in the Same Forest
The Thai Gay World
Allyn (excerpted from The Men of Thailand and updated for the web).
Copyright © 2002 Floating
Lotus Communications Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. [Terms of usage.]
The Thai gay world is as
varied, colorful, baffling, amazing, and wonderful as is Thailand itself.
It is a gay world very different from its Western counterpart, although
at first glance, these differences may appear minor. Superficially, this
difference appears to be the predominance of the male sex trade (discussed
later), but there are several realms to the Thai gay world. The institutionalized
commercial realm of male prostitution is the most obvious one and mirrors
its Thai heterosexual counterpart.
The other realm, the one that was once more difficult for foreigners to
find and participate in, has always been there. It is the more private,
personal world in which Thai gay men seek the company of other men. Until
recently, the key to entering this realm was excluded to most foreigners,
for it mostly required the ability to speak Thaiand to behave in
very Thai ways. It is also a discrete and even hidden because Thai gay
men were well aware of the attitudes about gàtuhy
(a Thai term that until recently had a broad meaning that included homosexual
male [see below]). Over the past two decades, however, as a Thai gay identity
has evolved, and the larger Thai society didnt step forward
to challenge its validity, as feared by some gay Thai, this part of the
Thai gay world more boldly stepped outcreating viable commercial
alternatives to the predominant gay commercial-sex businesses.
from a conspicuous Thai gay world that is primarily commercial-sex oriented
to what might be described as more peer oriented (or non-commercial sex
oriented) might seem backward to some. For those Western gay
men who came out after Stonewall, all this might seem odd or even baffling,
because we expect a distinctive gay identity and a gay world. Although
male-to-male sexual behavior is universal, an identity based on it is
not. In other words, having sex with another man, and even loving another
man, does not require an identityan I am not like other men
identity or even I am different from other men identity, let
alone an I am gay identity. Such a phenomenon may occur in
a society that doesnt explicitly acknowledge it or in one, like
Thailand, that doesnt explicitly proscribe it.
It has only
been within the past five years that a clearer distinction about what
it means to be gay (as opposed to being gà'tuhyeffeminate,
transvestite, transsexual) has evolved. Previously, many Thai have seen
homosexual behavior as simply sexual behavior; it was only gà'tuhy
who sought a husband, they assumed. Male-identified Thai gay
men may have settled for trysts and the normal, strong bonds of male friendship
that are typical in Thailand but with a sexual element. They were raised
on the idea that the only male who wanted a romantic relationship with
another male looked, dressed, and/or acted like women. But this has all
changed, particularly among young Thai gay men.
Thailand is not a homophobic society. In our imaginations, tempered by
the hysterical anti-gay sentiments pervasive in Anglo-Saxon societies,
we might envision a non-homophobic society as one in which gay men and
lesbians could freely express themselves, create and celebrate their loving
relationships with same-sex partners, and be accepted by everyone. It
is important to understand that our own cultural teachings and experience
need to be set aside, as best as possible, when looking at Thailand.
When we say that Thailand is not a homophobic society, this doesnt
mean it accepts homosexuality. It simply means that it neither
culturally fears nor loathes homosexual behavior or homosexual men. There
are, in fact, some Thai who espouse Western homophobic ideas, but they
havent had much impact on social attitudes. Chinese-Thai and Islamic-Thai
gay men are very much victim to their subcultures homophobic attitudes.
Chinese-Thai, in particular, suffer great conflicts because of Chinese
cultural homophobia. (Not every Chinese society is virulently homophobic.
For example, Taiwan is considerably less homophobic and oppressive than
There are layers of social attitudes about chao gay (gay people)
that seem confusing to wade through (but, then, so are Western attitudes).
They differ by social class and perhaps even by region. Social ideas expressed
by middle- and upper-class Thai about sexual behavior are sometimes extremely
prudish and conservative; yet, these are the classes that make the sex
trade flourish. (It is a myth that Thailands sex trade was created
or even significantly support by foreigners.) Many Thai males who are
sexually and emotionally oriented toward other men express anxiety and
shame about the consequences of their homosexual behavior being publicly
exposed; yet, gay magazines contain personal advertisements with photographs
of men seeking other men, suggesting an astonishing lack of concern about
exposure or perhaps ultimate bravery. Even defunct gay magazines
printed twenty years ago contained photos of men seeking male friends
Some Western observers point to the internationally publicized 1997 ban
of “gay student” by the Rajabhat Institute as an example of
an undercurrent of homophobia and intolerance in Thai society. Rajabhat
is a teacher's college, with campuses Kingdomwide. The controversial announcement,
however, was never against gay men, but was aimed at gà'tuhy.
