LGBT

This Documentary Explores Thailand’s Queer Tomboy Culture

Thailand’s LGBT spectrum contains a group commonly referred to as “Tomboys” or “Toms,” an identity that is unique to Thailand’s queer community.

1. Toms: The Complex World of Female Love, a short documentary by Coconuts TV, explores a sexual identity that is unique to Thailand.

2. The filmmakers’ definition of Thailand’s Tomboys – or Toms – is as follows: “Girls who dress and act in a masculine way, typically sporting a uniform look of short hair, T-shirts, and jeans […] Toms don’t consider themselves trans or even lesbians.”

 

The word “lesbian” developed a negative connotation in Thailand since its introduction in the 1970s, leaving room for other labels to gain acceptance. The film notes that Toms usually date extremely feminine women, often referred to as Dees. The Tom and Dee relationships often adhere to stereotypical gender roles and could be compared to the more widely recognized “femme/butch” stereotypes.

3. The Tom community has recently carved out a large fan base through Instagram, television shows, and magazines published for women who love Toms.

 

4. Katrina Kaufman, one of the film’s producers, explains:

Tom culture is becoming more prevalent in Thailand than ever. Toms are gaining acceptance through movies, social media and prominent figures in the community, especially among younger Thais. But many Toms still face societal discrimination, as our documentary addresses. It’s not necessarily overt. They’re free to be themselves in public and walk around holding hands with their girlfriends (often ultra-feminine “Dees”). Yet, Toms aren’t that accepted by the older generations, and they don’t have the same legal rights as heterosexuals in Thailand. Despite the country’s reputation for being sexually liberal, there is still a stigma when it comes to same-sex female couples.

5. The film follows two Toms as they prepare to appear in the Mr. Tom Act talent show, an event that draws participants from all over the country.

6. According to Dee Lesla, founder of a popular Tom dating site, there are several traits that one must embody in order to be a “true Tom.”

7. “You have to have a flat chest. Secondly, you have to be able to protect your girl.”

8. “Thirdly, you have to act like a ‘sugar daddy’ and pay for everything for your girl.”

9. The film explores several other areas of queer culture in Thailand, as well as the inequalities that persist in the country.

10. As noted in the film, “Thai society is open for people to be anything they want, as long as that doesn’t affect others.”

11. Watch the full documentary right here:

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Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com.
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