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9 May 2008

tomboy chic

There is a new Thai magazine for 'Tomboy' lesbians. Doug Sanders has bought up copies and reports from Bangkok.

What must be the world's first and only magazine for 'Tomboy' lesbians hit the newsstands in Thailand in December. Fashions and lifestyle. There's no activist agenda beyond treating 'Toms' (and their feminine girlfriends, the 'Dees') as legitimate parts of Thai society.

Tom is such a well-known term in Thailand that the title - @Tom Act - Tomboy Lifestyle Magazine - immediately tells casual shoppers the magazine's orientation. There are no provocative pictures. No nudity. Nothing to anger the Ministry of Culture, which protects Thai morals by censoring magazines, television and movies.

I looked for at least a picture of a lesbian kiss. Cuddling yes. Kissing no. I checked the first four issues in detail and found two kisses, one from a controversial Egyptian movie and one from a photography exhibition. Both could be defended as news coverage, not images generated for the magazine alone. Neither image had any nudity. Interviews with happy couples may have a dozen pictures, but none show kissing.

The magazine is regular format size - same dimensions as Time or Newsweek - but with better quality paper. Each issue has around 120 pages. Paper and printing standards are high. It's in the Thai language, with bits of English for article titles and advertisements.

There are lots of Thai language magazines for sale each month. @Tom Act shows much less flesh than the high style women's lifestyle magazines. At the same time it differs from the lively teen magazines that focus on boyfriends and celebrities. It's aimed at a high-end market. The price, 97 Thai Baht, or a bit over three US dollars, is substantial. That's four times the price of the teen magazines, and the same as the glossy women's magazines that run to 450 pages (crammed with luxury advertising).

Interviews have identified the two editors as a straight woman and a gay man. The publisher, who does not give interviews, is a Tom lesbian, who pushed the idea of the magazine. She has wanted to do this for ten years.

One editor said of the publisher, "She wanted this magazine to be like a friend to young tomboys, with pages filled with inspiring stories and casual information about their lifestyle."

Will the magazine survive? There has never before been a gay, lesbian or transgender Thai magazine aimed at a mainstream market. Even today there is no gay or LGBT print magazine with general distribution in Thailand or anywhere else in Southeast Asia, South Asia or East Asia. Taiwan's His magazine tried to make it in a mainstream way, but disappeared. Buddy magazine in Korea was on newsstands for a while, but now only exists on the web. The thick small format gay magazines in Japan seem limited to gay outlets. A few soft-core gay magazines with sexy pictures turn up in Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, but are usually hard to find. The net may be flourishing, but print media is not.

The number of advertisements in @Tom Act is limited. Advertisers are wary. Normally, magazines live on advertising revenue much more than sales income. Gay publishing in the West struggled for at least thirty years before advertisers flocked in. Absolute Vodka was an early entry into gay aimed advertising, buying up the back cover of Advocate magazine for years.

Fifty thousand copies of the first number of @Tom Act were published. Seventy percent sold. The magazine now has 3,000 subscribers. Many Toms and Dees probably prefer not buying it publicly.

Each issue starts with three or four pages on local social events, fashion shows and product promotions, with photos. These pages copy closely the style of trendy social sections in other magazines.

Then two pages titled "Around the World," featuring short news items. A pet shop owner in Sweden refused to sell a dog to a lesbian, so she sued and the court awarded her some money. Fifty-six percent of Americans now think homosexuals cannot change, up from 45% in an earlier survey. A fashion show for women in Afghanistan has caused controversy, for the women's faces were not covered. An Australian lesbian is now an elected member of the national Senate.

Then 16 lifestyle pages - new gadgets, hairstyles, fashion, movies, books. The first issue had a page of shoes for Toms and a page of shoes for Dees. A few years ago a designer showed a collection of Tom fashions, but her efforts faded away. Now the Tom look may be back as a fashion niche.

