Meet the Thai Trans Woman Who’s Breaking Barriers and Kicking Ass in Muay Thai
Nong Rose Baan Charoensuk isn’t Thailand’s first trans Muay Thai fighter – that’s Parinya ‘Nong Toom’ Charoenphol, who identifies as kathoey – but she is the first to compete at the storied Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok, where she’s won both her matches so far.
(Warning: Literally every potential source article for this piece features a transphobic quote from one of Rose’s opponents, so while I’m not putting that mess here, just be warned if you click on any of the links. Reuters’ story does have some gorgeous, life-giving pictures of Rose’s life, though (see below example), so you may also just want to scroll through for the happy without reading the text. Do what’s healthy for you.)
Rose had to rack up 150 wins – 30 by knockout – in more than 300 fights before they would allow her to fight at the stadium. She’s been boxing since she was eight years old, encouraged by her uncle and training alongside her twin brother. “Being a transgender doesn’t mean that we’re weak,” she said to Reuters. “We can achieve anything as well.”
While many media stories of brown trans women focus on struggle, Rose seems to be thriving in her career. “The crowd was clearly in her corner,” reports Reuters of her second match, “cheering wildly for her throughout.” She fights in rouge and red lipstick, as femme inside the ring as she is outside it. At the camp where she trains, she’s seen as a “great role model” for the other trainees. “Everyone respects and adores her,” said camp owner Puttipong Plukram.
It’s also true that she still faces significant barriers. At the beginning of her career, opponents would refuse to fight her. Thailand still won’t allow her (or any other trans citizens) to legally change her gender designation, despite the country’s reputation as an accepting place for trans women.
However, Rose still hopes to open a gym of her own some day, like Parinya ‘Nong Toom’ Charoenphol before her. She also had a message of hope for other trans women who face opposition in their rural communities. “They have to fall first and overcome that,” she said, “then the finish line won’t be far out of reach.”
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