Written by Chantalak Raksayu
Translated by Emi Donald
Twenty years ago, in 2002, Thailand’s Department of Mental Health issued a certification letter confirming that homosexuality has officially been removed from the categories of mental disorders in accordance with the World Health Organization and the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision. The recipient of this landmark letter was Anjaree, “an organization supporting and protecting the rights of people who love the same sex,” who had written to request the certification a month earlier.
The name Anjaree was coined from Pali parts meaning “other” and “practitioner”; together the name means “one who walks a different path.” This loneliness and otherness became the very ground for connection and community, as exemplified by the ad pictured below with the text that reads,
If you feel like this
Attracted to women like yourself
Accused of being a psycho
Lonely, stressed, confused
Can’t find a listening ear
Can’t secure a relationship
Not accepted by society
Lacking in self-confidence
Can’t find a lover
Lover is getting married
Wanting to kill yourself, etc.
Call and let’s talk
0-2668-2185 press 2
Every Wed, Fri, Sat
19.00 hrs.-21.30 hrs.
The person writing the Anjaree letter to the Department of Mental Health was Chantalak Raksayu, a long-time publisher of lesbian and gay writing. Between 2001 and 2002, she also wrote the column Dyke’s Diary published in part on Nation Sudsapda and in part on Anjaree’s homemade magazine an and Anjaree’s website.
According to Chantalak’s introduction to her column,
Dyke’s Diary is a collection of writings by a woman-loving woman from Thailand about her views, thoughts, and attitudes toward society and the world around her.
The choice to use the words dyke and diary together comes from their apt euphony in both vowel and consonant.
Also, this column has to do with the columnist’s ideas which go hand in hand with the word “dyke,” originally a pejorative Westerners use to insult women-loving women.
“It refers to a woman who is lacking in all things attractive and charming and isn’t pleasant to look at. A stronger word than ‘lesbian.’
“But then, the move to demand lesbian rights and the Western feminist movement began reclaiming this word for casual use among friends who understand one another. Its definition is something like a well-seasoned person who is knowledgeable about women’s rights issues—a complete opposite of the meaning given by society.
“Calling someone a dyke, then, is a compliment. If you call someone a lesbian, that would sound like she’s just an ordinary woman. But if you call her a dyke, then you mean to say she is a self-confident and admirable person.
“The word ‘dyke’ actually implies individuality, independence, security in oneself without the desire to rely on a man for survival, no fear of what people say, and sure possession of one’s human worth. It induces the feeling that dykeness is an attractive quality representing women’s emancipation from oppression” (from an interview with Anjana Suvarnananda, Anjaree co-founder.)
The following selections record in vivid detail what it felt like to be halfway in the closet as a lesbian in Thailand in the early-2000s, a time when buying a lesbian-themed book was an act of great courage. The diary entries also range in their approach in responding to stigma, from rejecting the term ‘homosexual’ to reclaiming stereotypical femininity. Enjoy!
Entry: homosexuals, or those who love having sex
I’ve written previously about “the third sex.” Now, I’d like to follow up with the word rak ruam phet “homosexual,” another term that leaves me speechless when people use it to refer to me.
I mean… picture it – “homosexual” – it’s the same as saying hypersexual, to love (rak) having sex (ruam phet), as if someone who loves someone of the same sex has nothing going on in their lives besides having sex.
Even though I also go to work! I go to the market, the movies, Chatuchak, and other places too! But I feel like I’m forcibly tied up with the word “homosexual,” to the point where I can’t wriggle my way out.
Use of this word, as I understand it, started within medical circles to classify sexual acts between people, that is, to describe the kind of person who loves (and lusts for) someone of the same sex.
But this meaning mostly focuses on what happens in the bedroom, with the sex that two people of the same sex have together, and that’s it.
What’s the result? The general public comes to view “homosexuals” as utterly obsessed with sex and sex alone. This group must be interested only in sleeping with one another, totally sex-crazed! Just a bunch of nymphos who like to molest little kids (this attitude is especially attached to gay men, despite the fact that men who sexually abuse boys are far more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual).
“Men who molest prepubescent boys are most often—by a wide margin—heterosexual in any adult sexual involvements they may have.” (Frank Bruni, newspaper columnist who wrote about sexual harassment of children in particular.1 Information from the book Him and Her, What Planets Are They From? by Eric Marcus, translated by “Meow-sam-si,” published by Cyberfish Media)2
I have a friend who is a woman-loving woman. Even if she doesn’t at all have a tomboy personality, she is still subjected to being “feared.”
Once, this friend went to a workshop and had to share a room with another young woman. In the room my friend took a shower and went to bed just like normal. But she didn’t know that the woman who had to share with her wasn’t acting normal. That young woman didn’t sleep a wink all night, for fear that my friend would do unspeakable things to her…
…Even though my friend wasn’t interested in her that way, not in the slightest.
Most people tend to think this way. They assume that homosexuals have just one thing on the brain: sex (because they go right from love to sex). If I’m a lesbian, then of course I’m going to fling myself onto any woman I meet.
