Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Pink Baht

The Pink Baht

baht
“Travel broadens the mind.” This truism applies not only to the tourist, but also the host country.

Visitors naturally feel most comfortable where their hosts are welcoming and tolerant. Few nations have been as historically open to others as the Thais. That’s why in a polarising world, easy-going Thailand proves so popular with both Arabs and Israelis, traditionalists and hedonists, straights and gays. Thailand got its huge gay visitor-base without even trying, through word-of-mouth, private enterprise and by just being itself.

For over a decade, wised-up Asian websites have pioneered the promotion of Thailand to gays, who number ten per cent of any population, yet 15% per cent of all tourists. Now there’s more need for Thailand to cultivate the custom of this trend-setting sector, which prizes high value holidays from spas to eco adventure.

Corporations and world cities no longer find it prudent to be prudish; they risk losing market share to those that liberalise. Tourist boards hype Sydney’s Mardi Gras, ‘Gayfriendly Germany’ or Manchester’s ‘Home of Queer As Folk’. One official UK booklet asks, “Isn’t it time you came out… to Britain?”

LOYAL LONG-STAY VISITORS
Market research reveals that gays express preference and loyalty to brands that publicly associate with them, whether airlines, cars or countries. “What might seem a very brave step to make isn’t that brave, really,” says London ad agency Quiet Storm as quoted by Time magazine. It notes that compared to straights, gays are on average “more affluent, more interested in style and brands, and travel more.” And with same-sex marriage growing, a new honeymoon niche will benefit resorts that let two men or two women book a bridal suite.

In the past, social taboos had inhibited tourism policy from marketing gay attractions. Now an official rethinking of this issue sees it as a global trend that creates tangible benefits for countries that embrace it.

The country’s reputation results in many gays becoming repeat and long-stay visitors. Gay-friendliness also over-rides factors that deter others, like SARS, bird flu or unrest. “Gays are more willing to part with their last baht here than a family is,” argues a Bangkok hotelier. “Even if they can’t really afford it, they will still come on a budget, just so they can come.”

GAY DOLLAR OUTSTRIPS MOST NATIONAL ECONOMIES
With their generally higher income, education and tastes for luxuries repeatedly proven in research, gays represent a grade-A consumer category. Same-sex couples earn proportionately even more, and without children cramping their disposable income.

At a staggering $610 billion, earnings by US gays and lesbians are more than three times greater than Thailand’s entire GDP. As Time noted, the UK fits a widespread pattern in that on average, gays earn 40% more and lesbians 25% more than straights. Of their total $130 billion earnings, gay Britons alone spend $5.6 billion a year on travel. That’s a lot of room service, facials and champagne brunches.

PINK BUSINESS
“Who actually pays for the deluxe suites at top hotels? It’s the gays!” exclaims the general manager of a Bangkok hotel seventy per cent frequented by followers of the rainbow-flag. Apply ‘gaydar’ to Bangkok’s five-star lobbies and you can see his point. Beyond room, restaurant and spa bookings, gays always mean business. Needless to say, Thailand’s fashion and design industries would wilt without gay sway over both production and purchasing.

Insiders admit that some buyers would skip Thai furnishing fairs were it not for the country’s R&R appeal to décor queens. And just count the clutches of pretty boys from elsewhere in Asia spending liberated weekends in Bangkok’s bars and boutiques. Many a gay Westerner exports Thai goods just so they can spend chunks of the year here, sourcing products and feeling sabai (relaxed).

PRIVATE FREEDOM, PUBLIC DISCRETION
“There’s not much of a gay movement in Thailand because there’s basically nothing to move against,” cooed the PlanetOut Gay Travel Awards in which Bangkok was the 2006 runner-up as Best International Destination. But foreigners wowed by the politeness, exoticism and diverse gay infrastructure often mistake tolerance for full acceptance. Like any personal matter in Thai society, private freedom comes at the cost of public discretion. Families often won’t discuss sexuality even if they suspect an offspring’s orientation, yet would never disown them. Thanks to that discretion, gays can rise high in society.

BANGKOK’S SOPHISTICATED SCENE
Just as Thailand has officially been shy about its gay appeal, queer venues tend to fringe fashionable locales so closets can enter unnoticed. Online portals like Utopia, Dreaded Ned’s and Fridae carry listings, as do free bilingual maps and magazines like Variety, Max, Sticky Rice, Thai Puen and PluGuide.

