‘The Face’ hands transgenders a welcome chance

This week, The Face Thailand, the reality model contestant show, will feature the remaining nine contestants, including transgender model Natachat Chanchiew, after fellow transgender model Chananchida Rungpetcharat, a runner-up in Miss Tiffany Universe 2013, was eliminated from the competition last week.

It is the first time that the reality model competition has allowed transgenders to compete alongside other aspiring female models. More than 1,000 female and transgender aspiring models took part in the auditions until the final 15 were selected nine weeks ago.

The inclusion of transgender participants has spiced up the programme famed for its sass and catfights, drawing millions of viewers every week on Channel 3 and YouTube. The question remains, however, if the programme will actually help change the discriminatory perception of transgenders among viewers.

Sunday recently interviewed Nalin Satearrujikanon, one of the transgender applicants to the show, to find the answer. With a toned body and tanned skin, Nalin, 23, looks every bit the part of a professional female model, though she was born a man. She was noted as the one to watch during the early round of the contest, with about 15,000 Facebook followers and 11,000 Instagram followers. Eventually, she did not make it to the final 15. But that doesn’t matter now — she’s received more modelling jobs since The Face helped boost her profile.

Nalin nonetheless said transgender people tend to be subjected to awkward conversation. “Sometimes, people ask me if I had cut my penis off,” she said. She did not say whether she did. But she was obviously annoyed by the question.

“I’ve known I was gay for as long as I can remember. I was never interested in girls. My parents knew. My mom even gave me a girly haircut and dressed me up as a girl,” she said.

There were times when she was confused about her sexual orientation — largely because of insufficient sex education. “When I asked people [about sex], they dodged the questions. Thais often view sex as a taboo topic,” she said.

Once her uncle who was in the army found out that his nephew was gay, Nalin was beaten up as punishment. At that time, she didn’t understand why her uncle had to punish her for who she was. Nalin, at any rate, decided to come out after entering Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University to study fashion design at the faculty of fine and applied arts.

“When I first wore a female university uniform, it completely changed my attitude — I could never go back to dressing like a guy again,” said Nalin.

Nalin attributed people’s perception of transgenders to the media’s portrayal of LGBT people. “They rarely portray us as who we are or the suffering and obstacles that we have to go through. We are misunderstood. My uncle didn’t know and he didn’t like me being gay. It was not an easy decision to come out.”

The media shows LGBT people in the way that straight people want to see them. “We are depicted as funny most of the time. LGBT people are perceived as comical sidekicks, but they are not taken seriously,” Nalin said.

“Compared to other countries, Thailand is considered quite open for the LGBT community, but it has still has some way to go,” said Wipavee Phongpin, a gender expert from Thammasat University’s faculty of sociology and anthropology.

Discrimination still happens in Thailand. Due to the lack of concrete laws against discrimination on gender identity and the fear of rejection from family members and the public, most LGBT people in Thailand choose to conceal their sexual orientation and identity, she said.

Even though Thailand hosts Miss Tiffany Universe, a popular transgender beauty pageant, the transgenders who were allowed to join the contest do not get treated simply as women.

The third season of The Face Thailand is the first female model reality contest show that allows transgenders to participate. It is not only a tactic used by producers to draw in viewers, but it has also raised the question of whether it would make people treat transgender people better in society.

“Actually, this question answers itself. When we see transpeople being treated as unequal in the first place, how can this be fair? If this question is asked, it means there’s still inequality,” said Anucha Phimsen, a transgender fan of The Face Thailand.

She added that if people judge transgender women as male, this is unfair. Everyone is a human being and they should be judged by their own capabilities, rather than their gender identity and sexual orientation, she insists.

Ms Wipavee agreed that the new policy of The Face Thailand might not solve the root problem of gender equality, but it can help raise awareness of the LGBT community.

In Thailand, there is an absence of laws governing child adoption by homosexual couples and same-sex marriages, resulting in cases of gender-based discrimination.

It helps that transgenders can compete equally with born women on The Face Thailand, a popular TV show. The presence of transgender contestants has already raised a debate on the issue.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a step towards more equal rights for all LGBT people,” said Kanticha Chumma, the winner from The Face Thailand season 2.

beauty of equality: Anucha Phimsen, a transgender fan of ‘The Face Thailand’.

role models: Celebrity judges of ‘The Face Thailand’, the popular model contestant show now featuring transgender contestants.

Article source: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1229528/the-face-hands-transgenders-a-welcome-chance