Issue # 3 (Mar 08) had a sensational cover, with a model dressed half as a Tom (man's black suit and tie) and half as a Dee (a red party dress). Inside were fifteen pages of top-end photography showing the model playing both roles. Top of page: covers of issues # 1 (Dec 07), # 2 (Feb 08) and # 4 (Apr 08).
Each issue has a photo spread with the cover model. Issue # 3 had a sensational cover, with a model dressed half as a Tom (man's black suit and tie) and half as a Dee (a red party dress). Inside were fifteen pages of top-end photography showing the model playing both roles. In one, as the Tom, she is changing the tire on a car, while, as a Dee, she stands by looking glamorous, not dirtying her hands.

Each issue has at least one interview. The first was with the Tomish manager of Zeta, a woman only bar in an upscale entertainment area. The second issue interviewed a Tomboy who competed on Academy Fantasia, a Thai 'American Idol' type cable TV program. The third had interviews with twelve women about how they coped with turning points in their lives. Half were lesbian, half straight. The fourth featured a Tom running her own business, a bakery, in Siam Square. Clearly the magazine likes to show positive role models for Toms.

Then there are a set of columns. One, "World of Deviate," is written by an anthropologist under a pen name. Another, "Laugh of Live," is written by the "Princess of Tofu." Another "My Space" by a singer from the pop group China Doll. The mother of a Tom writes "Funny Thinking." Another column is "Only the Lonely," linked to a TV program.

There are no columns on current LGBT activism or Thai politics. For Valentine's Day, issue # 2 did list the countries that had same-sex marriage or registered partnership laws, and talked about the issue in Thailand. Issue #4 gave three pages to the story of an activist lesbian group in Beijing getting an international award from Mama Cash, a foundation that gives grants to lesbian organisations. Otherwise the magazine is about fashion, entertainment and lifestyle - not activism.

Each issue has had a new episode in the life of "A Heartbroken Tom in England." The poor Tom turned up to study in England only to find her Dee, already there, had dumped her. She is heartbroken, but stays on and writes about her life and visits to various parts of the UK.

There is a lot more. Sections on travel, sports, cooking, art, charity, health, your monthly horoscope, stories on celebrities. Issue # 1 ended with a full page picture of Virginia Wolff and the quotation: "It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly."

It's not always easy to find @Tom Act. It's on the stands in the B2S chain, which has outlets in big shopping centers. It does not show up in the best selling outlets - the hundred or so Book Smile stores, the ubiquitous 7-11s, or the Faster Book stands at Skytrain stations. Kinokuniya Books will handle Gay Times from the UK and Advocate from the US, but not, it seems, the local Tom magazine.

The only other LGBT publications in Thailand these days are the small format give-away English language magazines for gay tourists, the gay maps and a few marginal gay magazines with partial male nudity. You really have to look for this last category. Distribution is so limited, they cannot be making money.

The main gay magazine these days is probably Volume - a thick, glossy women's lifestyle magazine. It loves to do camera shoots of hot men. The hunky star of the gay movie Bangkok Love Story made the cover (paired with a woman). Inside a dozen pages had him posing alone in swimwear. A sister magazine, Image, in its April number, has three sexy photo spreads just of guys, totaling 35 pages, one entitled "Delicious."

No Toms yet in Image or Volume. No competition for @Tom Act.

Thanks to Prempreeda Pramoj Na Ayutthaya for translation assistance. Douglas Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor, now living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at sanders_gwb@yahoo.ca.


Reader's Comments

1. 2008-05-10 14:00  
After reading the review on TOM ACt i personally think that a clean and positive magazine should be supported..it impressed me.Keep up the good work TOM ACt...how i wish it can be in English version.
2. 2008-05-10 22:01  
As long as you Asians love these stereotyping and using words that in the West have no particular sex-related meaning into your stereotype language, you will never have equality and you will also never have an understanding society, as you yourselves have labelled yourself forever!

