An American Death in Bangkok: The Murder of Darrell Berrigan and the Hybrid Origins of Gay Identity in 1960s Thailand
Bangkok today is home to some of the largest and most visible gay and transgender subcultures in Southeast Asia, and it is the site of the region’s most extensive commercial gay scene of bars, discos, restaurants, saunas, and boutiques. I have described elsewhere the cultural and socioeconomic factors that have supported the historical development of a commercial gay scene in Thailand. 1 Here I consider an originating moment in Thai gay history: the murder in October 1965 of the expatriate American Darrell Berrigan, the homosexual editor of the English-language newspaper Bangkok World. The Thai- and English-language press reports that followed police efforts to solve this crime documented for the first time the existence of a subculture of Thai homosexual men who called themselves the chomrom gay, the “gay association” or “gay community.”
Before the 1960s male homoerotic relations in Thailand were structured within discourses that ascribed masculine [phu-chai] and feminine/effeminate [kathoey] gender positions to same-sex partners. This gendered pattern was reinforced by a number of related oppositions, such as senior-junior and inserter-insertee, that established a power hierarchy between a masculine, senior “man” and his feminized, junior kathoey partner. Notions of class and social status were also important in marking the kathoey-“man” distinction; kathoey were commonly thought of as low-class social riffraff. In contrast, gay marked the emergence of a more prestigious form of male homoeroticism in which both partners assumed a masculine gender identity and to some extent participated in the higher status accorded the Thai “man.” Here I draw on contemporary Thai- and English-language press reports to reconstruct police attempts to solve Berrigan’s murder, [End Page 361] and I use this long-forgotten event to trace the emergence in Thai public discourses of the category of gay. These press reports do not merely reveal a preexisting but previously hidden set of homoerotic institutions and sentiments; having contributed to the establishment of a new form of public discourse about male homoeroticism, they also provide insights into attitudes and practices at a crucial transitional moment in the history of Thai discourses of gender and sexuality. I italicize “gay” where the term refers to the Thai appropriation of the English word in order to mark its reinscription and redefinition in Thai discourses. For I argue that the Thai construction of gay identity is a distinctive formation in which gender and sexuality remain integrally bound and so cannot be reduced to Western understandings of “gayness” or “gay identity.”
Global Queer or Local Gay?
A growing number of authors have observed that the proliferation of gay, lesbian, and transgender/transsexual identities is a global phenomenon. 2 In particular, Dennis Altman’s discussion of what he has called “global queering” has provoked considerable debate. 3 More recently, Fran Martin and Chris Berry have considered the role of the Internet in the emergence of “syncretic sexualities” in Taiwan and Korea. 4 However, discussions of global queering have been based largely on anecdotal observations of the emergence of new gendered and eroticized identities in non-Western societies. While there is no doubting these observations, we nevertheless lack detailed historical studies of the transformations in non-Western discourses that have led to the proliferation of new modes of eroticized subjectivity. Our histories of gay and lesbian identities are overwhelmingly Eurocentric. We need histories of gay Bangkok, gay Tokyo, gay Mumbai, and other major non-Western cities that are as detailed and comprehensive as those we have of gay Sydney, gay New York, gay London, and gay Amsterdam.
Discussions of global queering have also emphasized synchronic rather than diachronic analyses of cultures and societies; hence the anecdotal rather than systematic character of observations of “change.” In this essay I provide a historical perspective to our understanding of Southeast Asian gender/sex categories by tracing shifts in discourses in Thailand. 5 Detailed study of this complex society may considerably enhance our cross-cultural understanding of the construction and historical transformation of patterns of gender and sexual diversity. The only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power, Thailand has retained its political independence and a high degree of cultural [End Page 362] and linguistic autonomy into the contemporary era. Furthermore, its capital, Bangkok, has been integrated into international trade and communications networks for almost two centuries. The rare combination of unbroken political autonomy and long historical engagement with globalizing economic forces makes Thailand particularly fascinating. It is one of the few Asian societies (Japan is another) that initiated cultural engagement with the West on its own terms, although this engagement was inflected in terms of preserving autonomy in the face of British and French imperialism and avoiding the fate of colonized Southeast Asian neighbors.
