YANISA LELAPINYOKUL WRITES – Shawatida “First” Kuptawatin – internet star, noodle restaurant owner, and a transgender woman – is taking a stand against Thailand’s strict social class system.
In a September 6 Facebook live video (2 million views and counting), First talks about dealing with rude customers at the restaurant she owns. First is known for her elegance — fancy clothes, fully made up face. But on the occasions when she steps out of that persona into a simpler one, customers, she says, perceive her as inferior.
Despite their ill manners, First says she feels compelled to serve them. Referring to these interactions, she said: “No, you didn’t give money to us for free. We made an exchange, we give you something [food] and in exchange, you give us money.”
First also revealed that customers justify their rudeness by claiming that without their patronage, the restaurant would go out of business. She counters this by noting, “If there are no sellers, who are you [customers] going to buy from?”
Before the video, the subjects of Thailand’s stratified social system and rigid respectability politics were largely taboo.
Thailand’s culture is divided by each family’s financial powers as well as a national pride in being “peaceful.” While trying to step up the ladder of social class, all individuals must remain un-conflicted in both words and manners — even if it means swallowing their pride.
While the video was controversial, it also received an outpouring of support from restaurant servers and sales associates who could relate to First’s experiences.
First’s identity as a transgender woman, often known in Thai as kratoy, has helped the video’s popularity. Though Thailand is known for its openness to the LGBTQ community, Douglas Sanders, a Canadian professor who specializes in Asian LGBT issues, told TIME Magazine, “No prominent celebrity or political figure has come out, so there are no role models.”
Kratoy are often portrayed in the media and entertainment as loud and obnoxious, the butt of jokes showcased as the opposite of sweet and gentle. While in beauty pageantry, they are viewed by the audience as magical creatures that are more beautiful and elegant than many cisgender women.
In her typical blunt style, First told the Daily News, after coming out with the viral video, that simply showing skin or being condescending won’t necessarily lead to internet stardom. The personalities that will resonate with audiences the longest, she said, are the ones that create content that cause the masses to think and reflect.
Stay tuned: First’s video could be the beginning of a new era for Thailand where the LGBTQ community is well represented in public and on the internet.