11 July 2024

If he was wrong about Buddhism and detachment before, Prairie Praiwan has to be right this time, getting out of the closet to become someone he always has been wishing to be. He is not the first ex-monk to have turned into a female-like being, and he will not be the last, but his high profile means the life-changing decision is more under scrutiny than those of most others.

In a world where one of the “freest” countries has yet to have a female leader, where women have been banned from soccer stadiums, and where founders of religions and supreme religious bosses at present are all men, Prairie is not dealing with a “Thai” issue, but rather a universal flaw of the human species.

His LGBTQ stance was always suggestive when he was still a monk. He used to say that a Buddhist monastic rule requiring monks to be men was just physically speaking. In other words, anyone who has a male sexual organ can become a monk in his opinion.

That sounds very sensible. In this world, though, if a woman had said the same thing, her opinion would not have carried as much weight. Better still, if she said she wanted to become a monk who has more religious principles to observe than a nun, it would have either fallen on deaf ears or triggered contempt.

But make no mistake, Christianity and Islam are very much the same. Whether it is the world’s most-followed religion or small cults, males are always the patriarchs. If it’s football or tennis, it’s more understandable because strengths and physique will come into play. Religion is different, because religious chiefs do not have to fight, to begin with, and none of the activities is too demanding for women.

It’s hard to say which is harder: Women demanding the exact same rights as men when monastic ordination is concerned, or ex-monks (widely revered or not) starting to live as women. Both cases, though, reflect the prevalence of sexism where it should never prevail _ religion

Prairie had sought to be ordained as a monk, and that fact underlined his trust in Buddhism to a degree, although when he was Phra Maha Praiwan, he was often accused of allowing vanity to take control. That was in the past, complicated largely by politics and difficult interpretation of genuine Buddhism. Having left the monastery, he is freer, although his big decision was tough all the same.

The dhamma double-act mixing Thai Buddhism with laughter – and stirring controversy

Whether he truly understands Buddhism is questionable. His comments regarding a Bhikkhuni(female monk) who is frowned upon by the Thai ecclesiastic authorities and involved in what looked like commercial activities suggest that he does. (He said that any activity focusing on worldly interests should be carried out by laymen, and that it would be absolutely fine if she did what she is doing after shedding saffron robes.) But then again, “selling” is not the only activity that borders on violating the Buddhist doctrine, and he had to leave the monkhood because he got too close to controversial things himself.

Buddhism preaches that our appearance does not quite belong to us because it, for one thing, is not permanent. Religion hence can ask why bother changing or trying to change gender, because we can’t control it anyway. It can argue that trying to control things we can’t really control will take us further and further away from the “essence”.

In other words, people frowning at the ex-monk’s transformation may say that if he gives too much importance to worldly appearance, it will overshadow the spiritual or immaterial part of himself and thus affect his quest for it.

Yet he can argue that being a male is a worldly appearance, whereas he is actually a woman on the inside. Shouldn’t the longing to be a woman be counted as a spiritual or immaterial part of himself?

It’s a question that will take some answer. (Sometimes the line between giving in to temptation and becoming who you really are is very thin.) To ask that question by acting on his controversial longing, it takes some courage.

By Tulsathit Taptim

Writer’s note: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and people of Nong Bua Lamphu. Along with deepest sympathies are wished for their strengths and prominence of the best memories of all the beautiful souls.