Nonetheless, it was heavily criticized in Thailand and was dropped.
Before we begin wandering the maze of Thai homosexuality, social attitudes,
and gay behavior, well introduce you to some Thai words for the
types of people found in the Thai gay world.
cover model from The Men of Thailand, Edition 2, received
fan mail from all over the world. His photos appeared in a Thai
gay magazine, but the photographer refused to say whether he
was gay or not. © Floating Lotus
is an English loan word and, for three decades, until recently, has been
popularly used by the Thai public as another word for gà'tuhy.
The term gà'tuhy originally meant hermaphrodite,
later coming to mean transvestite, transsexual, effeminate male, as well
as a vague general term for homosexual males. Gà'tuhy is
sometimes a common, but mild, pejorative, but most Thai use it in a neutral
way to describe males who dont conform to Thai gender norms. Its
use generally causes titters. However, gay has become something
more distinct from gà'tuhy. In 1994 gay
began to be more widely used to refer to masculine-identified men who
are emotionally and sexually attracted to other males. By the end of the
decade, Thai media usually emphasized the distinction.
It was just a few years ago that Thai of the lower classes might deny
hes gay, associating the word with being anally receptive (the equivalent
Thai gay slang term for bottom man is kween or gay-kween),
because everyone knew that gà'tuhy were the kween.
Because of the distinction, it is more common for a barboy (a male sex
worker), whose sexual orientation is often the subject of great speculation,
to declare in English or Thai that hes gay. Read
more about how to tell if a barboy is gay or straight.
The label mæn (from the English man and pronounced
almost the same way) generally means one straight-acting and,
by implication, is the sexually active partner. In a gay context,
or with a bar host, a Thai may state, I [am a] man (pöm'
bhen' mæn)meaning he is the inserter, or gay
kíng'. To the average gay Thai a mæn kíng',
seemingly a redundancy, means either a straight-looking male who
is the inserter or a straight male who is the inserter.
A mæn-kween is, to Thai gay logic, an impossibility. It used
to be that a foreign gays claim that he is a gay man
was met with bewilderment, as the two words together seemed illogical
to many Thai. Though mæn normally means straight,
if a Thai male says, Pöm' bhen' mæn mâi' sà'dæng
àwk, it means he is gay who has no outward behavioral signs
Occasionally a lower-economic
status Thai man will apply the term gay boy to himself to
mean he likes men.
Lady boy, a term fairly common in Southeast Asia, refers
to an effeminate male, transvestite, or transsexual, and means he is a
kween and will take the passive role sexually. Being both kíng'
and kween (versatile) sometimes is called kwíng'.
Besides gay, a common neutral term for homosexual is mái
bhà deeo gan (tree in the same forest). It might be used
like this: Kâo' bhen' pôo-chai têe châwp mái'
bhà deeo gan'Hes a man who likes trees in
the same forest. It is an insightful description capturing the Thai
modesty about sexual matters and the tolerance of Thai culture and Buddhism.
About 20 or 30 years ago, the Thai invented the words rák'-dhàng-pêt
(different-sex love) and rák'-rûam-pêt (same-sex
love), equivalent to heterosexual and homosexual, respectively. What is
significant about both terms is the word love. Both terms
are primarily academic, though the average Thai would understand them.
Unlike the term gà'tuhy, rák'-rûam-pêt
itself doesnt imply gender deviance, although some Thai may connote
To refer to gay people, chao gay is most common phrase. One can
ask, kao' bhen' gay, châi' mäi' (He is gay,
isnt he?). Among gay friends, it is more simply bhen' mäi'
Another polite compound term for a gay man or lesbian is chai-mâi'-jing'-yïng'-mâi'-táe
(literally, male-not-true, female-not-real), meaning the person
is not-a-male/not-a-female. This non-pejorative term suggests that gay
males and lesbians are thought of as distinctly different from heterosexualsalmost
as if they were a third gender.
It is rare for the Thai to use a term that is equivalent to straight.
In fact, it is usually said as kao' mâi' châi' gayHe/she
is not gay. One could say heterosexual person in Thai
as chao rák'-dhàng-pêt, but that would sound
strange to the Thai ear. The phrase some Thai would use, if they needed
to make a distinction, is chai-jing'-yïng'-táe (true
male, real female); two concepts put together to mean heterosexual.
(Despite the literal translation, the term does not mean that gay people
are false males and females.)