While emphasizing Thailand’s specificity, I do not wish to claim that the history of the country’s gender/sex categories is unique and so incapable of comparison with the West or to other Asian societies. In referring to my previous work, Altman grants Thai forms of gay identity a distinctiveness that prevents them from fitting his model of global queering as a process based on the dissemination of Western patterns of same-sex eroticism and involving a major “rupture between traditional and modern forms of gay identity.” However, he then accommodates other non-Western forms of gay to his model, saying that he is “less convinced” that my argument for local historical continuities in the emergence of Thai gay identities is applicable in other countries. 6 Such an argument is perhaps possible only because we have too few microhistories of the emergence of gay identity in non-Western societies to reveal the local specificities in each society. Further research on recent transformations in homoeroticism in diverse societies may require Altman to make additional exceptions to his model.
It is important to note that the issue of new gay, lesbian, and transgender/transsexual identities is in fact not so new. Recent discussions of global queering have considered the emergence of new non-Western identities only in the past decade. However, novel forms of eroticized subjectivity have been apparent in Thailand since the mid-1960s, considerably predating the intensification of globalizing influences that began during the 1980s as well as the recently deflated economic boom of the 1990s. Visible gay and transgender subcultures emerged in Bangkok several decades before the Internet era, and the word gay was being used as a self-identificatory label by homosexual men in that city some years before the Stonewall uprising in New York City in June 1969 saw the establishment of the modern gay liberation movement in the West. Bangkok’s commercial gay scene is largely contemporaneous with gay scenes in nonmetropolitan Western countries such as Australia and New Zealand; thus in studying Thailand the issue is not how these subcultures appeared after they had in the West but how they appeared at much the same time. It may be necessary to revise accounts that imagine the [End Page 363] West, in particular the United States, as the originary site of contemporary gay identities and see multiple forms of “gay” emerging instead by processes of parallel development in diverse locales.
While the notion of global queering is heuristically valuable in pointing out cross-cultural similarities, it also runs the risk of universalizing what are undoubtedly contingent and highly specific local transformations. This essay locates the emergence of Thai forms of gay identity in a history of concrete events. Without denying that global processes of economic and technological change that originated predominantly in the West have transformed and integrated culturally diverse societies, the essay emphasizes the highly specific and distinctive impacts of these processes in different localities. Globalization is perhaps best understood as the production of new forms of difference in the context of apparent homogenization.
There are various readings of “queer” and “queer historiography.” In this essay I follow Scott Bravmann in understanding queer critical approaches as having emerged in the Western academy from the recognition that early conceptions of gay identity as a single phenomenon masked the diversities and differences of those brought together under that label. Queer emerged because race, ethnicity, and other sources of difference remained sites of oppression in the supposedly liberated zone of gay. From this perspective queer can be seen as an attempt to expunge racism and other minoritizing discourses from gay, to preserve the political gains and to further the early radical promise of gay by opening that identity up to its internal variety and differences. To facilitate this opening up, queer critical studies often focus on exposing multiplicities represented as false unities. In this essay I take it that one of the false unities in need of critique is the proposition that gay is a globally uniform phenomenon. As Bravmann states, “Gay and lesbian history can be criticised for reiterating culturally specific identity categories as universal.” 7 Most queer critiques have focused on exposing the internal diversity and contradictions of gay and lesbian identities in Western societies. This essay contributes to an internationalization of the queer project, exposing the differences between constructions of gay in Western and non-Western societies. Gay is not only an internally diverse construct. There are also multiple forms of gay in different localities, and each distinctive form operates as a marker for a diverse range of practices and identities in its social context.
