Today, the military doctor will decide if she has a ‘deformed chest.’
Nookie is a 22-year-old transgender woman submitting to her second medical examination, in hopes of being exempted from the Thai military draft lottery.
Last year, the doctors could not confirm her female identity as she did not have fully formed breasts. The doctors concluded: “Gender does not match the sex at birth, which cannot be cured within thirty days.”
Nook Chaiwong (Nookie), her friend Bell Sudjai, and fellow trans Fame Jamkrajang and Jaa Kongwiang are featured in Draft Day, a 10-minute documentary by Josh Kim about young trans women in Thailand.
All Thai male citizens have to submit to the annual military draft lottery upon reaching 21 years of age. To be exempted, the doctor must officially diagnose Nookie and Bell with a ‘deformed chest.’
It’s D Day for Nookie and Bell. They are excited and nervous and haven’t slept all night.
But they’re not alone.
Trans women may go by different pronouns, including “she”, “he” or “they”, and contrary to stereotypes, may not always dress femininely.
But on Draft Day, only trans women who wear female clothing stand a chance at exemption; those who wear male clothing have no choice but to take part in the lottery.
There’s dressing-up, and then there’s dressing down.
Then there’s Fame, who identifies as a woman but opted to dress down after appearing at the lottery all dressed up. There’s no reason for confusion. He had no desire to join the military, but only changed his appearance for Draft Day out of respect for the institution.
Fame joined the crowd of males waiting for their turn to draw a coloured ballot. There’s an air of festivity. Family members are present to show support. Everyone waits, together.
The odds of being selected for a two-year military service is one in five. Red for yes, or black for no. But not all is lost in drawing a red card.
Filmmaker Josh Kim also gives us cause for hope with the story of a Jaa, a trans woman who recalls her military days the happiest ones of her life. She was terrified, hiding her identity at first. But there, she found companionship and even love.
Thailand is relatively liberal in its acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but its inclusion and recognition of LGBT individuals in the military began only in 2005.
It took seven years of campaigning for the Thai Transgender Alliance and its allies to have the government realise that the transgender community, although in the minority — also deserve a place in society, to be a functioning member of the public.
And that also means given a chance at a lottery to serve the country.
Here are their stories.
‘Draft Day’ is part of our Chopshots documentary channel on Viddsee.
Josh’s documentary won the Jury Award For Best Short Film at the Polari26: Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival and Best Short Documentary Award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. It also screened at film festivals in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Hawaii and in Wales.