Labels and labeling in Thailand are not as fixed as in the West. So, Westerners
with a strong sense of gay identity may be in for a bit of cognitive
dissonance. A Thai man with a wife and five children might make
gay love with such passion that we might want to insist hes really
gay, just closeted. A sexy drag queen who beds a man with ease periodically
goes straight and has sex with a woman might have our minds
grasping to understand. Some gay-kweens we know take off a barboy
for an evening when they are in the mood to be a king. A Thai man
with a lithe, graceful body, feminine gestures, and a high, soft voice
would fit both Thai and Western standards of queer, but never
has thought of making love to a man. And the barboys, the hosts
at gay bars, who agree to have sex with men arent really gay,
theyre just gay for pay, or arent they?
Despite the evolution of a Thai gay identity in Thailand, it should be
remembered that our gay culture evolved in a very different setting. Whatever
gay means to you, expect your standards of it to be challenged.
If gay isnt
a universal, the transvestite perhaps is. Westerners are astonished by
how ubiquitous are Thai transvestites. Theres no debate about what
to call them: Gà'tuhy is most widely used term for them,
though there are perhaps a dozen terms. The term is pronounced as Gàh'tuh-y,
but often spelled as kathoey and also refers to transsexuals
and effeminate males.
The feminine male who sometimes crossdresses and has sex with men is a
clear, socially articulated model in Thailand. For this reason, if a young
Thai male is at all effeminate, he might slip into the role model of gà'tuhy,
a character often regarded with good-hearted mirth in some upcountry areas,
and, until recently, a growing derision in others, particularly in large
cities. It seems that even the smallest village has at least one, and
it is remarkable how many gà'tuhy's family and neighbors
do not shun him (though his family may be very distressed about it). He
may be teased and even flirted with, and he is surely the subject of much
gossip, but hes still part of the clan, the family, and the village.
Not all gà'tuhy enjoy reluctant acceptance or even toleration.
Many crossing-dressing and gender dysphoric males do have stormy conflicts
with their fathers, in particular, and are subjected to verbal abuse by
peers and strangers.
Kathoey, krathoey, katoi, katoey, katoye are ways people try to
spell the Thai word for what they call ladyboys, shemales, transgendered
males, transsexuals, and transvestites. Kathoey is the most common
way to transliterate it. Krathoey (grà'tuhy) is a
less commonly used variation. Although crossdressing is most common in
the West among heterosexual males, in Thailand, pre-operative transsexuals
(they do not consider themselves male) and female-identified males (many
of them do not consider themselves gay and would shun gay men as partners)
most commonly dress as women. As in the West, some gay men crossdress
occasionally for fun or if they have a strong attraction to “real
men” (pôo-chai táe—e.g. straight men).
During the late 1980s a social debate erupted. Despite the medias
use of the term gay, the debate was really about the
gà'tuhy: How were they made that way? Were there
more of them than there used to be? Wasnt it really socially bad?
And didnt the media glamorize them so that young people emulated
them? The debate spawned a government decree that banned effeminate actors
and gà'tuhy slang from television. The ban lasted a few
years and didnt have an effect on Thai attitudes about them. Despite
some rather vocal protest about gà'tuhy, Thai people love
when part of a hit singing group, U4, left. After sex-change
surgery, and author of the Thai-language book, I Am A Woman.
These photos courtesy of her Thai web site is www.sunny-u4.com
There have always been popular, even loved, actors who were very effeminate,
who usually play gay parts in films and television shows,
often in serious roles. Since the democratically elected government took
over in 1992 (from the 1991 coup leaders) and the government reigns on
the media were untangled, the gay stars came back and gà'tuhy
characters often were integrated into television series. For the most
part, other characters didnt label them, and their love/sex lives
arent focused on . . . but these characters were loved
family members and best friends. Gà'tuhy characters, however,
were often the clowns and their flirting with handsome co-stars was amusing.
Everybody knows a gà'tuhy, so their pervasiveness on TV
and in the movies reflected a degree of reality. By the new millennium,
several series seriously dealt with the problems gà'tuhy
facethe disapproval of the father, cruel remarks by strangers, and
their frustrations in finding true love.
Like the Filipino bakla and certain Native American tribes, the
Thai gà'tuhy probably at one time had a special place in
Thai society. We get a hint of that role upcountry, where traditional
sexual mores are still strong. Though young men and women choose their
own marriage partners, their interaction is chaperoned and good girls
arent touched. There is evidence to suggest that, rather than the
Anglo-Saxon approach to suppress the male sex drive, Thai society
has channeled it. One option as a sexual outlet is the gà'tuhy
and the other the prostitute.
