• Potential draftees line up to register during the annual military draft in Bangkok on April 5, 2017 (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)Source: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images
One draftee told local Thai media, "I don't want to be a soldier. I want to be a woman."
Chloe Sargeant

11 Apr 2017 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 11 Apr 2017 - 10:48 AM

Every April, Thailand holds an annual draft day: every Thai man aged 21 years of age or over has the choice of serving six voluntary months in the military, or taking part in the annual lottery. If they are chosen, they must serve two years.

Standing alongside thousands of men at every drafting event are several transgender women. They are required to attend the lottery service too, regardless of the fact that they identify as women. This is partly because Thai law does not allow citizens to change their gender on identification documents. 

Trans women can receive exemption certificates, although some do get caught in the system and end up having to serve for their required two years.

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This year, a group of transgender women (known in Thailand as katoeys, or 'ladyboys' - although this is considered a slur in Western society) were photographed in line at draft events in Phayao, Phrae and Korat. This included Patra Wirunthanaki, known better as Nadia - the former Miss Mimosa Queen of Thailand [pictured below]. 

Another participant, Rusanan Reuanmoon, told Thai Visa: "I don't want to be a soldier. I want to be a woman. I'm not 100 per cent yet as I haven't had my extra bits removed".

Activist group Thai Transgender Alliance for Human Rights ramp up their work leading up to April every year, in order to provide support to trans women who are fearful of having to serve. 

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Executive director of the Alliance, Jetsada Taesombat, told Reuters that suicide rates rise dramatically in the trans community around the lottery period, because trans women would "rather take their lives" than be drafted: “Most are stressed and worried that they will be undressed, stared at, or humiliated in public."

“Most are stressed and worried that they will be undressed, stared at, or humiliated in public."

The exemption that trans women can receive comes with risk, and often, potential mental harm. Some only receive it if doctors have diagnosed them with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) - a status that activists deem stigmatising. Other trans women, particularly ones that have not had Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), can be offered exemption, but only after they are forced to undergo long, arduous, and often embarrassing medical examinations and mental tests in order to 'prove' their transgender identity is real.

After a trans woman undergoes SRS, she is exempt from military service for the following two years - or if diagnosed with GID, she can be exempt for life. 

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However, in 2017, members of the government, the LGBTQI activism community, and the media all met before draft day to discuss guidelines for coverage of the event, and trans recruitment in general. Despite Thailand often being considered a very accepting country for transgender people and having the highest rates of Sex Reassignment Surgery in the world, many trans women find the process "stressful" because the media turns their attendance into a joke.

Despite all of this, the Thai government says that the military recruitment process is changing, and is slowly becoming less and less harmful, stressful, and dangerous for transgender women.

Lieutenant Colonel Ongard Jamdee, a Bangkok recruitment officer, said to Reuters (regarding transgender women who get caught in the system), that “the army is instructed to treat and respect transgender women as women”.

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