Man Enough to Be a Woman: A Thai Transgender Kickboxer Is at the Center of an Amazing True Story That's Now a Movie

Article excerpt

Thai filmmaker Ekachai Uekrongtham says that if he had invented the story of world famous Thai kickboxing champion Nong Toom, nobody would believe it. As shown in the new film Beautiful Boxer, Nong Toom grew up knowing she was a girl mapped in a boy's body. Teased for being effeminate, Nong accidentally fell into the revered, highly masculine sport of Muay Thai (kickboxing) and opted to master it not only to earn a living but also to achieve the ultimate aim of becoming a woman. As Nong's fame grew, the boxer started to take female hormones, and ultimately in 1999 under- went a sex change operation. Now an actress and model, Nong Toom is one of Thailand's biggest celebrities.

It's an extraordinary story, and one that Uekrongtham--who is straight--was drawn to for the conflict inherent in Nong Toom's ambition to achieve total femininity by competing in a thoroughly masculine arena. "Theoretically, I thought that a piece of art could come out of this story," he recalled recently in Los Angeles, where he crone to promote the film with his lead actor, Asanee Suwan, and Nong Toom herself. "When I was writing the screenplay, I discovered something very meaningful about courage. Whether you are gay or straight, a man or a woman, sometimes it's not easy to do what you want to do because of financial constraints or social restrictions. Nong Toom shows us that it's about having the confidence."

Nong Toom, now just 23, wasn't given approval over the script or the casting of handsome 24-year-old Thai kickboxing champion Asanee Suwan. "Ekachai told me that the movie wasn't a tribute film," she says, "so

I knew that there would be bad stuff as well as good in it. …