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Rebellious Self-Love: Tana, Stand-Up Comic & Proud LGBTQ+ Community Member

Updated: May 20, 2021

Tana is a photographer, stand-up comic, drag performer and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. As part of our Rebellious X series, we sat down with Tana to discuss self-love in relation to identity, art, comedy, drag, media representation and Bangkok.


 

On Identity

Tana putting on eye shadow reflecting in a mirror

I grew up in a small town in Chaiyaphum province, in Issan. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community and living in that area was tough. People there believe that if you're LGBTQ+, it must mean you want to be a girl. As a result, LGBTQ+ people who live there often deny who they are. But I never denied being gay. I just felt like, “So what?”


Both my parents are well-respected teachers. As such, I think bullies at school didn't do anything to me because they were afraid of my parents. It’s because of my mom and dad that I felt comfortable coming out as LGTBQ+. They were very supportive and open-minded about gender. They just wanted me to be who I am, to be happy and to make a living for myself. They didn’t see me as a boy or gay, but part of the family.


Androgynous is either and also neither. It’s the most blurry word of them all. It’s the clearest word for me. It feels like I can be anything.

Many of my gay friends got bullied because they denied being gay. Because I owned it, I didn’t get bullied as much as others. The bullies knew they couldn’t get under my skin, so they didn’t even try. I believe the best way to protect yourself as an LGBTQ+ person is to own it.


If you ask me what I identify as, I would say that I’m a feminine entity, but I’m not just one gender. Or if I have to describe it in one word, it would be androgynous. I’m in the middle. It’s hard to describe myself to others, but when people ask, it reminds me to question myself too. I haven’t entirely figured it out yet, but I don’t feel that I have to.


Androgynous is either and also neither. It’s the most blurry word of them all. It’s the clearest word for me. It feels like I can be anything.


On Art

Tana putting on makeup in the bathroom mirror

I left my hometown to attend university. Even though my parents would have loved for one of their children to become a teacher, they were open-minded enough to allow me and my siblings to pursue the careers we wanted. I’ve always been passionate about art. However, studying art is emotionally exhausting. Around two years ago, during my thesis, my emotions surged and I became depressed.


On an art course, you have to constantly think about what you need to do all of the time. You have to think of the project's concept, come up with a 10-page report, and only when you reach the final stage of work can you create your art. It was because of this pressure that I stopped attending university for a year.


I am someone who experiences low self-esteem, depression, and stage fright, but comedy made me challenge myself.

The pressure was exacerbated by the fact that on my course I was only one of two people who wanted to focus on photography - everyone else focused on painting. Most of the professors also specialised in painting. When I presented my work to them, they would either dismiss it or be overly critical, because they didn't understand the process that I had been through. They saw my art as easy - one click and it’s done.


Their criticism disregarded that I spent days and weeks going to the same location for a single picture. I gave my time to a picture and they felt they could do it in five minutes? I lost my self-esteem. Those types of moments built up throughout the semester and as a result I developed clinical depression.


I distanced myself from my university friends and decided to take a break. It was then that I found comedy.


On Comedy

Tana putting on powder in a handheld mirror

When I discovered the comedy scene in Thailand I was shocked to learn there was a big, established comedy community. At first I started going just to watch, then I became a fan.


My English class at university encouraged us to interact with foreigners, so I decided to document my first time performing comedy for my English class. My professors thought it was a great idea.


After my performance, I didn’t go and watch a show for two months. When I did go back, it turned out that I’d made some friends in the comedy scene - friends that made up for the friends I had lost. It was because of those friendships that I kept going back.


I am someone who experiences low self-esteem, depression, and stage fright, but comedy made me challenge myself.


Actually, I believe self-doubt is not a bad thing. It is how we, as humans, improve ourselves. To be able to doubt yourself, to be able to study what you can and can’t do, that's how we improve and grow. Having self-doubt or a moment in life where you don't really have an answer is not such a bad thing. It‘s not something to fear. It’s important to question yourself because every question you ask can change the direction of your life.


Before doing comedy, my friends would describe me as the funny one, but I often felt left out of conversations. In doing comedy, I wanted to ultimately prove to myself that I could captivate a room full of people who normally wouldn’t pay attention to me. That really boosted my confidence.


