Abjection, Snake Women, and the (many) Gaze(s)

Naga at Buddhaisawan chapel (late C18th), Bangkok
Detail of mural at Buddhaisawan chapel, 2013. (Taken by me.)

It’s rare to read a story and know it’s for people like me. Even rarer for such stories to push at gendered bodies and relationships in truly interesting ways. Stories unconcerned with the white, straight gaze. Stories which knowledgeably play with shared mythology.

She is paya-nak, she is monarch among serpent-kind, and once she allowed me to see her true form, and that broke my heart to pieces. Her jeweled tongue flicked out to catch every one. She is a girl’s dream, she is a queen, and snakes great and small make obeisance to her.

 

Oh, if only my baby was a snake, egg-hatched, compelled to prostrate before her might.

 

I lower my face to her scales. Sometimes below the waist she is snake; sometimes she is woman. Now she is coils upon coils, black, all the shades that are black, and she wraps her serpent-part around me until we are one, fastened at the waist like a conjugal vow. “My husband will return. One day.”

 

“I will give him to one of my sisters, to eat or drown as she pleases.”

 

“Mak is not a bad man.”

 

“He lies between us as drought lies between mortals and survival. He hangs over the knot of our want as a blade hangs over a thread.”

You can imagine how I felt, years ago, when I read Paya-Nak, a lesbian re-telling of Nang Nak, a much-beloved Thai folktale. These are thoughts which have simmered in my head since then.

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