In downtown Silom Road, Sois 2, 2/1 and 4 brim with international style bars, restaurants, cafés, galleries, spas, clubs and shops, both male and mixed. Upmarket venues like Bed Supperclub have chic Pink Sunday parties and hosts Gyent, an elite gay club that runs trips, parties and other activities. Royal City Avenue now has a women-only club, Zeta. Asian visitors also find camaraderie in trendy Thai-Thai gay bar areas at Soi Sarasin, Kamphaengphet Road, Lad Prao and Ramkhamhaeng. As with their straight equivalents, host bars, escort services and massage parlours cater far more for locals, but are hidden in the suburbs, unlike the minority for tourists visible around Patpong and Sukhumvit.

CAMPING UPCOUNTRY
Sophisticated gay venues are also flourishing in the provinces. These include male-oriented hotels and tours, spas and bars. Pattaya is known for katoey (transvestite/’ladyboy’) cabarets, bars at Pattayaland Soi 3 and a stretch of Jomtien Beach favoured by gays. Phuket’s gay enclave centres on the Paradise Centre in Patong, while a new scene is developing at Chaweng on Ko Samui. Chiang Mai’s venues lag behind the city’s popularity among aesthetes appreciating the gentle Lanna culture.

REDEFINING GAY TOURISM
Capitalising further on gay tourism requires deeper consideration. Terms like homosexual (and its Thai equivalents) lead many to wrongly classify gayness solely by sexuality. Successful gay destinations recognise a broader definition that encompasses a camp sensibility, discerning tastes, community solidarity, and an outsider’s acute alertness to injustice.

Thailand is open to such values, albeit passively. Countries with the longest chapters in the Spartacus global guidebook cater to these needs proactively through help lines, sexual health provision, police training, anti-discrimination laws and hosting pride festivals.

Despite the genuine welcome to people of all kinds, taboos and unfamiliarity can spur false presumptions. Thais largely accept katoeys, but there’s less understanding of butch toms (women partnering ladylike dees) or straight-acting men-who-like-men. Some confuse saunas with prostitution despite them being the opposite: cheap yet opulent refuges where men can socialise specifically without buying a partner. Most problematic is inaccurate equating of tourism for gays with the bogeyword ‘sex tourism’.

LOVE, ACTUALLY
The catch-all term ‘sex tourism’ unleashes defensive emotions that can fuel a hysterical conflation of innocuous holiday romance with disturbing but marginal instances of exploitation. Most criticism seems reserved for the many elderly tourists finding Thai hospitality preferable to the ageism back home. As one Pattaya restaurateur remarks, “Thais are very nice to the older generation, whereas in Europe and America they think old people at nightclubs are almost immoral.” The nascent global trend in health-assisted housing for gay retirees will surely boom in Thailand.

Of course, travel has always led to cross-cultural relationships, proven by how few degrees of genetic separation relate all humanity. Provincial governors in Isaan encourage the economic benefits of non-Thai spouses. Inward investment from Thai-foreign gay partnerships is just as profound. Travel agents report high visitation to Isaan by gay tourists and long-term support of families there.

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS
Fortunately, reputable gay travel operators observe professional ethics, avoid sleaze, and earn endorsement from organizations like ILGTA (International Lesbian & Gay Travel Association). By the same token, destinations not meeting globalised gay standards can lose income overnight.

When Singapore liberalized its laws to tempt the lucrative new niche of nightlife tourism – which overlaps gay tourism – it lured custom from Bangkok during its social order crackdown. But when Singapore banned the massive gay Nation festival, post-tsunami Phuket welcomed Nation partygoers. According to Nation organizers Fridae.com, the last Singapore party generated US$5.8 million. Now Thailand gets that revenue. “We were 100 percent full,” Phuket’s Crowne Plaza hotel spokesman told Bloomberg News. “There are a lot of high-end gay tourists, and I think Asia-Pacific slowly but surely is discovering this.”

ONE GAY DAY
In growing its gay market share, Thailand doesn’t need to institute attractions, rather to facilitate conducive conditions, so that unwary organizations don’t inadvertently alienate the market. Nightlife rules and police briefings are two examples, festivals another. Gay magnets from Sydney and San Francisco to Berlin and Brighton base marketing around pride parades, which the wider public can enjoy. Pattaya and Patong officially support their gay parades with big success. However, Bangkok Pride is perennially hampered by lack of consensus, so organisers baulk at investing more in floats and festivities.

