Search for a Thai Case Study Suggestion
Let’s make a suggestion about a case study from Thailand for a course to be offered at a college in the USA. This is a course in the theater arts curriculum. The course description says:
Fat Men in Skirts
The class will examine performative elements of gender and how those elements are descended from traditional theatrical approaches to text and practice, specifically that of drag performance. Issues of gender identity and performance will be explored in both Western and non-Western cultures. …The overarching aim of this course is to provide students with an understanding of gender and drag performance as a culturally variable product and to broaden students’ understanding of genders, sexuality, and performance through a variety of case studies. The course explores the ways in which cultures, Western as well as non-Western, construct and provide meanings to gender roles.
It seems obvious to me that Thailand has several types of performance variations. They include the following major types:
· Cabaret theater
· Trans-gender contests
· Costume events
· Memes on social media
· Actors in supporting roles in dramas
· Personal presentation
CABARET THEATER is a Thai specialty. There are internationally famous theaters in several cities. The original was Tiffany Cabaret, that began as a one-man show in 1974 in Pattaya. More than a dozen large-stage productions are listed now – most of which are languishing due to COVID-19 all the performers are male or once were male.
TRANS-GENDER CONTESTS are modeled on international beauty pageants, but are limited to transsexual contestants. The main contest in Thailand is the Miss Tiffany’s Universe contest. The winner goes on to participate in an international contest to select “Miss International Queen”. There are also similar contests for gay men. It can be argued that transgender (male to female) contests originated in Thailand.
COSTUME EVENTS do not necessarily feature transgender performers, but they may do so. These are usually one-time events (as opposed to cabaret theater which have regularly scheduled shows). Such performances can be at the beginning of sports events or conventions, but they may be private parties as well.
MEMES are the newest type of performance art to feature gender-diverse performers. Not all memes involve performance, in fact most are cartoons or photographs of something other than people (cats are a favorite, food is another). In Thailand there are specialists who use selfies and pictures of themselves to convey a message about gender and human rights. I believe Sirisak is the most recognizable meme performer in Thailand.
ACTORS (transgender), usually in supporting roles, are a staple in Thai films and on TV. Gender-bending performances are so routine that almost every angle has been exploited. But the unique Thai layers of meaning are certainly worth consideration.
PERSONAL PRESENTATION, meaning how individuals present themselves in daily life or in their work-role, expands the definition of performance and considers “all the world a stage”. In this respect Thailand may be more conservative than some other countries. Still, there are a few celebrities who defy opposition, and also defy attempts to escape attention and pass unnoticed as the gender which their costume indicates. We rarely see fat men in skirts unless they are at the front door of a gay bar.
Have I missed any?
What would you suggest as a case study that tells something important about Thailand’s unique way of manifesting gender diversity?
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.