Today, some transvestites and transsexuals are prostitutes (some straight
bars employ them). Transsexuals desiring sex change operations often raise
enough money for the surgery this way. Gà'tuhy have become
successful as gay bar owners, cabaret performers, or involved in the fashion
industry. Several of Thailands top models are transsexual and a
beloved popular singer is gà'tuhy also.
They are fascinating to the Thai public, and even admired, if beautiful,
classy, and successful. Cabaret performers are aesthetically judged by
the Thai for their beauty, costuming, and performance. In mid 1998 (and
every year since) Thai newspapers carried side-by-side photographs of
the new Miss Thailand (a woman) and Miss Alcazar (a gà'tuhy),
rhetorically asking which was more beautiful. Many people agree Miss Alcazar
was the clear winner. Miss Alcazar admitted in the report to having an
edge up on a real beauty queen because she can spend all her prize money
on cosmetic surgery to become even more glamorous. Alcazar, like Tiffany,
is a world-renowned cabaret theater in Pattaya transgender. The pageants
are even broadcast nationwide.
However, throughout the most of the 1990s, perhaps coincidentally, as
a masculine-identified homosexual male identity emerged, gà'tuhy
became increasingly criticized by the Thai. Gà'tuhy were
more frequently seen as ostentatious, loud, uncouth, uncultured, selfish,
and even as criminal. However, classy gà'tuhy, who dress
well and behave with grace and polish are still socially accepted and
integrated, as suggested by an old Thai term, nang fá jam' læng
(transformed angel or angel in disguise), and the more common
term, säo' bhrà'pâyt säwng (second
type of woman).
In the late 1990s, Thailands champion volleyball team, Iron Ladies
(Sadhree Lek) was composed entirely of gà'tuhy. The
team made headlines when Thai sports authorities, out of concern for the
countrys international reputation, refused to allow the team entry
into an international competition. The story was reported with more sympathy
than one might imagine and team members expressed dismay that they shouldnt
have a chance to prove their abilities. A successful movie was made of
this story and a sequel is pending release.
The Thai media focused on stories of gà'tuhy, including
a former transgender beauty queen, who were forced by hardship to become
laborers, unloading and lugging truckloads of lugging heavy rice bags.
During a television interview with several gà'tuhy manual
laborers, a reporter asked what term they would like to be called. You
can call us anything you want, said one, except dhóot´
(a pejorative somewhat equivalent to faggot or poofter).
A teenaged transgender Muay Thai boxer, Parinya
Kiatbusaba, achieved global fame by racking up an impressive record of
eighteen knockouts in twenty-two bouts in two years as of April 1998.
However, in February 1998, when he refused to disrobe fully during a pre-bout
weigh-in, his tears of modesty touched Thai hearts. In the match which
followed, to the largest crowds ever accommodated in the boxing stadium,
the then sixteen-year-old Tum (Dhôom´his nickname)
defeated his opponent who had taunted him for not being a real man, then
planted a consolation kiss on the cheek of the surprised loser. That kiss
played for weeks on Thai television. Despite the sudden glare of the world
media, the boxer is not a publicity hound. Nong Tum was a shy and
dedicated athlete whose talents were seriously cultivated by a proud coach.
The photo above is of Nong Tum after sex-change surgery.
Tum is also completely comfortable with his identity, and he used his
frequent media appearances to help change negative social ideas about
transvestites. When asked by a reporter whether his developing muscles
would ruin his feminine figure, Parinya replied that many women also have
muscles. The then sixteen-year-old boxer said that he gets a lot of advances
from men after a bout, but that hes in no hurry to find a boyfriend.
The undefeated champ also said: It is hard to fight beautiful men.
I can easily knock them out. On the other hand, I want to hug and kiss
them. But dont be distracted by my looks. This smile has knocked
out eighteen boys.
In December 1999 Tum successfully underwent a sex-change operation. She
continued boxing in womens bouts and exhibition fights at temple
fairs and reportedly operates a gay pub. For more info about the upcoming
Thai movie about Nong Tum's life and boxing career, see
The Thai terms that some
lesbians prefer for lesbian is let-bien while others favor tom-dee. (Tawm comes from the English tomboy and dêe
comes from the last syllable in lady.)
Tom and dee roughly correspond to the western terms butch
and femme. It is not definitively known why some
Thai lesbians consider the term lesbian derogatory, but some
have suggested it is because the term in Thailand is associated with pornographic
videos depicting sex between two women.
