Love it or hate it, it’s that time of year again—Valentine's Day (Feb 14)—the time for over-the-top shows of affection. With the debate over same-sex marriage raging on in the West, BK talks to couples here in Bangkok who won't—or can't—get hitched.

Reasons to Live

Vitaya “Yod” Saeng-aroon and
Patthanachat “Poopae” Monkhatha

Poopae and Yod met at a gay pub. Poopae developed a crush on Yod because of his tall figure. And after chatting a while, Yod fell in love with Poopae, in part because of his back-story.

“He’s had so many tough experiences, while I’ve had no disruptions, really. My family has accepted me since I told them that I was gay, when I was 28. I have good friends and a good career, while Poopae has had to fight to have everything that he wants,” Yod says about his partner of five years. “He has an endless lust for life.”

After two years of dating, Poopae and Yod decided to move in together. They go out for dates in malls and have no qualms about showing their affection, like many straight couples.

“We always hold hands when we go on dates. Some people still feel a bit awkward to see this, but we don’t care. It’s just natural. If more gay couples did it, eventually people would just get used to it,” Poopae says.
Despite gay rights activists pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage, Yod admits equality could still be some way off, with many conservative groups, and even sectors of the gay community, against the idea.

“Some gay groups are afraid that it will stir up the issue, and turn public opinion against us. But for me, it’s clear that if we don’t start now we’ll never have the rights that we should have. Members of the LGBT community are like second-class citizens. While it seems that we can do anything, actually there are many things we can’t do,” Yod says, who is part of a team pushing strongly for Thailand’s first same-sex marriage law under an alliance called Sexual Diversity Group.

“The way things stand, I’m totally against weddings between men and women. It’s unfair. Why should we go celebrate something that we, as gays, can’t have? I don’t go to weddings nowadays unless I’m extremely close to the couple. I often question if it was a gay couple getting married, whether half the people would come to congratulate them,” Yod continues.

Demonstrating how necessary the law is, Poopae says he has already encountered hardships that could have easily been avoided.

“My ex-partner had an accident back in my hometown of Nakhon Phanom. He was in a critical condition, but the hospital had to wait a whole day for his family to come from Sukhothai to sign a piece of paper allowing them to operate. Unfortunately, they couldn’t save his life,” Poopae recounts.

What’s more, the police wouldn’t allow Poopae to take his partner’s body from the hospital because he was not legally his relative.

“It was really sad and frustrating. I had to find seven people to sign a paper to be my witnesses. I had to ask the head of the village and my relatives to sign the paper. Finally, I got his body out. It took me a whole day. I was really lucky that my partner had already told his family that he was leaving all his assets to me and that they complied with his wishes.”
While this sad case ended without a feud, Poopae says others are not so lucky. As they don’t have ambitions to start a family by having kids, Yod and Poopae hope to focus their attentions on helping advance the gay cause in society.

“We have to look to the future. We want to help gays who get lost in all this conflict. Many of them flee from unsupportive families to lead a wild life in the city. Many get HIV and die. It’s a modern-day tragedy. I want to educate and help them to achieve a better life and to stand up for their rights. Everyone has a reason to exist. If you find those reasons, your life will be meaningful. We’ve already found ours,” Yod concludes.

Happily Ever After

Suwimonrat “Nam” Ritruengnam and Chanjira “Fias” Jamhom

When Nam and Fias announced their wedding, there were friends who congratulated them and others who cast doubt on the seriousness of their decision. But Nam insists her marriage, though not legally recognized, couldn’t be more important to her.

“I knew she was the one right from when we first started dating. I bought a ring and kept it for a long time waiting for the right time to pop the question,” Nam recalls.

In the end, Nam decided to make it official—not to Fias’ face—but on her Facebook timeline, on the date 12-12-12. Fias replied with a simple comment that read “YES.”

“Every woman dreams of wearing a wedding gown, and I wanted her to have that moment, too,” Nam says.

The couple eventually celebrated their wedding on January 19, with lots of friends and family in attendance, all of whom fully support the unofficial union.

Newlyweds Nam and Fias insist that they need a law that gives their life some foundation, especially as they hope to one day adopt a child to fulfill their familial instincts.

“I want a marriage license so we can be confident in starting a family together,” Nam says.

“Gender shouldn’t be a barrier for humans. We are free to express our love to anyone,” Fias adds.


Suntree “Ple” Sabpinyo and Charida “Nong” Somsanook

While for some a big wedding ceremony is important, for other couples like Nong and Ple, who have been together five years, all that matters is getting a marriage license to secure their status.

“I didn’t want a big ceremony because my family, who are quite conservative Chinese, would not be all that happy about showing everyone that their daughter is getting married to a woman. I also don’t like the idea of spending lots of money on a lavish party. We’ve been through tough experiences together, so we don’t need to do anything to prove our commitment,” says Ple.

