How two Asian members are finding their pride
Sakshi Juneja, the cofounder of queer agency Gaysi Family in India, and Pataradanai Setsuwan, a psychotherapist in Thailand, discuss pride through an Asian lens
Thursday 29 June 2023 By David Levesley
It’s very easy to think of queerness, Pride and LGBTQIA2S+ liberation through a purely Western lens. When we think only of London, New York or Sydney, we risk flattening or erasing the rest of the world’s intricate and interesting approaches to their own freedom, often involving the untangling of homophobic policy that the West decided to introduce during colonisation.
Sakshi Juneja is based in India, and is the cofounder of the queer creative agency and community space Gaysi Family. Pataradanai Setsuwan, who goes by the nickname Koen, is a psychotherapist and practitioner based in Thailand. They sat down to talk about their respective country’s pursuit of civil rights, how society is changing, and how international collaboration is the future.
Sakshi Juneja: ‘I was in Australia for about eight years, had a break-up, moved back to Mumbai and came out to my family. The minute I did so, I wanted to be around queer people. I realised that there was not much access even in an urban city like Mumbai, especially for queer women. So, I started Gaysi in 2008. My desires, aspirations and needs at that time were very different from where I’m sitting today. In the last 15 years, things have evolved at such a rapid pace, even in India. I do recognise my privilege, and there is not one India, but the kind of things that we are doing today is what’s going to set the trend for many generations to come.’
Pataradanai Setsuwan: ‘We just had our second ever Pride parade in Bangkok. When something is quite fresh, it’s nice to see that it’s not too organised. There’s a lot of genuineness there, and the power dynamic – even though you can never have a power dynamic that is balanced – feels relatively equal. We’re quite welcoming to the gay masculine community and the transgender woman community, but not all the others. So at Pride here, it’s nice to see that we can all take space in this place where we’re understood, too.
‘Right now, we look at pridefulness through a very westernised lens. We use the word gay, lesbian, transgender, non-binary and queer, and we Thais, including me, get very confused, because we actually have our own queer concepts already. So even though we’re trying our best to fit in this westernised lens, it doesn’t fit quite right. I guess pride for me is about owning who we are, and to make things safer for the community within our own culture and context.’
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SJ: ‘There are many queer communities that are very centric to India, especially under the trans umbrella. But how do you bring them forward? We recently completed a project where we had to translate English queer words into Indian languages, and many of them we did not have. It was quite amusing because then we had to literally just translate the English version, and the brand we were working with wanted us to create words. And we were like, you can’t just create a word, because it has a history behind it. It needs to be accepted by the community, it needs to be used by a community, and only then does it become part of our dictionary.’
PS: ‘Legally, in Thailand, we have nada. We have zero. We’re trying to push it through, and the stigma here is: “we give you so much already, why do you want more?” Things are better, but better does not mean perfect. Better means that it’s better than things when they were sh*tty.’
SJ: ‘In India we had Section 377, which was handed down to us by colonial rulers, and said that sex can be had only for procreation. Anything outside of that, including anal sex, was criminalised. It was decriminalised just recently, in fact, in 2018. It’s sad that it was called ‘gay sex is decriminalised’ considering that even cis hetero people who indulged in anal sex or sex without procreation could be charged under the same law. But what I think that did was push a lot of queer people to say, “thank you for this, but now we need the entire bouquet.”
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‘Currently in the Supreme Court of India, we have a case going on, and the verdict is expected in July or August. Though it is filed as same sex marriage, it’s also to recognise queer families, and to not look at the binary ways of being. Then you have the Trans Act, which is still going back and forth, because the courts have said something, but the central government says something and the states are doing something else. So while there are provisions, there’s a massive disconnect over there. But what India does then gets replicated among the neighbouring countries as well.
‘While the law is taking its own sweet time, I feel society here is changing. Just last weekend, we held a festival with Tinder in Bombay, at a mall. We had queer musicians on stage, queer businesses showcasing their work, and queer chefs selling their food. And all that in a cis hetero mall. I had to pinch myself. In fact, this weekend, I’m going to Delhi because we’re hosting the same festival. We’ve also started doing murals – we did the Soho House Mumbai mural, which faces the beach, and you have a lot of people who walk on the beach and interact with that art.’
PS: ‘What you described and explained just now sounds very authentic, it sounds very genuine. Something that’s done for the community. And that does sound nice.’
SJ: ‘You will see me in the Bangkok House very soon. And before I get there, I’ll ensure that we connect.’
PS: ‘Can we? I would love to get to know you and go for dinner or something.’
SJ: ‘And I’ll try to get a team member or two and see if we can curate something in the House.’
PS: ‘Yes, please!’
See our events page to find out how we’re celebrating Pride around the Houses.