Thai tom-dee face considerably more social resistance than do Thai
gay men and gà'tuhy. Peter Jackson reported that Thai
lesbians . . . report widespread job discrimination, as well
as risk of rape by men who are threatened by women-centered sexuality.
He also described how many Thai lesbians resist telling their families
for fear of upsetting them and being rejected. [Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand;
1995, Bangkok: Bua Luang Books; pp. 70-72.]
The question we are most often asked by visiting lesbians is where
do the Thai women who like women go to socialize? The answer, as
frustrating as it may be for visitors, isanywhere they want to.
Lesbian activities are loosely organized around groups of friends, other
than the lesbian organization, Anjaree
(see below). There are few venues specifically for lesbians. Tom
are quite obvious to dee in a crowd, so tom will go to whatever
pubs and nightclubs are popular at the moment, and this will attract dee.
At these pubs, tables of tom-dee couples cluster.
Lesbian travelers should feel free to approach a group of tom-dee.
As is Thai custom, you will be welcomed, and if someone can speak English
better than polite school phrases, you will have access to the budding
Thai lesbian world. Since foreign lesbians often fall somewhere between
butch and femme in appearance (short hair like a tom, but make-up like
a dee), Thai tom-dee will likely be curious about your role
(tom or dee).
Anjaree is Thailands
pre-eminant group for lesbians (and the only true activist Thai homosexual
organization for that matter). They have publicly defended gà'tuhy
and Thai gay men on several occasions, in particular, challenging the
bizarre (and failed) 1996 attempt by Thailands Rajabhat Institute
to ban gays from attending their national teachers colleges.
Aside from a few well-known gay men (discussed later), the general silence
of Thailands gay community has understandably dismayed
and frustrated Thai lesbians. In 2002 they successfully lobbied the Thai
Ministry of Public Health to issue a statement confirming that homosexuality
was normal (see our Thai
Gay News section).
Anjarees limited resources are aimed at Thai speakers, but they
occasionally plan social, educational, or travel events that welcome visiting
Over the past two decades,
superficial aspects of Western gay culture have been borrowed to a certain
degree by Thai who have traveled abroad and by Thai who read Western gay
media, but as the Kingdom traditionally has doneby adaptation, not
adoption. Thai saunas, gay magazines, and pubs may have been inspired
by Western models, but Western gay people will quickly see how different
are these Thai gay institutions. An idea of being in the closet
has been adapted to mean, a hidden inner being (æp-jit),
but there is no equivalent idea of coming out of the closet. Not
being identifiably gay is mâi' sà'dæng àwk
(not showing outwardly).
Boyz Town (formerly
"Boys Town") melds Western gay capitalism and, in many venues,
the Thai gay host bar format. This landmark, in the international
seaside resort of Pattaya, is a bit too ostentatious for many
gay Thai and a powerful symbol of gay money.
to Western gay culture, a Thai gay community barely exists, except as
a commercial entity in certain cities. Most gay Thai say they think social
or political organizations are unnecessary, because they are not
oppressed. There are, however, social forces that lead many homosexual
men grappling with their identity to feel repressed, and a lack of a clear
definition of what being gay means may be part of it. What is clear is
the publics stereotype that gay equals gà'tuhy
complicated formation of a Thai gay identity for those who are not transgender.
In 1981 a gay rights organization called Chai Châwp
Chai (Men Like Men) was established, but it was disbanded because
it could find no evidence of discrimination in Thailand. Since then
there have been few indigenous Thai gay male organizations, notably a
HIV prevention organization, which briefly targeted the gay community
and male sex workers, and a short-lived gay bar owners association. In
the early and mid 1990s, a few Thai gay magazines organized gay clubs,
with social functions, particularly upcountry trips. Detailed membership
applications, particularly focusing on profession and income, attempted
to screen members that would be more compatible. Most of these clubs were
short-lived, splintered by a problem many gay social organizations facemembers
competition for the attentions of the few attractive members.
Social organizations are not typical organizing structures in Thai society,
but even among those that do organize, there are often tremendous underlying
tensions caused by gossip and the surreptitious competition for the attention
and loyalty of members and outsiders. Also, the Thai social system is
a strong barrier to groups that attempt to have an open membership. Middle-class
and higher Thai do not mix well with members of the lower class, and there
can easily be tensions and resentments between middle and upper class
people in groups.
