A trans model was apprehended and questioned for nine hours at Dubai International Airport before being sent back to Thailand because her appearance did not match the male gender marker on her passport.
Rachaya Noppakaroon had been contracted to work at an exhibition in the United Arab Emirates but was stopped at immigration before being subjected to a humiliating “nightmare during which I’m fully awake”.
Transgender people are not recognised in the UAE and it is illegal to present as anything other than your birth sex. Speaking on Facebook, Ms Nappakaroon described how she was faced with a barrage of intrusive questions from an official about her sex life, the size of her breasts and her capability to bear children. The Miss Universe runner-up went on to explain that many of her interrogators were not interested in proving her identity and instead “didn’t really care and were more interested in sex”.
Despite its sizeable trans population, Thailand does not yet permit people to change their gender on official documents. In December 2021, Human Rights Watch noted that this lack of legal status for people whose gender identity does not match their birth sex is often “a source of humiliation or harassment”.
Despite her experience in Dubai and the harsh treatment by immigration officials, Ms Noppakaroon laid the blame for her ordeal squarely at the door of the Thai authorities for not permitting trans people to change their official gender, saying “I hope they will see that it’s something that needs to be fixed.”
The UAE has form: in 2016, trans Canadian YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous was denied entry to Dubai while, in 2017, two trans women from Singapore were arrested in Abu Dhabi and jailed for a year having been found guilty of “attempting to resemble women”.
Editor’s comment: Despite the UAE’s regressive anti-LGBT laws, Dubai remains a popular destination for many British LGBTQ+ tourists who might wish to think a little more carefully about where they spend their money. RH.
Charlotte Dingle takes a close look at Women’s Aid’s statement on single-sex spaces and what it might mean for trans women fleeing domestic abuse. More here.