Nearly every evening, a group of 9 homosexual males who coin themselves "The Beat Generation" gather outside of the park temple to rehearse a modern hip-hop dance routine. They are talented, flamboyant and inspiringly proud of it.After enjoying their routine and speaking with the friendly members, my friends and I tried to imagine "The Beat Generation" in one of our hometown parks. I certainly couldn't imagine their act not attracting a swarm of attention in America, some of which would surely be unwanted. My South African pals insist they'd be the laughing stock of the town and the target of outward discrimination in their extremely intolerant country. In Ubon, the fellow park-goers don't blink twice at the routine, except maybe to pause and admire theirs moves in between their own nightly pre-occupation.
Although Thailand is a less than perfect society in terms of discrimination given the high value placed on skin color, it is refreshingly gay-friendly.
Being gay in Thailand isn't just a matter of being "accepted" by society. In Thailand, sexuality exists as it should in any culture - it's merely a matter of personal preference received without judgment.
As a teacher in Thailand, it is intriguing to witness the dynamic between the homosexual & heterosexual students in class, which is so very estranged from my observation in American grade school. Although I cannot speak from personal experience, it seems an immense challenge for a Western child to be openly gay - and there must always be the production of "coming out". In Thailand, it is treated as it should be: a fact of life. Children who recognize they're gay early on have nothing to hide - there is no shame and no hatred.
Thailand is often associated with "ladyboys," or transgendered males that live as females. The rumors are true, the prevalence of ladyboys exists all over the country, although you'll find the major hubs in Bangkok and Pattaya.
I have had "ladyboy" students as young as thirteen in my classes, who have made the decision to become a girl at an early age. Although there are also many gay boys (and girls), seemingly a huge number of gays voluntarily change their sex. It was theorized to me that perhaps because of their innate Buddhist morals, many individuals believe they were meant to be born as a woman or man and therefore take it upon themselves to alter their unlucky fate.
In Thailand, PDA is not the done thing, for both homo- & hetero-sexual couples. It is rare to see couples go so far as hold hands in public.
To compensate for the lack of affection among couples, friends are overly-affectionate in public. Commonly, straight girl friends of all ages will hold hands in public. My [straight] high school boy students lay all over each other, sit on each others' laps and touch each other in ways that would have American high school boys running for the door.
We are all human beings. It is only natural for us to crave physical connection with another human. In a society that frowns upon public affection with a significant other, outwardly physical friendships have become the norm. Perhaps their immunity towards affection of same-sex friends has shaped an environment in which all people can connect with who ever they choose - without judgment.
Growing up in the West, I did not know that it was feasible for sexuality to be treated with such indifference. Certainly, America has made commendable progress in terms of gay rights, but there is a long, long road ahead. Sadly, it's hard for me to imagine my country ever being as open-minded as Thailand - and I'm talking about a place with absolutely no sexual discrimination from anyone - at least in my lifetime.
One thing that I can take away from living here is that it is possible to create an environment where everyone can live peacefully regardless of sexual preference, and it's a beautiful thing. Hats off to Thailand.