Against the odds, a Myanmar transgender joins the pageant

THAILAND - The 28-year-old is the first participant from Myanmar to join the transgender pageant contest hosted and organised by the Tiffany's Show Pattaya and now in its ninth edition.

Raised in a traditional family, Muang says that even five years ago, she wouldn't have dared speak openly about her desire to become a woman never mind join the competition.

"I've lived as a man for most of my life, as cross-dressers and transgenders are generally not accepted as part of Myanmar society. Finally, I moved to Bangkok, where I made the decision to become a woman.

"Even then I didn't have the encourage to tell my family. But now that Myanmar is on the road to democracy, I felt I could take another step forward in my life as a woman and join this international competition.

"I have also told my family about my transformation, and they are slowly starting to accept it," she adds.

Muang, who came to Bangkok to study at the Ramkhamhaeng University, and who is working as a programme officer at a non-governmental human-right organisation, recalls her family's shock when she told them she wanted to undergo a sex-change operation.

"The last time I went home to visit my family was in 2011 and that was when I told them. But I think they are starting to understand that this is who I am and accept it," she says.

The only son among five siblings, Muang says transgender issues remain taboo back home.

"People look down on us and judge us because we are considered 'different'. Gays and lesbians cannot openly talk about their sexual preferences either," she says.

She does however see the first glimmers of hope for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-community (LGBT) in Myanmar, with the country becoming increasingly open and working towards democracy.

"Maybe someday we will be accepted as a part of society, just like here in Thailand. Until then, I have to stay here where it is safe and where I don't face discrimination," she says, adding that she has met many fellow transgender Myanmar nationals in Thailand, and they support each other.

Despite the rifts with her family and country, Muang says her decision to become a woman is the best she has ever made.

"At least now I am comfortable in my own skin. This is who I am, and I am more confident and more secure.

"From here I will do whatever it takes to show the world that being a transgender does not make me a bad person. I am a good woman, just as I was a good man," she said.

Muang joined 25 other contestants from 16 countries in the competition, More than just an avenue for transgenders to showcase their beauty and talents, the pageant also aims raise awareness and acceptance of the transgender community.