This is all despite the fact that I don’t see any difference. Gay people also love one person at a time (or maybe two, like straight people who have two partners at once?) Gay people can find true love like straight people or find fake love and be left broken hearted. Not one bit of difference there.
And so, the word “homosexual/loves having sex” is surely a word for anyone and everyone on the planet, not just people who love the same sex. Because, as long as we humans are into carnal pleasures, and keep buying expensive Viagra to enhance sexual ability, we might as well all be called “homo sexual(i)s,” or “those who love having sex,” simple as that. Or who wants to argue that it ain’t so?!!
1 Refers to Frank Bruni and Elinor Burkett, A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church (Harper Perennial, 2002). In the Thai, the quote attributed to Bruni has been translated to the effect of “because they often like having sex of any kind.” The editor believes this was a mistranslation, and has replaced it in this English translation with an actual quote by Bruni which the translator has located on page 14 of the first edition of Marcus’s book (see next endnote). –ed.
2 Original book is Eric Marcus, Is It A Choice? Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Gays and Lesbians (HarperOne, 1st ed. 1993, 2nd ed. 1999, 3rd ed. 2009). Thai translation published 2003.
Entry: buying lesbian books at the National Book Fair!
At the National Book Fair, I brought copies of “an” (pronounced “un,” the title comes from the name Anjaree), our handmade magazine for the “others” of mainstream society, to be put on the shelves for sale at the Alternative Writer booth (the hub for all kinds of non-conventional books) run by Khun Niwat Puttaprasart.
After putting the magazine for sale there, I made an announcement on Anjaree’s website, saying that the an magazine was on sale at this or that fair and anyone who wanted to read it should head to this or that booth.
I did this because internet users and Anjaree subscribers belong to different groups. The regular subscribers tend to live in the provinces and are in the economic and social position of having to struggle far more than the internet users. Still, the internet users, despite being in privileged economic and social positions, face problems with having the magazine delivered to their homes. The fear is that the people she lives with (parents, siblings, relatives) will then know that she is a woman-loving woman. When that information should be shared only with her most trusted friends.
Once, someone who was a school teacher had the magazine posted to her workplace, which is the school. But it so happened that it was during a school break and the teacher wasn’t staying in the village. But others living nearby found the parcel, opened it, and read the magazine. As soon as they realized it was a women-loving women magazine, the teacher was publicly shamed: “This perverted lesbian cannot be allowed to teach our children.” The young teacher had to hurriedly transfer from the school, and she never ever subscribed to the an magazine again.
That’s why many women-loving women can’t get their hands on this magazine, however desperately they want to read it. Since it comes at this much risk to the safety and security of our lives and property, those with good economic standing, therefore, use the internet to connect with other women-loving women, because this is the best method to protect oneself.
But there is no way Thai lesbian magazines can be like lesbian magazines abroad. However many programs and events the Department of Academic Affairs and the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand come up with to promote reading, many women-loving women still won’t dare go buy reading material. Even though the seller (wo)manning this particular booth was so extremely polite and kind.
If I’d had to bring the magazines to a store where the salesperson was homophobic and hated others for no reason, I would have found that more than a little scary.
But anyway, there are many who tell us (via the bulletin board on the website) that they did see the magazines but didn’t dare to pick them up. Instead, they picked up other handmade books and went up to pay for them. Some claim that they can’t bring themselves to go inside and purchase the magazine because they are placed very deep into the store. Some who are a little more brave use the method of stacking other nearby books on top of an, as if smuggling the magazine out of the store (It’s similar to buying porn, isn’t it!)
But to get this brave already requires maaaany rounds of walking past the booth …believe me (I’ve secretly observed this). That is because buying a women-loving women’s magazine requires a very high degree of courage, compared to other books where you just pick up the one you want and pay for it.
That it requires so much courage is because buying the an magazine (especially if the buyer is a woman-loving woman who can’t disclose her own sexual lifestyle) is considered as good as outing yourself or “coming out” in public.
At the very least, we women-loving women will have to come out to the salesperson.
But who among us wants to come out thoughtlessly, as if crossing the street without looking both ways? Since each time you come out, most people around you still won’t accept your way of life that’s different from mainstream society (“alternative lifestyle”). Concentration, mindfulness, clear and stable consciousness are thus crucial (don’t be surprised to find that most women-loving women like reading The Miracle of Being Awake by Thich Nhat Hanh, hee-hee).
Therefore, when using mindfulness to assess the situation (by walking around the booth several times as part of the decision-making process) the vast majority of women-loving women, about 95% opted as a consequence to go back into the closet just like before. Definitely safer that way.
So only twenty-nine brave souls (or fewer: maybe some bought all three issues at once) bought the an magazine at the National Book Fair this year.
True… the sales may be low and can’t compete with popular books like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or whatever. But if we’re talking about the courage required to make a purchase, I really think those two famous book series have got nothing on an!
