“Sam I need your help.”
Said Jenny – a Thai woman in her late thirties who hired me for a freelance job writing email for marketing her husband’s cheese company. “This might be a bit strange.” She cleared her throat and asked me the question that had been in the back of her mind since we sat down to discuss work over a wheel of brie. “Do you think it’s ok for a seven-year-old boy to wear Wonder Woman costume to a Halloween party?”
If this had been in China – the boy would have had many stares in the street and the family that allows a boy to cross dress because they think it’s cute would certainly be excluded from future party invitations. I hadn’t watch Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman until a colleague told me I can see Chris Pine naked in the movie. Nude scenes aside, the action scenes are very well done and exciting (specially for a seven-year-old kid regardless to their gender). I could understand why an innocent young boy would want to wear a Wonder Woman costume and perform her super powers at a Halloween party.
“I think it’s fine.” I assured her – given this conversation took place in Bangkok and the woman I was speaking to was friendly and opened-minded.
“Don’t you think he might be gay?” Jenny then asked.
On other occasions, I would suggest he might be. But it’s a Halloween party. In some schools in America and Australia there’s a day when students would cross dress while attending classes for the entire day. If a straight guy wore typical female costome or went to a party as Catwoman, no one would seriously think he’s gay. In order to do that you must brand yourself as perfectly straight so you’d already appeared straight to public’s eyes.
“Yeah, but he’s seven.” Jenny’s voice was starting to jar, like she’d just swallowed the whole piece of ham chunk. “A childhood friend of mine used to wear his grandmother’s wigs, we learned how to put makeup on together, and now he’s grown up to be a drag queen. He’s one of my best friends but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be his parent.”
In Bangkok, gay culture is accepted (although we are still waiting for gay marriage to be legalized) and we welcome flocks of gay tourists from mainland China or other places to spread their slutty butterfly wings in full. There is an unspoken boundary that having a same-sex partner is acceptable, but cross-dressing is not. Let alone having sex change surgery. I once interviewed a highly sought-after doctor who performed sex-change surgery and he revealed that: “Having your sex change is the easy part. The difficult part is when you want to change it back again. I had performed a penis transplant to many trans men who has been through family turmoil and wanted to have their sex reverse but it is extremely difficult and that will never been the same again.”
In Asia, you may have read news about gay men being sentences to thirty strokes of the cane or foreign tourists being prosecuted for kissing their same sex partner in pubic in countries like Indonesia or the Stan countries. China, Korea, Japan are in many ways no different although it’s more of a cultural punishment by being abandoned or rejected from a social group. Good news is that Bangkok is only located in the space of six hours away on the plane where they can have a gay acceptance stamp on arrival.
So why is Thailand – one of the places where being gay should be turmoil –so open to gay culture?
I swear I didn’t watch Thai soap operas but it’s hard growing up and not to watch it on television after dinner with friends or parents. The habit most Thais have still exists today. In all the soap operas there is at least one gay character with the best punch line or become a subject of humiliation (in a funny way). Their unexpected witty lines and loveable portrait were televised for decades which bring homosexuality to become the norm and acceptance in the present day.
That say being gay is to be witty and hilarious. The more open you are the more acceptance you’d get…
Back to the table with Jenny – a mother trying to decode the unfathomable behaviors of her son. Worrying which direction of parenting she should be steering forward. This event brought back to memory of me being obsessed with The Powerpuff Girls and when I told my family that I’m dating a guy. On the upfront they were like: “Oh… That’s cute.” But now I’m thinking about what kind of conversation they had behind my back.
How many signs I had cluelessly left to raise enough suspicions for my parents so it wasn’t a big surprise when I came out?
As parent you are picking clues and reading signs – but nothing beats the feeling of being able to be who you are and to be surrounded by people who love and support you because you are being true to yourself, you are honest. That’s why the more open you are the better.
Maybe it’s not so bad to let a seven-year-old to be whoever he likes on Halloween. For the sake of one day he could turn this childhood event into a memory of wonder he didn’t realize that he had.
Sam Nathapong is a writer and lifestyle journalist living in Bangkok. Twitter @