“STOP LOOKING IN THE MIRROR AND DO SOMETHING!”
This phrase was yelled at me a few weeks ago as I traveled on a ferry which transports vehicles and their respective people between three ports in Southern Thailand. Not insignificantly, the proclamation immediately prior to the mirror comment was: “You’re the worst – a fucking cliché American faggot!” The words were uttered; well, if I’m being honest they were actually screamed by Lars, a 68-year old Swedish painter and former university professor who swilled Absolut vodka directly from the bottle as if it was a bottle Evian.
Where to begin? Well…despite what some of you are hoping I did not punch him or slap him or even walk away from him. Our story actually begins on the pier prior to boarding the boat. I was traveling with my beau and two friends of ours who had kindly offered to help us move the last of our meager belongings from a house we had rented in a bucolic fishing village on the northern coast of Koh Phangan to our new place in Koh Samui. We took the ferry to Koh Phangan, drove to our old place and loaded our things into the car. Since the next ferry was not due to leave until later that afternoon, we decided to spend the afternoon at a café atop a mountain in the center of the island from which most of the Western shore could be seen. The fact that it was a little overcast had only a minor impact on the beautiful vista and even less impact on the temperature and humidity of the day (we are in SE Asia after all).
After our casual lunch we made our way to the pier and bought our tickets and as we still had a little time to kill, we parked the car and sat under the shade of the awning in the pre-boarding waiting area. It was low-season here in the islands of Southern Thailand so there were very few people waiting for the ferry. In fact, there were only three other people in the boarding area: two Thai men sitting at opposite ends of the waiting area and one Farang in the front. The Farang was the aforementioned Swedish gentleman, Lars, who had well-coiffed white hair, bright blue eyes and cherubic rosy cheeks (which I will come to find out about 30 minutes later were caused by the Absolut); and a jovial, almost festive demeanor. He was wearing a very nice quality white, green and blue checkered button-down shirt and khaki pants. I go into such detail regarding his appearance because he was not wearing the Farang island uniform which is generally: unkempt, unshaven, shorts, t-shirt, flip-flops, etc. so his appearance was noteworthy if only to locals.
As my companions and I approached the seating area (apropos to nothing I was traveling with a Frenchman, a Swiss man and a Russian woman), I was greeted by the Swede who spoke perfect English with so subtle of an accent as to make his country of origin indistinguishable to me. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting here all day for you!” he said. I apologized for being late and we both chuckled and he then took my hand and kissed it.
Lars and I exchanged pleasantries and then my companions and I took our reprieve from the now blazing afternoon Thai sun on a bench about 10 feet behind my new friend. After about five minutes or so, Lars stood up, turned around, looked at me and yelled “are you a boy or a girl?” I laughed and he must’ve mistaken my laughter as one of nervous confirmation so he said “you’re a boy, aren’t you?” Bemused, I asked Lars if he thought I was a pretty boy.
I was sincerely flattered; it is common knowledge here that the ladyboys are always the most beautiful women in the room so I took it as a compliment. He then said “I bet Mr. Volkswagen knows.” My traveling companions and I were a little confused for a moment because we did not know to whom he was referring and thought the heat and Lars’ afternoon Mai Tai’s may have been affecting his mind but then I saw that my beau was wearing a t-shirt with a VW logo on it. I suggested Lars ask Mr. Volkswagen about my gender so Lars did. Mr. Volkswagen smiled and responded that he didn’t know. Lars chuckled and said “that’s a good answer” and seemed self-satisfied about his deduction/identification of me as a ladyboy.
In all fairness to Lars, Thai people and culture seem to be far more accepting of transgendered individuals than those and that of the US and so it is neither uncommon nor noteworthy really, except to Farang, to see ladyboys and tomboys  openly living their lives which I happen to think is a wonderful thing. Additionally, I am tall for a woman by global standards but gigantic by Thai standards; I have broad, athletic shoulders and large hands and feet which are totally proportional for my height but probably not the most feminine that one has ever seen. All this to say that while I am in no way condoning Lars’ use of derogatory language and his homo-ism, under the circumstances, I can see why he questioned my gender. Agreed that an individual’s gender or sexuality is not for any other individual to question, internally or publicly, however I have a great deal of empathy and compassion for human curiosity/ignorance despite society’s-at-large common perception and interpretation of candor as rudeness.
Prior to this occasion, I had never previously been subjected to having my gender questioned however, on several occasions, I have had the honor of having my sexual orientation called into question. And every day for most of my life or at least as far back as I can remember, I was and still am treated to inquiries about my nationality, ethnicity and age. A novice at personal questions being loudly and publicly asked I am not, although this incident with Lars was my first time being “outed” as transgendered. Seems there is indeed a first time for everything and for me that’s a big part of what this journey called Life is all about.
Just then they called for us to board the ferry so we did. My friends and I took seats on the exterior of the middle deck so we could be outside and enjoy the view and breeze of the sea but still have shade to protect us from the searing afternoon sun. On a ship with about only 10 passengers which ordinarily has capacity for probably 30 trucks, 50 cars or 100 motorbikes and seating for at least 300 hundred people, my friends and I found ourselves seated directly across from Lars; he was facing the sea and we, inexplicably, were facing him. My travel companions and I chatted amongst ourselves and passively watched Lars babble incoherently to himself. About 15 minutes into our journey and conversations we all watched on as Lars reached into his neatly organized duffel bag and pulled out, what at first glance appeared to be a bottle of Smartwater™ owing to the bottle’s shape and print color but when he turned it up – and turn it up he did – we saw that it was actually his roadie.
