Two female-to-male transsexuals open up about the difficulties they have faced with their sexuality, families, and winning acceptance
Female-to-male (F2M) transsexuals, also referred to as transmen, face a lonely existence in Thai society.
Shunned by loved ones and looked on as fake men by outsiders, they often fall prey to emotional and physical abuse by their parents, teachers and peers. Severe depression is a common illness most find themselves experiencing.
Two courageous and outspoken transmen who have beaten the odds to tell their story are Kritipat Chotidhanitsakul and Parit Chomchuen. Only after both left home and became financially independent did they decide to live openly as transmen. While happy to finally come out to the world, they are still alienated by a society which pays little heed towards their wellbeing.
Both men candidly told their sexual awakening stories, saying that they encountered a severe state of emotional discomfort caused by the incongruity they felt between their physical sex and their gender identity before they hit puberty.
Kritipat, 29, a television producer and creative events executive, said he knew as a five-year-old that he hated his female body. The only child of an engineer father and doctor mother, he encountered stiff opposition and emotional blackmail from his family, who did everything in their power to persuade him to stay a woman, before he was able to start his transition from F2M five years ago.
Kritipat, who claims Thai doctors are more knowledgeable about male-to-female transsexual health issues than those of transmen, began administering testosterone injections on himself after extensive internet research about F2M transitions, and a failed attempt to gather medical information on the topic within the country.
He once consulted a reputed medical surgeon, who is known for conducting sex-change operations on transwomen, about taking testosterone injections. Kritipat was rather shocked when the medical practitioner in question Googled the brand of the testosterone and the dosage he had brought along for him to see. This incident made him feel uncertain about putting his trust in Thai doctors, and he pursued the issue on his own.
While it is illegal to purchase such hormones over the counter, he was able to find a pharmacy where he could buy the androgenic hormone which would produce masculine secondary-sex characteristics: facial hair growth, deepening of the voice, increased body hair growth, and increased muscle development. He was thrilled with the results, saying people didn't mistake him for a girl anymore. Already having had his breasts removed, his next aim is to save enough money to undergo sex reassignment surgery, also known as a sex-change operation, which would cost him 500,000 baht or more. But going against the wishes of his parents was an uphill task.
"My parents were up in arms when they knew I was determined to live the life of a man," said Kritipat, who dates straight women whom he often has to explain the term transman to.
"They pulled every trick in the book to make certain that I stayed a woman. I went through much emotional upheaval because I just couldn't give in to their wishes because of the internal turmoil I had with my female body and gender identity of a man."
Already suffering from low self-esteem and depression, things went from bad to worse for Kritipat when his mother rebuked him for being an embarrassment to her. While his relationship with his parents has gradually improved through the years, the topic of his gender identity is simply not up for discussion at family gatherings.
For 40-year-old Parit, life also proved to be a daily struggle. There was utter pandemonium when it became apparent to his mother that her only daughter's desire for manly looks, attire and behaviour was not a passing phase.
Thinking as a man, Parit questioned silently in his heart why he felt trapped in a woman's body. With no resources to fall back on to explain his dilemma, coupled with demands from family to stop his insistence on wanting to behave like a man, he recalls vividly how he slipped into depression almost instantaneously, becoming reserved and distant towards people at an age when he was meant to enjoy life.
"My mother kept a strict eye on me and I was made to grow my hair long," reminisced Parit, who works as a distributor for a company manufacturing nutritional and personal care products.
"While I did my best to go along with the wishes of my family, there was one time that I dressed up for a family outing like a boy, and all hell broke loose. My mother became so enraged to see me in that attire that she slapped me across the face, reminding me that if I couldn't conform to the normal way of behaving there would be no room for me in the family. I knew by then that I had to wait to be financially independent to openly come out as a transman."
Parit has no plans to take hormones to look manlier than he already does, saying the risks involved in doing so at his age were not worth it. But he is rather satisfied with binding, a process of flattening the breasts in order to create a male-looking chest.
Kritipat and Parit credit Anjaree, a lesbian support group working for women's sexual rights and lives without fear of discrimination from their families, for offering them a lifeline where they were made comfortable in their gender identity.
For people who are uncertain whether they are butch lesbians or transmen, Parit said to ask themselves if they felt happy in the body they were born.
''You can dress up dude-like, but still be comfortable in the gender you were born in,'' he noted.
From personal experience, they said F2M transsexuals faced daily bigoted taunts and slurs and prejudiced attitudes from co-workers, friends and teachers. Moreover, what is most ironic about this is that sometimes the obsessive ragging comes from people who are gay themselves.
Educators should also adopt a more compassionate and understanding heart in their efforts to understand the varied gender identities that occur within their student body. Making them feel like outcasts in front of their peers will do more emotional damage than good, and is very difficult to undo, they said.
''It is high time this uncalled for behaviour stops,'' said Kritipat. ''Being called a fake man, aunty or sister for us is not a laughing matter.'' While he blames the media for stereotyping anyone who is not a straight male or female, he does believe that they can also play a positive role in educating people about gender diversity, especially F2M issues that people are still ignorant about.
Parit, who is also an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, shared his take on the topic, saying: ''We have to learn to respect the basic human rights of each other. Oftentimes our rights have been infringed on, and the perpetrators think it is all in good humour.
''I was once told of an incident where a transman was in an accident and was semi-conscious when the ambulance came to take him to the hospital. Instead of checking the victim's wallet to decipher the gender of the patient, the male nurse didn't think he was violating the injured person's rights when he put his hand in the undergarments of the victim to check if he was a man or woman. The female nurse who had accompanied him to the accident site found her colleague's actions to be funny.''
As fellow humans, it is a matter of great importance to remember that each of us is different, and the best way to educate ourselves about transgender people is to be inquisitive, respectful and to keep an open mind.