"Although still old fashioned in many ways, Thai society has long accepted - even embraced - its lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered (LBGT) communities," begins Asia Times Online
's "Sex in Depth" correspondent William Sparrow in his latest piece — Miss Tiffany, a good son
. The author notes that "unlike many Western or allegedly more modern nations, Thais rarely discriminate or ridicule." I've been to Thailand, but am not that familiar with the culture, but what Mr. Sparrow says rings true for another culture with which I am more familiar, the Vietnamese.
After a chance encounter in a laundromat back in 1992, I found myself swept into Buffalo's Vietnamese community. A precocious (and extremely cute) thirteen-year-old girl, accompanied by her nineteen-year-old half-black half-sister, invited me, a college sophomore "slumming it" in a cheap but beautiful century-old Buffalo West Side
rental, to "come to house mother me." They were both fresh off the boat and it seemed like an interesting opportunity. The linguistic and culinary lessons began at once, and I was instantly charmed by the most hospitable and mirthful people I've ever encountered.
The Tang family (they were half-Chinese, they proudly stated), were my introduction to Buffalo's Vietnamese community, which was at the time 3,000 souls strong. I befriended and was befriended by several families, as well as by an individual or two. There were basically two types of families, those headed by single mothers of Amerasian children roughly my age and those headed by patriarchs who had been released from a decade or more in commie "reeducation camps" for having served with the South Vietnamese Army. These families, the former "dysfunctional" and the latter "functional," got along well in their diaspora, while in the America in which they lived such families would remain literally and metaphorically "miles apart."
Getting to the subject of this post, it was among the Vietnamese that I was first exposed in any real way to "homosexual persons," called "be de
" in Vietnamese. I remember a half-black Amerasian guy (who, like many half-black Amerasian guys, could have passed for an American black fellow until he spoke) who wore pink nail polish and spoke with a pronounced lisp in Vietnamese. A friend's sister was the long-term "femme" to a "butch" (the "butch-femme" dynamic seems to be endemic among Asian lesbians) before she went straight and married a stand-up fellow in the only Catholic wedding I've ever attended.
What struck me most was that obviously homosexual couples (they may well have been chaste, for what any of us knew) were routinely invited socially to homes of the most conventionally conservative families. I am not sure to what extent this was a function of being members of a small community in a diaspora, but it struck me then and it strikes me now as a rather healthy arrangement respecting the dignity of persons regardless of their "sexual orientation."
At the same time, there was no clamoring among the be de
for "rights" or "special treatment." There was no talk of "marriage." Others joked about them, but the be de
didn't seem to mind, and they certainly didn't file lawsuits or call for "hate crimes" legislation. There was no talk of "equality" and no be de
wanted to adopt children. And there was no fixed be de
identity, as my friend's sister who went from a butch's femme to a husband's wife without leaving her social milieu
The Thais and Vietnamese seem to practice what the "Young Fogey" has wisely called "tolerant conservatism
." The more I think about it, our Western politicized approach to the subject, on both sides, is utterly laughable.
Labels: America the Beautiful, Commies, Family, Modernist Tomfoolery, Race Matters, Siam, That's So Gay, Viêt Nam