Despite appropriating the term queer, Altman undermines the queer project by placing a modernist search for unity above postmodernist explorations of difference. While claiming that he does not wish “to argue for a transhistoric or essentialist position,” Altman defines his inquiry into global queering as an investigation of whether there is “a universal gay identity linked to modernity.” 8 Modernist [End Page 364] gay politics argues that the way forward is to recognize a common unity beyond apparent diversity. In contrast, this essay is predicated on a postmodern queer politics that argues that the way forward is to recognize rather than resolve or overcome difference. Such a queer politics does not rule out the possibility that men and women in non-Western societies at times find it strategically effective to emphasize the commonalities between local and Western formulations of gay in their efforts to legitimate their identities and lifestyles. However, it is one thing for non-Western men and women to appropriate the “international” cachet of gay in their local struggles and quite another thing for Western queer observers looking out on the rest of the world to presume to find near replicas of themselves in foreign settings. The lesson to be drawn from queer critiques of Western gay historiography is that it is extremely easy for authors writing from a position of comparative privilege to fail to see the difference of those who do not share that privilege. Queer investigations of difference and specificity then represent both a political and a methodological corrective to the patterns of power that inflect all intellectual production.
Altman posits that the difference in approach between universalist and particularist accounts of the emergence of new sexual identities in non-Western societies derives from disciplinary differences between political economists, whom he represents as searching for general processes, and anthropologists and cultural historians, whose methods emphasize cultural specificity. He suggests that “strong emotional and career investments” (87) in the theories and methodologies of a particular discipline partly explain divergent analytic approaches to the proliferation of identities in diverse societies. However, theoretical issues that transcend disciplinary boundaries are also at work here and are revealed in Altman’s claim that “modern and postmodern can be used . . . interchangeably” (77) to explain the emergence of new non-Western gender/sex categories. I do not suggest that any particular academic discipline has a privileged position in explaining gender/sex transformations, whether in the West or in any other region. However, I do maintain that postmodernist queer critiques represent a form of theoretical intervention distinct from modernist gay analyses, and it is on this point that I diverge from Altman’s account of global queering.
Sources and Method
Although the press reports in Bangkok sensationalized and distorted the emerging commercial gay subculture, they provide insights into prevailing attitudes and the different responses elicited by the awareness that patterns of male homoeroticism [End Page 365] were changing. Without the investigative journalism of the popular Thai-language newspapers, which competed with one another to expose ever more sensational information about Darrell Berrigan’s murder and ever more salacious details about his private life, much information about Bangkok’s then relatively hidden kathoey and gay subcultures would never have been recorded. One of the most interesting features of the reports of the Berrigan murder is the contrast between the reserved coverage provided by the English-language press, which obfuscated Berrigan’s homosexuality as well as the sexual nature of his murder, and the Thai-language press’s exposés of his promiscuous lifestyle and the array of queer suspects interrogated by the police. This contrast highlights the intersection of Western and Thai sexual values in 1960s Bangkok, marking the dual foreign and indigenous discursive locus at which gay identity emerged among Thai homosexual men.
In the West historians have often relied on criminal records when reconstructing the early histories of homosexual networks and subcultures in cities such as Sydney, London, Amsterdam, and New York. 9 Historically, however, Thai legal codes have not criminalized male homosexuality or cross-dressing. A statute penalizing crimes “against human nature” [phit thammada manut] was introduced in the early twentieth century so that Siam would be seen as “modern” in the eyes of the European powers. But this law appears not to have been used and was abolished in the 1950s when the criminal code was purged of obsolete statutes. In Thailand, therefore, there are no legal records that focus on homosexually active men judged criminals because of their sexuality such as one finds in the United Kingdom or former colonies like the United States, Australia, India, and Singapore where British legal codes were introduced.
That Thailand was never colonized by a European power, however, does not mean that homosexuality has escaped a stereotypical association with criminality there. While not illegal, it remains an object of cultural stigmatization, because of which crimes involving homosexually active people, whether as perpetrators or as victims, often achieve greater notoriety than similar crimes involving nonhomosexuals. October 1965 saw the first press coverage of gay-identified Thai men. But since the late 1950s the Thai tabloid press had regarded crimes with a “kathoey angle” as especially newsworthy, often deserving of front-page banner headlines. Darrell Berrigan’s murder, for example, was covered in this way for weeks.
