Transgender Thai boxer advances equality blow by blow
A 21-year-old transgender Muay Thai fighter from central Thailand known as “Little Rose” is breaking down barriers blow by blow as he prepares for his first international fight next week in Paris against the French Muay Thai champion, saying his success as a fighter is showing the world that trans people “are not weak.”
“When I started fighting, I was afraid that people would not accept me,” Nong (Little) Rose, whose real name is Somros Polcharoen, told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency after a sparring session at a gym in Thailand.
Thailand has long had a reputation for greater tolerance of LGBTQ people, although some discrimination does exist. And despite some bumps along the road, that tolerance has also extended to LGBTQ participation in sports, even blood sports and martial arts.
In the 1990s, several “kathoey”, defined roughly as effeminate men or transgender men, earned their way on to the Thai national volleyball team. Overcoming initial resistance from sporting officials, they played alongside the rest of the team with great camaraderie. Their story was turned into a hit movie in Thailand named Satree Lex, or The Iron Ladies.
Nong Rose is also not the first kathoey Muay Thai fighter. That ground was broken in the late 1990s by Parinya Charoenphol, known as “Nong Toom”, who fought his way from the provinces to the Mecca of Muay Thai, Lumpini Stadium in Bangkok. He went on to fight matches in Japan before leaving the sport to have gender reassignment surgery. Since then, she has become an actress, country singer and runs Muay Thai gyms in Pattaya and Pranburi.
An award-winning film was also made about Nong Toom entitled Beautiful Boxer.
Unlike Nong Toom, Nong Rose has a twin brother, Somrak Polcharoen. “Since we were little ones, we used to fight, but she was always stronger than me,” Somrak told AFP.
Rose was taught how to box when she was eight years old in her rural village by her uncle who was a professional Muay Thai fighter. Fighting there was easy and she was accepted because every one knew her there, she said. But when she began fighting in other towns and provinces, some of her opponents were upset, offended and rattled by her appearance.
Like Nong Toom, Nong Rose wears makeup in the ring. But Nong Rose has achieved something that eluded Nong Toom – she has fought at Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok, the oldest and most revered venue for the sport.
A booking at Rajadamnern did not, however, come quickly or easily. Nong Rose has had roughly 300 fights in her career, winning at least 150 by knockout.
Now it’s on to Paris and, hopefully, acclaim and success on the international stage. Nong Rose said she would like to become an ambassador for Muay Thai around the world. And she urges other kathoey to conquer their fears and go after any goals their hearts desire.
“They have to fall first and overcome that, then the finish line won’t be far out of reach,” Nong Rose told Reuters news agency.
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