The Thai Village Gay Way
by The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson
Other Sheep Coordibnator for Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
July 2009
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson
with Pramote, his Thai partner
of ten years.

Nothing and everything prepared me for this ministry at this point of my life.  
Nothing in my background even hinted that I could develop an affinity for this
range of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people.  I was an Illinois farm
boy and I suspect I don’t have to explain how little positive regard for queers
and queens I grew up with.  And yet here I am on the cusp of seventy years
of age with a “group” of fifty or sixty of them in free flow, coming and going,
appearing and disappearing, and I feel this is the very thing all my life has
been preparing me for.

The other day Pat drove up on her motorcycle.  Both Pat and the dilapidated
Honda are often dysfunctional, but I was so glad to see her it surprised me.  
She is hardy, brave, funny and loving.  But she has the gracefulness of a
boxing arena bouncer, except for her two-inch long fingernails, and she has
the ethical level of a numbers runner, which she is.  Only God could have
moved my heart to an elevated level of affection for this 300-pound mass of

Pat is in the inner circle of our group, as I think of it.  There are fifteen or
twenty in this core group.  They are mostly my partner, Pramote’s friends
going way back.  That’s how this ministry developed, if it is a ministry.  And I
have to admit that nothing in my background, in my study for three
theological degrees, or in my 40 years of being an ordained Presbyterian
pastor and missionary would have suggested this open-house, fluid, do-it-
yourself buffet would qualify for the label of ministry that I keep reminding
myself it has.

But this introduction isn’t about me as much as it is about a way of caring
within this unique group in this northern Thai village context.  Pramote is my
partner in this undertaking, and my life-partner for the past decade.  This is
his area of Chiang Mai where he herded water buffaloes and hunted for
mushrooms as a boy.  He swears he always knew he was gay, it was a
given.  It was also recognized and accepted by everybody in the village …
where the word “secrets” means “we all know, so we don’t have to talk about
it all the time anymore.”  This openness, of course, is how Pramote’s network
of friendships developed.  Here you don’t have to rely only on “Gay-dar”
radar to intuit kinfolks.

The group, the inner circle of close friends who are in regular contact with
each other and who live around here, the wider circle of their gay friends and
relatives, and the outer circle of acquaintances and associates of these
friends (many of whom live away from here now), are not all the gays there
are in our range of villages (a 3-mile radius).  We know of many other
individuals who would qualify and be welcome.  That brings me to the heart
of the matter.

It is clear that the dynamics of this group is built around affinity and develops
exclusively from a network of friendships.  Nothing else has sufficient
attraction to hold the group together or to cause anyone to identify with it.  At
the same time it is a limiting, or rather a leavening, factor.  Affinity is what
defines as well as describes the group.  It is a fellowship that is in constant
flux as people move away from the village, or, as in Pramote’s case, move
back, as they take spouses, trips and jobs, and as they have issues.  It is not
a formal voluntary association.  Since it is based on friendships it is more
durable and takes less maintenance than that.  But friendship tends to ebb
and flow in proportion to participation in the group’s interactions.

Whenever I begin to wonder whether our association is a ministry in any
authentic sense, I am brought back to reality by a list of the thirty activities
we have undertaken in the last two years.  They are divided about half and
half between gatherings to celebrate and express affinity, and endeavors in
which the group served the community in unique ways.  In every case
someone in the group is the spark-plug or organizer and friends in the group
are the natural recruits and participants.  The group has organized a fund-
raising event for the village school.  It wasn’t low-key, either.  It was a full-
scale third-gender beauty pageant with 32 stunning transsexual
participants.  Hundreds of village folks attended.  One part of our group are
the flower arrangers for funerals and house blessings.  Our group provides
the coaching, choreography, costumes and cosmetics for a high school
troupe of dancers that are locally famous.  We have had outings, er,
excursions.  Last New Year’s Eve we had a costume ball to welcome the New
Year and, yep, it turned out to be a drag-fest.  This is the village, after all,
not the city.  There aren’t a lot of occasions to strut where we live.  So, I
reckon this is a ministry to the extent that mutual affirmation, affinity, and
community service are a ministry.

