This is the second of a five part blog series in which I discuss some of the more personal aspects of life as a Thai BL fan. In the first article, I talked about being seen as a “rice queen”. In this part, I will talk about how I became a fan of Thai BL and why.
Love of Siam
I grew up in Puerto Rico, which is an Island in all the sense of the word. Isolated and somewhat homogenous, we are not an island known for cultural diversity. My cultural exposure came through TV and movies. When I was in college, I started going to the fine arts cinema to watch foreign and independent movies. Because of this, I was really excited to find out that George (my husband) liked independent queer movies. When we moved to the state of Washington, we refused to get cable TV and instead we spent Friday nights browsing the aisles at the brick-and-mortar (and now extinct) Blockbuster store in town. My favorite section was the foreign movie section. Eventually, I discovered foreign queer movies and became obsessed with the Asian and European queer movies. When Blockbuster’s offerings ran dry, I began browsing the online stores. Soon, I discovered a movie called Schoolboy Crush which belong to a genera called Boy’s Love. I rented it but didn’t even finish it! I hated it!
A few years later, around 2009, I rented a movie called City Without Baseball and I really liked it. This movie and a couple of other queer-themed Asian movies, became my guilty pleasure. George wasn’t as interested in these movies, thought he did watch No Regrets with me and enjoyed it. I think No Regrets has many of the elements we associate with a BL, but I digress. Around this time, I rented a movie called Bangkok Love Story. George and I both enjoyed the movie. Searching on Amazon, I found another Thai movie, Love of Siam, and decided to give it a shot. I remember watching it all by myself (George didn’t like it). I remember watching it the next day again. I remember crying and I remember becoming obsessed with the actors. I searched everything I could about them. The ending of the movie was frustrating but the movie had such a hauntingly beautiful message that I couldn’t help but love it.
By 2013, I had given up on Asian gay movies in general. They always seemed to end up in tragedy. One can only take so much angst. In 2018, while browsing my Netflix recommended offerings, I stumbled upon a show called Good Morning Call. I think the reason Netflix suggested this to me is because I had tried to watch the Korean version of Boys Over Flowers, a series that was very popular when I lived in Washington and shopped at the Korean markets. I remember seeing the posters for Boys Over Flowers and I think I had discussed watching Asian dramas with my husband’s family. While I could barely watch one episode of the Korean Boys Over Flowers, I watched with gusto the entire first season of Good Morning Call in one or two weeks. Netflix then suggested another shoujo-based dorama, Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo, which I watched.
That winter, Love Sick popped up on my Netflix suggestions. I remember disliking the first episode. Netflix had already suggested Underwear and Hormones. I couldn’t get past half an episode of these shows. But knowing that Love Sick was about two guys who liked each other, really pique my interest and kept me watching. Mydramalist, a website I had become familiar in my research of doramas, said the series had a happy ending.
I still remember watching the kissing scene in Love Sick and listening to Noh say to Phun, “If we forget everything we are supposed to be, what is it that you want to do Phun?”, and then Phun’s famous answer: “I want you, Noh”. I cried. I cried because I understood Phun and I cried because this was the ending I had wanted to see in Love of Siam. I cried because finally, an Asian series was attempting a happy ending. This series was not about the sex, like the Japanese BLs I had seen before, or the kill your gays trope, like most Western queer cinema. I cried because in this series, love won over hate.
Going all in
After I finished watching Love Sick season 1, I found episodes of Love Sick Season 2 on YouTube. I also watched SOTUS and I became obsessed with Kongpob. I finished SOTUS very quickly. In 2019, at one point I was watching Make It Right, He’s Coming To Me, re-watching Love Sick Season 1, reading the Love Sick novel and watching Love Sick Season 2. I was honestly obsessed. Eventually, I stopped watching Make It Right, as the characters were too cute and I was becoming so involved in the story that I knew I would just be depressed when it ended. It took me about 2 years to find the courage to finish the series (I did so during the pandemic of 2020 and as expected, I cried and was depressed).
Why do I still watch BL?
After all this years, I still watch BL on a weekly basis. BL is my addiction. Why do I watch it? I think BL is escapism. It is not that my husband is not a loving man, and I don’t think I have a boring life. Writing these blogs sometimes takes a lot of effort in my part precisely because I am a a busy guy. Back when I was teaching and doing research full time, the amount of free time I had was very limited. Even now, I consider the amount of free time I have to be pretty scarce. This last weekend I traveled to Kansas City, this coming weekend I already have engagements for Friday and Sunday. So my life is not exactly depressing, lonely or anything remotely similar. BL is escapism in another sense: it takes me to a world I wish existed and a world that I wish I had been able to grow up in. You see, in the world of Thai BL, being gay is not something that gets you teased or something that makes you feel ashamed. Noh’s friends teased him a little but in the end they were very accepting of him and Phun. Kongpob never once asked if Arthit was gay. Instead, he persisted because he loved him and knew he would reciprocate. Thought the Semes in Make It Right spent the entire first season of the series trying to “Make it Right” by the Ukes, they never loose their faith that the Ukes will eventually love them back. The world of Thai BL is a world in which being gay does not deprive you from experiencing life as a regular teenager. As Noh so beautifully put it when Jeed calls him gay, “I call it love”. There is no gay love in Thai BL because love is just love. For me, growing up being gay meant you didn’t experience love until you were out of high school and maybe even out of college.
So I watch to live vicariously, a life I wish I was able to have lived when I was a young teenager learning about how to accept myself as gay, struggling with internalized homophobia, and suffering the many heartbreaks of falling in love with someone who had no desire to reciprocate. I wish the world we live mirrored the world of Thai BL a little more. If gay boys in every country grew up with such positive role models, perhaps growing up gay would not be so painful.