The content in this page ("Lives of gay inmates in Thai men's prison" by Thantawut Taweewarodomkul) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

Lives of gay inmates in Thai men's prison

In one of Thailand’s men’s prison, the homosexuals are categorized as transgenders with breasts, attractive transgenders, older transgender, gay and transexuals. They are entitled to different “class” and treatment. A former inmate wrote the article in detention. 


"Prison" is a place to control various types of offenders. It is divided into two main groups: men's prisons and women's prisons. This is done for the convenience of supervision and is nothing strange because you certainly can't have male inmates together with female ones. 
But in reality, the problem of gender differences for male inmates or even female inmates is something that society might not have ever known about. How do people with different gender identities live in prison? Do they receive proper care or not? And what do they have to deal with? 
I, as a former inmate, who was in a men's prison for more than three years, can share my experiences with this group of male inmates so that society might know some of our stories so that they might receive treatment consistent with human rights and decency in the future. 
In Bangkok Remand Prison, and I believe in all (men's) prisons in Thailand, besides male inmates you will come across three other types of inmates of different gender identities: transgender, gay, and transexual. Let's take a look at the lives of these three groups and how they are treated differently from other inmates.
1. Transgender- This group is the most commonly found. They can be clearly noticed by their external appearance, including their mannerisms, how they dress, their clothes, and their makeup, such as wearing lipstick. Kathoey inmates can be further divided into smaller groups, as follows:
(1.1) Transgender with breasts - This doesn't need much explanation since you can see clearly from their external appearance that they have breasts like your average woman. This type of kathoey is considered to be grade A, therefore a majority of them are likely to catch the interest of influential people in the prison (called "bosses" in prison, literally translated as "big leg"). They will accept them in the group and give them good treatment, including food and safety. As such, it doesn't matter whether they are pretty or not. If they have breasts, there will be people competing to get them in their group immediately. This group of inmates might not have to work because the boss will take care of everything for them. But they certainly won't get those privileges for free. They might have to trade by having sex with the boss of that group, but it is something that they understand and accept as normal, and not anything strange.
(1.2) Attractive transgender - Pretty, cute, young (without breasts), they are also considered grade A and receive the same level of interest from the bosses as the first group of transgender. They are considered outstanding as well.
(1.3) Older transgender - They likely don't belong to any group, but rather create their own groups.They are the bosses of transgender together. They can go with all groups and are accepted by both the bosses and transgenders. The leader of this group of transgenders are called mothers because they give guidance, care, advice, and sort out problems of all of the transgenders in their area. You can say that they really serve the function of mothers.
(1.4) Manly transgender - I'm not sure what to call this group of transgender because they are transgenders that from the outside you wouldn't be able to tell. They are very much like men if they don't wear makeup. They are big and have muscles, and some of them have facial hair. The first time you see this group of transgenders, you wouldn't know they are transgenders. This group of transgenders need to continuously look after themselves, and even then still get treated badly by other guys. You often see this group of transgenders quarreling and fighting with other male inmates, and for sure they can hold their own.
To summarize, transgenders are the largest group and most of them are under a boss. They are accepted as a member regardless of their appearance, or whether they have breasts, because having a transgender in the group is great for the group. It is like having a maid and a beauty queen for the group. transgenders are willing to be part of a group because they receive a lot of conveniences. As for sex, not all transgenders have to have sex with the group leader or with other inmates, but almost all of them, even if they aren't attractive, always have a mate.
2. Gay inmates. In Bangkok Remand Prison, you won't encounter many gays. It might be because those who are gay are not likely to come out, but there are certainly some that you can tell from looking. They have smooth faces and most of them have knowledge either about computers or language. Therefore, it is not strange that gay inmates receive important duties in the area of administration. They mostly work on paperwork, are interpreters, or fix broken computers. As such, they don't need to belong to any group led by a boss. They eat at the office. Doing this type of work they receive acceptance from all of the other inmates. There is not really anyone who wants to mess with them because they work closely with the prison administration. As such, they don't fall under the influence of anyone. They are not sexually abused, or if they are, it is out of their own willingness.
3. Transexual inmates - This group of inmates rarely go to prison. They look like women so much that you could call them genuine women based on looking at their appearance. This group of inmates is supervised to a stricter standard than other inmates for safety reasons related to sexual abuse. Therefore, this group's movement within the prison is limited. They do not have the freedom to move around the prison to different places or places out of sight of others. Normally, they are limited to staying in their room all the time. This could be a room that is set aside for transgender inmates or a special cell called a "small cell" (it is longer than it is wide), which can be said to be very cruel to this group because it is a "prison within a prison". They are already in jail, and then have to be in another jail. 
About the author: Thantawut Taweewarodomkul, aka Noom Rednont, is a former web designer who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for lèse majesté. Thantawut served the jail term for three years and three months before he was granted royal pardom and walked free in 2013. When the Thai junta, who staged the coup in 2014, summoned him to report in, Thantawut could not bare any more of live in detention, and decided to live in self-imposed exile. In a new country, Thantawut is composing a book about lives of inmates. 
The article was first published in Thai on iLaw and transaled into English by a contributor. 

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