The other female of our group, the impressively multilingual Russian wife of our Swiss friend, let out a knowing “ahhh” and said that (Lars’ swig of vodka) explained Lars’ behavior. I understood what she meant but was not entirely sure which behavior she was referring to as up until that point I had found Lars’ directness to be comically refreshing. About 10 minutes after Lars got turnt’ his belly rejected its contents right there onto the floor of the boat and while I won’t go into detail, suffice to say, fortunately Lars had had a liquid lunch that day. My friends and I promptly stood up, as if on cue, and moved to the seats that were directly behind us but now facing the sea.
Eventually the sun began to set and after a few minutes of sitting and gazing at the sea I found myself mesmerized by the pattern of the ship’s wake and the reflection of the sun’s light on it so I stood to admire it. Shortly thereafter Lars yelled something akin to “hey you” so we all looked at him. He motioned for me to come over to him so I did. My beau will later say that this action is what fueled Lars’ ire with me but I disagree.
I went and sat next to Lars because I was as intrigued by him as he was by me. Lars then began a diatribe against what he called “this faggot revolution.” He said “I have nothing against you all wearing loads of pink but so many of you are brilliant artists and you’re not saying or doing anything with your art! The protests aren’t doing anything; they’re a waste of time.” I chose to ignore Lars’ derogatory language and his case of mistaken identity and instead asked him if he was an artist. Lars said that he used to be a university professor and one day he began painting. He added that people liked his paintings and bought them but they were shit. I then made the following statement, which is a loose quote of Martha Graham’s that a close friend shared with me one day and that I in turn have shared a countless number of times with artists; I also use it almost daily to remind myself to keep creating: “Well ya’ know, no artist is ever really pleased with his own work.”
This off-handed comment was the one that spurred Lars to call me “a fucking cliché American faggot.” I was far more offended at being called cliché than the other thing but Lars was accurate about my cliché-ness and his voice rose with his righteousness. He began yelling in my face: “FOR GOD’S SAKE, DO SOMETHING! MAKE SOMETHING! WE ARE ALL HERE TOGETHER – STOP LOOKING IN THE GODDAMN MIRROR AND DO SOMETHING!” He spat a little as folks are wont to do when passionate/angry/drunk. I stood up and walked back over to my group not because I was afraid but because I realized that my presence was indeed provoking him.
I then summarized the interaction for my puzzled friends and they said he’s drunk, etc. I said that may be the case, but he’s dead right and told them about the saying we have in America about drunks and children always telling the truth. I pondered Lars’ directive and my first thought was one of denial/rebellion: “But I am doing something; I am writing and creating!” And just as his words were really beginning to sink in and I was giving up the initial internal conflict, Lars approached me again and looked me dead in the eye and said in a calmer, almost pleading voice: “We are all here together. Stop looking in the mirror and do something. You must do something; anything.” And then he walked away.
I was silent for there is no rebuttal to Truth. This drunken stranger on a ferry in Thailand called me out. I felt the weight and truth of Lars’ words hit me from point blank range. Lars was shockingly lucid for someone so drunk: He had referred to my beau as “Mr. Volkswagen” because of the VW logo on his shirt that the rest of us failed to notice; he identified my American accent in one or two sentences whereas I was stumped on his country of origin; he never spoke to any of the others in my group except to question my beau about my gender when I suggested it. He never told any of them to “do something” because those words to them would have been simply drunken gibberish because they are not fighting the same battle as Lars and me.
Lars was frighteningly accurate aside from his assertion of me being a ladyboy. At that point in time I had writer’s block; actually, it was more like writers’ paralysis. I was in a temporary space of self-loathing and blamed my mood for my lack of creativity. During that period I was often in a loop in my head and trying to learn about myself and grow instead of just accepting and loving all of me. I was, in fact, not doing anything except looking in the proverbial mirror just as Lars had assessed.
I had compassion for Lars because I understand that we often project our own demons onto others and although he advised me to stop looking in the mirror, I could not help but to see bits of myself in him. I, like Lars, often feel that I am not doing enough for my fellow man because I know that “we are all here together.” I can forgive Lars because while his language and delivery may have been unusual and/or offensive, there was no malice in his message. I understand Lars’ struggle because I share it and I am grateful to him for ending my self-judgment paralysis by providing me with a figurative smack in the face and for the reminder to “do something.”
Lars’ statements, when extrapolated to a broader context, can also be interpreted as poignant social commentary; billions of people on this planet with the technology and capabilities to help one another and to put an end to most of the suffering we see and experience and how do the majority of us use this technology? Generally speaking, we mostly use it in one of two ways: half of us use it to take selfies and create identities in order to project holographic images of ourselves out to the world and the other half use it to generate revenue in order to acquire shit. (A Venn diagram would surely show a great deal of overlap between the two halves as they are not mutually exclusive). We then allow the results of those holographic projections, whether they are personal or professional, to define our value in number of likes/followers or dollars. Perhaps if we all took a bit of Lars’ advice and stopped looking in the mirror and did something we could make this world a magical and peaceful place for all of us who are here together.
 I don’t actually know his name but a Google search shows Lars as a popular Swedish boys’ name from the 1940’s-1970’s
 Farang is a Thai colloquialism for Western foreigner. I was also told it means “white person” but they call me farang as well so…
 Ladyboy and Tomboy are the words used by the Thai for transgendered people
 Yes, I know “homoism” is not a word but I’m not calling it “homophobia” because he was clearly not afraid of me nor necessarily intolerant
 Roadie is what the kids call a to-go or take-away beverage; typically a beer or wine but sometimes a cocktail and in Lars’ case, a bottle of Absolut™ which is probably much more efficient than any of the aforementioned…