Six years ago, Jakarta resident Reza Pahlevi, 36, had sunk into a depression, believing he had no prospects of finding love as a gay man in conservative Muslim-majority Indonesia.
But watching a subgenre of Thai romance dramas depicting erotic relationships between male characters, known as Boys Love (BL), helped the urban professional find acceptance.
“My first ever Thai series was Coz You’re My Tee, which was a corny teenage drama but it somehow made me feel better,” said Pahlevi. “For the first time, I felt it was OK not to have anyone in my life. The rest is history. I started watching What the Duck 1 and 2. These TV series provided comfort food for my mental well-being.”
The BL subgenre is inspired by yaoi, a Japanese form of homoerotic fiction featuring a romance between a masculine and feminine boy, which are often created and enjoyed by heterosexual women.
Between 2014 and 2020, around 57 series were produced and released in Thailand under the BL genre. LINE TV, the free streaming platform which has been broadcasting BL dramas since 2016, has more than 30 series stockpiled for future release. The platform’s figures show its BL audience share has risen from 5 per cent to 34 per cent since 2019.
These shows are screened on mainstream TV stations during prime-time evening slots in Thailand and later streamed on YouTube, reflecting the Southeast Asian nation’s relative tolerance towards the LGBT community.
Earlier this year, Thailand approved a draft bill which, if passed by parliament, will recognise same-sex “civil partnerships”. While the bill avoids the term “marriage”, it will ensure many of the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
Across Asia, attitudes towards LGBT issues range from liberal to harsh. Same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan, while Singapore has a colonial-era law criminalising homosexuality (although it is not enforced) and Malaysia’s LGBT community has faced persecution by religious authorities.
In Indonesia, gay sex is punishable by caning in the conservative province of Aceh. Although the country’s criminal code — written during the Dutch colonial period — makes no mention of homosexuality, a new draft bill is currently being debated in parliament which would impose draconian clauses outlawing same-sex relations and premarital sex, among other things.
Against this backdrop, the country’s LGBT community – and even some straight women – have sought escapism and comfort in BL dramas.
The Twitter account @thaiifess has over 44,000 followers. The Facebook group BL Fans Indo has more than 3,700 members. On Instagram, @thaioverdose boasts more than 4,700 followers.
[thaitea] gimana rasanya foto taken by mas pacar? AHHH MANTAP 👍 pic.twitter.com/KlUOX3roRD
— OFF / SPOILER PAKE TRIGGER (@thaiifess) October 11, 2020
BL fans are a diverse group. Sultan, from Jambi, is new to Thai BL dramas but is smitten.
“I started watching four months ago but now I’m a hardcore fan. Initially, I kept seeing photos of Brightwin [Thai actor Vachirawit Chiva-aree] on my friends’ social media and got curious about him. I think he is hot. That’s how I got started.”
Benny Prawira, a psychologist who works in suicide prevention, said works of art such as films and TV shows can evoke positive reinforcement for people undergoing emotional stress.
“Members of sexual minorities can find comfort in seeing their kind portrayed as normal people who have beautiful relationships and are loved by their families and friends. I believe this is how Thai BL dramas impact their gay fans in Indonesia,” he said.
Many Indonesians turned to BL stories because of the lack of LGBT representation in local television series, which often project conservative Islamic values. When they do exist, gay characters are usually portrayed as effeminate men who provide comic relief.
Prawira said it is important that members of marginalised groups have positive role models.
“The [Indonesian] media and pop culture typically portray gay people as objects of ridicule, the over-the-top camp boys in our TV series and so on. Worse, we also have TV shows with gay people who have allegedly undergone religious conversion therapy [ruqyah].”
While most BL fans come from the LGBT community, they also include heterosexual women.
Kezsiya, from Batam, said she started watching BL dramas this year and feels they give a broader viewpoint than their Indonesian counterparts.
“They certainly give you a new perspective on sexuality, even if you aren’t gay,” she said.
Shaquella, from Kalimantan, is also a fan. “Although BL series show men falling in love with one another, they aren’t pornographic. The context is often very funny and human, like in Love By Chance, which tells you how men can have feelings for one another,” she said.
Esme Chan, another fan, believes the key to BL’s appeal among heterosexual women is the depiction of gay relationships.
“The love stories tend to be presented with humour, and the scenes aren’t exactly vulgar or explicit, except for a few. So this is why many [straight] women find them palatable, including me. The fact that the actors are usually very good-looking helps as well, of course.”
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Sawasdee Thaios… . . . Aktor muda yang mulai dikenal oleh para penggemar melalui aktingnya di Why R U The series “Jimmy Karn Kritsanaphan” (กานต์ กฤษณะพันธ์ ) atau yang akrab disapa Jimmy/ Jimmoi merupakan aktor kelahiran 18 Februari 2000. Jimmoi saat ini sedang menempuh pendidikan di Kasetsart University, faculty of Humanities majoring in English. Jimmoi memiliki postur tubuh dengan tinggi 192 cm berat 65 kg. Dia juga merupakan anggota dari Domundi, pada suatu wawancara pernah ada pertanyaan “jika tidak menjadi actor maka kamu akan berprofesi sebagai apa?”, dan Jimmoi menjawab sebagai pramugara. Jimmoi memiliki hobby bermain games hal ini pula yang meningkatkan kemampuannya dalam berbahasa inggris, seperti yang diakuinya pula dalam wawancara tersebut . source : meyouw @jimmy.jimmoi #ThaiOverdose #ThaiOverPeople #JimmyJimmoi #WhyRUTheSeries
However, not all fans accept gay relationships. Nadiya Nasrudin of NTT province is one. “I started watching Thai TV dramas when I was still in high school. I do enjoy the stories told through BL dramas but I remain undecided about gay relationships in real life. I’m not sure I approve.”
Many fans have started learning the Thai language, fed up with watching the shows with English or Indonesian subtitles.
Jazmi Nara, founder and CEO of JazLearn Thai, a language learning YouTube channel, said about 1,000 Indonesians had signed up this year.
“Quite a large number of our students are indeed fans of Thai TV series, films and recording artists, although others are also learning the language for work and study purposes. As a rule, almost all want to study Thai because they have emotional attachment to the culture.”
Pahlevi is also learning more about Thai language and culture, including cooking Thai food.
But the most important impact of Thai BL dramas is the ability to cheer him up.
“I have definitely felt less alone since watching Thai series. In my favourite Thai actors, I feel like I have idols who understand me and who don’t judge me for who I am. They make me laugh and cry as I follow their stories. I think this is their greatest gift.”
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.