Being a gay person in Thailand

To the eye of the world, Thailand is seen as the so-called “gay paradise” where everyone can express themselves as the person they want to be. 

Growing up while identifying as gay in Thailand has led to me experiencing some weird and quirky things – some have made me scratch my head and laugh while others have challenged my perspective of Thailand being the “gay paradise” city. But all in all, it has also taught me how to just be myself.

Note that these are anecdotes and opinions based on my own experiences.

1. Kindergarten teachers have a “secret code” for parents

There are so many ways for parents to find out that their children are gay. While some kids willingly come out, others are sometimes out-ed by others – like that neighbour aunty and her big mouth. But I’m pretty positive that for many Thai LGBT folk, it wasn’t any of these examples. Because sometimes, all it takes is a darn student report book. 

Yes, you read that right.

In Thailand, all kindergarten children must bring report books home for their parents to see every week. Here is where teachers would review the child’s behaviour at school. As for me, my weekly reports were often filled with the same old sentences on rotation: Your son is well-behaved/timid/shy.

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
The phrase that says it all
Image adapted from: Sahathai2000

When talking to my gay friends, I discovered that many of them had similar sentences in their own report cards too. And as they’ve become adults, their parents have confessed to them that these gave away the fact that their sons were gay. Thanks a lot, teachers.

Thinking about it now, I don’t think our teachers had any malicious intent when it came to telling our parents – or if it was even intentional at all. As for my case, it’s been almost 20 years and I’m still not sure my father has managed to decode those “hidden messages”.

2. A villainess from a Thai drama made me realise I was gay

Perspective Growing up gay in ThailandImages adapted from: Pantip, @aoftanatorn

“How did you know you were gay?” is the trillion-dollar question I get all the time, especially from male friends after casually letting them know. Okay fellow LGBT folk – how do we answer this question? Part of me always feels like trolling them by saying something like, “Oh, I got this 7-day free Gay trial and forgot to cancel my subscription.”

But jokes aside, most people would assume I was gay because I didn’t find women attractive. And truth be told, women were the reason I realised I was gay, but not for the reason you’d think. 

Growing up, I was always glued to the TV screen watching dramatic Thai soap operas. While most have faded from my memory, one character stands out for encouraging me to be who I am today. 

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
Kasa Naka’s official poster from 2007
Image credit: Pantip

Kasa Naka used to be a late-night soap based on Buddhist mythology, telling the story of Wad Jan, a female Nagi (snake deity). In the show, her husband had fled her to become a monk, prompting her to take revenge by reincarnating as a vengeful human who tries to fight off Buddha himself. 

I related to her as she wasn’t afraid to express herself even though she was portrayed as an outcast. She also challenged what other people thought of her – though most of the times, these characters face quite tragic endings. So with that, I took Wad Jan’s example as a young boy and defied the false illusions society had portrayed about my sexual orientation in my own life.

I mean, if she could defy the odds, why couldn’t I?

3. I never felt the pressure to “come out” to my loved ones

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
Me and my friends in Mattayom 5 (equivalent to 11th grade)
Image Credit: Eddie Jirayu

I was pretty late into my teenage years when I understood the concept of coming out. It often holds a significant meaning of self-acceptance and pride, especially in societies where being anything but heterosexual is out of the norm.

Growing up, I never felt the need to come out – not because I was afraid or didn’t accept myself, but because of the culture I grew up with. Being around my family and friends who always allowed me to be myself with no discrimination, it just never occurred to me that I had to come out as a gay person. 

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
Me and my grandparents whom I grew up with. We rarely take photos together if not for special occasions such as graduation
Image Credit: Eddie Jirayu

Of course, with me being Asian, my family is still pretty conservative when it comes to talking about sex and relationships. But that doesn’t mean they’re against homosexuality – it’s just that me talking about my sexual orientation out of the blue would be random and awkward. 

I was also never bullied whenever I expressed myself in a slightly more “girly” way in school, aside from silly jokes when I was younger. Plus, I remember playing around and putting on makeup in front of my grandmother as a kid, and she never once stopped me – and I will always be thankful for that.

4. People assumed I was good at something just because I was gay

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
This is how a lot of people saw me: good at everything – even possibly landing on the moon
Images adapted from: @sara93, @nasa

From 1st to 6th grade, I felt expectations from lots of people caving in on me, from my parents and teachers to even my friends. 

It was obvious that my parents wanted me to do well in my academics, and my teachers constantly wanted me to participate and lead in school activities like dance performances. And as for my friends, they’d always assume that I’d be good at crafting and doing make-up…just because I was gay. Well, the only thing I have in common with Jeffree Star is that we’re both not straight!

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
Me as an emcee for my high school’s Christmas show back in 2014
Image credit:  Eddie Jirayu

At first, I thought that this was just how the community I grew up in was and that it had nothing to do with my sexuality. Well, growing up proved otherwise. 

As I got older, I heard people say: “You have to work extra in life if you’re not straight.” Sometimes, this came from the LGBT community too. It often had me questioning how truly open people were – shouldn’t everybody work harder to achieve things in life? 

This saddened me as it showed how we weren’t seen as equal as compared to straight people. There is still a lot of prejudice out there, and instead of questioning it, many people have unknowingly kept these stereotypes alive as it seems to be the norm. 

Well, if that’s the case, then I’m fine as a couch potato.

5. Adult me realised that stereotypes still exist in Thai society

Perspective Growing up gay in ThailandMe playing with some chirping birds like a Disney princess
Image Credit: Eddie Jirayu

Young me never felt like I was discriminated against due to how I was able to freely express myself both at home and at school. If people had told me then that Thailand was created just for non-straight people like me, I would have believed them.

But ironically, I started to feel the walls get smaller and I grew bigger, from cultural perspectives to legal matters. 

Universally, our society has a certain image of how gay men should be – funny, loud, and effeminate. And sometimes, we’re perceived more as “characters” and stereotypes rather than actual people.

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
Gay characters have been created for comedic effect in Thai media
Images adapted from: Sudsapda, Sanook

Luckily, we’re now moving towards a better future where absurd stereotypes about gay people in the media are being shattered. As a society, Thailand aims for more realistic representations of the vibrant LGBT community, with talks and events popping up across the country to help spread awareness to more people. 

Crazy things lie ahead for Thailand’s LGBT community

Perspective Growing up gay in Thailand
“To Infinity and Beyond!”
Image Credit: Eddie Jirayu

If you’ve read up till here, I hope I’ve managed to paint a more personal picture of how it’s like growing up gay in Thailand. Of course, our culture is more open and we’re one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, but the LGBT community still continues to fight for our rights. 

For example, same-sex marriage is still not legally recognised here, though many gay couples have gone ahead with Thai wedding ceremonies with their friends and families present. 

Having said that, I still appreciate how Thai society – be it the media or my family and peers – has offered me the freedom of expression since young. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. 

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