Written and translated by Chertalay Suwanpanich
The following polemic against “the Thai left” has in mind two separate groups of people: first, pro-democracy activists dubbed “byō” for their shallow contrarianism and trolling of feminist spaces online; second, well-seasoned leftist or left-leaning media personalities and intellectuals who minimize or exacerbate issues of patriarchal domination and sexual violence within the movements against dictatorship.
It was written in 2020 by Chertalay Suwanpanich, who self-identifies as a “FemTwit.” FemTwit is a somewhat pejorative shorthand in Thai for a particular brand of feminism prevalent on the social media platform Twitter, originally used with the subtext that it is an aberration from legitimate forms of feminism. FemTwits are known for their rage (or “twitter meltdowns”) over anything that smacks of discrimination against women, queer, transgender, or non-binary people no matter which side it comes from.
While the protagonist in “The Sound of Laughter” (also in this issue of Sanam Ratsadon) wonders, “the golden light for someone who has everything versus the golden light for someone who’s lost everything—is it the same golden light?,” this polemic takes this line of questioning further. Contrasting the sensitivity of those whose emotional receptors “can measure things in teaspoons” versus those whose emotional receptors “are submerged in the ocean in an era of climate change,” Chertalay wonders,
I’ll never be able to grasp why those people demand justice and their wishful revolution if they do not care about daily safety? […] What does a revolution call for and what is your meaning of justice if you do not desire all those? What do you desire then? Perhaps the horizon I see isn’t the same one as the horizon they see.
Chertalay’s refusal to cleanly distinguish between different groups of people under the sweep of “the Thai left” seems to be posing the question: if one is not sensitive enough to take seriously the grievances of those affected by gender-based violence, what difference will ideological erudition make? Certainly, the writer is part of the demographic of highly educated people who have found refuge and inspiration in certain works of scholarship. But make no mistake: this is not a generation of would-be academics or theorists. As Chertalay wrote in her translator’s introduction to the Thai edition of Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness (soi press, 2021):
Let me confess here that I very much do not like reading scholarly books. (I mean those books in the social sciences and the humanities laden with theory and jargon so obscure that even a dozen rounds of reading fail to grasp what is really meant). In all honesty, I think that such scholarship which deliberately does not communicate to humankind and is devoid of all feeling and emotion ends up not on a pedestal, but in an abyss so deep and narrow that the common human can’t climb down to retrieve it.
The Promise of Happiness is not that kind of book. I first read this book while taking a comparative literature course during my third year in university. Ajarn Chutima Pragatwutisarn asked us to read the introduction and Chapter 3 (Unhappy Queers or, as I translate it, บัณเฑาะก์กรรมหนัก.) That course was probably where people were the most excited by reading scholarly books in my experience. Everyone said with one voice that it made them cry. I was relieved to hear that, relieved to know that I was not being overly fragile, that I was not the only one crying, that I was not a weirdo or an alien for crying while reading a scholarly book.
First published in Thai on the website Medium, Chertalay’s post received over 1.7 thousand claps from readers. No longer a fringe element in the pro-democracy movement nor a small subset of the already small number of feminists in the country, the so-called “nervous wrecks” (ประสาทแดก) have emerged as a significant political force.
โกรธคือโง่ โมโหคือบ้า: ฉันโง่ บ้า และเป็นเฟมินิสต์
Yes, I’m your angry, mad, hysterical woman. And an unapologetic feminist.
Disclaimer: I offer you my apologies that I am not a white man born around the 19th century whose blather, sometimes stolen from their wives’ words, keeps getting saluted by those leftist Thai males who prostrate themselves before every word of these white men. I guess these white guys may be looking down from their Palace of Versailles wondering what these yellow monkeys are doing? ‘The Asiatic ritual of paying respect is fascinating. They pray just like the invertebrates.’
. . .
Just a few topics float in my mind these days
- Work, work, work, and work. If I continue to work at this pace, I could die before I turn thirty or at least get degenerative disc disease.
- The Covid-19 pandemic and my newfound OCD of washing my hands with alcohol gel every fifteen minutes, putting banknotes into an envelope instead of my wallet for fear that the virus can last on the surface up to nine days!
- “The feminists are too angry. They’re this moody and emotional and they want people to listen and be on their side?”
- Pro-democracy/leftist academics and activists, especially the MEN who collectively spark my curiosity: can I hold them accountable? Or just because they affirm their ‘pro-democracy’ stance then I have to put my hands together and pay my respects to them? I realise all too well that the bar in this country is so high and far above hell.
- If Khun Phaen were on Twitter, would he hate FemTwit? Or if Buddha were born in B.E. 2563 and had found the Facebook groups The Sanctuary of Wong********/Très Byō***/Yannawa Sa******, would this be the turning point for him to give up his worldly attachments and search for enlightenment instead of the incident of witnessing birth, ageing, illness, and death. Or would he turn into one of the FemTwits and weather against men who are trash (*not all men but the incels are definitely trash).
