“Boys’ Love” Hits Push the Dial for Progress Across Asia

“Boys’ Love” Hits Push the Dial for Progress Across Asia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What you need to know

'Because We Belong Together', a Thai TV series, has become a phenomenon across Southeast Asia.

Two “Boys’ Love” (BL) hits have recently rocked the LGBT+ hubs in Asia of Thailand and Taiwan. 2gether: The Series (Because We Belong Together) released in Thailand, followed by Your Name Engraved Herein in Taiwan, have added to the reputation of both countries as havens of vibrant LGBT+ scenes.

Because We Belong Together was one of Thailand’s biggest hit shows in 2020. The series aired on primetime television and online channels, receiving record views and racking up several local awards, like Thai-renowned Maya Awards for Favorite TV Series of the Year, Kazz Awards “Favorite” category, and LINE Thailand People’s Choice Awards for Best Couple.

Based on JittiRain’s novel, the story centers on freshmen college love between Sarawat (Vachirawit Chiva-aree/Bright) an introvert athlete and guitarist, and Tine (Metawin Opas-iamkajorn/Win) a self-proclaimed womanizer who becomes attracted to men for the first time by falling for Sarawat. The series’ popularity is seen in its reaching 9 million YouTube views in its first weeks and 15 million at press time. It has also received over 50 million views on LINE TV, one of Asia’s largest live streaming platforms.

Its success has many sources. The series has an easily relatable theme of love and genuine portrayal of what LGBT+ youth experience as they come of age, while retaining cute boy romance attributes and fun college life attracting larger non-LGBT audiences. Improving on past BL pieces, it spoke to audiences in Thailand and across East and Southeast Asia, from Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines to Vietnam. It even found fans in Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, where same-sex sodomy laws still exist.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Pichaya Tantip (R) and her partner Phatrnaya Kamploy, a same-sex couple, take pictures of themselves during their wedding ceremony at Wat Takien temple in Nonthaburi province, on the outskirts of Bangkok February 14, 2015.

Scenes in Because We Belong Together portray some of the struggles of coming out to friends and family. Sarawat, a college idol, courageously, in a very public manner at a concert and official student club gathering expresses his love for Tine, a male classmate. Likewise, Tine overcomes his inhibitions to tell his brother that he is in a relationship with Sarawat. Tine’s brother reacts in a very surprising way which I won’t spoil, other than to say that it highlights displays the prominence the show gives to the bisexual community, a group within LGBT+ circles in which representation has been often overlooked.

Its sequel, Still Together, released several months later received even greater attention, with its last episode taking the top trending hashtag in Thailand with over 2 million tweets. As with Because We Belong Together, its online response was phenomenal, with over 40 million views on YouTube and 27 million views on LINE TV spanning East and Southeast Asia.

It’s well received audience is not coincidental with social progress seen in the country. Thailand is well positioned to become the first ASEAN nation to recognize same-sex unions. The Thai parliament is currently discussing a bill to legalize same-sex partnerships along with provisioning other benefits similar to marriage. Along with Taiwan, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2019, both Asian countries have seen fundamental progress with acceptance of openly LGBT+ relationships, in both legal reforms and in social attitudes.

《刻在你心底的名字》陳昊森(右)與曾敬驊遠赴澎湖無人島對戲_氧氣電影提供
Photo Credit: Oxygen Film
Still shot from Your Name Engraved Herein.

Similar to Because We Belong Together, Taiwan’s record breaking 2020 LGBT-blockbuster Your Name Engraved Herein shares a universally relatable romantic theme that reflects advances in LGBT+ inclusion. Your Name Engraved Herein was the first LGBT-themed movie to break the NT$100 million mark, a prestige badge of success in the Taiwanese and greater Chinese speaking film industry.

Both works brought in top artists to perform theme songs and choreographed the lead actors to sing together. Crowd Lu sang the theme in Your Name Engraved Herein and Scrubb did the same for Because We Belong Together.)

The lead actors have also been strong advocates for greater LGBT+ social acceptance. Edward Chen of Your Name Engraved Herein joined Taiwan LGBT Pride and speak out about his LGBT sibling and Bright vocally expressed support for the legalization of same-sex unions in Thailand.

Given the success of both hits in two of Asia’s most LGBT-friendly countries, it can be expected that there will be more LGBT-themed pieces with mainstream success to look forward to. Although BL arguably objectifies attractive young preppy-looking gay couples, it nevertheless helps raise awareness around the existence and creating lacking dialogue around normalizing LGBT+ relationships. With more visibility given to same-sex relationships as they become more open and discussed, this is a welcome departure from a patriarchal and anti-gay “don’t ask don’t tell” approach still present in Asia and abroad.

Although LGBT+ youth in both Thailand and Taiwan often confront similar barriers to acceptance from older family members, the popularity of both pieces is a testament to strides made within younger generations. Both Boys’ Love pieces pave the way for LGBT+ people and gay representation to become more mainstream and are another sign of an Asia becoming more inclusive of LGBT+ people.

READ NEXT: Epic Love: Taiwan’s LGBT Blockbuster ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’

Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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