Entry: my (not) favorite t-shirt
I have some favorite t-shirts, in the small style that I prefer. Some are torn to shreds but I insist on hanging onto them, wearing them to bed because the fabric is softened to my liking. Certain other t-shirts might be im-pec-ca-ble in quality, but I won’t even glace their way, or if I have to wear them, could they be the last possible option?
Yes, I’m talking about the t-shirts that my organization makes to raise funds to support our work. In fact, they’re very ordinary t-shirts, made of plain, stretchy fabric, not fancy at all.
But…(yes, there’s a “but”), but the symbol of the Anjaree group, which is made up of 6 female symbols standing in a row like enoki mushrooms along with the website address, www.anjaree.org, gave me serious pause every time I took it out of the closet.
And that’s not all. That in itself isn’t much. The writing on the back gives even more pause: “same-sex love, just another kind of love.” When I come across these words, my hands go weak and I can muster no strength except to put the t-shirt back in the closet every time. But fortunately, the next line is in English: “say no to homophobia.” People probably won’t fully understand it. Phew! (even now, I’ve just let out a sigh of relief.)
As I think of this, a feeling occurs to me: “wait, am I being homophobic? Because I don’t dare to wear a shirt with those words that are labels, announcing a stance?” This question leaves me stunned. You work to make society understand same-sex attraction and love but don’t dare wear your own campaign shirt, are you nuts?
But I don’t think I’m nuts. And it’s not that I don’t dare to wear it, it’s that I’m afraid that wearing it will put my life and property in danger, that’s all, really.
Some do wear this shirt. Like a younger brother of mine (who loves women) in my hometown. He wears it all the time, he wears it here, there, and everywhere, it makes me quite jealous! And then there’s this friend who works on HIV/AIDS and issues of sex. She wants so, so bad to wear our shirts (again), because it’s lovely and chic and cool and open-minded to wear them. But I’m sorry, she actually has a boyfriend!
That’s the truth! Of the people who wear t-shirts with slogans about lesbians and gays, I’d say about 80% are not women-loving women or men-loving men, but heterosexual allies who are so very open-minded. Most of them aren’t homosexual, believe me.
Likewise, some of my friends living with HIV also don’t dare to wear t-shirts with messages about how Thai society needs a better understanding of HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, I wear t-shirts hand-screened with the word POSITIVE with a + sign which symbolizes having a blood test come back positive for the virus. I wear this shirt everywhere with complete peace of mind.
Yes, because I personally do not have HIV, I can wear that shirt without a care, yet I don’t dare put on my own organization’s shirt. Isn’t that a shame?
Just the other day, I went to a conference about making homemade books and alternative media with two friends (they are women-loving women with short hair like me). Confidently, they put on the Anjaree t-shirt and got ready to leave our organization’s house-office. But I didn’t have their confidence.
So I, unsure, asked my friends, are you sure about wearing this t-shirt for the event? One of them replied, of course, with a lot of determination in her voice.. But she added that once she put on her backpack, people wouldn’t be able to read or see it.
Alas…my friend, trying so hard to be brave, until that last sentence.
The t-shirts that should be our favorite therefore can’t be, because wearing them makes us feel very much unsafe, and could be even more dangerous than wearing a chest binder!
Entry: smart women
I read an interview with Dr. Pornthip, who wrote a book called Fighting for Corpses. It brought up many things for me, especially the point that was raised when the doctor took questions about the “smart woman.”
The interview reminded me of every time I’ve read a story about “smart women.” There’s usually a line about how this smart woman doesn’t like making female friends or hanging around with other women because women are so gossipy, so picky, so fussy, so petty, and on and on it goes.
Clearly, these average women are not friend material, according to the so-called “smart woman.”
A “smart woman” must act like she has overcome, transcended, her sex. That she is simply fully “human,” not “female,” really.
I think it’s similar to how some adults view teenagers. How they look and sigh…aaah, kids these days! How they shake their heads, exasperated by where the country is headed, like nothing good can be expected from today’s teens.
Smart women thus like to boast in interviews about how they surround themselves only with male friends who are “good sports,” just like them. Who aren’t petty, picky or fussy, who have the countless positive male attributes that are so far out of reach for females, or her women friends, who can’t even use a ladder to pull themselves up to that not-fussy, not-petty class.
Why it has to be this way, I’ve no clue…
Or perhaps the prejudices of us humans are so complex as to be beyond expectation, like how people generally accept kathoey or males who change their sex, but only on the condition that the kathoey must be a “well-mannered” kathoey, that she must be a “ladylike” ladyboy (not like Nong Ning), who doesn’t shriek or screech like a villainess, who isn’t a jealous, conniving character like in the TV dramas…and all that people say.
But as for me, I’m happy among my picky, whiny, moody (on that day of the month) girlfriends, because sometimes that’s how I feel too.
And as for kathoey or men who change their sex, I’m comfortable with their high-pitched shrieks. Even among groups of gay men I don’t feel alienated, I surprise myself sometimes!
Oh…I know now…I guess it must be because I’m not a “smart woman”!