TED Talk at TEDxSOAS 2017
Born as the grandson of Thailand’s first heart surgeon, Smarn Muntarbhorn, Tuck Muntarbhorn, a 23-year-old Thai artist and fashion entrepreneur based in London, lives a life fuelled by courage, kindness and unconditional love that pervades all experience.
As he stepped onto the stage at TEDxSOAS 2017 which took place at SOAS University of London on 2nd March 2017, Tuck felt the accountability of what it means to be the first Thai orator, gay and Asian artist to be selected to speak on a TED stage in the UK - the responsibility to speak his Truth.
Wearing a golden tapestry with the image of a sacred Indian guru photographed by Steve McCurry (the photographer behind ‘Afghan Girl’ which iconically appeared on the 1985 National Geographic cover) and his hallmark Issey Miyake orbit hat to revere his meeting with Miyake and Princess Akishino in Tokyo in 2016, Tuck began his TED talk with the words “I would like to thank everyone who has ever been kind to me”.
Tuck expressed his life as “A Love Song To Myself”, a poem written by one of his dearest friends, a wise and noble lady her eighties. “Lying, lying in the heart of silence, I hear a voice. It is the voice of myself singing. I love you. I love you. I love you so much”. Tuck described this as “the story of his life”, coming to terms with what it means to truly love himself as “Asian and gay” amid a web of other identities.
His Grandmother’s words at his childhood dinner table had a deeply scarring effect: “watch out for gay men who may touch you in an inappropriate way”. If his Grandmother couldn’t love him for who he was, how would anyone else accept him as gay? Confused and scared, Tuck began to foster irrational beliefs that if he were to accept his truth as a gay male he may touch children in the same way. It came as a later relief that his uncle Vitit Muntarbhorn, who was at that same dinner table, was appointed by the United Nations in 2016 as its first independent investigator to protect LGBT people from violence.
“Are you gay?” was continuously fired at Tuck by bullies at his school in Thailand: in corridors, classrooms, locker rooms and basketball courts. Knowing now that this was his own question that he projected onto the world - he knew he lacked the courage and a safe environment to accept what is now the highest and most truthful expression of himself. As a result of playing the victim and questioning his worth, Tuck fell into depression.
In order to liberate himself from his depression he felt he must wear a mask and pretend to be straight - his pretence resulted in him becoming a ladies-man and the most popular kid in school a year later (laughter in the audience). The illusion of joy was short-lived however, as he became once again the target of bullies at his new school in the UK, who dogged him with the same questions. His distress was compounded by the fact that at his British school he experienced what it felt like to be an ethnic minority for the first time. Here he felt that being Asian meant that he was less attractive, likable and inferior - a race that couldn’t be subjected to an equal standard of beauty as shown in advertisements he saw. In order to liberate himself a second time, he wore a double mask: straight and culturally ‘white’.
It was in 2012 that Tuck left this constricted and cocooned environment of school and found himself in London - a safer environment to be himself. A desire to become the most truthful expression of himself coupled with the courage of his friend who confided his sexuality cultivated Tuck’s own courage to express himself with self-love and full acceptance of who he is: Asian and gay. This transformation allowed his creativity to flourish, and he became the creative soul that co-founded Busardi (Thailand’s first fashion brand to present collections during Paris Haute Couture Week), and whose presence anchored in authenticity has touched so many lives.
At this part of the talk, Tuck announced that his life has taught him that “how you treat yourself, is how you treat the world, and how the world treats you” and offers a new perspective (this year’s TEDxSOAS theme) that he lives by: “instead of seeking to change the world and complaining about how the world treats you, ask, how do you treat yourself?”. Perhaps you will hear your own love song under the false veil of hatred and fear, your own voice singing: “I love you. I love you. I love you so much.”