For LGBTQ people across the world, isolation is often a part of our narrative. Social distancing has been a mandatory part of our history, one that has often seen us separated from our birth families and also forced us to find our chosen family.
For queer people, isolation is often not our choice, but what we are forced into for just existing. As a result, the constant talk of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is triggering depression and a rise in mental health concerns for us, both of which are not foreign feelings.
“Isolation together” is how the queer community has survived for centuries, and these safe spaces for queer people, in their modern form, are most-often bars and nightlife venues. Thailand was recently placed under a state of emergency, and even before that the bars were already closed.
I talked to the queen of Thai drag herself, Panginaheals, to see what she’s up to, how her work has been affected by the pandemic, and for some insight to how the community is functioning during the shutdown of our safe spaces.
Who are you and how long have you been an entertainer?
First and foremost, I am an entertainer and I’ve been an entertainer for all my life, but I’ve only been paid to do it professionally for eight years.
In the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic or other “disturbance”, what is the queer scene like in Bangkok?
It’s Liberating. It’s free. It’s understanding, and it’s accepting. I would say it rivals any other place in the world, really.
If you want to put on drag and go outside here, you can without any issue. Queer people are safe here, and although we might not have the huge exciting activities like you see happening in the USA and our pride marches and equality parades are not as big as mardi gras, what’s important is that it’s always safe to just be yourself as a queer person and/or entertainer in Thailand.
What are you working on now that everyone is self-quarantined?
I am everything. I’m an entertainer, an emcee, a drag queen, a performer, a costume person- literally I do almost anything that a drag queen can do. If you dissect what a drag queen is, I can make every single piece of it and that is what I get paid to do.
That said, because of the COVID-19 shutdown, I can absolutely not work at all. Everything gay is cancelled for the next two to three months, so I have no paid work. I no longer have a calendar, because there is no point in keeping one.
Since the bars are closed and the gay nightlife is currently shutdown, how are people in our community keeping in touch under self-isolation requests?
Video messenger, a ton… a lot. It’s true that we do feel disconnected from our friends right now and we’re not getting the same level of interaction that we normally have. It’s something that we actually need to have to stay happy and healthy. So, we’re going old school- doing a lot of webcamming and watching Netflix.
Personally, I’m refreshing my list of gay movies and documentaries to watch. This is a good time to go over all of these and learn something fun and new about queer life. Also, I will have re-watched all of Bette Midler’s movies by the time this is all over.
What about online entertainment? Makeup tutorials, performances, etc.?
I have considered doing it, for sure. It’s a huge market now that everyone is staying at home and they’re not doing anything else. It’s fun to do, and it’s entertaining to watch.
I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve thought a lot about it. I’m focused first on getting my psychological health tuned-up to do that, because the COVID-19 situation is affecting all of us psychologically and mentally. I don’t feel like my usual happy self and I need to be that happy, energetic person in the right mindset in order to spread happiness to other people.
So, stay tuned. I’m just trying to get fully rested and when I do, I’ll be back.
Is there anything you want to say to other LGBTQ people in Thailand during this trying time?
Hang in there. It has to get better and it will get better. Also, watch out for the fake news.
Don’t look at your phone very 10 seconds like I used to, it’s only going to fuck with your mind. I only touch my phone like twice a day because everytime I do, I am bombarded by negative information that may or may not be real. Being assaulted by [potentially fake] news all the time makes it impossible to have any kind of happiness or interaction with where you are at this exact moment. Now is a good time to go back to nature, or if you’re stuck at home read a book.
Try to feel what it’s like to live 10 years ago for a change, it will really help you to stop and take a look at your immediate surroundings.
Last week we talked about hooking up. What are your thoughts?
People fucking better not be hooking up. Pornhub just made their premium options free worldwide. Use that benefit to the fullest extent. Now is the perfect time to enjoy watching more porn- there’s no need to rush it because you don’t have anywhere to go. Why not just have a nice glass of Chardonnay and spend 2-3 hours watching some porn?
It’s completely healthy and safe and you are helping your country in the end because you’re staying home.