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Almost two years ago I interviewed Angie in anticipation of her first Muay Thai fight, after only a few months of training in Muay Thai. Remarkably, two weeks from now Angie will be having her debut fight at the legendary Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok. A historic fight. She will be the first kathoey (Trans) fighter to enter those ropes. The famed Nong Toom “Beautiful Boxer” fought at Lumpinee and was a kathoey, but she didn’t fully fight as a “kathoey fighter”. She fought to afford sexual reassignment surgery, would fight wearing lipstick in the ring, but fought without a shirt as any man must. She drew great attention from the Thai media, and became much loved. I believe Nong Toom began taking hormones late in her boxing career, which some sources suggest hastened it’s end. Angie, on the other hand, has been taking hormones for over 10 years and has breasts, and will be fighting as a kathoey fighter (with a shirt, with top surgery), a degree of transition that no fighter at the National Stadia (Lumpinee and Rajadamnern) has entered those ropes as. I believe this is an important moment in the story of Lumpinee Stadium as (cis) women are not even allowed to touch the ring for fear of polluting its protective magic. You can read about the urban myths surrounding this prohibition here. This will be the closest the Lumpinee ban on women, in place for 50+ years now, has come to being lifted.
Recently, Nong Rose, a 21-year-old kathoey from Isaan was the first to fight at Rajadamnern. She broke the limitations for kathoey fighters in National Stadia and has been on a tear, winning a title (not a Raja title, but a Onesongchai belt) and beating 3 opponents in a row with vicious and explosive performances. It’s important to note though that Nong Rose is not like Angie in many ways. Yes, she identifies as female and a kathoey but has never taken hormones (I suspect this is in part due to fear of losing physical strength) and as far as I know has no intention of transitioning, so physically she is indistinguishable from a 21-year-old man in the prime of a fighting career. Nong Rose began as a kid and grew up in Thai camps, just as countless male Thai fighters do, treated more or less the same as any young Thai boy seeking to fight. Angie on the other hand came to Muay Thai at the age of 30, already with some transitional surgeries (top surgeries) and years of hormone treatments. She wasn’t raised in gyms, she doesn’t have tons of experience and this fight at Lumpinee will be her 12th fight… ever. This is not the normal path for Thais entering the rings of the esteemed National Stadia. Young boys might start out on the undercards at Lumpinee or Rajadamnern when they’ve already racked up 20-50 fights or more in smaller local fights around the country. They kind of come up while gaining the experience to get on the main cards and bigger shows. Legends like Dieselnoi, Karuhat, Namkabuan – they entered into Lumpinee in their mid- to late- teens after many years of fight experience in the provinces. That’s like how Nong Rose came to Rajadamnern, although the accomplishment for her is huge as long-standing rules had to be amended in order to accommodate her. She refused to fight without a top on or weigh in naked, both of which are hard rules at the traditional Thai stadia. Rajadamnern adjusted the dress code that had mandated a bare chest in order to allow her to fight and she was able to weigh in wearing shorts and a sports bra. (According to Angie, Lumpinee had refused to change the rule about weighing in naked and Nong Rose cried, so the event was moved to Rajadamnern. We have yet to see if that rule will address Angie’s particular situation, as she has breasts and weighing in nude would be a pretty big ordeal.)
In order to fight in Bangkok, Angie had to be registered with the Sport Authority of our province, Chon Buri. Every Thai fighter has a “book,” like a boxer’s book in the west, where you keep track of your record. Fights outside of Bangkok can often go unrecorded, so fighters may have 200+ fights but on the books it’s only 50 fights and so that’s the number given for stadium fights. But getting a book to fight in Bangkok is a big deal and a significant step in her career. The boys who are signed to the gym with official contracts have to be taken in to Chon Buri to have their books registered before they fight in Bangkok. This is putting Angie on the map in a way. That photo above is her official documentation when she registered last week in Chon Buri for her fighter’s book last week, so that she can fight in Lumpinee.
This is also a significant step in her fighter’s pay. Most of Angie’s fights are 3 rounds at a bar down by Walking Street. That sounds sordid but this is a way that countless young fighters in Pattaya and surrounding provinces get experience. Kids in the countryside fight at temples or in fields where a ring has been set up for festival fights, urban kids from Pattaya and surrounding cities fight at the bars before or between fights at local stadia. My own trainer, Kru Nu, had his early fights at this same ring at this same bar when he was a kid [I wrote Fighting At the Bar It Isn’t What You Think]. But here Angie basically gets paid in tips, rather than a fighter’s fee. After her fight she’ll be brought around by one of the men who works at the bar and collect tips from spectators. People love Angie’s fights and she can make 1,000-1,500 Baht on these nights, which is more than she makes on some days working her beverage shop. At a local stadium she might get paid 2,000 Baht to fight and then can make additional money through tips from gamblers or even gambling on herself. Her fight at Lumpinee, however, will be a 20,000 Baht fighter’s fee outright. That’s more than some of the more established boys make when they fight at Lumpinee, which is due to the draw Angie is expected to have. As a result, Angie’s name has shot up on the ranks of the fighters board in the gym (photo below). She’s now number 5, just below me, but I’m not a Lumpinee fighter… yet.
