With laughter and slang, Buddhist monk proves a hit with LGBT+ Thais


A Buddhist monk has become an unlikely champion of Thailand’s gay and transgender community by lacing his popular live-streamed talk shows with LGBT+ slang, irreverent humour and social commentary that fans say are helping to challenge taboos. In contrast to the sombre tone of most religious teaching, Phramaha Paivan Warawanno giggles through the shows as he reads comments from viewers mocking his robes as an “orange dress” and addressing him with a term used to refer to transgender women. “At first I couldn’t understand the meaning (of these LGBT+ slang terms), but I thought they were funny and was curious to see if people would laugh if I used them,” said Phramaha Paivan, 29, who has more than 2 million Facebook followers. “So I tried (using the words) and it has worked well,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from his temple in the capital, Bangkok. Besides adopting LGBT+ slang to refer to himself and other monks, he talks about social media influencers popular with gay, bisexual and trans Thais during the shows, which are filmed at the temple in a studio adorned with pot plants and toy animals. While his approach has drawn criticism from religious conservatives, members of the LGBT+ community say it has brought down barriers. “I have never wanted to ask a monk questions, but this time I have the courage to ask things like whether a katoey (transgender woman) can be ordained,” said Thitipan Raksasat, an LGBT+ film director who has more than half a million followers on video-sharing platform TikTok. “He (Phramaha Paivan) knows katoey lingo even more than a katoey,” she said. Officially, only men can become monks and novices in Thailand under a Buddhist order that since 1928 has forbidden the ordination of women. The country does not recognise female monks or novices.

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