"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.