KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 ― Transgender Thai model Rachaya Noppakaroon was deported from the Dubai International Airport after her passport showed her gender as male.
Noppakaroon arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to participate at Expo 2020 where she was to appear at a Muay Thai event.
Noppakaroon was stopped at immigration and interrogated at the airport for nine hours before flying back to Thailand despite possessing all the necessary travel documents, Vice reported.
Taking to Facebook, the 2014 Miss Tiffany Universe runner-up ― a beauty pageant for transgender women held in Pattaya, Thailand ― said UAE immigration officials turned her back because she lives as a female, but her passport states she is male.
“The reason is because I’m a woman, but I’m a man,” Noppakaroon wrote in the post.
Transgender people are not recognised and presenting as anything other than your birth sex is illegal in the UAE.
Describing the ordeal as a “nightmare during which I’m fully awake,” Noppakaroon recounted how she was made to sit in the men’s waiting room and subjected to intrusive questions by an airport employee, such as whether she was able to have children, whether she had “done it all” and the size of her breasts.
Noppakaroon tried her best to prove her identity by showing them clips of her work.
“But he didn’t really care and was more interested in sex,” she shared.
Despite pushing through interrogation, during which Noppakaroon says she broke down in tears, the model said that she was ultimately rejected at the border and made to return to Thailand.
Noppakaroon said she still finds herself in tears because of her distressing experience and it was hard to accept that she could not perform at Expo 2020.
Despite the intrusive and inappropriate questions she faced at the airport, Noppakaroon noted that there were employees who were kind to her, including one who tried to look out for her safety and expressed sympathy.
While gender-affirming surgery and transgender culture is widespread in Thailand, rights groups pointed to the fact that the country is lagging in transgender recognition and welfare.
A major structural barrier facing transgender people in Thailand is that while they are allowed to change their legal name, there remains no option for them to change their gender on official documents.
Human Rights Watch had in a report released in December 2021 noted that the lack of legal gender recognition means that transgender people in Thailand have to hold identity documents that list a different gender from their lived identity— often a source of humiliation or harassment when these documents have to be assessed publicly, like in Noppakaroon’s case.
Noppakaroon said she blames the Thai authorities for not providing pathways for transgender people to change their passports.
“I hope they will see that it’s something that needs to be fixed.”
Noppakaroon is not the first transgender to be turned away at the Dubai International Airport.
In 2017, a transgender Singaporean woman and her friend were arrested in the capital Abu Dhabi and sentenced to a year in prison “for attempting to resemble women.”
In 2016, Canadian YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous was similarly denied entry into Dubai for being transgender.