I have announced to the group that ours is a safe house.  “If anybody needs
to run, come here first.”  Bullying, abuse and violence aren’t common, but
before Pramote and I moved back there were at least two gay suicides, so
the serene front the village wears isn’t perfect, and being gay isn’t all about
being confident of our security.  Many parents go through the same curve of
denial and force their sons into a period of defiance and defensiveness as in
other countries.  That can be rough.  The group has a role as a model to
younger gay guys of how others have survived.  And the group is a quiet
zone where acceptance is assured.  I think of this as a ministry to the extent
that providing care, comfort and the assurance of protection for vulnerable
people is a ministry.

A third way this is a ministry suffered a major set-back a few years ago when
one of the missionaries mounted a series of campaigns to have me
stigmatized, if not shunned, by the Christians here in Thailand.  It was all
done in the name of protecting the Church from my type of abomination, and
to cause me such pain, I guess, that I would see how vile I was and repent.  
What happened is that Pramote lost all of his burgeoning interest in
Christianity, and all my contacts with congregations turned cold and formal.  I
have no church community any more, and so one whole aspect of ministry
among and in behalf of gay people in this part of the country has withered.
Of necessity I have become convinced there must be another way to witness
to the Gospel in this village context.  Over the last year I have been
hammering out a theological mode of being a Christian Buddhist.  This
means living as a Buddhist, integrated into the tides of village life, while
maintaining conviction that Jesus Christ provides the final answer beyond the
rigors and uncertainty of merit making to escape endless reincarnations.  
Jesus has many other answers, too.  But as long as the churches are so
unattractive and inhospitable we will try to integrate into the community we
have and discover a new paradigm for presenting the Gospel.

Nothing less than all these years and all my accumulated experiences could
have prepared me for this role as a pioneer.  I didn’t willingly step out of my
comfort zone in the Church, I was evicted, but I think that I am doing what I
am supposed to be doing out here.  

                                           The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson
                                                          Chiang Mai, Thailand
                                                                             July 2009
"Here I am on the cusp of
seventy years of age . . . a
Presbyterian pastor and
missionary" ministering to fifty or
sixty "queers and queens" in
"this northern Thai village
This ministry "is about a way of
caring within this unique group"
of Thais.
"The thirty activities we have
undertaken in the last two years .
. . gatherings to celebrate and to
A safe house in contrast to a
village that can be abusive --
where even gay suicides do
"As long as the churches are so
unattractive and inhospitable we
will try to integrate into the
community we have and discover
a new paradigm for presenting
the Gospel."
" . . . this role as a pioneer . . . I
am doing what I am supposed to
be doing out here."
This is an Other Sheep web page
Above photo:  Kenneth Dobson
with Thai partner, Pramote, at
their village home outside of
Chiang Mai Thailand.
July 18, 2009
Above photo:  
Kenneth Dobson
at his village
home outside of
Chiang Mai
Thailand; a meal
prepared by his
Thai partner,
Pramote. July 18,
Photos at left:
Celebrating the
opening of a new
business, owned
and operated by
two young gay men
from Ken's village.
Above: Pictures of the
2009 New Year's Eve
Left:  Gay
Thai with
picture of
himself in
drag for the
2009 New
Year's Eve
"drag fest."
July 18,
Four photos in
this column:
Thais celebrate
the opening of a
new business,
owned and
operated by two
of their friends.
Chiang Mai,
Thailand, July
27, 2009
Ken and Pramote's Home
Ken and Pramote's Home
Ken and Pramote's Home
July 27 Celebration
July 27 Celebration
July 27 Celebration
Above: Pramote (left)
welcoming a new friend,
Peth (right).
July 27 Celebration
Kenneth Dobson
Take the 2009 Southeast Asia Tour:  NEXT
This web page was created in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
Monday & Tuesday, July 27 & 28, 2009.
Visits to this page since July 29, 2009.
The Rev.  Dr. Kenneth Dobson
mob. 08 1764 7656
international  66 8 1764 7656
Contact Information for Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson
Payap University, Chiang Mai 50000  Thailand
Office of the President
tel. 053 851 478 ext. 213
mob. 08 1764 7656  - international call  66 8 1764 7656     -
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                Ken Dobson

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