What if every gay male, female , cross dresser, transsexual and transgender person in your community came out of the closet and appeared openly on the streets, in the shops, bars, restaurants, offices, schools and every other workplace imaginable all on the same day? What would your neighborhood look like? If you’re thinking ‘gay pride parade’ with all the crazy hoopla and frantic pumping, you’d be wrong. In fact I live in a place where sexuality is not an issue of conversation, because differences in lifestyle and preference have long been recognized by society at large as normal and no one thinks twice about someone elses choices.
When I see how openly normal gay and transgendered people live their lives in Thailand, without the cloud of oppression or the fear of repression, and how perfectly acceptable their choice is, I realize how difficult it is for people in the west as diverse as the colours of the rainbow to live their lives with joy and peace.
In Thailand there is a large population of individuals, both male and female, that are referred to as ‘the third sex’. They are not branded as bad or deviant, because such a concept does not exist in the Buddhist doctrine of which the people are intensely proud. It is very common to mingle with persons of the third sex. Many men live openly as women, women can live openly as men, it doesn’t matter here in Thailand. Neither competing world religious view outside Thailand offers such benevolent humanity to all it’s citizens. The Thai’s are wonderfully self assured that ‘differance’ does not infer a negative connotation.
If the person who is dishing out your ice cream is a perfectly made up boy, so what? If the television announcer is a female dressed as a man, what about it? There are no snide remarks, no hate speech, no pronouncements that someones less a person because of what they choose to be, no macho posturing or feigned disgust. And what is nice is that this pervasive attitude of acceptance and calm brings a peaceful vibe to the entire community. When no one is a ‘fag’ anymore, everyone relaxes because ‘straight people don’t have to pretend anymore.
The fact is that Thailand is not a genetic ‘one off’ where a higher percentage of homosexuals and transgender persons have naturally occurred. There are as many of the same mix in every community in the world. The problem for those people living in countries where sex is dominated by religious opinions is that there is a huge number of people in the closet living in fear of ‘being exposed’. They live lives of quiet desperation and fear of the social consequences if they were to choose to come out and show the world who they are.
In Thailand the concept is not about living side by side as that infers that there is an inherent differance. Instead the entire population shares the same space. Cross dressing counter clerks are as common as outright partial gender reassignment. Being swish and stylish is not going to attract violence or remonstrations, your job, career and friendships are not at risk. When there is a very feminine male in a household there is no ostracism, no running away to the big city to hide. Brothers, sisters, moms and dads, sons and daughters can be seen happily chatting and holding hands, whatever the case may be, down the concourse of a shopping mall without shame or guilt. No one has to come on television and make a teary announcement.
This attitude has been shaped by generations of acceptance. The recognition of the third sex has been noted far back in Thai history. Thai society has grown over the centuries with the idea that not everything exists in black and white. The stigma of being ‘different’ is not apparent where people aren’t programmed by social dictates. In Thailand for example is is entirely possible for a transgender person to live out their daily lives in the manner they choose.
They do not have to secret themselves away only to appear after dark in some hidden nightclub. On any given day here in Bangkok you may just as easily have a transgender security guard open the door for you as a waitress or bus conductor. The great leveler it seems, is acceptance of equality by the leadership of both church and state. No one should have to go through life harboring secrets about their sexual identity. Mannerisms, clothing, make up or lifestyle should not be a determination of social acceptance. People who would feel threatened by allowing others the same freedoms they enjoy should give their collective heads a shake.