Thai army: transgender conscripts no longer "insane"

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A sign outside a Thai nightclub reads "NO ENTRY: transgenders, queers or bar girls. Only those with good manners may enter." Despite Thailand's reputation for broad acceptance of transgenders, discrimination is common in both society and the job market.

Draft-age transgender Thais rejoice: your military will no longer deem you "permanently insane."

Thailand's military, which forces all young men into a conscription lottery, has traditionally dismissed as "insane" any would-be conscript who shows up with long hair and hormone-enhanced breasts.

This is a dilemma somewhat unique to Thailand, known for its large number of transgender females or "katoeys": those born as males who live as women.

The issue was explored at length in "The Lovely Conscripts," published by GlobalPost last year.

But kathoeys have now successfully pressured the military to drop its "insanity" label. This designation is more than just insulting, they say. It goes on a permanent record that all potential employers expect of applicants. As you might imagine, it's harder to find a job when you're labeled by the state as a total psycho.

The new term, according to the Bangkok Post, is "gender identity disorder." Still a disorder, yes, but remarkably less disparaging.

Politically active kathoeys have badgered the military on this issue since 2006, when a hotel receptionist nicknamed "Sweetwater" began insisting the insanity label was sabotaging her career options.

“Don’t they understand this ruins our lives?” she told GlobalPost last year. “It’s stuck to our record. Even if we’re opening a bank account, or trying to get a visa to some foreign country, people see that I’m supposedly insane.”

What the terminology shift doesn't address, however, is the groping and ogling katoeys often experience when they submit for conscription exams.

“The army doctor, this young guy, brought me into a small curtained room,” said another kathoey in GlobalPost's "Lovely Conscripts" article.  “There were people climbing up to the second floor to look inside, hoping to see some sexy scene. A lot of people attend these events just for fun. Of course, transgenders are the highlight.”