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Mr. Vitaya Saeng-Aroon
Mr. Vitaya was Assistant Managing Editor for The Nation Newspaper. He obtained his Master Degree in media & management from the New School, New York, USA. He joined the Journalists’ Fellowship Program in Japan and graduated from Thammasat University.
By Dr. Theresa W. Devasahayam
By Mr. Arthit Suriyawongkul
By Mr. Timo Tapani Ojanen
Q: “Don’t care” is a description you use to explain identity formation among a sexually diverse community. What is the rationale behind this?
“In the past, there were no public channels for people to express themselves. Now, things are totally different. Today there are so many channels, approaches and media for communication and self-expression. The future means of identity mediation will be more and very complex. Urbanization has transformed Southeast Asia’s cities into cosmopolitan global hubs. Whilst Manila was perhaps the forerunner during the early 70′s, today people from cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore, and many secondary cities such as Phuket, Chiang Mai or Yogyakarta, redefine how people live and express their identity as never before.
“Computers and the internet allow faking and experimentation in sexual identity. Community groups such as LGBT have been influential in shaping lifestyle trends, and ‘faking’ represented the early exploration of identity on the internet. Freedom from the chains of social norms, status, personality, and appearance catalyzed the faking of identity on the internet. Today this is much more difficult due to the richness of the medium, and over the last 5 years, we have witnessed the flip side of this coin, not only among LGBT communities but across all social groups, in the ‘Real Me’ phenomenon, where individuals assert their true personalities and announce it to the world. This does not necessarily translate into increased tolerance among the general public, but it is rather a phenomenon induced by expansion of ICT utilization.”
Q: Could a fight on consumer rights carry implications for human rights?
“Let me give you a couple of examples. In marketing, we all know that there are many products where LGBT could be specifically targeted as a market segment. The reality is that marketers are reluctant to explore this opportunity directly because of social taboos or other norms. Another example can be drawn from public events. Imagine that gay or lesbian couples are invited to join a party, but all of the organization and code of conduct are communicated through ‘straight’ messages. LGBTs often feel that such language leaves them with no space or sense of ‘inclusiveness’. Can we claim it as ‘a soft social discrimination’? Yes, I think so!”
Q: It seems that there is a taboo against LGBT market demand. Any movement or campaign, against such taboos?
“Bangkok has definitely challenged these taboos. With a long history of LGBT movie making, I would say that Thai LGBT movies have evolved significantly. Take a look at the recent international success of movies such as ’Bangkok Love Story’ or ‘Love of Siam’, ‘Roommate’, or ‘Sayew’. I expect to see more special interest movies in this genre. ‘Insects in the Backyard’ represents a real challenge among Thai authorities and communities at large, with its surreal movie plot about conflict between gay identity and Thai culture. The movie was banned by Thailand’s censors, but has already opened a new space for LGBT discussion aside from its entertainment value.”
Q: What will be scenario for the future on identity transformation in this region?
“I see three major trends. First, a reclaiming of consumer right among LGBT groups. Secondly, I expect increasing segmentation of social and sexual identities. Thirdly, increasing encounters among old and young digital natives, due to increasing use of social networks by older people.
About Mr. Vitaya Saeng-Aroon
A former journalist specializing in transportation, telecommunication, and IT, Mr. Vitaya is a Thai TV host and producer of the “Pink Mango” program, the leading gay variety show in Thailand on Mango TV channel. (http://wn.com/pinkmangotv). He also hosts and produces Talk Radio for Men at Bangkok FM 102 MHz. He is a regular public speaker and an advocate for non-profit organizations on gay issues.