The year was 1996, and Thai volleyball fans watched as a men’s volleyball team made up of gay and trans athleathes, known as ‘The Iron Ladies’, won the national championships. Their story was made into two feature films and secures its own chapter in the history books of both volleyball in Thailand and LGBTQ-culture in Thailand.
The story begins with two naturally-talented volleyball players, Mon and Jung, who were both constantly being rejected by top volleyball teams due to them being openly gay. After a local team in Lampang got a new coach, she held tryouts which Mon and Jung passed, causing all the other members of the team to resign. The two ended up getting their university friends to join the team, building one which is made up of entirely LGBTQ members (except one, for dramatic movie purposes). The team went on to win the national men’s championships. Unfortunately they still weren't accepted, as the players were rejected from the national team because of the way they express themselves through wearing makeup and women’s clothing, despite the fact that they won the national championships. An interview by ‘The Washington Post’ with one of the players confirms that the members continue to struggle in finding a balance between what they truly want, how they want to express themselves, and the implications this had on the national acceptance that does not exist for the players.
“We don’t want to cause a problem for society,”
Most people, myself included, have been fooled by Thailand’s attitude of promoting gay-friendly places and destinations for LGBTQ visitors. Although the exterior may suggest that Thailand is quite accepting to it’s LGBTQ citizens, the real laws and discrimination behaviour continues to exist. Even though many LGBTQ Thais in the entertainment industry are considered icons to many, there still continues to be many limitations in LGBTQ laws in the country. Much has changed and been improved, yet there are still many steps needed to be taken in order for total equality for all.
Words by Pippa Touchpong