LGBTIQ people are getting more exposure in the Thai media but what kind of exposure?
Author: Chitsanupong Nithiwana
Dated: Thursday, July 19, 2018
The media influence how people think. Before, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTIQ) people hardly ever appeared in the Thai media. Now LGBTIQ images are in every platform including television, movies and online social media. But is this for the better or the worse?
Certainly LGBTIQ people are portrayed in limited dimensions. Whether it’s a TV drama, a movie or the news, the Thai media never present positive images of successful LGBTIQ people in professional roles such as doctors, teachers and lawyers or in political roles such as civil servants and government officials. In fact, these images are usually on the bad side. For instance, in TV dramas, gay characters are always complaining and violent. And especially in social media, gay people represent sexual lust, perversion and mental illness. When a heterosexual man meets my gay friends, he gets scared that my friends will rape him because he has seen gays portrayed as sexual lusters in the media.
And transgender women are never portrayed as having any other jobs except as comedians, makeup artists and performers. In reality, of course, nowadays Thai transgender women have regular jobs like everyone else. They also work as teachers, office staff and businesswomen.
You can see these stereotypical roles in famous Thai TV shows and movies. Thai transgender women and gay men are cabaret performers and makeup artists in The Last Song (2006), The Odd Couple (2007), The Twins (So What!) (2010), and The Scarlet Night (2017) -- and even in the American movie The Hangover Part II (2011). Only a few transgender women have been shown in different roles, such as a boxer in Beautiful Boxer (2003) and a doctor in Wake Up The Series (2018)
TV comedy shows often make fun of different sexual orientations and identities. A transgender woman who has not undergone a sex reassignment operation is called “a woman with a snake between her legs”. These shows normalize making fun of LGBTQ people. Jokes based on making fun of others may be entertaining to some people, but they can also hurt. Making fun of LGBTQ people can hurt their feelings, even if it seems fun to you.
Moreover, Thai news programmes usually present news about LGBTIQ people as strange, "wow!" topics. LGBTIQ people are presented as something to be surprised about every time, something not normal in society.
In my case, I’ve learned how the Thai media encourages society to accept LGBTIQ people conditionally – that is, only if they stay in a box. That box is the social stereotype, social expectation.
If you are a transgender woman, your box is to fully look like or sound like a biological woman -- and perform. When it’s time for ice-breaking or fun activities and they need a volunteer to come and dance in front of people, I am always forced to be that volunteer because they have a stereotype -- from the media -- that transgender women dance very well. They think every transgender woman is the same and can dance. But I myself cannot dance very well, so then I am outside their expectation and they cannot fully accept me.
We have diversity of gender; we have not just male and female but also gays, lesbians, transgender people, etc. Just like “normal” people, LGBTIQ people also have different faces, voices, looks, careers. Within each gender are different types of individuals. If you are a transgender woman, it doesn’t mean you have to be a good dancer or a good makeup artist, or your voice has to be like a woman’s. Like you, we also are diverse.
Chitsanupong Nithiwana, or “Best”, is a 23-year-old Thai transwoman. In 2017, she graduated from Chiang Mai University with first-class honors in political science. Her research study about LGBT rights was published by PolSci CMU Journal 2017. Her dream is to become an international journalist supporting LGBT rights in Thailand and South-East Asia.