Sensational reporting of homosexual scandals has been important in the emergence of new forms of public discourse about homosexuality in a number of societies; while the circumstances were markedly different, press coverage of the Oscar Wilde trials in mid-1890s London and of Berrigan’s murder in mid-1960s Bangkok led to similar outcomes. David T. Evans observes that press coverage of [End Page 366] homosexual scandals in late-nineteenth-century London, notably the Boulton-Park scandal of 1871, the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889–90, and especially the Wilde trials of 1895, led to “power/knowledge constellations which defined the homosexual ‘type’ at popular as well as Mandarin levels.” 10 By “Mandarin levels” Evans means official medical and legal discourses about homosexuality. Evans’s description of the outcome of the Wilde controversy doubles as a summary of the consequences of the Berrigan murder in Bangkok seven decades later: “The publicity attending these events certainly raised in the public imagination representations of behaviour which, combined with . . . medical discourses, could only give considerable momentum to the appearance of a more clearly recognised and distinguishable homosexual status” (93). Commenting on the impact of Wilde’s trials, Jeffrey Weeks has called 1895 “a particularly symbolic year because the reaction to Wilde’s downfall was indicative of the new mode in public discourse.” 11 Similarly, the heightened attention given to homosexuality in Bangkok in 1965 marks this year, in particular the month of October, as a turning point in understandings of male homoeroticism in Thailand. In brief, the sensation of the Berrigan murder case saw new public discourses about homosexuality and male prostitution in which both were problematized as social issues that, even if not criminal in themselves, were believed to lead to criminal behavior and so needed to be “solved.”
Unlike the Wilde trials, however, the Berrigan murder case did not signal the institution of an intensified regime of legal or other interventions capable of disrupting the nascent subcultures. For a couple of months police harassment of kathoey and male prostitutes did increase, and a program of academic inquiry into the “causes” of and “cure” for transgenderism and homosexuality among Thai males was begun, 12 but a society-wide homophobic witch-hunt did not follow. On the contrary, the sensational press stories of late 1965 marked the opening of a contested domain of public discussion in which competing tolerant and critical representations of kathoey and gay men rapidly proliferated. These contested discourses simultaneously reported and fostered new forms of gendered and erotic existence. 13 One reason the Berrigan sensation contributed to a more liberal discursive space for homoeroticism is that, while the new category of gay was revealed in the context of the most sensational of criminal cases, it was linked from the beginning with the culturally valued attributes of masculine privilege, modernity, high-class status, and foreign/Western prestige. Although high-class, masculine gay men were initially shocking to a society accustomed to the image of the kathoey as low-class and effeminate, the array of valorized gender, class, and other attributes associated with the new gay form of male homoeroticism contributed to its normativization in the following decades. [End Page 367]
The sources analyzed below show that in Thailand the term gay was first used in the press in the context of male prostitution. However, it is not clear that all of the men who called themselves gay in 1965 were in fact male sex workers or that this was the only meaning of the term within the gay subculture itself. The newspaper accounts indicate that at least some of the men were in long-term relationships with expatriate men who supported them. I am concerned here not with determining whether the gay men were involved in “genuine relationships” but with tracing the conceptual and attitudinal shifts associated with the emergence into public discourses of the sexual category of gay, in which commercial sex and ongoing relationships often converged.
The Thai press sources do not provide enough information to determine whether in mid-1960s Bangkok gay marked a sexual identity or homoerotic behavior. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that during this time a crucial discursive transition began to encourage the emergence of gay sexual identities. Newspaper sources from the early 1970s suggest that by then gay did mark a sexual identity, with Thai homosexual men calling themselves “gay king” or “gay queen” depending on whether they saw themselves as butch inserters or less butch insertees.
It should also be emphasized that this essay is a historical study of discursive shifts, not an ethnographic account of the lives of homosexually active men in mid-1960s Bangkok. The newspaper sources permit us to reflect on changes in the categories used to describe male homoeroticism, but they provide little data on how these categories were used in everyday situations. The relationship among discursive categories, erotic practices, and gendered performances is complex; it often involves resistance to identifying with stigmatized labels, together with attempts to construct a sense of self in terms of culturally valorized categories. We can use ethnographic studies of contemporary gay Thailand as a guide in reconstructing the homosexual world of 1965. However, the circumscribed nature of the sources means that we have no accurate way of telling how Thai males of that period negotiated the rapidly changing patterns of discourse in their public workaday lives or in their private emotional and erotic relationships with other men.
