Toms: The Complex World of Female Love, a new mini-documentary by Coconuts TV, allows new insight into a sexual identity that is unique to Thailand’s LGBTQQA community. Coconuts TV is a video production team that focuses their pieces on Southeast Asian cities. The film follows two Toms named Zom and Am as they prepare and participate in the Mr. Tom Act talent show, an event that draws audiences from all over the country. Thailand is one of the most tolerant places on Earth in regards to when it comes to issues concerning sex and gender. The film also explores several other identities of the queer community in Thailand as well as the equality struggle that persists in the country.
Toms, which is short for tomboys, are a subset of Thailand’s LGBTQ community. This community does share a lot of the same aspects at the “butch lesbian” culture in America and Europe, however it is unique to Thailand in their use of language and representation of gender. Thailand’s Tom community has recently developed a large fanbase as the community continues to grow and assimilate into mainstream culture. They have a popular online presence, new roles in films and even a magazine devoted to women who love Toms. These women, often referred to as Dees, are the ultra femme counterparts to Toms. Tom/Dee relationships often adhere to strict stereotypical gender roles, with Toms taking on a protective and financially supportive role. For reference, the Tom and Dee relationships often adhere to stereotypical gender roles that can be compared to the more widely recognized “femme/butch” stereotypes in the lesbian community.
The film discusses on how the word “lesbian,” which was introduced to Thailand in the 1970s, had a negative connotation, which is why the Tom community is gaining so much recognition. Labels like Tom and Dee were created within the queer community to adapt to having a much more positive connotation than the prior term for their sexual orientation and gender expression. The filmmakers’ definition of Thailand’s Tomboys is quoted as “Girls who dress and act in a masculine way, typically sporting a uniform look of short hair, T-shirts, and jeans.” Toms don’t consider themselves transgender or gender fluid, leaving room for other labels to gain acceptance.
Katrina Kaufman, one of the film’s producers, explains that Tom culture is becoming more prevalent in Thailand. Toms are gaining acceptance through movies, social media and are becoming prominent figures in the community, especially among younger Thais. However, with this new acceptance movement for this community, the film still addresses how Toms still face societal discrimination. They’re free to be themselves in public and walk around holding hands with their girlfriends, however they are still subject to scrutiny and prejudices among certain groups of Thais. Toms aren’t that accepted by the older generations, and they don’t have the same legal rights as heterosexuals in Thailand. Despite the country’s reputation for being sexually liberal, there is still a stigma when it comes to same-sex female couples. The documentary does do a good job of describing the daily struggles of a Tom while still honoring them and presenting their new and liberated lifestyle.