Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thailand's Gay Past

“Contrary to conservative beliefs, homosexuality has long existed in our society, as evidenced by these mural paintings,” said Varaporn, a book editor who has researched the topic.

Varaporn recently presented her findings at Thailand’s first ever national conference on sexuality and sexual diversity, where she displayed photographs of murals painted on old temples in various parts of Thailand.

Varaporn started with images of the 18th century Buddhaisawan Chapel in the National Museum, where the sacred Buddha Sihing image is housed for public reverence. There, she found some murals with images of lesbianism. One, located on the middle of the left wall after the main entrance, depicts two mermaids frolicking with each other above the ocean waves.

On the opposite wall is the scene on the Buddha’s Great Renunciation, the night Prince Siddhartha decided to leave palace life to ordain. In the portion of the mural that shows a group of court ladies sleeping in front of the royal chamber some of the women are embracing one another... (Bangkok Post)

Interesting article and something I was unaware of. However, these murals do not "equate to social acceptance" of homosexuality during that time. As Varaporn notes:
“These scenes appear in the context of mainstream values of heterosexuality, so what they convey ranges from a humorous peek at homosexuality to outright ridicule and condemnation.”

An example of this is a depiction at Suwannaram Temple of sodomy used as punishment. Found on the ubosot wall to the left of the main Buddha image, it reflects social contempt of homosexuality and how some men used rape as a means to punish and humiliate other men...

Yet according to Varaporn, what these murals do prove is that homosexuality in Thailand isn't a Western import as many believe, but instead has long roots in their country's history.