By naive art/Flickr
When Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in May 2019, some questioned which Asian country will be the next to follow this progressive agenda. The spotlight has been placed on Thailand, a country with a gay-friendly image and even regarded as the gay capital of Asia.
One of the reasons could be its reputation for transgender operations. With relatively low cost and satisfying results, Thailand has become a global destination for transgender surgery. However, does this mean Thai society is open for LGBTQ people and has the prospect to become the next Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage?
In answering those questions, this article features interviews with Oom (age: 23), Kim(25), and Next(26), three Thais who identify themselves as LGBTQ. Oom is female, who identifies herself as bisexual and is more interested in women. Kim is also biologically female, identifying herself as Tom, a Thai term for a more butch lesbian. Next is a male, self-identifying as a gay male. However, he mentioned that Thai people usually see him as Tood, which means a feminine gay male.
Since when and how did you know about your sexual orientation?
Oom: When I was young, I did not know that I liked women, but I liked to tease girls. I had my first girlfriend in 9th grade. It started with our friends in the group shipped us, and it just naturally happened that way. We were together for six months, and she moved away. I think one of the reasons I became this way is because I am an only child in a very conservative family. I was not allowed to have a boyfriend, so I barely associated with guys.
Kim: In middle school, I realized that I was always interested in looking at girls rather than boys. There are some behaviors of guys with whom I grew up that I dislike. My grandfather and my dad used to drink every day. My dad, especially, is not a very good person. And I think females are more polite and much more open in their lifestyles and characteristics.
Next: I have known since I could remember! But of course not the sexual attraction part; I just felt like I was different. I grew up always acting differently from my peers. During my childhood, when other boys formed a group and played together, I stayed with girls. Then at the age when boys started to build an interest in girls, I felt the opposite.
Are you comfortable to talk to your family and friends about your sexual orientation?
Oom: I never talked to my family about it. Many times, my relatives would tease me that I like girls because I’ve never had a boyfriend and I always hang out with girls. When they said such things in front of my parents, my mother turned displeased and said, no she is not a lesbian. Then I knew that they wouldn’t be ok with my sexual orientation. With friends, it’s very free. Our generation is so understanding.
Kim: We never talked about it, but I think my parents know. They seemed to know when I had a girlfriend back in high school because they asked why the ‘girlfriend’ did not show up after we broke up. My friends know, and they treat me as a guy. Friends usually know before the family because our generation is more open.
Next: There was never an official coming out but both of my parents know. I talked with my mom once, but never with dad. When it comes to their acceptance, it’s never always black or white, but rather grey. They accept my sexual orientation but not everything I do; for example, I don’t think they would be ok seeing me hold hands with another male. I’m not sure if they would be ok if I would, one day, introduce my future boyfriend.
There is no problem with my friends. When I was a child, it was a bit difficult in school because I was often bullied, both verbally and physically, by other boys. They called me E-Tood or E-Gratoey, which is one of the condescending ways to call us. Now that I have grown up, the discriminatory treatments are not so obvious, but they still happen sometimes. Some groups wouldn’t accept me to be part of them. But I think society today has changed a lot; whenever we see someone being bullied because of their sexual orientation, there will always be a group of people coming out to protect them. It is a good development.
By Christian Franco-Tuñon- Patpong is one of the most famous gay bar districts in Bangkok/ Flickr
Foreigners tend to perceive Thailand as a country that is open and accepting when it comes to LGBTQ people, what do you think about this notion?
Oom: It’s a fake open and acceptance. The society still has a very rigid idea of how particular genders should behave. During a presentation, my teacher told a friend of mine that she should wear a skirt even though her trousers were already appropriate for a formal presentation. But again, I think our generation is good.
Kim: Someone said that Thai people are open to LGBTQ people as long as they are not their children, and I think that’s true. I feel like parents tend to care a lot about how others look at them and the family.
Next: Thailand is so contrasting in itself, so it’s really difficult to answer. I think it depends on from which dimension you look at. If you walk on a street in Bangkok, there are quite many LGBTQ people…almost every other person. So, Thailand is very open when it comes to the expression part, even compared to the US. When I studied in the US, depending on where you are, I felt like being gay can be quite taboo. I was so open when I was there, and people would ask me if everything was ok as if there was something wrong with me, while Thais would treat my sexual orientation as a normal thing. When I am with my Tood friends, we just act the way we want…, except for in front of the parents. Sadly, when it comes to other dimensions like the media, employment, or law, Thailand is still lagging.
By Prachatai- Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Thailand’s first openly transgender MP in the House of Representatives. She is one of those at the forefront in pushing the Civic Partnership Act to pass in the House/ Flickr
How do you see your future when it comes to marriage and do you think that Thailand could be the next Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage?
Oom: I haven’t been following the law much, but I don’t think there would be any legalization soon. As said, the older generation is still very conservative; they are not really accepting LGBTQ people, and there happens to be many of them in the legislative system. I personally don’t really care about marriage. I just want someone to be with me, and preferably a girl. If I’m still in Thailand, there is no marriage in that case.
Kim: I never thought about marriage because I am still single. If I get married, it has to be with a girl, and I think my family would be ok. But if they are not and tell me to marry a guy, I would stay single my whole life. When it comes to the law, I think legalization is far ahead, definitely not under the current government.
Next: We could not even pass the Civic Partnership Act, and even if it was passed, it wouldn’t be so open because it only focuses on benefits for partners, rather than addressing the equal dignity and the rights of the LGBTQ. The law is still very much perceived and implemented through the eyes of true males and females without recognizing the dignity of LGBTQ people. Thailand is renowned for the transgender operation, but the law does not even allow people to change the title for their name. In the future, despite some disagreements, I think the Civic Partnership Act would be passed. But there is only little hope for the same-sex marriage law because the legislative body is dominated by the conservatives.