What Keeps Me Calm: Watching ‘Dark Blue Kiss’
“I have never considered coming out until the pandemic prevented us from being outside”
Welcome to What Keeps Me Calm, a series of movies, television shows, albums, books, and other works of media that are comforting us during these incredibly stressful times. On particularly sad and disheartening days, there’s nothing better and more consoling than to turn to our favorite things to read, watch, and listen, as these offer a respite from the hardships we face collectively and individually.
I have never considered coming out until the Covid-19 pandemic prevented us from being outside.
During the earlier days of the quarantine, I thought about the words of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy: “the answers you seek” and “the love that you need will never be found at home.” I had just read Edouard Louis’s End of Eddy and Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims then. Both of whom are French authors who, like the subject of Smalltown Boy, found it imperative to leave home to live their gay lives.
When I come out, maybe I would have to do it, too.
I launched a new tab on my browser and looked for available jobs overseas. It could be Singapore, so I wouldn’t have to learn a new language and the flight back home would be cheap. Maybe I could come out through text when I get there. That way, I wouldn’t have to confront them in person until I go back home. And perhaps that would take a while. “Don’t go home too often. Save up the money instead,” I could imagine my mom saying. I shook my head and closed the tab. It is futile to think about leaving during the pandemic. And not every coming out begins or ends with departure, after all.
That is what I learned from the 2019 Thai Boys’ Love (BL) series Dark Blue Kiss (DBK).
DBK is the continuation of the PeteKao story from the 2018 series Kiss Me Again. DBK’s storyline begins three years after Pete (Tay Tawan Vihokratana) and Kao (New Thitipoom Techaapaikhun) got together. Although they have been together for that long, only Pete’s father—who, in Kiss Me Again, caught them flirting—knows about their relationship. Kao, who hasn’t come out yet, refuses to reveal their relationship to their friends and his mother. This decision leads to complications later in the series, when Kao’s conniving student, Non, schemes a plan to ruin their relationship.
DBK isn’t as dreamy as other BLs. DBK’s opening theme—a melodramatic violin arrangement fit for a Korean drama about infidelity—makes it obvious. If most BLs are interested in the chase and the nesting stage of a relationship, DBK is concerned with a relationship that has found its stronghold. And by far (context: I have seen four BLs), it is the only BL that positioned coming out as an integral part of the story.
Coming out in most BLs—the ones I’ve seen—is peripheral. Characters may struggle with homoromantic feelings, but not with their identity. Often, there is also no need to explain their feelings. That is because the interior world of most BLs isn’t subjugated to the social constructs of the one we inhabit.
DBK is more grounded in reality. The struggles it presents are informed by, even if it is only implied in dialogue, impervious societal standards. “It’s like we disappoint our parents with our sexuality. So, we have to be a good person, get a good job, and make them proud,” Kao says in one scene. Their pursuit of selfhood is not only concerned with the individual, but also with the world around them. Coming out, as it establishes the relationship of one’s true self with the world, becomes a vital step towards liberation in the series.
I have my reasons for not coming out. One, why do I have to come out if I have always been this way? I never chose to be like—my softness and my homoromantic feelings. Two, I don’t want to explain myself.
Kao also has his reasons. When Pete observes that Kao’s mom might have an inkling, he asks Kao to tell her about them already. Kao says he isn’t ready yet. “I don’t know where to start,” he explains. “I never talked to her about this before. It’s weird to do it now.” Pete agrees and wonders, “Why didn’t we talk about this with our parents when we were kids? If we had, we wouldn’t be stressing over it now.”
I agree. If we had only talked about it with our parents when we had fewer problems and the world seemed to be kinder, we could be worrying about other things now.
Perhaps, we wished our parents could save us from the burden of hiding our true selves by reading through us back then. In that way, we didn’t have to be in a vulnerable position of baring ourselves. But I guess that’s not how it works. So, we collect the courage to do it, but fear comes first.
There is a sense of shame that is inherent in being queer, Eribon and Louis suggest in their respective works. There is nothing intrinsically shameful with the queer identity. But throughout a history of violence and insult directed to the queer people before us, society has perpetuated a shameful reckoning of the queer identity. Like the concept of original sin, shame comes before we even identify. And when we finally acknowledge who we are, what we probably first realize is the pain that we are about to be subjected to. So, the closet presents itself to be the most convenient option until it is not.
Kao comes out during a personal crisis, after Non falsely accused him of sexual harassment. The accusation would later cost him his job as a tutor, an internship opportunity, and even his mother’s job. His reputation is the very thing that he thought would make up for the “disappointment” caused by his sexuality. With everything falling apart, he comes out to his mother who accepts him wholeheartedly.
His coming out is first and foremost a revelation, but it ultimately leads to a process of restoration.
Unlike Smalltown Boy and the works of the French authors I mentioned, DBK presents the home as a restorative space for the gay child. There’s nothing wrong with uprooting oneself from home, especially if the space cultivates hate and discrimination. But don’t we all want to be accepted and welcomed at the spaces most familiar to us? Don’t we all want our coming out to be a process of coming home?
I think of DBK when I think about coming out. I believe coming out is a favor we do not exactly for ourselves, but for others. We don’t come out because we want to find a place in this world; we come out because we want to let others find their place in our lives.
When I imagine the worst things that could happen, I think about Kao’s story and find a glimmer of hope.
Thomas Baudinette, a lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia who studies Thai BLs and its fandom culture in Southeast Asia, says that we look at BLs as a “resource of hope.” That is why the cheeky phrase “sana all” has found a special place in the everyday vocabulary of Filipino fans.
“Sana all” is not an expression of envy, but hope. And even if hope pertains to things that aren’t here yet, it provides reassurance: One day, we’ll experience the blissful love of our ships. One day, emancipation will come.
It may not be today. But it will come.