This analysis of Darrell Berrigan’s murder is conducted at two levels. First, it follows the narrative of events from the murder to the intensive police investigations and the dramatic arrest of the alleged murderer. It also traces the shifting discursive forms by which the English- and Thai-language press represented these events and in which both established and emerging identities were constructed. Before October 1965 Thai-language sources on nonnormative gender and sexuality amounted to a smattering of fragments in literature, chronicles, and the press. Only after this date did sufficient material accumulate for a sustained micro-historical [End Page 368] analysis of gender and sex categories. For the historian, it is a question not of selecting sources appropriate to a certain line of inquiry but of using the only available sources to construct a narrative. 14
Expatriate Homosexual Men in Postwar Bangkok
The story of Darrell Berrigan’s life and death sheds light on the role played in Bangkok’s gay subculture by expatriate, especially American, homosexual men living there during the postwar period. It is probable that Thai men borrowed the word “gay” from American homosexual men in Bangkok. What is less clear is the role that expatriate men played in the emergence of the masculine gay form of homoeroticism alongside the established kathoey transgender model. While I am happy to call the Thai use of “gay” a linguistic borrowing, I am less ready to label Thai gay identity a cultural borrowing from the West. Thai men appropriated the term “gay” to relabel an existing indigenous category, the “masculine kathoey” [kathoey phu-chai], rather than to mark a new phenomenon. Only by understanding the articulation of local and foreign influences will the history of Thai gay identity be revealed.
Gossip and rumor in Bangkok’s expatriate community suggest that many Western homosexual men have made the city their home since World War II. However, there are no sources that permit an estimate of their numbers and no biographies or autobiographies that document their private lives honestly. For example, William Warren’s biography of Jim Thompson, arguably the most prominent rumored homosexual American in postwar Bangkok, carefully constructs a female romantic interest for this man, who led U.S. operational support of the Seri Thai [Free Thai] anti-Japanese resistance during the war and subsequently helped reconstruct the Thai silk industry in the 1950s, earning himself the epithet “the Thai silk king.” Warren tells us that Thompson was “always rumoured [to be] about to marry this or that young heiress but never quite doing so” and portrays him as a rugged, butch individual. 15 One gets a different impression of the man from the memoirs of another American, Alexander MacDonald, who worked with Thompson and the Seri Thai and cofounded the English-language newspaper Bangkok Post in 1946. MacDonald describes Thompson as “foppish. . . . he wore dancing pumps much of the time.” 16 Indeed, Thompson’s lifelong love of the ballet, set design, and costumes prompted his interest in Thai silk, whose outstanding visual qualities he helped bring to New York stage productions such as The King and I in the 1950s. Readers of Warren’s biography are left to interpret for themselves the private life of this U.S. war veteran with artistic sensibilities. [End Page 369]
However, Warren does provide the knowing reader with a clue. After opening with an anecdote about the English homosexual author Somerset Maugham’s final visit to Bangkok in 1959 and a dinner held for him at Thompson’s house, he observes, “A recurrent figure in Maugham’s . . . stories, is the seemingly average man who, for some deeply private and often inexplicable reason, suddenly deserts his ordinary, secure world and starts a new life amid totally alien surroundings.” 17 Warren describes Thompson, and we might add their mutual acquaintance Berrigan, as resembling characters from a Maugham tale, “lone—but never lonely—men who find contentment in exotic places” (25): often homosexual men attempting to escape homophobic attitudes and laws back home or on a romantic quest for foreign partners.