It’s important to question yourself because every question you ask can change the direction of your life.

Comedy also helped me when I went back to university. I used to be someone who froze when I was asked a question. Now, I know the importance of preparing beforehand, thinking of all the potential questions I could get asked, so I have the answers ready. I feel more confident in presenting and comfortable talking to the lecturers, saying what I really want to say.


On Drag

Tana putting on makeup spray

Drag is a very new thing for me. I’ve only performed in drag twice. It came from a desire to experiment with performing arts; my passion for going on stage combined with my love for drag and makeup. My first opportunity to perform arose through my friend, who was organising an event. They were looking for different types of performers and I decided to do drag.


When things happen in real life and you can laugh about it, it’s no longer a big deal.

Admittedly, it was kind of scary. For my first performance, I had to get ready at home and take the BTS to the event in full drag, makeup, and a crazy outfit. The journey was an hour. It was so scary to have people looking at me, but also funny at the same time.


That's another thing that I learnt from the comedy scene. When things happen in real life and you can laugh about it, it’s no longer a big deal.


Typically when people do drag, they build a new character very different from who they actually are. For me, it's not entirely a new character, but rather the most feminine that I have been, or feel free to be. I wouldn’t say that it's helped me with my identity, but it has helped me explore what I can do.


It's not that the drag character is a person that I can’t be, it’s a character who represents one part of me, but not my whole identity.


On Bangkok

Tana putting on mascara in a small mirror

In my opinion, Bangkok is a safe place for people in the LGBTQ+ community because it’s very open. Bangkok is the capital of Thai gay culture and there are a lot of gay bars and spaces where you can be who you want to be without being judged.


We are not always judged in Thai culture, but I would say that Thai people are sometimes hypocritical when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. If asked, most Thai people will say that they're fine with LGBTQ+ culture, but just don’t want their child to be part of it. It's a problem that has never been addressed.


Thai laws could be improved for LGBTQ+ people, for sure, specifically the right to be married and issues with gendered titles. In English there is “Miss” and “Mr.” In Thailand we have “Nai” and “Nang.” This is not inclusive for trans people.


If asked, most Thai people will say that they're fine with LGBTQ+ culture, but just don’t want their child to be part of it.

There is not as much discrimination for LGBTQ+ people in Thailand compared with other countries, but there is still a need for improvement. We are making progress, not the fastest nor the steadiest, but progress nonetheless. As the younger generations grow up, more progress will be made, especially as young people are more educated about equality.


On Representation

Tana using a makeup sponge in a bathroom mirror

LGBTQ+ representation is very important for us as a society because that is how we educate people who don’t understand us, and challenge perceptions.


I’m one of only a few people in the Bangkok comedy scene who identifies as LGBTQ+. I find it empowering to represent gay people in the comedy scene because in Thai media, often we’re the punchline. LGBTQ+ characters in TV shows or films aren’t truly representative when their identity is the joke, with no authenticity and character development.


They’re so excited that they got the chance to see someone like me, someone who accurately represents them, on the stage.

Once, a fellow comedian said people only find me funny because I’m gay. It’s normally hard to offend me, but that stuck. It's not my fault that the media portrays people like me in that way and then people find me funny. What I try to do is take the stereotypes and break them, taking control while using comedy as a tool to improve myself. Then those old jokes no longer work.


I’ve been approached after comedy shows by Thai people because they didn't expect me, a Thai person, doing comedy in English. I’m also often approached by trans and gay people. They’re so excited that they got the chance to see someone like me, someone who accurately represents them, on the stage.


I’m so happy that I get to be the image they can see themselves in.


Tana can be found on Instagram at @tanawut_sukke.

 

By Becky O'Brien

Becky O'Brien heads The F Word's Rebellious X column. She is a member of the Bangkok Rising Managing Committee, an event organiser, passionate about gender equality and an aspiring storyteller; dedicated to finding untold stories and bringing them to light.


Photography by Adelina Colucci

Adelina Colucci is a documentary photographer and founder of The Love Lab (@the_lovelab on Instagram). As a feminist activist, she uses boudoir photography as a way to empower women and encourage self-love.

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