And sure enough, the first applause comes from the stereotype homeland of SG! No surprises then...
Comment #3 was deleted by its author
4. 2008-05-11 12:14  
Pray tell what's wrong with the word tom (or tomboy) and your prejudices about the word.
5. 2008-05-11 22:36  
the word has absolutely no sexual conotation whatsoever! Its only in stereotype societies, such as SG/Misa, Thailand that you artificially label short haired women automatically as lesbians and a magazine using a completely neutral word...

you people are so sunken in this labelling that you don't see it anymore and you are surprised when your very own governments use your very own behaviour against you!

why don't you start to grow up?
6. 2008-05-11 23:36  
Let's avoid the stereotype debate ("Asian" and "West" being VERY much stereotyped as we speak) and let's celebrate!

C'mon people. A magazine that makes being gay, lesbian, mannish/feminine, swinging/closeted, alive and kicking; as feel good and normal as ice cream and apple pie... I applaud and hope they make it in the cutthroat publishing world.

And to boot, they have great creative flair and intention to do good things with design and layout and (hopefully) editorials. Bravo.
Comment #7 was deleted by its author
8. 2008-05-12 11:35  
terrificturk, you do not need to scream.

Think about it, neither did the words butch and gay start out meaning the same thing as we understand the words to mean today. So why can't 'tom' be adopted the same way butch and gay have been.

Also, it totally baseless to claim that Asians "artificially label short haired women automatically as lesbians" any more than non-Asian societies.
9. 2008-05-12 13:06  
We shld be happy that another gay magazine approved n published. However, the magazine lack of creativity and topics. Tom act has alot of room for improvement.
10. 2008-05-12 13:49  
I would love to have @Tom Act in English no matter how expensive it is.. There is truely a lack of Tom fashion sense in this scene. A great fashion/lifestyle magazine for Toms... SubZero COOL..
11. 2008-05-12 17:24  
Classy cover, Good photography, high-ended feel..
NICE~ How i wish it'll be in English edition.. LoLx..

@Kellen, you can stop wasting your life to argue with people who are out-dated. Obviously, some people just can't read and understand:
[Tom is such a WELL_KNOWN TERM in Thailand that the title - @Tom Act - Tomboy Lifestyle Magazine - immediately tells casual shoppers the magazine's orientation. ]

Besides, there are different labels for female homosexuals alone - eg. femme, lipstick, passive, active, andro, tom, butch, dyke etc etc. Within just the category of masculine female (normally known as butch/dyke in some countries), there are further sub categorizations for them. Eg. Soft-butch, Stone Butch, "Boi" etc.

It's only the matter of fact that whether a particular person has the knowledge about these terms.
So Kellen, why spend your energy replying those who have tunnel-vison??
Comment #12 was deleted by its author
13. 2008-05-12 19:06  
If, taking from what is described above of Tom Act & Volume respectively, then my sentiments are with Jan7. The contrast is indeed striking- pages after pages of hot hunks in the gay men's magazine with not a female-except a cursory one @ the cover-in sight, bt all throughout TomAct there is only butch/femme?? No disrespect intended to butch/femme couples, but personally I find it a tad too hetero-normative & that it lacks variety & real representation of the lesbian population as a whole. Still,it's not wise to shoot it down while TomAct is only fledging; give it a couple of seasons to progress & hopefully the magazine would by then evolve with more sophisticated content. =)
14. 2008-05-12 20:07  
wow do they sell this internationally? i can use some fashion tips!
15. 2008-05-12 21:54  
Im just wondering why this article was written by a man.... where are our lesbian sister writers to review this magazine ?
16. 2008-05-13 11:02  
As the article said, the magazine is published by a Tom lesbian. So saying that it "lacks variety & real representation of the lesbian population" is like accusing a gay men's magazine of not representing the wider community for not including lesbians (or male to female transgenders). From the title, it already spells out its target audience, so please give them a break and the lesbians who don't feel represented should start one that would represent themselves...
Comment #17 was deleted by its author
18. 2008-05-13 14:26  
Thank you Kellen, for yr opinion- I respect that.

