A rural Thai secondary school recently opened a third toilet, between the boys and the girls rooms, for students who feel they are transsexuals. A BBC story last week on the new arrangement in the community of Kampang includes a photo of the icon for the transgendered toilet: a human figure representing half a boy on the right in blue and half a girl on the left in red.
The head teacher at the school, Sitisak Sumontha, told the BBC reporter that between 10 and 20 percent of the boys in the school at any one time consider themselves to be transgendered. When these children used the boys’ room they would be teased, and when they used the girls’ room, the girls would be uncomfortable. So the school built the transgendered facility, which pleased everyone. The initiative in Kampang has prompted other schools in Thailand to consider making similar changes.
The Kampang students themselves seem to be happy with the development. Triwate Phamanee, a 13-year old, indicates that he will one day have his sex changed. “We’re not boys,” he said, “so we don’t want to use the boys’ toilet—we want them to know we are transsexuals.” Another youngster, Vichai Saengsakul, 15, adds, “People need to know that being a transsexual is not a joke; it’s the way we want to live our lives. That’s why we’re grateful for what the school has done.”
A news story in May 2005 that was widely carried in the international press reported on the popularity of a transsexual and transvestite beauty contest held each year in rural Thailand. The BBC report last week confirms the impression that Thailand is highly tolerant of transgendered men, who are very visible in Thai life. Sex-change surgery is one of the specialties of the Thai medical establishment, which attracts men who desire such operations from all over the world.
The author of the BBC piece observed that all of the students in the school as well as the teachers appeared to treat the transgendered youngsters quite well. They tend to hang out together and practice their feminine mannerisms as a group, though they still are required to wear the traditional uniform of males and they’re not allowed to use make-up. Sex change surgery is, of course, not an option for the teenagers.
The headmaster, who has worked for 35 years as an educator in Thailand, says he has seen many transsexuals over the years. Some will go on to have sex change operations, while others will become gay men. All are tolerated, in contrast to the overt hostility and violence that sometimes prevails in the United States, and many other countries, against boys and men who are openly gay.
A judge in California last week ruled, in a case that has received many headlines in the U.S. media, that a 14 year old boy from Oxnard, California, who shot and killed an openly gay 15 year old classmate in their junior high school back in February, will be tried in court as an adult.