This blog is about, “What can I say to make people understand?”
First, the situation: Pramote Wanna and I have a secure, mutually satisfactory life together. After 9 years we were officially married in Iowa in 2009. This relationship is the result of a slowly-developed realization that we are good for each other and together can provide what each of us would lack singly. We are also accepted and integrated into each other’s clans. I have a definite status and role in Pramote’s extended family and he has a place of esteem in mine. Because we live in Thailand we are not afforded the full protection and benefit of the law, of course. I am an officially unattached alien. I have an annually renewed right to live here and work at Payap University. Should something unforeseen happen and the Thai government decide I must depart, my relationship with Pramote would count for nothing. But for 16 years the worst that has happened has been my loss of title, membership status and roles in the church here. This was due to the aggressive attacks of American missionaries rather than action by Thai leaders. In all these years since 2000 the only homophobia and danger we have experienced has been from Americans.
Now, the problem: How can I explain that here in northern Thailand we feel safe but there in the USA we do not? The problem is not in articulating this. I have just said it. The problem is that the people to whom I say it reject what I’m saying. “Oh, the situation is not so bad,” some say. On a day-to-day basis people in the USA are kind, considerate, tolerant and polite. The exceptions are rare. Still, the exceptions are there. And they are not as rare as they used to be. Violence and terrifying events almost never happen here against same-sex adult couples. There they happen regularly. They are not exceptional. They are accelerating. “Just ignore those comments,” others advise. I can do that. I have been subjected to enough criticism and abuse to handle it. But I don’t think Pramote can put it into the same minimalist perspective I can. I cannot promise him that our comfort and safety as a gay couple would be as great there as here. In fact, I would have to say that the opposite would be the case. “Well, there are risks you take anywhere,” I am reminded. Yes, statistically our chances of being involved in a fatal auto accident are greater here. My chances of confronting a cobra in the bathroom are practically nil in Illinois. But our chances of being subjected to harassment or discrimination are much greater in America.
Finally, the reality: I do not have to emigrate with Pramote back to the USA and we have no plans to do so. This discussion is hypothetical. It’s “what-if” thinking. But the reality is that for the last decade our type of relationship was becoming mainstream in the USA and that meant we could begin to expect movement here in Thailand, too. Now we are going to be on the defensive again. I have counted the postings by LGBT friends on Facebook and there is not one since November 8 that shows confidence we can keep on making progress into the mainstream without a fight or struggle. We LGBT Americans and immigrants cannot expect to do more than hold onto as much of the progress we have made as we can. Violence is becoming acceptable. Extremism is expanding. A considerable amount of it is directed at us.
I would like to be proud and unafraid but it’s not working.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.