The Kai Song food shop in Nam Bor Luang Village is our default place for a meal when Pramote has been too busy or tired to fix something. It is run by Kai (pronounced “guy”) and her life-partner Nong. They list ten or fifteen things they are ready to cook, but they can usually cook whatever you suggest if they have the ingredients. It is a “Food to Order” shop, as opposed to a noodle shop. The shop is, not coincidentally, right across the lane from a Thai massage school that has a constant stream of students from Japan. Kai and Nong were hired 10 years ago to be cooks for the school, and then they had a chance to open their own shop across from the front gate which expanded their clientele. They still provide food for the massage students who come for a week or two. It appears that Kai and Nong are well accepted in the village, and they are frequently visited by relatives.
I do not yet know how Kai and Nong found each other. I think they would tell me if I were bold enough to ask. But that is precisely the matter I want to consider.
First, it is not customary for a couple to discuss openly how they met, how their relationship developed, and how they decided to make their relationship public. An invitation to a wedding typically comes as a complete surprise to almost everyone. It is not discussed ahead of time, as if that might jinx the whole thing, or bring shame on the couple if the marriage were called off. Even years later those early days of a relationship are kept private.
Second, one thing Kai and Nong have in common with Pramote and me is an atypical relationship. I doubt that Kai and Nong are as “out” about their lives as are Pramote and me. We have gay parties and fly a rainbow flag (thanks to a gay couple who visited us a month ago), and Pramote is affectionately called “Madame” by half the people in our village. I have declared our house a sanctuary for any gay boys or girls who need a safe house, and I have published a book with the subtitle “Gay Experiences in Thailand”. But, as with Kai and Nong, the community at large has found a “neutral” category for us as a couple. It is ambiguity that matters. Ambiguity is important. Abandoning it is risky and almost always unnecessary. I think that is a very large difference between how society functions in North Thailand from how things work in North America.
Third, all relationships are somewhat atypical. Each couple in Pramote’s family has a relationship that is unlike any other couple. Let me explain it this way: although Pramote and I are the only couple in the extended family who are identified as “same-sex”, our relationship is not as “abnormal” or “flexible” or “unstable” as at least two other couples. In other words, we are in some ways more typical as a couple functioning in this society than many couples who have or could have their marriages recorded at the district office. My point is, there is no point in designating who is typical and who is not. Pointing fingers is disruptive, impolite, and inevitably inaccurate. Kai and Nong are not “those lesbian cooks” but are simply Kai and Nong.
Fourth, with aggravating regularity some asinine writer tries to make a hit by slapping a label on people in a gender genre. Just a week or so ago another ten-day tourist produced a video all about the wonderful “Ladyboys” he had found in Pattaya and Phuket. He imagined he was being complimentary. Those labels always diminish and segregate.
Finally, it seems to me that the present disparity between LGBTIQ people like us and the rest of hetero-normative society will eventually be resolved by dissolving the sharp lines that are being made even more distinct these days in order to designate who needs to be included with rights identical to everyone else. As we who are familiar with Thai attitudes know, skin color in this culture is a matter of extensive attention. Never, however, has skin color been used to designate legal or even social rights. Gender identity will, I believe, fade as a factor determining rights, as well.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.