Mr. Pearl Brings Visibility To Transgender Men

THAILAND | PHOTOGRAPHY

Reading time : 5 minutes

Photographs from Watsamon Tri-yasakda
Words by Ginny Palma

Published on March 19, 2021

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June Watsamon photographs Mukk Kanattsanan, emphasising the extraordinary in ordinary LGBTQ lives.

Watsamon ‘June’ Tri-yasakda had always been known as the kid with the camera, usually to be seen taking photos of the world around her. 

At the time she was in school, it was rare for young people to take on what was perceived as a hobby, and even though she managed to get several photography gigs at university, she had not expected that she could make a real career out of it. “Back then, there weren’t many women photographers you could see or learn about.”   

It wasn’t until interning at a magazine that June realised the possibility of seriously pursuing photography. After graduation, she became a photographer and video producer for a well-known media corporation, then moved on to do more freelance work. Amidst the hustle and bustle of it all, she was advised to also find space for projects that truly meant something to her.

For June, this meant stories focusing on LGBTQ lives.

Thailand is often hailed as a paradise for LGBTQ. But for June and her friends, this is not exactly true. “This might be a paradise for LGBTQ tourists or expats,” she says, “But not for Thais who live here and have grown up in this society.” 

June’s passion was born out of the desire to discover more about this community, not only in Thailand but also throughout the region.

This is what led her to eventually meet Kanattsanan ‘Mukk’ Dokput, a transgender man in Bangkok.  

While Thais have long become accustomed to the concept of kathoeys (transgender women), toms and dees (queer identities akin to butch and femme), there has not been as much visibility for transgender men. 

This struck a chord with June and her drive to understand more about diverse LGBTQ experiences. In 2015, while she was completing her Diploma in Photojournalism from Ateneo de Manila University, she approached Kritipat ‘Jimmy’ Chotidhanitsakul, a famous first outed trans man, for advice.

Jimmy introduced June to Mukk, and the two of them met up, first to get to know one another, share their views, and then discuss how to go about realising a photo documentary. 

Mukk says, “June is one of the most talented photographers I know. I personally love the way she tells the story through the lense. We kinda had the same idea about how we want to tell the story of trans men, so I agreed to participate in this project.” 

‘Mukk’ means ‘pearl’ in Thai, which is how the title Mr. Pearl came to be. June remarks how she’d found it surprising that Mukk had kept this name, despite it being deemed as feminine. On Mukk’s part, he has never let that define his identity. His main goal is to show his truth.

“What I hope is when people see these photos, the first thing that will pop up in their mind would be like, ‘Hey, these are a bunch of photos of an ordinary guy!’” Mukk exclaims. “Back when we were working on this project, many trans men had begun taking up spaces in mainstream media. Most of them were good looking, masculine guys. I didn’t like the idea of creating some kind of stereotype of how trans men should look.” 

He says he wants people to know that transgender men are also ordinary people who come in all shapes and sizes. “What people would see from photos of me would be a guy who lives his normal life just like everybody else and might just be someone you walk past in the streets every day.”

In the sociocultural tradition of communication, value is placed in the role of societies in creating and transforming their own visible realities and cultures. The lack of genuine LGBT representation in media and various industries was what drove June to pick up her camera and help tell these stories instead. 

“I don’t think photography is a voice, but it is able to amplify the voices of people,” she argues. “Many intangible concepts, when you put them in the form of photographs… they help things make more sense to other people.”   

As a photographer, June says she wants to show a more humanised LGBTQ community. “Growing up in Thai society, I hardly saw anyone I could connect with. I don’t want the younger generations to suffer the same thing. Furthermore, I want my subjects to be happy with how the photos and the stories present them.”

While her work may not give an all-encompassing picture of the lives of the people and communities she covers, she hopes it can introduce others to more than what they see on television.  “I hope through this, they will learn that the world is much more full of rainbows than they show you, and they will become more open. I think that is the most important for them to learn more, that would be a good start.” 

It’s been six years since Mr. Pearl. More trans men have become visible in the public eye. The hope is that, with this visibility, even more can be realised for LGBTQ community — in the form of equal rights and an acceptance that is more tangible, so that works portraying their lives may one day transcend the need for representation.

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