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Queer Bangkok

Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights

Edited by Peter A. Jackson
Series: Queer Asia
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Queer Bangkok
    Book Description:

    The Thai capital Bangkok is the unrivalled centre of the country’s gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. These communities are among the largest in Southeast Asia, and indeed in the world, and have a diversity, social presence, and historical depth that set them apart from the queer cultures of many neighbouring societies. The first years of the twenty-first century have marked a significant transition moment for all of Thailand’s LGBT cultures, with a multidimensional expansion in the geographical extent, media presence, economic importance, political impact, social standing, and cultural relevance of Thai queer communities. This book analyses the roles of the market and media—especially cinema and the Internet—in these transformations, and considers the ambiguous consequences that the growing commodification and mediatization of queer lives have had for LGBT rights in Thailand. A key finding is that in the early twenty-first century processes of global queering are leading to a growing Asianization of Bangkok’s queer cultures. This book traces Bangkok’s emergence as a central focus of an expanding regional network linking gay, lesbian, and transgender communities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines and other rapidly developing East and Southeast Asian societies.

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-72-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. A Note on Thai Transcription and Citation of Thai Names
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Queer Bangkok after the Millennium: Beyond Twentieth-Century Paradigms
    (pp. 1-14)
    Peter A. Jackson

    Sexual and gender cultures change constantly in response to shifts in social, political, and economic forces. This book details major changes that have taken place in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) cultures and communities in Bangkok in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The capital of Thailand since 1782, Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis of more than 10 million people, and, as home to almost one-sixth of the country’s population, it is the unrivalled centre of national economic, political, and cultural activity. Highly visible gay, lesbian (tom-dee), and transgender/transsexual (kathoey) cultures emerged in the city in the...

  6. I Markets and Media in Bangkok’s Queer Cultural Transformations

    • 1 Bangkok’s Early Twenty-First-Century Queer Boom
      (pp. 17-42)
      Peter A. Jackson

      In this chapter I contrast the boom in Bangkok queer cultures over the past decade with the sense of decline in some Western LGBT scenes, and I argue that in the early twenty-first century continuing processes of queer cultural globalization have produced contrasting patterns of cultural change in Asia and the West, as opposed to a transnational homogenization of LGBT cultures and communities.

      In recent years, commentary in the gay press, and academic studies in some Western countries such as Australia and the United States, has lamented an apparent decline in the public forms of homosexual community and activism that...

    • 2 Competing Cultures of Masculinity: When Thai Transgender Bodies Go Through Muay Thai
      (pp. 43-58)
      Stéphane Rennesson

      In this chapter I consider the factors that have led to the national success of a number of male-to-female (m-t-f) transvestite kathoey Muay Thai boxers in Thailand. This is to a large extent a preliminary study, and I present a range of perspectives that stand as guidelines to be followed in future research on this topic. My data here come chiefly from ethnographic fieldwork on Thai kickboxing, or Muay Thai, carried out from 1999 to 2001 in the development of a Ph.D. thesis in anthropology (Rennesson 2005).¹

      Muay Thai can be defined as a truly gendered activity that places a...

    • 3 Back in the Spotlight: The Cinematic Regime of Representation of Kathoeys and Gay Men in Thailand
      (pp. 59-80)
      Serhat Ünaldi

      When, in July 2005, the First International Conference of Asian Queer Studies was held in Bangkok, Peter A. Jackson, as co-organizer, pointed to one of the thematic highlights, namely, the analysis of the media representations of homosexuality. “The stereotyping of gays remains a major issue [in Thailand],” Jackson said. “To analyze and criticize the media is important for the promotion of [LGBT] rights” (cited by Veena 2005). In Thailand, the visual representation of queerness has long been dominated by transgender kathoey characters. An analysis of the sources of this representational emphasis and of alternative developments of queer representation in Thai...

    • 4 Loves of Siam: Contemporary Thai Cinema and Vernacular Queerness
      (pp. 81-98)
      Brett Farmer

      Under its current entry for “Cinema in Thailand”, Wikipedia (2010), the popular, open-content on-line encyclopedia, lists a total of eleven genres that it says are central to the industrial and aesthetic economies of modern Thai film. Of the eleven, the genre with the longest, most detailed sub-entry—and, not incidentally, the only one to have a hyperlinked cross-reference to a separate entry of its own—is “Gay Films”. While possibly revealing more about the interests and enthusiasms of Wiki contributors than the actual state of Thai filmmaking, this example nevertheless highlights the extent to which contemporary Thai cinema has invested...

    • 5 Encounters in the Sauna: Exploring Gay Identity and Power Structures in Gay Places in Bangkok
      (pp. 99-120)
      Nikos Dacanay

      As a young, gay-identified Filipino who first visited Bangkok in 2002, my initiation into the gay life of the Thai capital came with a visit to the globally famous sauna, The Babylon.² The images that played in my mind at the time overwhelmed me: the multi-storey building in Mediterranean-style and incorporating a hotel, gym, pool, restaurant, theme/fantasy rooms; an organized business operation that employed upward of twenty individuals. I had entered a highly urbanized Asian metropolis exposed to global cultures that seemed to have embraced Western-style, gay-themed business establishments in multiple sites across the city without resistance or hostility from...

    • 6 Cyberspace, Power Structures, and Gay Sexual Health: The Sexuality of Thai Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in the Camfrog On-line Web-cam Chat Rooms
      (pp. 121-140)
      Ronnapoom Samakkeekarom and Pimpawun Boonmongkon

      In the era of globalization, the Internet strongly influences the lifestyles and behaviour of Thais in both their working and private lives. In particular, many Thai youths and young adults incorporate these technologies into their lives, behaviours, self-identities, and thinking, so adopting technological innovations to seek time and space to explore their identities and life experiences in virtual domains. One of the technologies they use is Camfrog. This programme fascinates its users, mostly male youths, since it enables the sharing of pictures using a web camera and voice communication in Internet chat rooms. It can be used for simultaneous teleconferencing...