However, I'm afraid you've mis-intepreted what I said when it it lacks variety & real representation.
As the article above states, the word "Tom' refers to targeted audience's ORIENTATION & not GENDER BEHAVIOR- in essense, it means lesbians.
So being a member of their targeted demographics I don't see what is so unreasonable to request for variation of the traditional butch/femme or masculine/feminine gender roles.
Besides my earlier comments were just honest feedback & not meant as disparaging others- that is a game only losers play.
19. 2008-05-13 15:28  
And I was just responding to your feedback which has been polite. I just wanted you to consider that perhaps toms and dees are representative of the Bangkok or Thai lesbian scene and the magazine is not meant for us Singaporean lesbians who have mostly warmed up to non-butch-femme pairings nor is it for us to demand that they suit our tastes.

20. 2008-05-13 17:06  
Hey hey, break it up girls,

We're already the minorities [considering us as one of the "sexuality minorities"] and still wanna fuss on all these minor things??
These are just magazines, don't ya think??
And to say the truth, it's much cater to those who are the majorities in the minorities.. I mean, do you wanna spend so much money on something which you publish and most probably won't sell??
At least if you cater it to majorities of the minorities, you'll eventually get back at least some earnings..
It'll be better if they cater more, but they are just new players in the market, give it experiences first. ;)

@ I agreed with VexX to certain extend that it lacks creativity on just the standard pairings. However, i believe that what this TOM magazine wants to bring forward is larger awareness and higher acceptance.
Who knows?? Maybe those who are living in the 'waterwell' always thought that they are straight, may actually start to like the same sex??
Sometimes, humans are quite blined and did not discover their real feelings until they are being exposed to certain stuffs. =)

@ And i agreed with kellen too. This TOM magazine is just a new-born in the market. Give it some time to get use to the world before asking them to fly.
The TOM mag may only show the standard pairing in our lesbian community right now, but who knows again??
They might even cover different pairings if they have the chance to flourish.

Look on the bright side girls..
It's good that at least TOM is being sold in a newstand as compared to Singapore, right?
And besides, nothing in this world can satisfy everyone, and there are bound to be subjective views to it, right?

So just relax and remember that we're still under the same boat despite some differences.
Comment #21 was deleted by its author
22. 2008-05-14 13:09  
Break what up? We're just talking and if we must refrain from expressing any disagreement and agree on everything, then what's the point of discussion? We will never learn anything new or see it from another person's point of view.

Comment #23 was deleted by its author
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Comment #27 was deleted by its author
28. 2008-05-14 20:34  
Now, now, Hurts is only trying make peace by breaking up our argument before it degenerates into an ugly fight. Never did she once tell us to refrain from expressing ourselves or keeping our mouths shut. Your attitude towards her is appalling...just remember- one who is not humble, shall be humbled in time to come.
29. 2008-05-15 01:52  
i dont really think that my last 16 years in SG have made outdated... on the contrary! I think I know exactly what I am talking about... but I shall leave you to your superficial arguments and labels, categories and even sub-categories... and all those ppl that you attempt to stuff into them, just so that you have boxed everybody in.

with this attitude you will never achieve equality - and you dont deserve it either!
30. 2008-05-16 12:50  
no matter how hard we try to push it out of out head, stereotyping comes naturally. so, terricficturk, just relax aite? the society is changing but it will not change completely overnight.

and there's so many labels/names currently present in the community that it's interesting to actually know the meaning of each lables. you'll be surprised how you'll end up laughing when you are discussing it with your friends.

besides, our parents usually consist of a man and a woman thus, it's only natural that some will want to try and be comfortable in the society through the representations of butch/femmes.

besides, not everyone is that liberal. sometimes labelling makes it easier to fit in. that is if you have been a closet case for the most of your school life.

just a piece of mind. cheers people.
have a great day!
31. 2008-05-16 12:53  
oh, ive forgot to mention that @tom act mag does look really interesting. nice layout!
it would be really great if it was in English too.
then, i would be able to get my hand on them. =D
32. 2008-05-17 05:54  
and i thought SG stood for Suicide Girls????
now there is a sterotype abducted.
now how do i subscribe
33. 2008-07-05 22:53  
juz got back from bkk and manage to buy a copy. though its in thai, the pictures itself spoke a thousand words. hopefully one day we will have something like @tomact magazine in sg, maybe to be sold on les nites or certain gay friendly shops.

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