An interview with an openly gay Buddhist monk who used to be a cross-dresser has caused controversy in Thailand with state censors holding the broadcast back for a month before they decided it could go to air.
The Venerable Tanaisawan George Chandha-dhammo, a 28-year-old monk at Vivegvanaram Monastery in Hat Yai, Songkhla province in southern Thailand, gave the interview with current affairs show Woody Talk in March but authorities initially thought it was too controversial to air.
It is believed this is the first time the issue has been allowed to be discussed on Thai television.
In the interview the Venerable George defended his appropriateness to be ordained a monk, saying he lives by the same monastic code as heterosexual monks, which includes abstinence from sex, and that he had left his past life as a kathoey behind him.
‘Transvestites and gays also wish to attain Nirvana,’ the Venerable George says in the interview.
Thai culture includes feminine gay men, transvestite gay men and transgender women under the same cultural identity as kathoeys as a third gender, and the Venerable George had been a cross-dressing gay man prior to his ordination.
The issue of gay monks first hit the news in May of last year when a series of photos emerged on social media of young gay monks posing with their robes arranged like women’s clothing, and the Venerable George was questioned about a photo on his social media.
He replied that because of his past as a cross-dresser other monks often joked with him and that the photo had just been innocent fun.
The show invited four senior monks from other parts of Thailand and asked them if they accepted the Venerable George as a monk.
One said that he did, while the other said that he would have to eliminate all of his feminine traits before he could fully accept him as a monk. The others did not give their position on camera.
The show also spoke to the Venerable Jazz, a famous kathoey performer and model, who had had artificial breasts removed in order to be ordained as a monk a year ago.
Jazz said the operation had been the right thing to do to conform to the monastic code that had been established by the Buddha.
The show’s host left viewers with an open verdict on whether kathoeys who had been transvestites were acceptable as monks, simply saying that all Buddhist should strive to be the best people they can be.