Portrayals of Transgendered and Gay Males in Thai Movies 6
Ladyboys, Drag Queens, and Gay Men on the Thai Silver Screen
By Chanon Intramart and Eric Allyn
Most people would say that the last thing they would ever expect to see is a gà′tuhy in the championship-boxing ring. But that is exactly what happened in 1998. Wearing makeup, including lipstick, and a headband to keep his long hair back, a 16-year-old Parinya Jaroenpol ปริญญา เจริญผล entered the ring at Lumpini Boxing Stadium. After winning 22 professional fights—18 by knockouts—in the Thailand’s Northern boxing region, the young gà′tuhy boxer debuted at the arena that every Muay Thai boxer dreams of reaching.
The night before, he touched the hearts of the nation, when he broke into tears when he was told to completely strip for the preflight weigh-in. “The rule is unacceptable,” the shy Parinya sobbed. “How can I strip naked in public?” Boxing regulators relented and allowed him to be weighed wearing underwear.
On February 24, 1998, Nong Dhoom น้องตุ้ม, as his fans would call him, beat a cocky opponent, leaving him with a gash to the left eyelid. History was made that night and the young boxer who said he felt like a woman inside would rivet not only Thailand but also the world.
Better known as Nong Dhoom น้องตุ้ม, Parinya was born in Thailand’s capital, but his poor family moved to the Northern Thai province of Chieng Mai when he was seven. He fourth in a family of four boys and one girl, Nong Dhoom’s parents accepted their son’s effeminacy.
When Nong Dhoom was 13, he and his siblings went to a temple fair to support their younger brother in the boxing ring. Nong Dhoom was ridiculed by a boy who challenged him to fight him in the ring.
“I was so furious with him, that I immediately accepted,” Nong Dhoom recollected. “He challenged me to fight because I’m like this. My sister was so worried and tried to talk me out of it, but I refused.”
The effeminate boy knocked out his cocky challenger in three kicks.
Boys who teased him for his girlish manners didn’t do it twice. “I was a big, strong boy. I hit anyone who teased me,” Nong Dhoom said. “That made them stopped picking on me.”
After raising eyebrows and winning cash, Nong Dhoom went on to study with a Muay Thai master, Kroo Arkoam (Teacher Arkom) who taught him the art of the real Thai boxing.
When he arrived as the Number 2 ranked boxer from the Northern Region, the 172 cm (5’6”), 59 kg (130 pound) teenage boxer would not be prepared for the international spotlight that his historic win at Lumpini would result in. In his two-year career as a championship boxer, he would be constantly swarmed by reporters and in constant demand by television news and sports reporters in North America, Europe, and Japan.
The young boxer also sees himself fighting the same battle he did as a boy. “People have negative ideas about gà′tuhy. They think of us as tricky people who lure them to rob them. They also think that we’re promiscuous. I want to prove to everyone that a gà′tuhy is honest and can make an honest living,” he said at age 16.
The welterweight boxing star admitted that he was surprised by the “throngs of men” making romantic approaches. “I really don’t understand why they would make a pass at me right after I just knocked a man out on the ring,” he said. “Besides, I don’t think about romance right. I’m not the kind to flirt and I feel shy about looking at cute boys.”
Nong Dhoom would face more discrimination. In 1999, Singaporean police threw a fuss when they found out that he would be part of an exhibition match in the ultraconservative island nation. His March 1999 announcement that he would undergo a sex change operation was met by shock and controversy, stirring an ethical debate about the ease some hospitals perform the surgery. Hospital psychiatrists delayed the surgery, citing that fact that he was anxious about the surgery and had never lived as a woman (he only wore long hair and makeup). A Bangkok Post editorial thought the announcement by the “Queen of Boxing” worthy of caution, noting, “It is difficult enough being a woman, and could be doubly so for Nong Tum since society will not readily accept him as one.”
Nong Dhoom underwent a sex change on 29 November 1999. He was 19 years old. He continued to box in women’s bouts and at demonstration fights at temple fairs.
Beautiful Boxer, produced by GMM Pictures, directed by Ekkachai Euakrongtam เอกชัย เอื้อครองธรรม, is one of the most anticipated Thai motion pictures, both domestically and internationally. It is slated for a December 2003.
Handsome newcomer, Atsanee Suwan (nicknamed, Art) อัสนี สุวรรณ (อาร์ต), a champion boxer also from Chieng Mai, landed the role of the teenage Nong Dhoom. At a publicity event announcing his role, Art told reporter, that in this movie he has no idea whether he is a hero or a heroine. Nong Dhoom will make an appearance, but the producer didn’t reveal which role, saying that they wanted it to be a surprise. Actress and former Miss Thailand 1992, Ornarnong Punyawong อรอนงค์ ปัญญาวงศ์ plays Nong Dhoom’s mother (shown in the first photo, second from left). A famous actor and singer, Neukkid Boontong นึกคิด บุญทอง will play the young boxer’s father (second from right). Nong Dhoom’s Muay Thai boxing teacher will be played by Sorrapong Chatree สรพงษ์ ชาตรี who played Sergeant Rerng in Prang Chom′poo (top right). Thirty other actors and actresses in perform in Beautiful Boxer, including 16 boxers.
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 Pronounced: Bha′rín′ya Já′ruhn′ya. His boxing name is Parinya Kiatbusaba. “Kiatbusaba” (Giat-boot′sah-bah) was the name of his boxing camp. All Thai boxers are identified so.
 Náwng Dhóom, often transliterated as “Nong Tum.” Náwng means a young(er) brother/sister, but is also a common form of address for anyone younger than the speaker when there is a significant age difference. A younger person will use Pëe (older brother/sister).
 Aht. The actor’s real name is pronounced, At′sá′nee Sòo′wan.