I am so bone-tired of the polluted air and the conversation around gender equality among the leftist academics and activists that if I had been born as a meritful man, I would have ordained myself out of lost faith in humanity and gained enlightenment a long time ago.
Too bad I’m a woman and every particle in my body and every breath I take tells me that I cannot get ordained. Even if I could I wouldn’t be able to climb up the monk status promotion to become a Supreme Patriarch (or Matriarch), or even a mere abbot (or abbess). All I can do is feel my heart stabbed and wrenched when someone says feminists are too emotional and cannot be reasoned with.
I have long made use of reason in trying to find the answer to why, in a family reunion, the nephews always sit idly but the nieces are the ones engaging in all sorts of errands, cooking, setting the table, washing dishes.
I have made use of reason in trying to understand why my mom had to teach me from a young age, repeated to me over and over again more consistently that the sun that rises in the east and sets in the west to “Do not go anywhere alone with a male relative, even the close ones. If he asks you to go with him, even if it’s an uncle or a grandfather, do not go. When you go to school, if a male teacher asks you to go into a classroom and be alone with him, do not go. Do not trust men, they’re dangerous.”
I made use of reason when I wore shorts and was about to go out and a family member told me to cover up or else I would be seen as a bad woman or I would be abducted and raped by some bandit. I made use of reason when I read news about a 12-year-old who was gang-raped by her male relatives – she had covered herself up pretty well, of course. I made use of reason when I saw a Thai drama romanticise a rape scene or use rape as a deus ex machina to avenge a female antagonist. I made use of reason when a girl friend of mine just sat and cried for hours because she was forced by her boyfriend to give him a blowjob, and when I learned another girl friend had been depressed for three years because she was raped by her boyfriend. I made use of reason when I read an article implicitly in defence of pedophelia, when I asked myself over and over whether that writer realised what kind of pain is inflicted upon sexually abused children. Have they ever heard of forced child marriage where a 10-year-old girl tied the knot with some 50-year-old man?
I took deep breaths in – and out. I tried to do vipassana meditation. I am a woman. I have to practice thinking and reasoning objectively. Don’t be emotional. Don’t get angry. And yes, talk nicely.
I made use of reason when my cousin’s father abandoned him and his mother. The father never paid any bills, nor lifted a finger to call his son on the phone to ask how well (or unwell) he’s doing. I made use of reason when my grandmother told the story of her father who abandoned his wife and twelve children to join the communist party, leaving my great grandmother all alone to raise her twelve children, with my grandmother, the oldest of the siblings, helping raise the other eleven lives.
I made use of reason when I found out a lesbian friend of mine had been depressed for the better part of a decade because her family just wouldn’t understand. Because we live in a society that thinks being a lesbian is just a phase and being a ‘tom’ or ‘dee’ can be fixed just like a broken clock waiting for some man to wind it up. As if sexual fluidity is not sexuality. As if only heterosexual people are the only ones with legitimate lives and souls. I made use of reason when a gay friend was bullied for being gay and had to carry a utility knife to school to protect himself, and to carry inside the scars and the inability to trust humanity which he seems to carry around still many years later.
I made use of reason when a trans woman from a foundation in Pattaya explained to me how higher education was meaningless for trans people. Companies wouldn’t take them anyway. Trans women had to then resort to prostitution. Sometimes a customer came alone but once they got to the room ten of his friends were waiting. And when trans women got raped and went to the police, sometimes the police threw it back in their face saying ‘it’s considered lucky for your kind to get laid, isn’t it?’
I made use of reason when I looked at statistics of schoolchildren who were bullied because of their gender or sexuality, when I saw a guy friend get bullied because he deviated from binary gender norms, when I heard about those men who got raped and couldn’t tell their stories because of toxic masculinity, when another guy friend sat and cried with me for hours because his family told him to ‘man up and don’t cry,’ because this society doesn’t allow men to cry. Be logical. Don’t get emotional. Do not cry. Don’t let your tears fall. Don’t be emotional. Don’t. Even when the wounds in your heart shatter you into pieces and you know that humans are vulnerable and can be easily broken. Don’t cry. Be logical. Tears and anger are not going to help you.
If you do not feel much of anything, congrats! Perhaps the universe revolves around you, perhaps your emotional receptors can measure things in teaspoons. Perhaps you do not know that the emotional receptors of women, queers, and victims of sexual violence are submerged in the ocean in an era of climate change where the waves are relentless, tsunamis perpetually strike, volcanoes erupt, corals bleached, sea creatures go extinct, and the ocean filled with waste.
