Like many countries, Thailand’s military has conscription by way of a lottery. Draft day is held each April, around the time of the traditional New Year, and all men over 21 – even those who no longer consider themselves to be male – are required to attend the conscription lottery once.

Thailand is widely considered the trans capital of the world, and more gender reassignment surgery takes place there than in any other country. So Thailand’s unusually high number of trans females (kathoey or “ladyboys”) makes this conscription process somewhat unique.

When their name is called during the conscription lottery, each individual must walk up and draw a card from the ballot box. Those who pull a black card can go home; draw a red card, however, and you will undergo medical checks before potentially being drafted for two years’ service.

In practice, kathoey ladyboys are almost always exempted from military service – but they are still required to attend the lottery. Thai law forbids people changing their gender on national identification documents, so all trans women remain officially recognised as male.

Until 2011, kathoey were commonly disqualified from military service on the grounds of “mental disorder” or even “permanent insanity” – labels which, once on a person’s medical record, often hinder job prospects in a country where employers typically ask male candidates to submit documentation proving they have stood for the draft. The military now uses a straightforward phrase: “This person’s body is not consistent with their birth sex.”

For many kathoey, draft day is a humiliating experience as they are expected to prove their ineligibility for military service. The draft is open to the public, and one kathoey told GlobalPost of people climbing up to the second floor to look down at trans women undressing for medical examinations.


But these annual scenes of beautifully dressed women sitting among crowds of more conventionally male-looking recruits could come to an end sooner rather than later. A proposed amendment to Thailand’s constitution this year would give official recognition to a “third gender”, giving trans people the right to reject the gender they were assigned at birth.

Many kathoeys identify as belonging to a third gender, while others see themselves as male or female. If the proposed changes go through in August, Thailand will join Nepal, India and Pakistan in officially recognising third gender in this way. And assuming the military chooses not to conscript third gender individuals, this could enable trans women to avoid the draft entirely.


Sources: rabaQContended, GlobalPost, DAWN, Independent
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