Sam Thompson

Tolerance

One aspect of Thai culture that must be the envy of the world


"Teacher, wanna see my little show I did to impress my girlfriend?" says one of the girls in my Mathayom 2 class. "Everyone helped me and she loved it!"

The girl, whose English is by far the best in this class, then proceeded to show me a film on someone's iPhone of her and a group of [straight] girls and boys from her class doing some song and dance about how much she loves her girlfriend. Mind you, this is done just after school on school grounds, and gained quite a crowd at my 3,000 student government high school.

Sure, the girl may be a bit young for never-ending love (I remember high school romances...), but that's not my point. Simply put, I am blown away by the amount of acceptance and tolerance by students in Thailand. It is awesome to me that students, straight or gay, all accept each other and even condone one another.

Keep in mind here that I grew up in the "deep South" of the US. For anyone who has seen True Blood, just think... that, except in Georgia and without the vampires. Although I sometimes thought of some of the highly religious Protestants I grew up with to be vampires... I digress. Conservatism, that's what I grew up with. The type with people who never had and will never have a passport. The type that considers even Catholicism as liberal heresy, and that's when Catholics are even considered Christian (I had a public school principal interrupt a teacher in class to say that they are not). Seriously?

That said, I obviously come from a different background, one from which personal differences weren't exactly celebrated. I also certainly know much of the US is not like this, to say nothing of the general social acceptance I saw when I lived in Europe. Still, I know I'm not alone in having experienced this type of community, and the fact that mainstream Thai culture seems perfectly content with people embracing sexuality without consequence makes me smile.

I will grant that countries like the US have made great strides when it comes to acceptance of "different" people, but when I went through high school, being gay was simply not tolerated. I had a gay friend (a "closet gay," being that it was not socially acceptable to be publically gay), and-I'm not making this up-other students used to throw rocks at us when I even walked to class with him. It didn't bother me, being that I had been (and probably still am) on local church prayer lists for being captain of the school debate team (but mainly because I was brought up Episcopal, and thus wasn't "saved" by the majority's standards), but I can only imagine how he felt.

We foreigners may see some aspects of Thai culture as idiosyncratic, but it truly warms my heart when I see even young people in Thailand getting along in spite of personal differences. Sure, they've got political problems out the wazoo; sure, I'm often annoyed by the "keeping up appearances" side of Thai society. But when it comes to being accepting, I would argue that Thais have a strong edge on many Western societies.

I told my [Thai] girlfriend about the incident, and she said, "...and? What's special about that?"

I just smiled.




Comments

This is far too black and white. I've been asked if I'm gay before to which I replied "No". I have nothing against guys and couldn't care less if the prime minister of my country was.

When I replied "No" I was met with "Good! You're a real man" Heard this 'real man' nonsense a few times.

Thais definitely accept gays - but In my humble opinion see them as inferior.

Ever seen a Thai pull a stupid face and say "He's gay" and then just laugh. Most analytical thinkers would say "What's that supposed to mean?"

By Liam, Manchester (28th March 2014)

M.ed

If Thais were so open why would admitting to being gay cause one to lose face?

Actually I do not think we have any major disagreement.

We both wrote that Thai attitudes towards sexual orientation are different from those found in the West and are also quite conservative.

The only point of contention is you placed a value judgment on these differences in attitude which I did not, and warned of accepting at face value.

I am not gay myself, but I would warn those who are from thinking having an alternative sexual orientation does not matter in Thailand.

From my observations, it is quite ok for professionals in Thailand to be obviously gay without being openly gay.

Also from observations it appears it is a good idea for foreigners to follow this same example.

I suspect the concept of Karma helps explains Thai beliefs that being gay is not generally considered as a personal choice, but a natural part of a person’s character, but this is not the place to engage in a philosophical discussion. Nevertheless, the reluctance to accept openly gay leaders indicates Thais generally feel being gay is an inferior state of being and therefore one rarely sees an openly gay person in Thailand reach the top professional levels in society.

Therefore, if an English teacher would like to have his contract renewed, it would be probably a good idea to avoid being seen giving a big hug and wet kiss to one’s same gender boy/girlfriend at the front gate in sight of the school administers and parents even if it appears no one cares what you do behind closed doors.

Accepting superficial and non-nuanced impressions for “reality” can get us into trouble from time to time.

By Jack, On the road (again) (22nd March 2014)

I do not want this thread to become a "yes it is/no it isn't" discussion and I hope the admins won't draw a line and close this topic of conversation; I think it speaks to something much deeper than just sexual orientation tolerance here in the LOS.

