Last year, Thammasat University caused a stir when it employed transgender lecturer Kath Khangpiboon, 28. The ensuing social media storm fired up opinion on whether it’s appropriate for transgender people to work in education. A graduate of Thammasat herself (with both a bachelor’s and master’s from the Faculty of Social Administration), Kath was drawn back to the university from a career as an NGO worker for organizations including the Thai Transgender Alliance. Here, she discusses Thailand’s attitude to sex and education.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I’d been working with non-governmental organizations [including the Thai Transgender Alliance] in the realms of social development, people’s rights and equality, so when I heard that Thammasat University was recruiting a lecturer specializing in these areas, I felt like it was high time to bring forth my knowledge.
 
What do you think about society’s perspectives on transgender people?
Thais have a negative attitude towards transgender people—they act distant, obnoxious or embarrassed. Students are never properly taught sex education. Our society has long cultivated selectivity and prejudice. Some, if not most, people lack understanding, which leads to deep-rooted hatred for some reason. They think transgender people are to be quarantined only in the area of entertainment, especially for slapstick comedy, while in fact they can do anything.
 
How have you found working in education as a transgender?
In 2014, I saw more new LGBT lecturers than ever before. That seems to be a good sign for long-term acceptance. Personally, I think this has stemmed from people viewing education as money-driven. In other words, the majority do not care what gender you are as long as you know how to teach well. On the other hand, some still perceive lecturers and/or teachers as role models which, disappointingly, kru kra toey [transgender teachers] are not viewed as.
 
Have you encountered any negative attitudes towards you, from staff or the faculty?
I’m quite new here. I haven’t felt anything like that. But even if I had found Thammasat folks who despise transgender people, I still think that would be fascinating since the school is supposedly so liberal.
 
What can be done to implement change?
Sex education. It’s essential that students be properly educated about sex. Not only stuff like how to wear condoms but gender diversity, gender distinction, sexuality—making these topics speakable rather than taboo. We need to be open-minded when it comes to issues like sexuality. The lives of LGBT people are not rosy; we’re the subject of gossiping, mockery and even physical bullying. I want everyone, regardless of their gender, to be respected and to have self-respect. Once you respect yourself, it’s easier to begin respecting others.