve in the south fighting Muslim Malay separatists.

The brutal army cultural is also a deterrent for men. Last week, 10 soldiers allegedly beat to death a conscript.

This prompted Human Rights Watch to call for the end of corporal punishment in the Thai army.