Editor’s Note: We asked Tanwarin Sukkhapisit to tell us which pronoun was most suitable for usage in this situation — in response to which, Tanwarin specified a preference for “they.”
Let’s take a break from all the collective stress and the political drama that came out of this weekend’s elections — the kingdom’s first since the 2014 military coup — to touch upon a silver lining: Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s win.
Yesterday afternoon, when the kingdom’s Election Commision (EC) finally released a breakdown of MP seats won by each party, filmmaker Tanwarin “Golf” Sukkhapisit was revealed to be one them — marking the first time in Thai political history that a queer-gendered candidate has been elected into the House of Representatives.
“I’m so excited,” said the 45-year-old Future Forward party member about the history-making election results. “But I’m still waiting for them [the Election Commision] to officially announce it in May, because things still may change,” Tanwarin told Coconuts Bangkok during a phone interview today.
As the newly elected candidate has started to gain media attention, Tanwarin has been described as both as “transgender” and “bi-gender” by various media publications. However, Tanwarin explained to us this afternoon that neither of those labels accurately capture their sexuality — instead, Tanwarin identifies as genderqueer, or non-binary.
“Our society has a need to put our identities in boxes … but ever since I was a kid, probably around 6 or 7, I knew I didn’t conform to society’s traditional definitions of a man nor woman,” Tanwarin told Coconuts, adding that they have no gender preference for potential partners.
“As a society, we care too much about genitals.”
Much like the new and progressive Future Forward party, which supports equality-centric causes such as LGBTQ+ rights, the #MeToo movement, and the rights of people with disabilities, Tanwarin believes that there’s room for establishing new laws that reflect the changing norms in society.
Though quite new to politics, Tanwarin has been discussing political issues for some 20 years, throughout their career as a filmmaker. Tanwarin cities their debut feature Insects in the Backyard, about a transvestite caretaker who raises two teenagers, as their most impactful work to date.
The movie, on top of being centered on a controversial subject matter, also included a nude scene — which apparently was too much for one film, since it became banned in the country. Following this, Tanwarin entered a five-year legal battle to lift the ban, and armed with an unwillingness to give up, they finally won their court case.
“After that, I realized that I wanted to do more to bring upon change than just telling stories. So my friend Piyabutr [Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Secretary-General and co-founder of the Future Forward Party] convinced me to join the party,” said Tanwarin.
We asked the newly elected official whether they had experienced discrimination and bullying from other politicians who didn’t see them an “appropriate” political candidate right off the bat.
Tanwarin responded: “They’d say ‘how can he make decisions for the country when he doesn’t even know what gender he is?’ …I can’t blame them, because that’s the product of Thailand’s education and society’s mentality.”
In order to start shifting these widespread social beliefs, Tanwarin hopes to revise the kingdom’s education system to include sex-ed and discussions on sexual diversity. He believes kids should be taught to love themselves above all, and be encouraged to be open-minded about how other people feel about themselves, especially about their identities.
View this post on Instagram
อีกไม่กี่ชั่วโมงจะถึงวันเลือกตั้งแล้ว แม่โทรมาให้กำลังใจแต่เช้า ได้ยินเสียงแม่สดใสก็ดีใจมาก แม่เป็นคนที่คอยอยู่เคียงข้างเสมอไม่ว่ากอล์ฟจะตัดสินใจทำอะไร ยากเย็นแค่ไหน แม่พูดเสมอว่า “กอล์ฟทำอะไรแล้วมีความสุข แม่ก็มีความสุข” คำของแม่เป็นแรงผลักดันให้กอล์ฟเข้มแข็ง กล้าที่จะก้าวไปในทุกที่ด้วยความมั่นใจในทุกๆก้าวของชีวิต กอล์ฟรักแม่นะคะ #คำของแม่ #กำลังใจที่ดีที่สุด
“This is a different generation now. Kids need to know what else is out there outside the traditional norms,” Tanwarin said, recalling how difficult it was to grow up without a role model to relate to.
But, shifts in social perception must come with legal changes.
“The constitution must be changed because it says all Thai people should be equal, but right now we are not,” explained Tanwarin about their intention to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption — which is currently restricted by section 1448 of the Civil and Commercial Code that says marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
“We want the law to say any two people can be married. This would open the doors to many other things.”
Tanwarin also asked that those who oppose their efforts to “open their minds,” and further explained: “To those that complain and say the LGBT community is asking for too much, I want to say that we’re just asking for the same amount of basic rights as an average person. We don’t want more rights than you. We just want what you have.”
“You don’t lose anything for us to become equal.”
Tanwarin was not the only member of the LGBTQ+ community to take part in this year’s election.
52-year-old Pauline Ngarmpring, who ran with the Machachon Party, was Thailand’s first-ever transgendered candidate for prime minister.
Though her party members were not elected into the lower House this weekend, Pink News reports that Pauline hopes to pave the way for more LGBTQ+ people to run in the near future.
“I know having my candidacy is a symbolic gesture. I know I will not be prime minister now, but we hope we will get some seats and represent LGBT people in the country,” she said.
“And perhaps next time, even a transgender woman will have a chance.”