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Thailand bans film about transgender 'father'

in THAILAND, 27/12/2010

Tanwarin Sukkapisit says her latest film about a transgender 'father' of two children has been banned, twice, because it's a serious film – as transgender females on Thai television are widely considered acceptable but only for laughs.

Thailand's film board has banned a movie about a male-to-female transgender parent struggling to raise two children. The 21-member National Film Board, which is chaired by the prime minister, ruled last Wednesday that the movie Insects in the Backyard can not be shown in Thailand but did not release an explanation for the ban.

Director and writer Tanwarin Sukkhapisit says the movie is based loosely based on her own life. Born male, Tanwarin began crossdressing as a teenager. In the movie, Tanwarin plays a 35-year-old single 'father' whose teenage son and daughter are torn by feelings of love and shame, and eventually run away from home and turn to the sex trade.

The Associated Press (AP) quoted an official of the Culture Ministry's Film and Video Screening Office, which is under the Department of Cultural Promotion, as saying that the movie has been banned for being "deeply immoral." The official added that it was "unnecessary" to show child sex workers and dreams of patricide that could be copied by young viewers.

The 37-year-old filmmaker says she's seeking a limited theater run in Bangkok for audiences aged 20 and over, and plans to appeal the ban. She added that the scenes including an explicit depiction of two men having sex were crucial to the story line and could not be cut.

Various media reports say the film includes a scene of Tanwarin masturbating with her penis visible, and fetish sex between the teenage children of the protagonist and their paying clients. The AP report also quoted two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak before the ministry's official explanation is released, that among the scenes deemed "immoral" by the film board were clips showing children in their school uniforms working in the sex industry, a dream sequence in which a son kills his father and the male sex scene that the board found too graphic.

"Our society tries to show it accepts differences – but actually it doesn't," Tanwarin said. "Thailand is still a conservative society. This is a case of the government using its power to suppress people with different opinions."

"The problem with my film wasn't that it was a gay-themed movie – because there are many gay comedies allowed in Thailand," Tanwarin was quoted in by the AP as saying. "My movie was banned because it was a serious movie. It showed there can be real problems when society cannot accept sexual differences."

Transgender females and cross-dressers are regularly seen on TV soap operas – but almost always for comedic effect – and throughout Bangkok working in retail and restaurants, and at numerous transgender beauty pageants which are openly held.

In an interview published in the Bangkok Post in November, she questioned if Thai society is as open about gays and katoeys as it is often thought to be.

"Most people believe so. We're not arrested on the streets. Our rights aren't limited, and we can live fairly happily. But if you ask me if katoeys are accepted as part of the mainstream 'we' of society, I don't think so. We're still 'the others', the insects in the backyard.

"I'm saying this because that's what's happening. I'm not demanding anything. I didn't make the film to present my statement, I just made it because that's the story I wanted to tell. If katoeys are not part of the 'we' in society, so be it. I accept that fact and I'm fine with it."

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