  7. II Queer Bangkok in Twenty-First-Century Global and Regional Networks

    • 7 The Romance of the Amazing Scalpel: “Race”, Labour, and Affect in Thai Gender Reassignment Clinics
      (pp. 143-162)
      Aren Z. Aizura

      The clinic is a pink and white four-storey villa on the main highway through Chonburi, a provincial city on the eastern gulf coast of Thailand, one hour’s drive from Bangkok.¹ A cosmetic-surgery clinic for trans people seeking surgical feminization, it is one of the town’s most impressive buildings.² The highway is a smog-filled, eight-lane span crossable only by way of a pedestrian overpass. In this chaotic landscape, the clinic radiates an unlikely serenity. Inside, patients relax in the air conditioning and check their e-mail on the Wi-Fi network. After undergoing facial feminization surgery, breast augmentation, or, the most complex procedure,...

    • 8 Bangkok’s Beautiful Men: Images of Thai Liberality in an Indonesian Gay Novel
      (pp. 163-180)
      Ben Murtagh

      This chapter focuses on the Indonesian novel Lelaki terindah (The most beautiful man) by Andrei Aksana (2004a).² A discussion of this novel has come to be included in this book not just because of its gay theme, but also because of its predominantly Thai setting. A significant section of the novel is set in the Thai capital, and the representation of Bangkok, and in particular its queer spaces, will be a central focus of the chapter.

      Lelaki terindah is part of a noticeable recent growth in Indonesian writing on same-sex relationships. The novel seems to have been at the forefront...

    • 9 Speaking of Bangkok: Thailand in the History of Gay Singapore
      (pp. 181-192)
      Alex Au

      “To speak of Bangkok was to speak of being gay,” Stanley, a lawyer and frequent traveller to Bangkok, said. Those were the times, in the 1990s, when many felt it was impossible to be gay in Singapore. Self-preservation dictated a habit of closeted silence among Singaporean gay men, imposed more rigorously every time a fresh report appeared in the city-state’s newspapers that homosexual men had been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment, or subjected, even, to flogging. Until 2008, Section 377 of the Singaporean Penal Code prescribed a sentence of up to life imprisonment for “carnal intercourse against the order of...

  8. III LGBT Activism, Rights, and Autonomy in Thailand

    • 10 Capitalism, LGBT Activism, and Queer Autonomy in Thailand
      (pp. 195-204)
      Peter A. Jackson

      Queer studies in the West have had an ambivalent relationship to both capitalism and globalization. Alternative accounts variously emphasize the moments of subjection and exploitation on the one hand, and of autonomy on the other, in the intermeshing of queer gender and sexual cultures with globalizing capitalism. Citing Bernstein and Schaffner, Jeffrey Weeks summarizes these tensions when he observes:

      While the spread of global capitalism has exacerbated social inequalities, fragmented families, and severed individuals from traditional social ties, it has also given rise to transnational feminist activism, a burgeoning lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (LGBTQ) movement, a renewed commitment to international human rights, and...

    • 11 The Language of Rights, Deviance, and Pleasure: Organizational Responses to Discourses of Same-Sex Sexuality and Transgenderism in Thailand
      (pp. 205-228)
      Megan Sinnott

      When describing a cultural or societal pattern of beliefs, it is tempting to slip into a singular narrative. Ascribing a set of attitudes or beliefs to a cultural area reinforces the idea of a discrete, almost organism-like entity that has unity, coherence, and defined borders such that the cultural entity can be compared with other, similarly discrete entities. This model, popular in early anthropology in the form of structural-functional or cultural-personality approaches, has been largely nuanced, if not replaced, with more discursive approaches, influenced by Foucauldian discourse analysis, often combined with a focus on Marxist conceptions of hegemony (e.g. Ortner...

    • 12 The Rainbow Lobby: The Sexual Diversity Network and the Military-Installed Government in Thailand
      (pp. 229-250)
      Douglas Sanders

      Twenty years ago, observers described a Thai paradox. Thailand, it seemed, had a relaxed attitude towards homosexuality. There were no anti-homosexual laws. Gay host bars, discos, saunas, and massage parlours functioned openly. Gay bars paid off the police to operate, just as straight bars did. Transgender kathoeys were visible and were understood to be part of Thai society. There was no apparent ban on homosexuals taking government jobs or serving in the military. In the 1980s, a long-serving, unmarried prime minister was said to be gay, and no one seemed to worry about that. Over time, he became an honoured...

    • 13 Transpeople (Khon kham-phet) in Thailand: Transprejudice, Exclusion, and the Presumption of Mental Illness
      (pp. 251-268)
      Sam Winter

      Gender identity variance (a person’s identification as belonging to a gender other than that into which he or she was allocated at birth) appears to be a crosscultural and trans-historical aspect of human diversity; people of gender variant identity have been present in many societies across many historical periods. In the past, such people were often mistakenly labelled as “hermaphrodites”, even when their physiologies were indubitably male or female. In recent decades, gender-variant people in the West have come to be called transsexual, sometimes transgender, often more informally as “transpeople”. There is no commonly accepted Thai equivalent for the English...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 269-284)
  10. A Glossary of Thai LGBT Terms
    (pp. 285-286)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-302)
  12. Index
    (pp. 303-308)