Our group of gay and transgender friends is made up of somewhere between 5 and 80 people between the ages of 12 and 90. Obviously, we’d don’t keep strict records. To be honest, we don’t know who is in the group because “in or out” are very fluid. We only know who we are in terms of doing something.
Things are coming up. Our group will help with a niece’s wedding here at the house later today. We will be doing what we are good at doing: flowers, facials, food…the other F stuff. We expect 300 to 350 for dinner tonight. Some of our group have been here since yesterday, decorating. I estimate, for this event, our group consists of a dozen or so…could be more by tonight.
The annual Loy Kratong festival of lights is next week. Our group will probably be very involved in decorating floats, as we do every year. Upwards of 100,000 people line the streets of Chiang Mai for the big parade on the final night. We’ll have a community party in our village, too, and part of our group usually helps run things out here.
The next big event is my spouse’s birthday. Pramote will be 50 on 12/12/12. Most of our group are coming, maybe up to 50, including neighbors and kinfolks. You are invited. Seriously. Just let me know. That may turn out to be our group’s big event of the season.
Christmas is coming next after that. Every year Pramote and I have a Christmas party at the village school. A couple of years ago we also went with a big group of Buddhist monks to have Christmas and New Year’s in a couple of ethnic Karen, Buddhist-Christian villages (see the picture to the right at the top of the page). The rest of Christmas is with family.
The main event in past years has been a New Year’s Eve count-down party and costume contest (see the picture on the left at the top of the page). We can count on about 30 or 40 of our group to come here to avoid the congestion in town, although this year some from far away may come for the birthday instead.
We are thinking about going down to Phuket after the New Year to see Nick perform in the famous Simon Cabaret Revue before they leave for a two-month-long overseas tour. He’s still one of our group even though he’s playing on a larger stage than the rest of us.
What we do, you see, is the glue that holds our group of friends together. It is how we identify ourselves.
This year I wrote a semi-fictionalized set of stories about our group, called Ban Den Friends. I’ll send you an e-mail copy if you want one (200 pages). Or you can subscribe to the on-line gay magazine OUT in Thailand and get a serialized version, coming soon.
If you do you can count yourself a part of our group, too.
A few words about the US Thanksgiving Day:
By tradition and an act of Congress, Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday of November every year. It was made official in 1863 at a time in US history when the USA was in great need of being prompted to be thankful, for a bloody civil war was threatening to destroy the nation. But it was also a harvest festival meant to recall the legend of the first harvest by the “Pilgrims” in 1621 in New England.
A couple of things have dulled the edge of Thanksgiving. In particular are the facts that statistically few Americans actually have a harvest, an even more minute percentage of the population can trace their heritage back to those religious exiles, and the event being commemorated was actually the beginning of an invasion of North America and the dislocation or destruction of almost everybody who lived there.
Still, the turkey dinner day survives. A gay friend in San Francisco calls it his favorite holiday. It was one of mine, too, when I was growing up. I can, I think, still recall the smell of the roasting bird stuffed with sage dressing.
Maybe I should just eschew my scruples and ignore my notion that Thanksgiving, like so much of the patriotic culture of my homeland is fabrication which camouflages realities and inflates nostalgia about nonsense. Maybe I should just forget that the Cherokee nation was cheated out of everything and my ancestors did it, and everything we remember about the Pilgrims was wrong. But really, wild turkey is vastly overrated as a gastronomic treat. The corn and soybean harvest back home in mid-America was decimated by drought this year. America is again/still/always at war. Gay people are threatened with violence every day. What’s to celebrate?
Well, most Americans, by which we do not mean Canadians and somehow do mean Hawaiians, will ignore the big things and concentrate on closer blessings if they choose to be literal about giving thanks. We’ll select things to remember like the new baby, the drugs are working for Mom, Janet got accepted in Purdue…things like that. And then we’ll tuck into the hormone-bloated butterball turkey and the sage dressing by Chef Boyardee, just like the Pilgrims had on Plymouth Rock.
Or out here in Chiang Mai we might just move on toward Loy Kratong.
Several months ago the Thai NGO MPlus+, an organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS but turning to civil rights, sponsored a seminar on gay marriage and gender diversity rights. Representatives came from Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. The speakers essentially agreed it would be unlikely that any of the official leaders or their religious hierarchies would be supportive of gay marriage or of providing access and acceptance to gay people, even those gay and lesbian people within their own faith communities. In other words, openly gay people would in some ways be unwelcome and any official discussion of the issue would be unlikely.
Late in the afternoon, having been mellowed by the day-long plea from the largely gay and lesbian participants, the Buddhist spokesman tentatively proposed that maybe gay and lesbian Buddhists could form their own sect (denomination) and write their own rules, as Buddhism allows, he said. Now, how likely is that?
The participants were all aware that there is tacit tolerance of LGBT people, or at least of LGBs and some Ts. We can slink around inside religious functions as long as we don’t do, say, or seem in any way queer. Any particular insight, gift, or point of view we might bring would be expected to be gender neutral from us, and we would be required to tolerate heterosexual assumptions and occasional homophobia with equanimity and a wry smile. At this rate, the three leading religions in Thailand (and many other countries) are fine with abdicating all responsibility for social leadership with regard to gender rights, and are unperturbed about offering only low levels of love and support to their own gay sons and daughters.
Come on, people, is this the best we can do?
By next week this time we should have a better idea whether gay rights will make a big step forward or we will be forced to shuffle. I am referring to the US election taking place this Tuesday, November 6th. We will see if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be in the US White House in January and whether the US Congress will be in Democrat or Republican control. Obama and the Democrats will try to promote gay rights (to some extent) but Romney and the Republicans have promised to thwart such things as same-sex marriages.
There is no direct or necessary correlation between what happens in the USA and other countries. But we will be affected anyway. Events in Washington DC are more than mere portents. A big set-back for gay rights in the USA will encourage anti-gay partisans everywhere.
I take it that the right to get married is the current barometer measuring the pressure for the whole range of LGBT rights. Apparently the opponents think so, too. It would be difficult to account for the force of their opposition otherwise. They must think that if gay marriages are allowed to be normal, then gay civil rights in other areas will follow, and soon gay people will be normalized rather than stigmatized, ostracized and otherized. Their rhetoric is panicky and exaggerated, implying that allowing us into the mainstream will undermine stable society and imperil civilization. We retort that we are already everywhere and social order is not crumbling, so just give us a fair slice of the benefits.
I wonder if we aren’t understating the stakes in the gay-marriage movement as much as the hysterical opponents are overstating it.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.