I often write about LGBT choices in popular music because the song lyrics are very telling about our situation and the visuals in the music videos reflect the artists' imagination.
You can tell a lot about the performer’s true self from a video.
Well-known Thai songs about katoey over the years include “Plaeng Sut Tai” (“The Last Song”), “Chan Kor Pen Phuying Khon Nueng” (“I’m a Woman”) and “Mai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak” (“I Don’t Ask for Love”). Together they chart a change in attitudes among katoey.
Suda Chuen-ban’s “Plaeng Sut Tai” is from the classic film of the same name, about cabaret star Somying Dao-rai, who committed suicide after loved turned tragic.
Suda’s extreme emotion speaks of the katoey heart. When the song came out in the 1980s, katoey were stigmatised as abnormal and trans-females as artificial women of low value. The attitude crushed Somying, leaving her feeling worthless – and suicidal.
Jern-jern Boonsoong-nern’s “Chan Kor Pen Phuying Khon Nueng” was a phenomenon in the early 1990s, a new anthem sung in a female voice by a trans-female, unlike the “borrowed” voice of Suda. Born the wrong gender, Jern-jern appealed for society’s sympathy.
Some 20 years later, Belle Nunthita released “Mai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak” early this year, part of the soundtrack to the film “It Gets Better”. Belle is also trans-female, but this time the katoey doesn’t seek love or sympathy. She wants people to understand that everyone doesn’t have to be the same, that society is diverse, full of little differences.
We seem to be making progress over the course of these three tunes, but watch the videos again. Throughout those 30 years the singers are idealised women, confusing being a katoey with femininity and above-ordinary beauty. This is the trap that prevents katoey from achieving everything that’s possible. It freezes their self-perception and insists that they must look like women, even pretty women.
Of course we have seen great changes in the katoey community in the past three decades, but are all katoey equal yet? If it’s an understanding of diversity they want, they first have to see and appreciate the diversity among them – all the ugly, fat, dark-skinned, short-haired and boyish katoey.