The couple’s courtship started in late 2007 when Nong began chatting with Ple, a host in a Camfrog chat room on the topic of dharma.
Nong is a mother of three children, and lived with an abusive husband for 14 years. “I never liked men. All my ex-boyfriends were girls who are tomboys. I accidentally had sex with my ex-husband and he said he would take care of me so I said yes. He is still the only guy I’ve slept with.”

But things went horribly wrong. Nong’s husband kept getting other girls pregnant and would hit her when he was drunk. When she’d eventually had enough, she turned to Ple for help.

It wasn’t a reckless decision. Nong wasn’t willing to leave her two-year-old son, Que, with her husband, which meant they had to find a place to settle and raise the boy.

For her part, Ple says she moved out from her family to save them from trouble. “Nong’s ex-husband had connections because he knew cops. He hunted us for months until one day he attacked his own daughter in order to force Nong to come back and, in the end, she did.” Ple recalls.

“He tried to hit and drag me into the house but I refused,” Nong says.

“We kept fighting until people called the police. We were taken to the police station where they asked us how we wanted to deal with our relationship. I announced there and then that I was done with him and wanted to start my new life. That finally made him leave us alone.”

Today they are the picture of a happy family. Que, who is now 6, calls Ple papa and openly tells his friends that his father is a woman. “Some of my friends ask me why my dad is a woman. I just say because he is my dad,” he says.

Despite this close bond, Ple is fearful that, without any law to guarantee their family status, should something happen to Nong, the boy will be sent back to live with dad.

“That is the last thing I want to happen,” Ple says.

The Right One

Dollada “Grace” Thanaduldamrongsuk and Pat Santiwat

For many, the start of the university year is a time for great optimism, but Pat and Grace never would have expected that they’d also find lasting love. 

Both had been delayed in starting English classes, so they had no choice but to stick together to catch up on their homework. After just one week, Pat had developed a big crush on Grace, who he thought was beautiful.

“She's so gorgeous,” Pat says. “I started borrowing things from her just to have an excuse to chat more.”

When Grace, who had just finished competing in the Miss Tiffany 2008 pageant, noticed that Pat wanted to be more than just a friend, she had no reluctance in telling him the truth about being transgender.

“My standpoint is that I should be honest to anyone who is my friend. It’s not something that needs to be kept secret,” Grace says.

But the news took Pat by surprise and he thought that Grace was only joking.

“I was shocked. She is so beautiful; I thought, how could she be a man? Honestly, to this day, I still can’t quite believe that she is transgender. She is all woman to me,” Pat says.

Grace’s openness about her gender is helped by her family who has accepted her from a young age.

“My mom accepted me right away but my dad stopped talking to me for a while. I asked him frankly, would he prefer a daughter who is a drug addict or who falls pregnant before graduating, or a transgender who just wants to be a great daughter and to take care of her family for the rest of her life,” Grace recalls the conversation that finally won her dad’s acceptance.

“He just asked me to follow his will in helping the family business and to study hard for a master’s degree. I have achieved both these things.”
While Pat quickly came to terms with the truth about his girlfriend, he still had to face the nerve-wracking challenge of convincing his Chinese-descendant family to accept the woman he loved. Before too long, he introduced Grace to his parents.

“I introduced her to my family just a month after we became a couple. My parents were stunned when I told them the truth. My mom had the hardest time coping with this,” Pat says, adding that he was lucky that his parents gave Grace the chance to prove herself.

“I didn’t do anything to win them over. I just let Grace work her charms. Now my mom totally loves her.” 

When these obstacles overcome, Pat was ready to take the relationship to another level—marriage. Even though they had only just graduated, he would continually raise the topic to Grace while on trips to Europe and US, but she wouldn’t commit.

“I thought he was just joking,” says Grace, who finally said yes to him in a place that no one would consider romantic, a garage. “This time he even came with a ring.”

Their wedding, a grand celebration at a high-end hotel, took place on Dec 16 last year attended by nearly a thousand guests. But when talks turn to the debate over the same-sex marriage law, Grace says it isn't something that she really wants.

“I want to marry as a woman, not a man. If the same-sex marriage law happens, that’s great, but I want my title to be either Mrs or Miss because my heart and my body is a woman’s. I want to make it clear that, as a transgender, I don’t want the title to be able to trick a man as people often argue—it’s just really important in order for us to lead a normal life. It’s really frustrating filling in documents and traveling. Whenever I travel abroad people look at me like I’m a criminal because my documents give me a title that contradicts my looks.”

Although her dream of being legally recognized as a woman would appear some way off fruition, Grace at least finds solace in having found the love of her life, at just 24, the same age as Pat.

For his part, Pat has no regrets. “When you’ve found the right one, why wait? She is the right one for me. I love everything about her, from head to toe, even her nails!”


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