In this essay I use accounts of Berrigan’s life and death as a window on changing Thai attitudes. In these accounts, however, there is another story awaiting narration, namely, the history of the Western imagining of Bangkok as a site of homosexual liberality and a zone of supposed freedom from homophobia. 18 The history of Western homoerotic imaginings of the exotic East in the expansion of Western economic, political, and cultural influence can be detected in reports of the lives of men such as Thompson and Berrigan. But in the sources considered here the intersection of Western desire and imperial power exists as a barely spoken subtext more often than as an explicit presence. 19
Given Berrigan’s own prominent association with the Seri Thai and his central role in founding the Bangkok World, it is odd that he is almost never mentioned in the memoirs and biographies of Americans who lived in Bangkok in the postwar years. MacDonald does not mention him in either of his Bangkok memoirs. 20 Jorges Orgibet, another expatriate American who knew both MacDonald and Thompson and who worked for the U.S. Information Service in postwar Bangkok, also omits any reference to him. In the first weeks after the Japanese surrender in 1945, Allied news agencies such as the Associated Press and Reuters were not able to reestablish their operations immediately. Orgibet observes that “the US Office of War Information (OWI) was assigned the task of setting up the US Information Service (USIS) to provide the Siamese with reliable news.” Among the USIS staff, Orgibet mentions “Alex Wu, chief Chinese editor, . . . [and] Prasong Wittaya, Siamese editor, [who] became chief of Bangkok’s UP [United Press] bureau and later editor of the Bangkok World. Those two, with yours truly, later were co-founders of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in 1955.” 21 Berrigan is not mentioned, despite his being founding editor of the Bangkok World, with which Prasong also worked, and another of the founders of the Foreign Correspondents Club. We can only speculate on the reasons for this omission. [End Page 370] Were the revelations that followed Berrigan’s murder an embarrassment to other expatriates, both heterosexual and homosexual, who then wrote him out of their accounts of postwar Bangkok?
One of the few published references to Berrigan occurs in passing in Warren’s biography of Thompson. Warren, who arrived in Bangkok in 1959, observes that before he left New York, his employer, a documentary-film company, gave him letters of introduction to several Americans living in Bangkok. Warren notes cryptically: “The two [letters] I chose to present both led to lasting friendships. One was to Darrell Berrigan, then the editor of the Bangkok World, the other was to Jim Thompson.” 22 Given the silence that appears to have been constructed around Berrigan’s life and his homosexuality, the accounts detailed below—through the distorting prism of the tabloid press—seem to be the only contemporary accounts of the expatriate homosexual milieu in postwar Bangkok.
Obituaries published in various Bangkok papers after Berrigan’s murder permit us to reconstruct a partial biography. Berrigan was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1916 and went to Shanghai in the 1930s to work as a correspondent for United Press International. While in China, he helped found the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club, and at the time of his death he was secretary of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. In 1939 he went to Bangkok to establish a bureau for United Press International, where he worked until December 1941, “leaving Bangkok minutes ahead of the invading Japanese armies.” 23 From Thailand he went to Burma and India, working as a war correspondent.
In its obituary the Thai Rath noted that, although the Japanese advance had forced Berrigan to leave Thailand, he remained in contact with the Seri Thai and channeled U.S. funds to the movement while working as a reporter for the New York Times. 24 Thailand occupied a curious position during and immediately after World War II. In late 1941 Japanese forces landed there in preparation for their campaign down the Malay peninsula to Singapore. The government of Prime Minister Pibul Songkhram initially vacillated over whether to side with the Allies, retaliate against Japan and suffer certain defeat, or collaborate. In the end Bangkok reached an accommodation with the Japanese and declared war on the Allies. In Washington, D.C., however, the Thai ambassador, Seni Pramoj, refused to deliver his government’s declaration of war to the U.S. government. With U.S. support Seni organized the Seri Thai, which the Office of Strategic Assessment, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), took under its wing. With the defeat of Japan, Seni assisted in forming a pro-U.S. government in Bangkok. 25
In the aftermath of the Pacific War, Britain regarded Thailand as a defeated enemy—a formal declaration of war against Britain had been delivered by the [End Page 371] Thai embassy in London—and demanded severe reparations. In contrast, the United States regarded Thailand as a liberated ally and resisted Britain’s attempts to impose punitive measures on it. As Britain and the United States struggled to bring Thailand into their respective spheres of postwar influence, Berrigan played a role in countering British demands and securing Thailand’s alignment with the United States. In December 1945 “the United Press representative in Bangkok [i.e., Berrigan], aided by Seni, who gave him full access to the confidential files on treaty negotiation, provoked editorial allegations in Washington of an attempted British colonial take-over” of Thailand. 26 The information in Berrigan’s reports advanced the U.S. case, and Berrigan, often described as a “friend of Thailand,” was highly regarded there.