I am so bone-tired that I cannot put my feelings into words even as I am putting them down. I want to pour out every twist, bruise, and scar in my soul into every letter and inscribe them in every word, but I feel myself incapable of doing that. Do I need to tell you that gender is the way one breathes? It is the way people tell me to sit properly because I am a woman. It is my gaze at the world and its gaze at me, and yet I have to lower my eyes when it looks back at me. Gender is the way I feel my own pace getting faster and faster when I walk past a group of motorcycle taxi drivers or a gang of men or in a silent alley. Gender is the way my heart pounds against my chest when I walk alone in the evening in my own neighbourhood and I hear steps behind me. Every woman knows that millisecond of relief when we glance to see the person walking behind, and realise it’s a woman. We all know that moment of relief by heart and every woman is a professional athlete: we’re racewalkers in silent alleys. If there were such a category for the Olympic Games, every woman would qualify.
Since when have you been aware of your gender identity? I look back and try to find the answer, to know why a human’s self and soul gets entwined with gender this much. How and what have we been taught? Make use of reason yourself. Stick to logic. I think you’ll know if you take just a little time to sit and actually think. This is not some kind of a philosophical conundrum. Think. And do not respond by treating human lives as your intellectual playground. A life is a life, just like what Salman Rushdie said (maybe you’ll listen to him better than me since he is a man):
“But human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.” (Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991)
I believe that’s how life works. I dare not teach other people how to feel and live their lives. I see things from my cracked lenses. We all see things from our cracked lenses and our ways of life. Human beings are creatures of experience; our beings are moulded by experience. Even though emotions and feelings are sometimes structured and people of the same gender may share certain experiences, I do not have the nerve to go and tell survivors of sexual violence what to feel, how to speak, how to demand things, how polite a woman should be when she comes out to tell a story of getting raped by her own father and how that makes her loathe men. I dare not.
And I’ll never be able to grasp why those people demand justice and their wishful revolution if they do not care about daily safety? Is the bounty for revolution that distant from the need to not suffocate, to breathe till your lungs are full, to walk on pothole-less streets, to eat three meals a day, to drink clean water, and to sleep a good night’s sleep? What does a revolution call for and what is your meaning of justice if you do not desire all those? What do you desire then? Perhaps the horizon I see isn’t the same one as the horizon they see.
But do they realise that their dichotomy between emotion and reason is outdated by a few centuries. Perhaps we have lived too long in Thai society? Perhaps they want to travel back in time just like Maneechan in Tawipob (The Siam Renaissance), but instead of travelling back to Siam, they would like to go back to the land of white colonisers who invented the binary opposition between emotion and logic to dehumanise the natives (of course the yellow monkeys like us are included in the equation.) Do they deem the white land a renaissance of humanity where everyone is level-headed? Think. Perhaps you can afford to be logical because you look at the world based on your experience only. But let me tell you that to be impassive is also an emotion. Just think. Black people have the right to be furious at the social structure that has been oppressing them for hundreds of years. They have the right to be enraged at the history of slavery and outrageous plunder of resources that belonged to them, at being segregated from good neighborhoods, jobs and schools. Poor people in this country have the right to be angry at the elite who oppress them. Very much in the same vein, women and queers in this country have the right to be angry. Do you see something here? Can you notice the structure of emotion? Who is barred from expressing anger? Who is positioned to always be respectful and silenced? Who cannot show anger, those in power or those who are powerless? Oppressors or the oppressed? You know in your heart it is always the latter.
Maybe I am foolish and mad for being this emotional. This must be what you deem me to be. Your cracked lenses cannot see through the logical raison d’etre of passionate emotions of those who are oppressed because of their gender or sexuality. You do not care for the heart and human experiences. And I do agree that the feminists are indeed foolish and crazy – crazily courageous and foolhardy – to stand up and yell at this unjust patriarchal society. I invoke this from Sara Ahmed: “Some people describe the struggle against racism [sexism in this case] as hitting your head against the brick wall. The wall keeps its place, so it is you that gets sore.” But I also want to see where the collective voices of feminist banging our heads against the brick wall can take us to.
My apologies for being a mad and foolhardy femnist. My apologies for being too emotional and not so logical. You might expect such apologies from me but apologies in this case equate to apologising for being a woman in the world that does not embrace me. I am not going to apologise and I am not going to stop screaming and being angry at gender discrimination and injustice no matter what shape or form it takes.
This is how it is. From now on you have to “man up” and be more logical in order to see more clearly that there are people in this world, especially feminists, who do not want to follow your steps. And if you are some kind of abuser you may as well be aware that from now on there are going to be people who are incessant and relentless in holding you accountable for your actions. The world is round and wider than the horizon you sit looking at with the hammer and sickle in your hand.
From a FemTwit.
Some statistics to look at:
Thailand lacks comprehensive national statistics on gender inequality especially on gender discrimination and domestic/intimate partner violence but there are some here and there that you can read: