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Reflections on Life in the LGBTQ+ Community in Thailand with Erika Greenia
Written by: Erika Greenia
Last Updated: January 20, 2021
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
Where are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I had originally planned to join the Peace Corps after I graduated from college. I decided to take another route and work with AmeriCorps VISTA for a year working with refugees in Ohio. Toward the end of my service year, I knew I still wanted to go abroad, but wasn't really sure in what capacity. Naturally, I had no money and knew I needed something to help sustain my life. Teaching was never a real interest for me, but the idea popped up on Google and I never looked back.
CHOOSING WHERE TO TEACH ENGLISH ABROAD
Which country did you decide to teach English in?
Please include the city where you decided to teach English.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad? Were they supportive, apprehensive, excited, concerned, etc.?
I'm a fairly independent person. I'm sure my parents weren't super jazzed about it, but they were excited for me! I kind of just was going to do it regardless so the only option was to be supportive!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I was excited to start something new and exciting, but there was always a little voice in the back of my head that was worried about being a gay woman in Asia. I didn't know if I would meet people who were part of my community or not. It didn't really bother me, but I did prepare myself mentally to have that part of myself be a bit hidden for the duration of my time abroad.
What resources did you find helpful when deciding where to go?
THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN THAILAND
Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
This happened really fluidly for me. More so than back home in the States. That is what shocked me most about dating in Bangkok. We met organically and never once felt uncomfortable as a same-sex couple going out to dinner, drinks or out on the town. It was beautiful!
Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
Absolutely! I hadn't done much research on this before I went to Bangkok. I was pleasantly surprised that Thailand was so unbelievably accepting and welcoming. Even more-so than the States (which is actually not that surprising, looking back).
Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English? If yes, how so?
I would say yes. I had quite a difficult coming out period of my life that gave me the strength and confidence to live my life with the whole and complete ME. Without that experience, I don't know if I would have had the drive to follow my dreams, regardless of what the 'norm' seemed to be at the time. I didn't want a 9-5, so I didn't do it! I would say this continues to be a driving factor for me in how I live. The LGBTQ+ community is full of amazing souls that go through trials that some people could never imagine. We find strength in our experiences and share a common love for loving life and who we are.
Tell us about finding your community abroad
This was really different in Thailand. I found that because being part of the LGBTQ+ community is considered so...normal...there wasn't really a heavy 'community' presence. People were just people, friends were just friends. Your gender or sexuality didn't matter and I wasn't ever really put in a situation where I felt like I needed to find 'my community.'
Tell us about coming out abroad
I think the closest I came to actually coming out was when my Thai colleague was like "You like girl?" and I was like "Yes" and she was like "Ok! You like girl, ok!" I felt like she was more asking to reassure me that it was ok with her? I don't really know, but it was super relaxed and that was the one and only time I even came kind of close to having a coming out experience abroad.
Did you have any difficult conversations abroad? If so, would you mind sharing?
I honestly did not. I find myself having much more difficult conversations here in the States. I was self-conscious for the first year, but once I forced myself to stop assuming people cared, I realized that no one actually cared who I was dating or how I identified. In Thai, there is a way of expressing your gender with a little polite add-on at the end of your sentence. This was for you to choose. I would typically use the female word, but sometimes would use the male word just to test the waters. No one ever even bat an eye. That was when I was like, oh, so it really doesn't matter! What a beautiful moment!
Did you find that locals had any stereotypes? Or did you have any stereotypes about locals?
In Thailand, for women, it is very typical for a 'tom' to be with a 'fem'. My partner and I didn't fit this stereotype, which didn't seem to matter, but made me feel a bit out of place sometimes. It wasn't that anyone said we weren't accepted, but we were different.
Were there any cultural boundaries you found to be different than your home country? If so, please explain.
Same sex marriage is not legal in Thailand. This is something that I think is really overlooked because Thailand is so LGBTQ friendly. A lot of Thai families tend to refer to partners as 'your friend'. Or at least that was my experience. So, while Thailand is incredibly friendly, there are still a lot of cultural boundaries to be aware of.
What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I never felt unsafe because of my gender identity or sexual-orientation.
Have you participated in any pride celebrations abroad? If so, please tell is about them.
I never celebrated Pride in Bangkok! I wish I would have though!
Have you had any weird and/or funny questions from locals?
No weird or funny questions, but this one assignment in my students' book had them draw a picture of their teacher. I was wondering what was taking my little kindergartners so long until I realized that every single one of them was meticulously drawing me in plaid. That was a hilariously wonderful moment for me.
Do you have any advice for people planning to move to this country/move abroad?
Do your research. I was lucky because I fell in to a very LGBTQ friendly environment, but everywhere is not the same. Traveling to Malaysia with my partner was a bit of a culture shock in this sense. So, do your research!
Do you have anything else you'd like to share? If so, please feel free to write that here.
The LGBTQ+ community is there for you. You can travel. You can live abroad. You can be whatever you want to be. If teaching English abroad is your dream, find a country that fits your bill and GO. We are everywhere, waiting with open arms and rainbow flags!
A Michigan native, Erika works at International TEFL Academy as a member of the Student Affairs team. Erika began her travels in 2008 with a quick ten-day trip to Germany and Switzerland. After graduating from Michigan State University with a BA in Social Relations & Policy and a dual-degree in Comparative Cultures & Politics, she spent a year volunteering in a Somali refugee community with AmeriCorps VISTA in Columbus, Ohio. Erika then taught English in Bangkok, Thailand for four years prior to joining ITA.
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