After the war Berrigan returned to Bakersfield to be with his ill mother, but “the lure of the East was too strong”; in 1954 he returned to Bangkok, and “except for holidays he was never to leave his adopted home again.” 27 In Bangkok he wrote for both the Saturday Evening Post and the New York Times. In 1957, with financial and political support from Police Chief and Deputy Interior Minister General Aswin (Phao) Sriyanond, he founded the Bangkok World. Prasit Lulitanon, who had worked with the Seri Thai and was a cofounder of the Bangkok Post, notes that “Bangkok Post was originally an afternoon newspaper. At that time [in the 1950s] Bangkok World, which opened a few years after the Post, was the morning paper. It was owned by one of the biggest construction companies, Ital-Thai, with Pol Gen Phao Sriyanond as a major shareholder. Therefore, Bangkok World was a rather influential newspaper.” 28
In the early 1950s two powerful politicoeconomic cliques emerged in Thailand. One was based in the police and headed by Phao, who received significant financial and military support from the CIA; the other was based in the army and led by General Sarit Thanarat. On 16 September 1957, a few months after the Bangkok World had opened, Sarit seized power in a coup, forcing Phao into exile. 29 Sarit quickly destroyed Phao’s power base, interfering with the CIA’s Thailand operations and causing severe problems for the Bangkok World, which was perceived to be aligned with Phao and may have been established with funds that came, at least in part, from the CIA. The involvement of both the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in inquiries into Berrigan’s murder suggests high-level U.S. support for the stridently anticommunist Berrigan and his newspaper.
Despite the early financial and political setbacks caused by the coup, the Bangkok World flourished in the 1960s, and Berrigan became a popular and influential figure in Bangkok’s expatriate community. 30 In its obituary the Bangkok Post described him as “one of a dying race of old time newspaper men who . . . fell [End Page 372] under the spell of Asia, and remained here for the rest of his life. . . . Mr Berrigan was one of Bangkok’s best known and most colourful characters. He enjoyed good food, good stories, good jokes and the company of his friends. Darrell Berrigan was a first class and widely respected journalist whose humane personality showed through in his daily column ‘This Wonderful World.’” 31 The Bangkok World obituary praised him as follows:
Many of his Thai friends and colleagues, particularly those with liberal minds and cosmopolitan outlook, may also cherish in their memories . . . his distinctive personality as a rare kind of farang [Westerner] they have seen in their own land. He was a very human person who never pretended to be above human frailties. He did not only identify himself with the people of this country as evidenced in his service to the community through varied channels . . . but also appeared to have taken their interests at heart. Above all, his sense of dedication to the cue of freedom was towering beyond measure. 32
Berrigan’s prominence in official U.S. circles can be gauged from a 5 October Thai Rath report that the U.S. embassy had asked the head of Bangkok’s Phayathai District police to review the evidence on the case in order to assist in the investigation. 33 The importance that Thai authorities attached to finding Berrigan’s murderer is indicated by comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Praphas Charusathien at his weekly press conference on 7 October: “Detectives from C.I.A. and the [U.S.] secret service are collaborating with the Thai police. . . . This is because Mr Berrigan had an important role in the promotion of [the] relationship between the Thai and US governments.” 34 As the Bangkok World noted two days later, “The case also impinges on the good name and prestige of this country since the newspaperman in question happened to be a foreigner who had been staying long in Thailand.” 35
Berrigan’s importance can also be judged from the fact that Prime Minister Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn was the first of hundreds of dignitaries to place lit tapers and sandalwood flowers next to his coffin in a traditional Buddhist cremation ritual on 8 October. 36 In Washington, D.C., a memorial service was held at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, where the U.S. government was represented by Leonard Unger, deputy secretary for Far East affairs and former ambassador to Laos, and Berrigan’s gathered American friends were asked in the eulogy “to remember . . . what he meant as a citizen of this country.” 37
Given his strongly anticommunist stance, close association with senior [End Page 373] Thai government figures, and leading role as an opinion maker in Bangkok, Berrigan would have been a valuable point of contact between Thai authorities and overseas organs of the United States. His utility to U.S. authorities appears to have countered any concerns about his sexual preferences, for his homosexuality was clearly known not only to his Thai associates but also to the U.S. embassy and thus to officials back in Washington. The Berrigan case shows that the vehemently homophobic rhetoric of U.S. domestic cold war-period politics was not always converted into state-sanctioned antihomosexual practices. Prominent homosexual men such as J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn were accommodated at the center of McCarthyite institutions of homophobic power. The United States did not export its domestic sexual morality when doing so might conflict with foreign policy objectives. In Thailand anticommunist policies promulgated under U.S. tutelage had no antihomosexual component, and no effort was made back home to denounce Berrigan’s openly homosexual lifestyle in Bangkok or to cut him off from CIA or other embassy contacts.