A delicate balance must be struck. Inappropriate promotion could ironically endanger qualities that gays prize in Thailand: privacy and sensitivity. Gays delight in the alternative character of their subculture, a cachet lost in even positive media glare. Constantly singled out at home – whether for oppression or commercialization – gays relish time spent in Thailand without intrusion or labelling, ensuring a more liberating and carefree holiday than the majority population would imagine.

If Thailand’s deserves its fame as a “gay paradise”, it’s because to many gays “paradise” is being treated normally.

Reproduced by courtesy of and copyright by Tourism Authority of Thailand

Conversations

Conversations

Gay life in Thailand is much like gay life in many other countries, with many of the same problems and rewards. One significant aspect is the problem of finding a sincere and reliable partner, due to the nature of the gay scene.

We ventured out into the busy streets of Bangkok to find out what the “gay in the street” thinks about his gay lifestyle.

Ched

Ched is a 30 year old restaurant supervisor from Nonthaburi province (just north of Bangkok). He is a guy who takes both his responsibilities and his life seriously, but also knows how to really enjoy himself when he’s relaxing with his friends.

When asked what he thought about gay life he commented: “Its a very free lifestyle with no hassles, but I only think about today and tomorrow. I have a feeling that my future is a bit dark; I’ll be a lonely guy. When you work in a gay place, people don’t trust you; they think everyone must be a money boy.”

This is a problem for the ordinary gay guy who works in a gay area like Silom. When there are so many guys on the make that it is easy to assume that everyone is. That makes life difficult for those honest, decent guys just trying to make a living.

Is Ched happy being gay? The answer seems to show that perhaps he’s not. “I might be happier if I was straight with a family to take care of. But I’m not.”

“There’s nothing special about being gay,” he replied, when asked what he thought was the best thing about being gay.

The worst aspect of gay life was the problem of relationships, he said. “It is too easy for guys to split up; the temptations are too great and its too easy for some guys to play around. That means you can’t trust each other. I’d like to have a really serious, monogamous relationship with a guy who really loves me and who I can really love.”

Ched, despite his cynicism about gay life, does like to go to gay bars and discos sometimes. “Because I’m still young and like to have a good time with my friends.”

Many young Thais aspire to live abroad, but when the idea was put to Ched it revealed that his commitments are more important to him. “I have to think about my family and friends first; I wouldn’t leave them. But, I would like to take a holiday in a place like Canada, which sounds like a clean, cool and beautiful country.”

Ched feels that gay life is not ideal; but he is still gay. So the question arose, what kind of men does Ched like? “I know what I like to look at, but what’s in a guy’s head and heart are more important. I don’t like guys who are rich or throw their money around. And handsome guys are not always the nicest of guys. One of the best people I’ve ever met was a German guy who had very little money and wasn’t that good looking, but I think about him a lot.”

Daeng

Daeng is a 39 year old company director, originally from Chomphun province in southern Thailand. He has been in Bangkok for more than 20 years and is outwardly very happy, but a tragic loss has affected him deeply.

What is Daeng’s opinion of gay life? “Fun! Good fun, when you don’t need love,” he said. “But when you need a boyfriend life can be hard.”

And is he happy being gay? “Of course!” he quipped with a wicked smile. “The best thing about gay life is the freedom, having an open mind. And you don’t have to keep it a secret as people accept gays. It was much more difficult when I was younger, especially with my father who couldn’t accept it at all.”

Every gay man encounters problems during their life and Daeng thinks one of the the worst aspects is being alone. “When I have a problem, I don’t know who I can talk to. It can be quite hard.”

Daeng is one of many migrants to the big city. He came to Bangkok from his southern home about 20 years ago to study fashion and to find work. “Something I couldn’t have done in my home town,” he noted.

“A good head and a good heart.” Daeng said of what he is looking for in a man. “Not ugly but he doesn’t have to be so handsome. I like older farangs, but not fat guys. Someone who doesn’t lie to me and is well behaved.”

Although Daeng often has a quick drink in a gay pub, he prefers the company of his friends for a fun night out, wherever it might be. “I don’t stay out so late. Eating with my friends or shopping is fun. Sex is so easy sometimes it can be boring – except with a special guy!”

Ek

Ek is an 18 year old language student born in Bangkok. He currently lives with his parents but lives a very open gay life which he says he enjoys very much, although he admits to prefer being a bit of a loner.

“I think gay life is exciting and interesting” Ek commented. “Being gay means I’m not 100% a man and not the same as straight men. Its a good lifestyle. Women tend to understand us better than straight men, and ordinary people are quite accepting of gays now, not like before.”

If he enjoying his life as a gay man? “Yes, I enjoy my life very much, although gay people aren’t perfect. We want love just like other people but we can’t love just any man, as he has to be gay too.”

