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Perspectives I: What Does the Word “Community” Mean to You?

Updated: May 21, 2021

Perspectives is a column where we ask one Thai woman and one foreign woman the same question and publish their answers verbatim. For our Sisterhood issue, we asked Angel Buddhaviriya and Ketrina Hoskin to talk about community. To read Ketrina's response to What Does the Word “Community” Mean to You, click here.


Illustration by Andrea Arias showing a woman listening to a crowd of men

Here we are... the third wave of the pandemic in Thailand. I guess that this will heavily influence my moods, thoughts and feelings while writing this piece. Initially I wanted to write in a sort of a for-and-against style in regards to this one word which I do not fully comprehend... community. “We are doing it live, damn it!” is where I am at I guess. Therefore, this is just a voice, not the voice. A voice of a lonely trans woman... Maybe you want to listen?


I guess this is turning into more of a therapeutic session than an actual essay, and more of a confession than anything else.


I’ve never known what it feels like to have a community. It is an abstract idea I have heard of many times and have seen it, but I do not know what it truly means to me... because I’ve never belonged to one. So I am writing this from the perspective of a trans woman who could only wish to belong somewhere.


A black sheep. A good way to describe me. Born as a trans person, before I could verbalise it, my instincts told me that I would never fit in anywhere just from looking at my surroundings and how my environment treated me. I was never considered fully a girl, let alone as a boy. A thing... in between, yet, otherworldly, strange, and weird to a lot of people... from the abuses to small little “harmless comments”. The looks on people's faces after realising I was a “boy.” The little shitty comment “oh you would have been a really attractive [insert whichever gender you feel like putting me in to make me feel like shit about myself].”


Throughout my entire childhood all the way into my 20s, I wanted to have a community where I belong. A community which makes me feel safe, seen, heard and validated. Where I don’t always have to feel like a freak. A strange thing from another world. A place where I would feel like someone could understand me. Where I don’t have to explain myself, “Why am I like this?” Where I don’t have to answer intrusive, ignorant brain-dead questions which continue to remind me that I’m still always going to be a freak in the eyes of society, while continuing to put on a mask and act as though I am ok with these types of interactions.


You know what is so fucking stupid about all of this? I just wanted to be treated like a person and another human being -- that’s all. It is not some fucking out there philosophical concept and mental gymnastic bullshit trans agenda or whatever the fuck people concocted in their own heads about trans people. I just want to feel normal as myself. That’s why I have chased that feeling of wanting to have a community throughout most of my life.


The world at this point is extremely cruel towards someone like me by default, at the start, the baseline. Therefore, the little young me wanted a shelter through community more than anything, especially after the abuses, the harassments and the assaults. I’ve felt alone most of my life, even in a room full of people. I can never just be loud and proud that I am trans and fully be myself. At times that could be a line between if I’m getting beat up or be left alone and invisible. And that’s another element to this, right, having to become invisible to survive. But... with that comes its own pain. Having to shrink myself, lower myself, stay small, don’t do anything to attract attention, don’t be smart, don’t be dumb, don’t be happy, don’t be sad. Just be a mannequin. Empty... and in the shadows. With that said, I did accomplish quite a few things throughout my life. But, I never had anyone to celebrate them with. There was no one there I could turn to... to cry to... both the sad and the happy tears.


I guess I should touch on the visibility of the trans community, especially as a kid in Thailand. Here’s the funny thing, I feel and have felt even more alienated by the most visible trans community here: the sex workers, the cosmetics girls, the show girls and the beauty pageant girls. Those are the only places society wants us in, while simultaneously judging us for it. It was pretty bleak (and still is sometimes) to see a future for myself without a wider range and more representation of the trans community out there. From relationships, to work (besides the community I mentioned) to picturing a “normal life” for myself. I did not have a trans community I could go to when I was younger to guide me and give me some hope that I could get through this (still don’t). Part of me thought “Well, I won’t make it far anyway” and by far I mean beyond my 20s. As I could not recall seeing an older trans woman in the media or anywhere. And yeah, I did give up on life altogether at times.


I guess it would have helped me to have a community when I was at my most vulnerable... as a trans kid. I know it would not have solved all my problems, and many communities are far from perfect, but, maybe I would not see the world through such a dark lens, even as an adult. It’s a strange feeling. I sense that there is a little happy me in there somewhere, but she is scared, scared and afraid. She wants to be loved like anybody else, but... I guess we will never know?


I still struggle sometimes. “I want to go home.” A sentence which has haunted me since I was a child. I guess I’m conflating the idea of family and community here, that could happen I guess when you did not feel like you have either growing up. There is this feeling of constantly going to war and longing to be home soon... someday.


The idea of community terrifies me as an adult now, however. Not all communities but some are worse than others, especially when it comes to conformity. And I don’t do well with that. Maybe that’s why it has become even more of a challenge here as an adult to find myself a community, given that Thai society is so rooted in conformity in general. And maybe that’s why I feel extremely alienated by the trans scene and community here, because I want to be myself, not be a version of me that others have expected me to be. Once a black sheep, always a black sheep, I guess.


I won’t lie and put the blame solely on the world now as an adult. I still have anxiety and am afraid of social interaction, especially when meeting new people, even in places where I think I would fit in. My instinct is still to hide, be in the shadows and become invisible again. I just want to go home. But... where?


I will not say that I will never find a community and a space where I feel I belong. While it is not what I currently have right now, I am not closing the door on it forever. For now, I just have to learn to survive without a community and look after myself while working on this darkness of mine. And now as I’m typing this, I at least have one friend. I may not have a community, but I have him, and myself. And in a twisted turn of events, maybe because I never had a community, it makes me much more appreciative of him, and he means so much to me. And I don’t feel like I’m a freak around him. I just feel like I am myself. A person. Normal. And that, I’m safe and OK.


I want to leave off by acknowledging that these are awful and horrible times we are in. A lot of people are in need of support more than ever, whether it be emotional, financial, physical or psychological -- from the professionals to the community or through single friendship. This sucks, and it is awful. I can’t offer much besides saying my heart goes out to you. Cry when you need to. Reach out if you can. I hope you will be OK.


Hang in there, and stay safe.


 

By Angel Buddhaviriya

Angel is currently putting her dream of becoming a business owner for a skincare brand that will promote inclusivity and diversity in the world of beauty on hold due to the pandemic. Now she is working on her second master's degree in Bangkok while waiting for the storm to pass. A lover of psychology, philosophy, sociology, film, music, and the arts. She can be found in the comfort of her room or @heavenly_beauty_angel on Instagram and buddhaviriya@gmail.com


Illustration by Andrea Arias

Andrea is a Colombian illustrator based in Bangkok. Her work explores the female experience and our connection to nature. You can see more of her work on Instagram @andriearias

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