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Remaining to be seen

Posted by pakin On July - 26 - 2017

Gay-themed series are now flooding online TV, but whether the contents are strong enough to address the rights of the LGBT population is still in question

Boy love. Sweet kisses. Gay flirts. These had hardly been portrayed openly on Thailand’s big and small screens until back in 2007, when teen drama Love Of Siam made a bold move with its kissing scene between two male high-schoolers, Tong and Mew. The film addressed family, teen and gender issues while also stirring debate as to its appropriateness.

A decade has passed. As a country that prides itself on being gay-friendly and gender-tolerant, we’ve seen a huge increase in the volume of gay romance, both on the street and on the screen. Particularly on online channels like YouTube and Line TV, dozens of gay-themed series currently air, each featuring scenes far beyond just hugging and kissing.

In the past two years, Thai alternative media has been flooded with over 20 gay-romance series. Interestingly, these series target yaoi fangirls — girls who like fantasising about love between two men — instead of gay men. These series are mostly about romance that builds up between two dashing guys — mostly classmates or roommates — and follow the ups and downs of the couple. Among the popular ones are Sotus The Series, Bad Romance The Series, The Underwear, Slam Dance The Series, Gay OK Bangkok, Grey Rainbow, Water Boyy The Series, Make It Right The Series and 2Moons The Series. Airing on Line TV, Gay OK Bangkok has over 11,300 followers, 2Moons The Series 55,800 and Sotus The Series almost 140,000.

Judging from the comments of viewers and number of followers, feedback is positive. Gay men are more openly given space in the media, yet some people still raise eyebrows over these shows’ substance and appropriateness.

Still a niche

Defining herself as a yaoi fangirl, Waraporn* is a loyal fan of boys’-love series who enjoys scenes like cheek kisses, cheek pinches or two guys gently rubbing one another’s head. Yet she confessed there are many other fangirls out there who like watching hot sex scenes between two gay men.

“Handsome male leads are the first thing I look for when choosing a boys’-love series,” said Waraporn, a university student. “Usually, one man is shorter and has a girlie face, while the other is muscular, handsome and tall.”

But boys’-love series don’t feature only light-hearted romantic stuff. Many attempt to address serious social issues such as the rights of the sexually diverse, bullying, rape and same-sex marriage. Among them are Grey Rainbow The Series and Gay OK Bangkok. However, compared to their easy-to-watch rivals, they have significantly fewer fans.

“I also watched a gay film called The Blue Hour,” Waraporn added. “A gay guy was bullied and had sex with another guy in an abandoned flat. The show was supposed to reflect social issues but was too stressful for me. So I chose to fast-forward the violent scenes.”

Not everyone appreciates the content of these boys’-love series. Ong, a fourth-year student out of the closet, was once a big fan of gay series. As a member of the population represented in the shows, he eventually stopped watching these series as he felt they don’t reflect reality.

“Life is not like a novel or a TV series,” said Ong. “In the show, shorter gay guys are always protected and treated as vulnerable while the more masculine takes the role of hero. In real life, it’s not that simple.”

Setting aside the unrealistic representation, what concerns him most is the nudity.

“I have a feeling that they often have love scenes that skirt the rules. They are not exactly porno but they are not usual love scenes, either. These can be sold because people like them. And this makes people think gay men are sex-obsessed and simply looking for hookups and one-night stands.”

Taking commercial risks

Boonyawat Thongtong, director and scriptwriter for Grey Rainbow The Series, insisted that his series does not intend to sell sex. Rather, he wishes that his production would tackle serious LGBT-related issues in society, be they same-sex marriage, law, public acceptance or relationships.

“I want my show to be different. I want to present love. I don’t want to just use the lead actors and risqué scenes to hook the audience,” said Boonyawat. Airing last year on PPTV, Grey Rainbow tells a story of two male dorm mates, Nuer and Porsche, who struggle through acceptance, family, marriage rights and death.

“People said we were risk-takers to produce this kind of show. Thais don’t watch dramas that require thinking skills like this. But it turned out the show received pretty good feedback.

“We don’t sell sex. People often think intense love scenes are a must in gay dramas. There must be some lovemaking scenes, they think. I think differently. We want to use our show to talk about marriage, laws and love.”

That being said, he admitted that Grey Rainbow has some sensual scenes, which he regarded as “rewards for viewers”. From the commercial perspective, gay series should still sell.

“This is why shows need love scenes or slapping scenes. When they go viral on social media, they rake in more views, and attract commercials. Still, we can present them in an artistic instead of an obscene way.”

Catalyst for change

Kangwan Fongkaew, gay-rights activist and lecturer at the Department of Communication Arts, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Burapha University, expressed concern regarding boys’-love series.

“Soft content that fills up each episode diverts public interest from things that need to be seriously discussed, like same-sex marriage rights. Also, almost all the series in the market present middle-class gay men but fail to capture the diversity in the gay community,” he said.

Private high schools, college campuses, fully furnished apartments and department stores in downtown Bangkok are often used as settings for shows that almost always star handsome young actors with fair skin. Some populations of the gay community are left out.

“Where are lower-class gay men in our media?” he asked. “The gay audience may be brainwashed to think gay men will be accepted only if they have good looks and a college degree.”

The concept of love portrayed in many of the series, in his perspective, is also unrealistic and twisted. Being in a same-sex relationship, Kangwan is disturbed by how the media take the role of matchmaker — matching men with women or gay men with gay men — which in his opinion is opposite to the notion of gender diversity.

He urged the media to stop associating love with gender, as “that does not always reflect the reality”.

The lecturer, however, still sees a positive light in these gay-themed series, as they can be an opportunity to incorporate serious issues rather than selling pure entertainment to the audience.

“The media should be the agent of change. Content providers usually say they create content based on audience needs, but actually they must admit that they are also a catalyst for change, encouraging people to do this and that. So if they choose to send a certain message, they must ensure that such a message makes positive change to society.”

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