Trans community still faces violence

Trans community still faces violence

Photo via Gov.UK
Photo via Gov.UK

Today, a large number of transgender people appear to be vulnerable to sexual violence which is largely driven by prejudice against transsexualism.

Such prejudice is reflected in two familiar lines of thought found among some Thais who say that transsexualism can be "fixed" and that trans men can alternate their sexual identity to what they had at birth. These opinions, which may sound innocuous, somehow imply the acceptance of the use of sexual violence and rape by some men as a tool to force such change.

While this form of violence has existed for a long time, most, if not all, transsexual people who are victims of sexual violence and rape have no wish to file charges against their assailants. This is because they, like women in rape cases, are made to feel shame and have a tendency to blame themselves for such crimes. Such shamefulness stems not only from being raped but also from the fact that they are humiliated for not being able to compete with men. For these reasons, they can never protect themselves and after all, due to their anatomies, they are still women.

More importantly, some rape victims who become pregnant are forced to accept their womanhood or motherhood and are made to live in fear, frustration and shame.

In two cases of rape in a province in the North two young transsexual persons were forced to marry their assailants. In the first case, the family of the rapist wanted their son to marry the victim, who was a minor, in order for him to gain immunity from legal action; while the victim's family saw marriage as a way to save face. In the other case, a young victim was raped by a male friend and became pregnant. Finally, she had to drop out from school and, at the age of 18, became a single mom. It should be noted that the families of both victims saw the rape-pregnancies as way to force the victims to accept their womanhood, rather than accept their daughters' gender identities.

The vulnerability of trans people as victims of sexual violence can be linked to social prejudice and homophobia because these people do not live up to traditional expectations of women in a heterosexual society. Their masculinity, with women as their lovers, may cause some men to feel humiliated. At the same time, some trans men think they can act like, and gain recognition from, other men. Some may believe -- wrongly -- that their manly appearance may save them from being sexually harassed like other women.

But rape or sexual violence is not about a woman's outward appearance or sex appeal. It has more to do with power, and the desire to infringe on one's rights, including when it comes to choosing a sexual identity different from one's assigned sex. The problem is that many still regard transsexualism as an illness that needs to be "cured" and refuse to accept choices of those acting opposite to their assigned sex. This makes some men think they have excuses to sexually harm trans people to "fix" or change them into real women.

Unlike in South Africa, where homophobic rape is rampant, with increasing trends as a large number of men still want to use violence to force trans people to abandon their sexual identity, there are no official surveys or studies about this problem in Thailand. This is probably because related agencies do not find the issue particularly important.

But it seems that quite a few people would say they have heard of, or known about, such cases in their communities. This is not to mention cases of forced marriage in some families that want their children to become "normal" women. In general, we can say trans people feel they are vulnerable to violence and for that reason they are not able to be themselves.

The concerns of trans people may be fuelled by news reports or stories from their friends. Recently some video clips emerged showing the rape of trans people. The rapes allegedly occurred because some men were offended with the victims' masculinity. The clips were intended to act as a warning to trans people and make them aware of their vulnerabilities. The content depicts the male-domineering attitude of those responsible.

On the surface, Thailand sees itself as an open society where trans people have no difficulty in revealing their sexual identity. But in reality, as long as the public appears to accept the humiliation of trans people, as well as the problematic phrases that suggest the use of violence to force trans people to give up their identity, we are still far from a solution.

Sulaiporn Chonwilai is an independent researcher. She wrote this article to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17.

Sulaiporn Chonwilai

Independent researcher

Sulaiporn Chonwilai is an independent researcher. She wrote this article to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17.

Do you like the content of this article?