23 May 2024

“In the old days, the Thai media defined transgender women as being loud, brash, and violent. In the worst cases, they assumed that we could only be sex workers. This perception is totally wrong. As a transgender woman, I want to show them that we are capable of doing anything in life.”

Chananchida “Blossom” Rungpetchrat, discusses her very first acting role in a Thai TV series, how transgender women should be portrayed in an era when people are placing greater importance on gender diversity and inclusivity and, most importantly, how she has been trying to break negative perceptions of transwomen.

“I do want to see more opportunities being open to LGBTQIAN+ people, but what I can do for the younger generation is to create a new perception for people to realise that not all transgender people are loud or brash, based on those stereotypes,” says Blossom.

Blossom’s journey began as a contestant on “Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2013”. She suddenly shot to fame, however, as one of a few transgender contestants on a famous reality TV show, “The Face Thailand” Season 3 in 2017. Since then, she has been active in the entertainment industry as a model, DJ, beauty influencer, and briefly as a member of a female super-group, 2021 Ratri.

Now, Blossom has won her very first acting role in a Thai TV series, “Tum Rub Mae”, which will air on Thai PBS. Blossom will play the role of “Peary”, one of the main actress’s friends, a transwoman who is described as beautiful, smart and confident, which she says, reflects her true self.

“This role represents who I really am and I see myself in this character,” she says, adding that she accepted this role because the character represents transwomen in a positive light, in a more realistic way.

“The reason I accepted this role is because she’s just an ordinary person simply living her life, not a character that is created to make her look funny or pitiful, she’s an ordinary person, just like me in real life,” according to Blossom.

Image Courtesy: The Face Thailand

-Opportunities for transgender women, as actresses-

Nowadays, people in the LGBTQ community are widely welcomed and accepted in the Thai entertainment industry. Opportunities for them in acting, particularly in leading roles, are, however, still quite limited. A unique exception was famous transgender beauty queen, Treechada “Poyd” Petcharat, who found success as a leading actress in Thai films and TV dramas, and even had acting opportunities in Hong Kong.

In the past, transgender women and effeminate men, known collectively as katoeys in Thailand, were portrayed in films and TV series as clowns, jokers, or characters that make them look silly. This has led to one of many stereotypes; that katoeys could only be “funny” and are expected to be “funny” all the time.

In Blossom’s experience, certain roles often repeat negative and outdated stereotypes of transgender women. Among the roles that she has been offered in the past, which she declined, was a transgender character who “urinates while standing, always drunk, and chases after men”.

“This is not “funny”, this is disrespectful to our gender,” she explains. “We consider ourselves to be women. Transgender women are women. So, why would they ask us to accept a role for which I had to go back to who I was before I had a sex change, and tell me to urinate while standing? I feel that this disrespects and oppresses my gender identity, and these are the roles that I will never accept.”

At the same time, leading characters, described as “transgender”, often use actresses who are straight women instead of real transwomen. On this, Blossom agrees and disagrees, depending on the storyline and the character’s description, noting that, “If the description says that a transwoman looks like a straight woman from her looks and her voice, then I totally understand [if they hire actresses who are straight women], because, if they hire someone like me, then I may not fit into the character’s description because of my voice.”

Nonetheless, Blossom still believes that allowing transgender women to play transgender roles would be an honour for their community. This, she believes, is not only about giving them more opportunities. What is much more important is the presence of transwomen as lead actresses on screen, which can inspire a new generation of LGBTQ people to dream big.

“When people say that transgender women cannot be actresses, and if we allow real transgender women to play transgender roles, it is giving the transgender community the honour. So, when other transgender people see them in the media, they will look up to them and feel inspired that they want to be up there one day,” according to Blossom.

On the brighter side, the 33-year-old actress notices significant improvement in LGBTQ representation in the media, both in mass media and online media, as society is becoming much more aware of gender diversity. She has also noticed that many TV producers are placing much more importance on LGBTQ characters.

“Honestly it feels great,” she says. “I was born in between Generation X and Generation Y, when gender equality wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. So, being given the opportunity is huge for transwomen from my generation. I’m also happy to see that many young transgender people, or LGBTQIAN+ people today, are receiving more opportunities to appear both on TV and online platforms.”

Image Courtesy: Ladyblossom’s Instagram

-Views on LGBTQ rights-

Although the perception of the LGBTQ community in Thailand has improved over the years, they are still not fully protected by law. Apart from the marriage equality law, Blossom thinks the law affirming different gender identities, particularly the use of honorifics, needs to change.

Currently, transgender people cannot change their honorifics under Thai law. Therefore, they still have to use “Mr.” instead of “Miss”. Earlier this year, a bill drafted by the Move Forward party, seeking to allow LGBTQ individuals to choose their own honorifics, was rejected by the Lower House.

“This is what we have been fighting for so long, and I still don’t understand why we still could not do that,” Blossom expresses with frustration. “It is problematic, especially when I travel to other countries. Whenever they see my passport that I’m a “Mr.”, they would segregate me from others, believing that I would be a scammer. You cannot just assume that all transgender people would scam or abuse anyone.”

Meanwhile, Blossom also thinks having access to physical and mental health services for LGBTQ individuals is crucial. One particular issue that needs to be addressed is establishing a safer community in which LGBTQ individuals can seek help.

“Because, sometimes, people of our gender do not have many people who we could count on and who truly understand our problems,” she explains. “I feel that many of those people, who feel that they are born ‘trapped in the wrong body’, do not know who to talk to. They are too afraid to talk to their parents, or their family. They want a safer community where they can freely express themselves and seek help.”

Image Courtesy: Ladyblossom’s Instagram

-Transgender people can be anything they want to be-

As to whether she has succeeded as a transgender celebrity, Blossom feels that she has, because she got to do everything she wanted to do in the entertainment field, but not in the sense that she is considered famous or well-known.

“I think I succeeded because I got to model, to sing, to become a DJ, to become an actress, and I’ve starred in music videos. So, I have ticked all of my boxes from my bucket list,” she says.

Despite her long list of accomplishments, a part of her journey that Blossom will never forget is her participation on “The Face Thailand”, which, she says, was the biggest turning point in her life, for which she will always be grateful.

“Wherever I go or whatever I do, whether I was a girl group member or when I was a DJ, people still call me “Blossom – The Face,” she says, as she reflected on her journey. “When “The Face Thailand” allowed transgender people like me to take part, it became a glimmer of hope for our community. I wanted to show people that we are much more than being transgender and that we are not how the stereotypes define us.”

Nevertheless, there is still one thing that Blossom wants to do, for which she has never had the chance.

“I want to become a news anchor,” she said. “Back when I was in school, I won a national competition in reading Thai prose. So, I thought to myself that I would love to become an anchor one day, but I became a model instead.”

During Pride Month in June, Blossom took the opportunity to remind us that anyone can be whoever they want to be, regardless of their (chosen) gender. At the end of the day, transgender women are just like many other people who have dreams and aspirations. Therefore, she strongly believes that giving them opportunities is the first step in unlocking their potential.

“It may sound cliché, but I want to be the voice for everyone. Transgender people are all different, not just one kind of personality or one kind of stereotype, as many have labelled us,” she said.

“There are many transgender individuals today who are doctors, pharmacists, and nurses. We can be absolutely anything. All we really want is opportunities. If transgender people have the opportunity or a platform on which to showcase their potential, they will be seen and be heard by society.”

By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World