Perhaps other brakes on the development of a Thai gay community are a
lack of homophobia or explicit social opposition in Thai society and that
few gay men perceive of themselves as outsiders, as is the case in the
West. The central role of family and the group orientation of most social
activities ensure that Thai gay men have a strong and assured sense of
belonging. It is this affiliation with ones clan and friendship
network that is paramount, not ones sexual life or ones identification
with the amorphous group of other gay men.
There is an informally organized Thai gay world, with loose boundaries
and affiliations. Most organized gay activities revolve around gay bars,
saunas, and pub-restaurants. But without an outside threat to organize
them, as was the case in the West, urban middle- and upper-class Thai
gays appear content to create a circle of friends and to meet at these
gay venues. Others, including those of the lower class, may build these
gay networks at local pubs and discos, but most will attempt to seek friends
and lovers through the Thai gay media.
The average masculine-identified gay Thais sexual life
is a private, personal thing. While he may at first fear turning gà'tuhy
or the indistinct consequences of losing face if his sexual life were
discovered, he, like all Thai males, has and takes advantage of tremendous
He interacts daily with family, friends, and co-workers, while his gay
activities are viewed by all as private, just as is anothers heterosexual
life. This, for many, is sufficient, and they profess satisfaction. The
Thai are trained since childhood to accept their fate, so
a private sexual life, and a façade of being a model Thai, may
not be fraught with the psychological pain his Western counterpart often
The problem he will confront will be the time when he no longer thinks
of his sex life as the key part of his being gay. He may,
as do many Thai gay, believe that it is impossible for two men to have
a long-term relationship. The frustration in fulfilling this primal human
need for a loving, stable relationship with another man may well lead
many of them into a pattern of strictly sexual relationships. As a gay
Thai identity emerges, one that defines gayness as masculine
and gay relationships as something more than sexual, an understanding
that has gained astonishing acceptance (though by no means universal)
it will be interesting to observe whether gay men will risk being more
open about their gay relationships.
Young urban gay males have clearly benefited from the social changes the
Thai consider modern, which include more sexual and romantic
freedom. We have observed numerous times cases in which a young Thai gays
straight peers are actually interested in the gay life, and go out to
gay places with their gay brother. His group is often supportive
when he finds a suitable boyfriend.
While all this sounds encouraging, it must be kept in mind that it is
much too early to draw any firm conclusions, that these are mostly capital
city trends, and most Thai gay men arent ready to test the waters
of Thai tolerance.
With the election of the Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) Party in
2001, the former Interior Minister, Purachai Piumsombun [pron. Bhoo'ra'chai
Bhiam-sam'boon'], began an astonishing, but measured and ongoing,
attack on gay institutions, particularly gay host bars, saunas, and media,
under the guise of the "New Social Order" campaign. (For background
and reports on the campaign, see Thai Gay News.) Ostensibly, this campaign targeted nighttime
entertainment venues, such as discos and popular restaurants and pubs,
which illegally allowed young Thai under age 20. The campaign was strongly
supported by Thai people who were concerned about drug use, and other
issues, by minors.
mid-2002 nearly every gay sex venue in the Kingdom had been raided and
gay host bar owners complained of frequent undercover police activity;
however, the campaign left the heterosexual sex trade untouched. (Police
raids against the sex trade employing underage Thai have been ongoing
for many years and continue today. It should be noted here that gay host
bars have rarely employed underage young men and, except for a few cases
in the late 1980s and early 1990s, never employed young teenage boys.)
late 2002, the Interior Ministry and police concentrated on gay saunas.
The Deputy Prime Minister, along with Thai television and newspaper crews,
accompanied police on several raids. Scenes of floors littered with used
condoms shocked many Thai people and some commentators pointed to this
as an example of moral decay in Thai society, rather than lauding the
fact that condom use was so obviously common. Police ordered doors off
private cubicles and lights turned on in cruise areas. The raid on Babylon,
one of the world's most famous gay bathhouses, in January 2003 made international
news and brought protests by foreign gay men.
Thai gay men have been angered and offended by the raids and reports,
but did not protest. "That's asking gay men to defend something deeply
private to a Thaisex. It makes it worse that it is anonymous sex
in a place like a sauna. Also, there are many Thai gay men who disapprove
of gay saunas for that reason," explained Nat. "They do see the raids
as an invasion of privacy and a violation of their rights, but it is the
Thai way to accommodate, rather than resist. Everyone believes it will
all go back to business as usual when the heat is off. They think that
protests would make matters worse."
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Permission must be sought from and granted by the copyright holder.