The life of a transgender boxer in Thailand
Meet Nong Rose Baan Charoensuk
Nong Rose Baan Charoensuk is a champion Thai boxer who has racked up more than 150 wins, 30 of which have been knockouts. Rose is also transgender. Born Somros Polchareon, Rose identified as a woman at a young age.
She may look different than her male competitors in the ring, wearing a sports bra, red lipstick, and braids. But Rose is a formidable Muay Thai boxer.
Muay Thai is a boxing style that allows competitors to use every part of their body except their head to attack an opponent. The full contact sport runs in the family — Rose and her twin brother were actually named after a famous pair of Thai boxing brothers.
Rose, who is in her early 20s, was mesmerized by the sport at an early age. She began learning fighting techniques from her uncle when she was 8 and entered a local boxing match the same year. Rose quickly outshined her siblings and becoming a local star.
When she was 13, Rose realized she was attracted to boys. "It wasn't hard for me to recognize what I am," Rose told the Bangkok Post in 2015. She soon matched her looks to her gender identity, but refused to give up boxing.
In Thailand, many transgender people feel they are treated as second-class citizens. There is also a stigma against transgender boxers. Opponents in rural towns often refuse to fight Rose.
"They would say they didn't want to fight with a gay person, as it would be embarrassing if they won or lost," she told Reuters. "I still face those insults, but I don't care about them."
In 2017, after winning half of her 300 fights, Rose achieved one of the highest honors in Muay Thai: being asked to compete in the world famous Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok. In June 2017 she became the first transgender boxer to fight in that venerable ring. She was an immediate crowd favorite, garnering two consecutive wins.
"Being a transgender doesn't mean that we're weak," she said. "We can achieve anything as well."
Below, step into the ring with this boundary-pushing, butt-kicking champion boxer.