For Ek, the best part of gay life is that it is more interesting than other lifestyles. “And gays are talented in many ways that other people aren’t,” he added.

“Gay men have many problems with their love lives,” he said of the drawbacks to being gay. “Sometimes they get bored with each other and it is so easy to play around with other guys. And Katoeys have the biggest problems of all, especially once they’ve had the operation. Life can be very hard and lonely for them.”

While gay life is often very sociable, not everyone wants to spend their time on the scene or even with friends. Many gays seek solitude and Ek numbers himself amongst them.

“I prefer to go shopping or see a movie on my own. When I’m alone I’m free to do what I want, when I want. If I had a real boyfriend that I really loved, then I would enjoy spending some time with him. But, what satisfies me most is going to the temple to make merit. I hope this will help me to have a better life next time.”

Despite being a loner, Ek, like any gay man, has his preferences when it comes to men. “I like someone older than me because he knows more than me and can teach me things and take care of me. Of course he has to be gay so we understand each other. He doesn’t have to be rich or good looking, as long as he’s presentable and has a good heart and a good mind. But I’m shy, and would like the other guy to talk to me first.”

Touy

Touy is a 23 year old from Nong Khai province, in the north-east of Thailand, who recently started work as a cashier in a gay pub. He’s a quiet guy who enjoys nature and the countryside more than the bars and clubs of Bangkok.

Touy says that he is generally satisfied with his life: “Sometimes I’m very happy, but sometimes I’m not when I have some problem with a guy,” he added. “I think I’m happy being gay as I have a lot of friends I can have fun with, but sometimes there are drawbacks…”

And for Touy what’s the best part of gay life? “Having fun with my friends. chatting and letting our hair down, that’s the best thing, more than sex. Sex is important but mutual understanding is more important,” he said.

What about the negative aspects? “Being lonely, having no friends or boyfriend; being alone. That can be awful.”

Although gay, Touy is not into the gay scene very much; “I like to see my friends, go to a movie, or go to the beach or countryside more than go to bars or discos, although I do go once in a while.”

Many people from Thailand’s provinces move to Bangkok in search of a better life and Touy came from his home town about two years ago. “The pay in Nong Khai is not very good in any job. Bangkok has more opportunities, whether you’re gay or not. You can get a better job with more money, and sometimes you can get a better education here too,” he explained.

As for living abroad, Touy doesn’t see it as that important. “I’d like to live in Germany maybe, but if I had a boyfriend I think it doesn’t matter where we live, Thailand or Germany, as long as we can take care of each other.”

He describes himself as a shy guy and prefers the other guy to make the first move. He would feel uncomfortable speaking first, but if a guy smiles at him, Touy would smile back and hope that the guy would talk to him. “I like a guy over 30, a farang, clean, polite and smart. But I have to get to know a guy before anything can happen,” he pointed out.

And

It seems that these four men, and many millions like them, are all in the same boat; seeking love from an honest, dependable, reliable and loving man.

Finding Mr Right is going to be a long and painful process, but we wish them happiness, and success in their quest for real love.

This article originally appeared in Dragoncastle.net and is copyright 2012 Avalon Online BV

GLBT Heroes 1

GLBT Heroes 1

Alan Turing

Mathematical genius, father of modern computing, and national hero.

alanturing

Alan Turing is not exactly famous world wide, but he is revered in the world of code-breaking and computer science. His unfairly tarnished reputation is rapidly being restored, albeit long after his death.

Born on 23 June 1912 in London, he had a traditional British upbringing for the time, but as he grew into adulthood, his scepticism, and disrespect for worldly values, were never tamed and became ever more confidently eccentric. His moody humour swung between gloom and vivacity. His life was also notable as that of a gay man with strong emotions and a growing insistence on his identity.

Turing studied mathematics with distinction and was elected a Fellow of King’s College Cambridge in 1935. This appointment was followed by a remarkable and sudden début in an area where he was an unknown figure: that of mathematical logic. The paper “On Computable Numbers…” was his first and perhaps greatest triumph. It gave a definition of computation and an absolute limitation on what computation could achieve, which makes it the founding work of modern computer science.

It led him to Princeton for more advanced work in logic and other branches of mathematics. He had the opportunity to remain in the United States, but chose to return to Britain in 1938, and was immediately recruited by the British to join their pre-World war 2 intelligence communications.

