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  • Writer's pictureVincent Pruis

Application to be a Thai BL Drama Lead

In the last year, I have watched nearly half of all the Thai BL dramas that have ever been produced. My obsession started with I Told Sunset About You, which has remained my favorite (though A Tale of Thousand Stars nearly stole the title), and there's no clear end in sight.

I love the soundtracks, how the acting sometimes feels theatrical, how the tropes include "supportive sibling talk" and "quirky friends who overdo their wingman assignment"... I also have lots to say about some of the problematic tropes (lack of consent, transphobia, etc.), but even my frustration feels like a sort of love: I'm invested, and that investment draws me in deeper. The biggest draw, though, is the escapism.

After a year of social distancing, I'm lonely. So I watch these shows, and I (/because I) desperately want to get milk tea with eight people, or admire strangers at the crowded basketball court, or have in-person study groups, or flirt at a concert in a bar, or have a beach episode. Oh god, what I'd give for a beach episode—to barbeque seafood for a big group of friends, to play in the waves, to tell someone I love them in the corniest way imaginable under the light of the moon… These are all elements incorporated into almost every Thai BL drama.

Then there’s the BL (boy love) part too, which is both the designation of the genre and another source of partial envy. I’ve been out as transmasculine for less than two years, so for most of my life—and through most of my “coming-of-age” moments—people have seen me as, and treated me as, solely a girl. That colored all of my relationships. Because even though when I dated guys or flirted with my friends it felt a little ~gay~, they saw the relationship differently.

When my friend rested his head on my shoulder as we rode the bus home from a high school tennis match one afternoon, there was no speculation about a “bromance”; there was just his light breathing, and his soft, light-brown hair, and the golden blur of desert outside the window. And for some reason that makes me very angsty. I don’t necessarily want any of the romances portrayed by GMMTV or WeTV, but I do want there to be a man who once considered himself straight who will look at me and think: “Oh. Maybe I’m not straight.”

I watch these shows because they show me both what I’m missing (people! public spaces!) and what I may have missed, since I missed boyhood overall.

Last month I got sucked into a moody envy spiral. “Why don’t I get to be one of these drama leads??” I moped. Then I thought about it a little longer (probably too long, probably too much thought), and I realized, as a character, I am extremely qualified to be a Thai BL drama lead.

So here it is, my list of why I could definitely qualify to be a Thai BL drama lead:

1. I’ve been one of the “campus geniuses” for most of my time in academia, and I’m widely regarded as very smart by my professors and peers. I’ve won awards at conferences and proved competent across disciplines: in calculus, biological anthropology, philosophy… Though my brain feels broken right now, by and large, people describe me as brilliant.

2. I was a collegiate athlete (for one season, on crew, but it still counts).

3. I played intramural soccer in college. Yes, this is important. Practically every drama has at least one lead playing for an intramural soccer team. That’s me.

4. I can sing.

5. During a musical dress rehearsal my freshman year of high school, the director kicked me off stage for being “distractingly beautiful”: this proves two things, 1) that I have theater experience, and 2) that—as far as looks go—I’m a literal showstopper.

6. My dating life is full of funny mishaps and grand gestures.

7. I have a lopsided smile and lots of snark. Too much, probably. So cast me as the smart and snarky soccer player, and announce a casting call for a himbo or a shy nerdy sweetheart—oh! or the bad boy who can cook—as my partner.

8. I am constantly ill or injured, so there are lots of opportunities for a hospital episode, or a fever episode, or a caretaking episode of any kind.

9. I’m gay, and I’m melodramatic, and honestly that should be enough.

The only reasons I couldn’t be a Thai BL drama lead:

1. I am not Thai.

2. I do not speak Thai.

3. I have boobs instead of a six pack, so my body isn’t quite industry standard.

If you set aside those three matters of mere practicality, though, you’ll see that there’s actually a lot of overlap between my character and a lead character in a Thai BL drama. Often, I find my daydreams casting myself into that role.

Maybe that means I’ve taken the escapism too far. But you’ll only be able to make that judgement call once you’ve watched a significant number of the dramas. So… when are we having our watch party?

(Yes, the two shows I mentioned---and this final image from Manner of Death---are some of the only examples where the usual BL tropes are less present... but that only proves that the escapism that applies to these favorites doesn't apply to the rest of the shows, and that I am thus truly lead character material.)

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