From chemo to a crown: One trans woman's long, hard road
A Thai beauty pageant aims to bring acceptance to people who until only 6 years ago were considered mentally ill
In a dressing room full of willowy glamazons applying makeup and curling their long tresses, Nanat Arpsuwan stood out with her pixie haircut at Thailand's famed annual transgender beauty pageant.
Two years ago, the 26-year-old former ballet teacher started chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia and lymphoma.
Today she is in remission – and is one of 30 contestants competing for the crown at Miss Tiffany's Universe, an annual transgender beauty pageant held in Pattaya.
“I was like a patient waiting to die,” Nanat said.Chemotherapy, radiation sessions and an aggressive antibiotics regimen had left her frail, but Nanat stood resplendent Friday night in a pale lilac gown with a lace flounce.
“To compete in the Miss Tiffany’s pageant was one of my inspirations to get well,” she said.
“My other inspiration to get well was because I have my family to take care of.”
Transgender people are highly visible in Thai society, but many say they are treated like second-class citizens.
Changing genders was officially considered a mental illness as recently as 2012, and reassignment surgery is not legally recognised.Now entering its 21st year, Miss Tiffany’s is seen by many of its contestants as a chance to be seen as an equal.
“We’re not just looking for beauty, but for someone who is confident in her own skin to represent the LGBTQ and transgender community of Thailand,” a pageant representative said.
Many previous winners have gone on to become actresses and advertising models.
“This pageant is a dream,” said 24-year-old contestant Papatranan Uppatamchat. “I want society to give us the chance to do every job because we have the same talents, just like everybody else.”
Nanat hopes her survival story can help the public see her as an inspiration.
“I want people to look at me as an inspiration, to see that we only have one life,” she said. “This pageant helps others accept our true potential.”