“Visible Silence” speaks out for Thai lesbians

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“They say to be born a woman is punishment for the sins of a past life. So to be a woman who loves women is punishment for even greater sins.”

Those are some of the first words we hear in Ruth Gumnit’s documentary about lesbian life in Thailand, Visible Silence. In Thai society, you can be who you are and do what you want, as long as you don’t announce it. Well, there are plenty of women announcing it in this film!

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While only running 42 minutes, we get to hear a lot of voices in Visible Silence. It’s quite fascinating to discover the similarities and differences in these women’s experiences. Just as interesting? Finding out that Thai lesbian subculture is a heck of a lot like ours.

“Tom” and “dee” (derivatives of tomboy and lady) are the Thai versions of butch and femme. If you’re a Thai lesbian, you might find yourself starting off as one and then blossoming into another. Or, having the hots for one and then having a sudden change of tastes. And, of course, all sorts of variations in between. Sound familiar?

Here’s where things start to get a little different (though perhaps not for us all). Thai society expects that dees will eventually get back on the “right” track and that it’s these odd toms that are keeping them from the path of “normalcy.” The sad truth this documentary reveals is that society gets what it wants time and time again.

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Several women disclosed that they’ve had lovers leave them in order to return to a more traditional lifestyle. As a result, finding a lifelong partner has eluded many of the interviewed women. It seems there are a lot of lesbians marrying men in Thailand.

But that doesn’t shock anyone featured in the movie. While a good number of the women are living active lesbian lives, they all understand one thing–society has no room for them. And so even the happiest of couples don’t always feel they need to be out.

In terms of lesbian representation, Visible Silence hits it out of the park. Business owners, academics, a Buddhist nun and an elephant tour guide – those are just a few of the careers our subjects have pursued. I could use women like these in my dating pool! But in all seriousness, I commend the move to showcase lesbians doing well in a country that doesn’t favor them.

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There are folks working on that front though. The documentary highlights Anjaree, the first Thai lesbian group, founded in the mid ‘80s. Back then, it provided support mainly through newsletters. Today, it fights for same sex marriage rights in Thailand.

So although historically silent, more and more lesbians in Thailand are living their true selves proudly. It may be too much to hope for, but fingers crossed society will accompany them in that growth.

Visible Silence will have its US premiere at Frameline in San Francisco on June 21. Check out the movie’s website to see when it’ll be playing at a film festival near you.

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