Which is an interesting point. Women are still prohibited from fighting at any of the national stadia in Bangkok and, while Angie’s hormone therapies and breasts make her much closer to a cis woman in the eyes of many folks watching these fights and this history being made, it’s important to note that Angie, Nong Rose, Nong Toom and any other kathoey are not considered by Thais to be women. This warrants a much bigger investigation and one that I’m not qualified to undertake or speak authoritatively on, but it’s my experience in speaking with many Thais that kathoey is considered broadly as a “third gender.” In Thai there is no separation in third person pronouns between he/she, so when speaking any gender specification only comes about in the first person. How you say “I” announces a binary gender, but he/she/him/her doesn’t. When speaking English, Thais will mix up genders all the time by accident or simply not knowing, but when speaking of kathoey they will sometimes make a cheeky emphasis on saying he (in English) and then make a big deal about how confusing it is to decide whether to use “he” or “she.” This often comes off, to me, as indicative of how kathoey are seen as “truly” male, a suggestion which is corroborated by the fact that katheoy often (and are permitted to) go over the top rope as men do, whereas women are strictly forbidden from this by custom. Kathoey can also go into areas of the temple where women are forbidden, may touch or be touched by monks… basically, any of the restrictions women face for the fact of being women do not apply to kathoey, because they are not considered women. Further, Angie is not officially allowed to fight cis women. This appears to be an uncodified rule, as Nong Toom has fought women since her full transition but those fights have been called “show fights” and are supposed to only end in a draw.
However, even though Angie and kathoey are not considered in Thailand to be women, the introduction of Nong Rose to Rajadamnern and the popularity and excitement for her fights, as well as the particulars of Angie’s body and her introduction to Lumpinee is a step toward women fighting in those rings. This could be transformative for cis women fighting in Thailand. Right now there is nowhere for the top female Thai fighters to ascend within Thailand or for young girls starting out in Muay Thai in countless rings throughout the country. Thai female fighting remains marginal, and largely underdeveloped in part because there is no upward tier, brought on by the prohibition from National Stadia. It is not a leap to see that how trans-women are treated, the opportunities that are offered to them, can one day impact the possibilities for Thai women, and in fact all women fighting in the country. To add my personal perspective, as an experienced female fighter it both inspires me and pains me to think of her going into the Lumpinee ring, something most any male western fighter can do. She is my friend and I’ve been training with her since she began. In fact, Angie confided in me early on that looking at me in the gym, the only woman there when she first started training, inspired her and motivated her to become more serious. I’m very proud of that inspiration, that my work and presence in the gym created room for her to intensify, and in turn I’m very inspired by watching Angie’s rapid development and feats of bravery as a fighter who occupies this space between a male fighter and a female fighter. I’m very excited for this opportunity for Angie and more than once we’ve sat down to talk about it, usually with me assuring her that, if it were me, I’d fight naked (re: her qualms about weighing in naked) and against someone I had almost zero chance of beating just for the chance to change the game. Angie usually laughs at this, but she’s always comforted as well, putting back into perspective the magnitude of the opportunity rather than the enormity of the challenge. I do sincerely believe that these changes that have allowed kathoey into these protected spaces is a promising move toward allowing women to enter there, but I’m also stung by it. It is by no means a privileged position to be kathoey anywhere in the world, but the fact of being not a woman does allow some male privileges that remain more firmly in place against “real” women. It hurts me that Angie has this chance, without it being a dream for her, while I dream it and the door is closed. Angie and Nong Rose being allowed in those venues does open doors for those both like and unlike themselves. It’s real change, even if it’s very slow or small change. And while I may be envious of opportunities that Angie will be facing, looking at them from the outside, she’s struggling with the challenges of those same chances.
Angie to be sure has some anxiety about the swiftness of her introduction to this esteemed stage, which is understandable. It was the comparatively very experienced Nong Rose’s popularity that created the possibility for Angie, and then Angie’s fantastic performance at a big side-bet “highlight” fight at our local Thepprasit stadium that opened the door for her. The video and buzz of that fight made the rounds on Muay Thai social media and as a result Kru Nu has been getting calls almost daily from different promotions looking to book Angie. This is how things change, just a small shift suddenly gains momentum. MX Extreme (Muay Thai with MMA gloves), Channel 7 (definitely never had a kathoey on that weekly televised promotion), Lumpinee, and Nong Toom herself is promoting at Asiatique in Bangkok and will book Angie for that first show… all despite her inexperience, this is the climate for these opportunities to be arising. Kru Nu is appropriately guarded to protect Angie’s interests and looking for the best options for her, but he’s also a specialist in raising young boys to be Lumpinee and Rajadamnern fighters, so he knows that you have to push when the opportunities and interest is there. It’s a balancing act. And it’s great practice for when Kru Nu will have to start bringing female fighters to those stages as well.
Angie and Pi Nu at Muaydee Wittithai on TV to promote Angie’s upcoming fight.
In the ring and on TV to promote the upcoming fight.
Angie and her opponent, Sagon. He also only has a handful of fights, so this should be a good match.
My Interview With Angie Just Before Her Historic Fight at Lumpinee
In the video above I caught Angie after evening training, when the gym was emptying out. Angie runs at 5 AM, knees the bag, goes home to shower and then works all day at her beverage cart outside in the heat. She closes her shop and comes straight to training. Her schedule is exhausting, but she also has come back to training directly after training very hard for a big side-bet fight (which she won and this catapulted her to this Lumpinee fight) and has come straight back into very hard training for her next fight. She is very fatigued after an intense evening training session, which is why she’s a bit disoriented at the beginning of the video and sounds a little out of it. It’s exactly this kind of heart and hard work that has made Angie so loved by Kru Nu, by me, and those who watch her fight.
My First Interview with Angie, Before Her First Fight Almost 2 Years Ago