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The Muay Thai transgender boxer winning the fight for acceptance

Thailand is widely seen as a paradise for LGBT people, but many say they are treated as second-class citizens

Credit to the independent

Athit Perawongmetha

Friday 4 August 2017 16:46

Clad in a pink tank top and shorts, her face made up with rouge and red lipstick, Nong Rose Baan Charoensuk, a transgender Muay Thai fighter, is a formidable opponent.

Just ask Karun “Priewpak” Kaemlam, a male fighter who lost a thrilling five-round match to Rose, as she is generally known, last month.

“I wasn’t able to fight her strength and big build,” Priewpak says.

“She fights like a man because she is really a man,” adds Priewpak, who suffered a gash above his right eye in the fight at Rajadamnern Stadium in the Thai capital.

It was the second consecutive win for Rose in the revered Muay Thai arena after becoming the first transgender boxer to fight there in June.

The crowd was clearly in her corner, cheering wildly for her throughout.

“Being a transgender doesn’t mean that we’re weak,” Rose says. “We can achieve anything as well.”

The 21-year-old started boxing at eight, following in the footsteps of an uncle, a Muay Thai fighter who encouraged her to train. Her twin brother also takes part in the sport.

Born Somros Polchareon, Rose says she identified as a woman at an early age and began wearing make-up and a sports bra in the ring.

In the rural towns where she has done most of her fighting, her appearance has disconcerted some of her male opponents.

“They would say they didn’t want to fight with a gay person, as it would be embarrassing if they won or lost,” she says.

“I still face those insults, but I don’t care about them.”

Shape Created with Sketch. Five rounds with Bangkok’s trans boxing superstar

left Created with Sketch. right Created with Sketch.

Thailand is widely seen as a paradise for gay and transgender people, but many say they are treated as second-class citizens.

Transgender women figure on television, in beauty pageants and at hair salons and cosmetics counters, but they cannot change their gender on identity papers, despite a 2015 law against gender-based discrimination.

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After more than 300 fights, racking up 30 of her 150 wins through knockouts, Rose says she was finally allowed to fight at Rajadamnern Stadium.

Puttipong Plukram, the owner of the camp in the province of Buriram where Rose trains, calls her a “great role model”, citing her diligence in chores and training.

“Everyone respects and adores her,” says Puttipong.

Rose is not Thailand’s first transgender boxer. That was Parinya “Nong Toom” Charoenphol, the subject of the 2004 film Beautiful Boxer. Toom eventually ran a boxing school and Rose hopes to do the same one day.

Rose also aspires to be an ambassador for Muay Thai around the world, and urges transgender boxers in rural areas not to be discouraged by early setbacks.

“They have to fall first and overcome that, then the finish line won’t be far out of reach.” 



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