The Thai Gay World
Social Tolerance and Homophobia
The Meaning of “Gay”
Transgender/Gà’tuhy
Lesbians (Tom-Dee)
Thai Gay “Community”

Updated 9/4/03


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Trees in the Same Forest

The Thai Gay World

E.G. 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 Thai—and 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 gà’tuhy (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 didn’t step forward to challenge its validity, as feared by some gay Thai, this part of the Thai gay world more boldly stepped out—creating viable commercial alternatives to the predominant gay commercial-sex businesses.
           This evolution 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 identity—an “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 doesn’t explicitly acknowledge it or in one, like Thailand, that doesn’t 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'tuhy—effeminate, 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.

Social Tolerance and Homophobia

           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 doesn’t 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 haven’t had much impact on social attitudes. Chinese-Thai and Islamic-Thai gay men are very much victim to their subculture’s 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 Singapore.)
           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 Thailand’s 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 and lovers.
           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, we’ll introduce you to some Thai words for the types of people found in the Thai gay world.

The Meaning of “Gay”

The 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

                “Gay” 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 don’t 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 he’s 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 he’s “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 gay’s 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 (not effeminate).
           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'—“He’s 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 doesn’t imply gender deviance, although some Thai may connote it so.
           To refer to gay people, chao gay is most common phrase. One can ask, “kao' bhen' gay, châi' mäi'” (He is gay, isn’t he?). Among gay friends, it is more simply “bhen' mäi'” (Is he?).
           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 heterosexuals—almost 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' gay—“He/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 he’s 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 aren’t “really gay,” they’re just “gay for pay,” or aren’t 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.

Transgender/Gà’tuhy

If “gay” isn’t a universal, the transvestite perhaps is. Westerners are astonished by how ubiquitous are Thai transvestites. There’s 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 he’s 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 media’s 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? Wasn’t it really socially bad? And didn’t 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 didn’t have an effect on Thai attitudes about them. Despite some rather vocal protest about gà'tuhy, Thai people love them.

Sunny 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 didn’t label them, and their love/sex lives aren’t 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 face—the 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 aren’t 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 Thailand’s 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, Thailand’s 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 country’s 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 shouldn’t 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 he’s 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 don’t 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 women’s 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 Beautiful Boxer.

Lesbians (Tom-Dee)

           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, is—anywhere 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 Thailand’s 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 Thailand’s 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 Thailand’s 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).
           Anjaree’s limited resources are aimed at Thai speakers, but they occasionally plan social, educational, or travel events that welcome visiting woman.

Thai Gay “Community”

           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 done—by 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.
           Despite exposure 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 public’s stereotype that gay equals gà'tuhy has 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 face—members’ 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 one’s clan and friendship network that is paramount, not one’s sexual life or one’s 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 Thai’s 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 personal freedom.
           He interacts daily with family, friends, and co-workers, while his gay activities are viewed by all as private, just as is another’s 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 experiences.
           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 gay’s 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 aren’t 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.
          By 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.)
          In 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.
          Many 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 Thai—sex. 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."

Thai Gay Businesses  

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