From 1939 to 1945 Turing was almost totally engaged in the mastery of the German enciphering machine, Enigma, and other cryptological investigations at now-famous Bletchley Park, the British government’s wartime communications headquarters. Turing made a unique logical contribution to the decryption of the Enigma and became the chief scientific figure, with a particular responsibility for reading the U-boat communications. As such he became a top-level figure in Anglo-American liaison, and also gained exposure to the most advanced electronic technology of the day. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

Turing was considered a pivotal figure in the behind-the-scenes war against the Nazis, and its possible that the war would have lasted longer without his important role.

After the war he worked at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted in the development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis,and he predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.

It was here that his famous 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” (Turing 1950b) was written. In 1951 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his 1936 achievement.

HIs work was interrupted by his arrest in February 1952 for his sexual affair with a young man, and he was obliged, to escape imprisonment, to undergo injections of oestrogen intended to negate his sexual drive.

He was disqualified from continuing secret cryptological work. His general libertarian attitude was enhanced rather than suppressed by the criminal trial, and his intellectual individuality also remained as lively as ever. While remaining formally a Reader in the Theory of Computing, he not only embarked on more ambitious applications of his biological theory, but advanced new ideas for fundamental physics.

He died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined it was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.

Many, both in the scientific field, and in the GLBT community, feel that this apology is not enough and are seeking a full pardon for Turing, albeit a little too late.

There is no doubt that Alan Turing is a national hero in Britain, and a supremely important figure in the development of computers and mathematical sciences. Without him our world might be very different.

GLBT Heroes 2

GLBT Heroes 2

Leonardo Da Vinci – Renaissance genius

leonardodavinci
What more can be said about this incredible man? A brilliant mind that still confounds us in the 21st Century.

Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in the town of Vinci. His father was Ser Piero, a notary; his mother, Caterina, came of a peasant family. They were not married. The boy’s uncle Francesco may have had more of a hand in his upbringing than by either of his parents. When Leonardo was about 15, he moved to the nearby city of Florence and became an apprentice to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio.

Leonardo was gay? You may well ask.

While there is no way to know with complete certainty, there is strong evidence that Leonardo was gay, and that he had several male sexual encounters, most notably with a youth named Salino Giocomo, nicknamed ‘Salai’ (Devil).

When he was twenty-four years old, Leonardo was arrested, along with several young companions, on the charge of sodomy. No witnesses appeared against them and eventually the charges were dropped. Often anonymous charges like this were brought against people just for a nuisance. Renaissance Florentines didn’t make the distinctions we make about sexuality today and apparently it was common for young men to get into sexual relationships; in fact, the word “Florenzer” was German slang for “homosexual”

Leonardo had no relationships with women, never married, had no children, and raised many young protégés, including Salai who stole things, broke things, lied, and generally behaved like a devil; if he were a mere student or servant he would have been fired. It’s not hard to see how this ‘devil’ would be attractive to Leonardo. He stayed with Leonardo for over twenty years, and appears many times in Leonardo’s sketchbooks.

monsalai
Overlaying a portrait by Da Vinci of Salai on the Mona Lisa throws up some remarkable similarities, and ‘Mon Salai’ (My Devil) is an anagram for Mona Lisa. Whether these things are deliberate or coincidental we will never know, but it is intriguing.

Da Vinci carried the Mona Lisa painting around on his travels for 20 years.

Da Vinci wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him. His anatomical drawings included the sexual organs of both genders, but those of the male exhibit much more extensive attention, and he famously painted an angel with a rather large erection (Angelo Incarnato), which also bears a good resemblance to Salai. And of course Leonardo surrounded himself with beautiful young male assistants, such as Salai and another youth, Count Francesco Melzi, the son of a Milan aristocrat who was apprenticed to Leonardo by his father in 1506, at the age of 14, remaining with him until his death.

Contemporaries say that Da Vinci’s clothing was unusual in his choice of bright colours, at a time when most mature men wore long garments, Leonardo’s preferred outfit was the short tunic and hose generally worn by younger men.

Giorgio Vasari wrote of Da Vinci: “In the normal course of events many men and women are born with various remarkable qualities and talents; but occasionally, in a way that transcends nature, a single person is marvellously endowed by heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind… Everyone acknowledged that this was true of Leonardo da Vinci, an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied were solved with ease. He possessed great strength and dexterity; he was a man of regal spirit and tremendous breadth of mind…”

Leonardo Da Vinci was a visionary who lived before his time, an inventor, a sculptor, a scientist, a genius who still speaks to us across time.

Copyright Asiaout Media - All rights reserved. Asiaout™