SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG

One Transgender Woman Explains Why She’s Not Born In The Wrong Body

Drag Walk gala in Berlin
Drag Walk gala in Berlin
Lara B.*

-Essay-

BERLIN â€" My body is that of a man but I am a woman and I want to live my life as a woman. In our minds, our bodies define who we are. We are either male or female. This belief makes me a person that should not exist. I did not question this perception for a very long time and refused to accept myself. But I have now realized that I will have to, and want to, live with this body.

Most transgender people do anything and everything to hide their biological nature. But as a person who is 6 feet 5 inches tall with broad shoulders and large hands, I will always cause a stir when I’m dressed as a woman. This is why I only have two choices â€" either to be a desperate man or a conspicuous woman.

Despite the fact that my gender is only one of the many facets of my personality, I am always confronted by it. Everything revolves around the question as to who or what I am. I always have to justify myself to others despite the fact that there are more interesting aspects of my life than my sexual identity.

I compromise and live both as a man and as a woman. Take my marriage for instance. I love a woman and I know that it would be utterly unbearable to her if I switched to the other side permanently. She has been living with the knowledge that I’ve felt like a woman for more than 15 years and, it has been, and still is, a long and often painful path that we try to navigate while building our relationship. But our relationship is important to the both of us and we do not want to give up on it.

I prefer to play the male role in my professional environment. In terms of employment, I would be cast aside very quickly if I didn’t. Even employers with a progressive company would never go as far as to hire a transgender person in a management position as they are afraid of offending their business partners. Executive officers are not allowed to be confusing.

Other transgender people criticize me for not going all the way and crossing that last remaining hurdle â€" having my body surgically altered. In the end, they are stuck with the same ideas as the majority of society. They believe that your body decides your gender.

After all, there is this wonderfully convenient explanation for people like me â€" that I am "imprisoned in my own body." It’s an interpretation that could make everyone happy. But it’s not true. It’s not my body that is wrong but society’s norms and perceptions. A person’s gender is not determined by his or her genitals. Transgender identity is so much more than physical attributes. Soul, reason and psyche are as much a part of it despite the fact that these are invisible attributes. All of these factors make us who we are. No one would seriously try to argue that it is just our body that defines us as humans. Why should that be any different with people who identify as transgender?

We have emotional, physical, and intellectual needs that are completely independent of our sexual identity. Why should I have my body surgically altered just to satisfy a stranger’s perception of what a transgender person is?

Many people don’t have a clue about my identity as a woman; they only meet me in my male capacity. Others only know me as a woman. Only a small group know me as both male and female. Most of my friends and acquaintances treat me the way I present myself, namely as a woman. I am grateful to these people because they make me feel accepted.

I would like to be addressed as "Mrs' when I present myself in women’s clothes in public. And have people accept that I use the women’s toilet. I am, of course, delighted when someone helps me into my coat or holds a door for me. But that in itself would be a bonus. I would be happy if you would just treat me as if there is nothing particularly special about me. I am ecstatic if you just look at me briefly, look away again and continue on your way as if nothing happened. These are the moments when I think, "Hey, I can actually be a woman!"

But at night, when a group of people advance toward me, I do sometimes feel afraid. I know that transgender people in particular are at a higher risk of being a victim of a hate crime. But I do not allow my fear to control me. I do not want to give other people the opportunity to hurt me, whether psychological or physical.

Some people will always try to make jokes at my expense. But, thank goodness, I have rarely experienced this kind of behavior. First and foremost, I am happy to be living in Germany, where the law protects me and I cannot be stoned to death. And where I am mostly accepted as a woman and human being. Which is why I prefer to say thanks instead of complaining.

There are advantages to be recognizably "trans." For example, no bouncer refuses us entry because we add a dash of exoticism to a nightclub. Many people tend to open up in my presence and tell me things that only their closest friends would know about.

Some people say that that I am brave. I do, indeed, have to be brave and it took me a long time to be brave. Which is why I am happy when people recognize my struggle. But, at the same time, it highlights that my wish to be just a normal woman will never come true. I will need to continue being brave because I will always be conspicuous. Despite all my efforts, you will always be able to tell that I was not born a woman.

I wish that one day I will no longer have to be brave. I wish I will no longer be conspicuous. I wish that people would treat my sexual identity like they would the fact that I’m left-handed. I know that I am not what you imagine a woman to be. But I am, nonetheless, a woman. And I am thankful that you accept that to a large extent.


*This is part of a series "How I See You," that allows people to tell their own stories. Lara B., who preferred to maintain her anonymity, spoke with Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist Violetta Simon.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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