Actually, I find Mr. Thompson's article is really speaking about what I, and likely many other readers here, already know to be very true: the Thai's are tolerant of pretty much EVERYTHING under the sun compared to Western cultures.

Think of how many times you've experienced a situation where you wanted to explode and make a scene about something that you found shocking, disliked, bothered you, or made you just plain angry/mad (loud noises, bad/dangerous driving, cutting queues, the list goes on and on for kilometers) and yet the Thais simply smile and go on with life indifferently wondering why you are so intolerant?

I also wanted to address Jack-on-the-road's reply regarding how many 'open' gays you see in Thai society. Jack, please keep in mind that Thai people, in general, are VERY conservative in that they are easily embarrassed and afraid of losing face, etc. and do not wish to make anyone feel 'mai sabaii' because of something they do or are.

In the West, tolerance is equated with liberal and intolerance with conservative. I think the situation here, like many things, is completely reversed from that point of view. You are looking at Thailand with the viewpoint of a Westerner: being openly gay/lesbian in public and having 'rights' to be married = tolerance. I think it's safe to say many places where people are open about their sexual orientation the society around them becomes even more intolerant, if anything, because people make a huge issue out of it whereas here it's just not an issue to begin with. So what? You're gay/lesbian why make a fuss about it and show to the world you are different?

Here it's just a fact of life that is tolerated and no need to blow it up and make it some huge social movement. Everyone is already OK with the reality of differences and it's just not an issue like so many, many other things that gets Westerners all tied up in knots. We all know how deep the 'mai pen rai' attitude goes here and how 'sanook' and 'sabaii' are the mantra we live by. Who would want it any other way???

Back to the school examples we're all familiar with: in my school it's very common for teachers to point out the fat kids and call them "Hey Oowan!" with a smile, or my students telling me (as young as Anuban 3!) that their classmate is a lady boy or a tom without an air of bullying or teasing at all. They just point it out as a matter of fact and move on; to me, that is the epitome of the word 'tolerance'. In Western societies the "other" is ridiculed, scorned, and in many cases outright attacked for the very fact of just being different.

And, to me, that makes Thailand a special, wonderful, and almost magical place to live; I am willing to bet it may be the very reason many of you ajarns and khrus, like myself, tolerate things here that would otherwise drive you crazy and make you leave on the next plane out of here. A lesson in tolerance the world could learn from the amazing people of this very unique land!

By M.Ed., Surin (22nd March 2014)

How many Thai politicians are openly gay?

How many Katoeys does one see as CEOs of Thai companies?

How many university professors or military leaders are seen with same gender partners in public in LOS?

Is gay marriage legal in Thailand?

The is a lot of evidence Thailand retains pretty conservative attitudes towards alternative sexual lifestyles.

To think Thais are so much more open to differences in lifestyles than are people in the West is relying on extremely superficial impressions and ignores a lot of conflicting information.

It appears Thai attitudes toward diversity including differences in sexual orientation differ somewhat from the attitudes found in the western countries where most Ajarn readers and commentators come from, but I would suggest taking a more nuanced view then thinking “them good and us bad” would be more appropriate.

By Jack, Still on the road (17th March 2014)

Really, Fred, I think you are the one living in a bubble. What does your comment about the current political situation have to do with Mr. Thompson's nicely written article regarding the Thai's acceptance and openness regarding sexuality and sexual orientation? I have lived in, worked in, and traveled to over 27 countries in my 50+ years and there is NO PLACE else on this planet where someone of 'alternative' sexual orientations can be as accepted as here in LOS. Sorry to burst your bubble, but their depth of tolerance exceeds any other I've seen on this planet plain and simple and another of the uncountable reasons I call this place my home.

By m.ed, Surin (15th March 2014)

I like that about Thailand as well (specifically, sexual tolerance in Thailand). In general, no one gives a damn if you're straight, gay, or anything in between. Not like most western societies.

By James, BKK (12th March 2014)

A nice read, but as far as an examination of Thai attitudes towards diversity including sexual orientation it was quite superficial.

By Jack, On the road (9th March 2014)

If you want to see the true depth of 'tolerance' in Thailand, watch what happens when one of them wears a red shirt and the other a yellow one. Grenades and bullets fly. They are just as flawed as anyone else; don't live in a bubble.

By Fred, Tak (9th March 2014)

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