Gay clubs, bars,
and discotheques are the most visible sign of a gay presence in Thailand.
Gay life is far more complex, however, than it first appears.
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or gay the distinction isn't made in Thailand as it is in the
U.S. In this largely Buddhist country, sex and sexuality come without
the guilt and other baggage that accompany them here. Many Thais engage
in sex with both men and women, without worrying about how to label
Thailand does have a gay
culture, but much of it has been created by westerners. As a visitor,
looking for nightlife, for gay sex, or for gay friends, this is largely
the culture you'll most readily find. Here you'll meet outgoing and
friendly Asian men who are interested in meeting westerners.
This can give the impression
that most Thai men who we'd think of as gay are looking for westerners.
That's not the case. But those you meet will often be interested in
Thai culture does not place a premium on youth in the way that western
societies do. If you're over 35, you probably feel over the hill in
the U.S. You can still be quite desirable in Thailand. This comes as
a pleasant surprise to middle-aged and older gay Americans!
Until quite recently, the visible, public gay establishments in Thailand
were virtually all commercial: bars, go-go clubs, saunas, and massage
parlors. These still account for the majority of gay spots, and you
won't really have seen gay Thailand until you visit a go-go boy bar.
But the largest cities now have a few discos, bars, or coffeehouses
that lend themselves to non-commercial encounters, as well. The largest
cities have gay karaoke bars and other establishments just for local
gays. The best way to find them is to ask some locals.
"In America, you can say anything but you can't do it. In
Thailand, you can do anything but you can't talk about it,"
noted one observer.
What two adults do in private is their own business in Thailand.
Public displays of sexual affection, however, are considered highly
inappropriate. Kissing in public is frowned upon.
This isn't an anti-gay prejudice: Heterosexual kissing is also unacceptable.
In fact, it's amusing for American visitors to see two Thai men walking
down the street arm-in-arm, when heterosexual Thai couples never do
so. What's going on? The two men are non-sexual friends, and thus
aren't crossing the line.
If you're seen walking arm-in-arm with a Thai boyfriend, people can
figure out what's going on. Your boyfriend may not mind, so if he
takes the initiative in this direction, go right ahead. It's better
for you not to initiate any public displays, however: You could put
him in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between either
offending you, or acting in a way he feels in inappropriate and embarrassing.
Public discretion continues briefly in the bedroom. "I came
out of the bathroom, and my date was already under the sheets,"
recalls Mike, a gay American visitor to Bangkok. "I peeled off
my shorts, got in with Chai and discovered he was still wearing
his t-shirt and underwear! I thought he must have lost interest somewhere
along the line."
No Chai was just being Thai. "A few kisses, a little
cuddling, and that underwear was quickly gone. He turned out to be
a real acrobat! We were on the floor, on the dresser, in positions
I'd only dreamed of. There wasn't an inhibited bone in his body!"
Public nudity is verboten in Thailand. The country's few nude beaches
are created, and largely populated, by Westerners. Even in the same-sex
locker room at a gym, men often change clothes under a towel, and
shower in private.
If you bring home a date, you may not see him naked before he gets
under the sheets. But once things get started, anything can happen.
Well, perhaps not anything. Few Thai men are interested in S/M, B/D,
water sports, or much of anything beyond vanilla sex. Many are interested
in being only a top, or only a bottom. If you're versatile, you're
pretty sure of having a fun and uninhibited time. If you have specialized
interests or expectations, discuss them in advance to avoid disappointment
Cross-dressing is far more accepted, and publicly widespread, in
Thailand than in any other country. Males who cross-dress are referred
to as katoeys, or ladyboys. Drag shows are popular at
gay clubs, and also in many establishments catering largely to a straight
For Thais themselves
While Thais do not, by and large, make moral judgments about being
gay, there remains a strong pressure to marry and have a family. Since
they aren't into labeling themselves, it's common for Thai men to
have predominantly same-sex relationships while in their twenties,
then to marry and have kids, without feeling like they've switched
from gay to straight.
An increasing number of Thai men do identify as gay. Frequently,
just as in the U.S., they'll leave their hometown to get breathing
room. Those in the plains and hills of the north and northeast generally
move to Bangkok or Chiang-Mai. Those in Bangkok may go abroad for
a few years.
Theft is rare, violence even rarer. But of course, there are no guarantees
in life. It's always wise to keep valuables in the hotel safe when
traveling, and not to tempt fate. Someone who came home with you only
for love might reconsider if he sees a wallet on the dresser with
the equivalent of a month of his wages and realizes that to
you, it's little more than enough for a night on the town.
The bars know who they hire, so taking home a bar boy creates an
extra element of protection. In addition, it's common for hotels to
request the ID's of overnight visitors, and your guests should be
ready for this.