The Death of Darrell Berrigan: Contrasting English- and Thai-Language Reporting
On 4 October 1965 the English-language Bangkok Post reported in a front-page story that early the previous day the body of Darrell Berrigan, forty-nine-year-old expatriate American editor of the rival English-language newspaper the Bangkok World, had been found in the backseat of his Volkswagen sedan. 38 The car had been parked only thirty meters from his house in Soi Leucha, a side street off busy Phahonyothin Road in central Bangkok. Berrigan had been killed by a single bullet through the back of the head, and his Rolex watch and wallet were missing. On the same morning the front-page banner headline of the Thai-language Thai Rath read, “Bangkok World Editor Stripped and Murdered . . .,” and the story reported that “the deceased’s body lay face down on the backseat [of the car] with both hands crossed behind his back. . . . The lower body of Mr. Berrigan was in a condition that could almost be called naked, because both his trousers and underpants had been pulled down to his shins.” 39 The reserved tone of the Bangkok Post, which said nothing about the undressed state in which the body had been found, and the detailed, direct reporting of the Thai Rath marked a divergence between English prudish caution and Thai sexual explicitness that characterized all subsequent reporting of the crime in Bangkok.
The police began their inquiries into the murder by questioning Berrigan’s [End Page 374] two “young adopted sons” [luk liang num] (1), twenty-nine-year-old Vichai Chaicharoen and thirty-year-old Ari (or Arry) Sriburatham. Vichai was an advertising manager for the Bangkok World, and Ari, a political science graduate, had returned from teaching Thai to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Hawaii the day before the murder. Berrigan had adopted Vichai and Ari several years earlier: the former had been born in Petchburi Province, to the southwest of Bangkok, and the latter had been a village teacher in Chaiyaphum Province, to the northeast of the capital, before he had met Berrigan. 40 Berrigan, described by the Thai Rath as an “unmarried youth” [num sot], was said to have “kept” [kep ao] Ari and Vichai as “foster sons, because he still had no wife. He gave the two a good education and loved them as if they were his own sons.” 41 The paraffin tests that the police had conducted on Berrigan’s sons to check for gunpowder residue were negative. The Thai Rath also reported that the police had questioned two teenage youths, described as Berrigan’s “sleeping partners” [khu norn], who resided on the grounds of Wat Dawadeung monastery in Bangkok and from whom it was learned that “Mr. Darrell Berrigan had a degenerate character [arom witthan, lit. ‘degenerate sexual desire’] and associated promiscuously with kathoey and teenage youths. Berrigan was especially fond of the two youths questioned and had rented them a house [inside the monastery compound] and given them a regular monthly allowance” (16).
The Thai press left its readers in no doubt about Berrigan’s homosexuality or the sexual element in his murder. On the day of his cremation, while the English-language press praised his humanity and his commitment to the interests and welfare of the Thai people, the Thai Rath banner headline read, “Kathoey Reveals Berrigan’s ‘Transvestite’ [lakkaphet] Life—Says He Raised Young Men as Husbands.” 42 The article stated that Berrigan had had a “transvestite mind” [jit lakkaphet] and “transvestite feelings” [khwam-ruseuk lakkaphet] and that “it was general knowledge that Berrigan loved young men the way other men love young women” (16). The same information was not found in either the Bangkok Post or the Bangkok World. The first English-language reference to the undressed state of Berrigan’s body was a 5 October Bangkok World report of the Thai press: “A popular and serious paper, Daily News, placed emphasis through the first of its three banners that he had been found in a state of disarray.” 43 Indeed, it was in summaries of the Thai-language press rather than in their own reports that the English-language newspapers revealed the sexual angles of the case, and even these brief translations often bowdlerized the original Thai.
For example, in its 7 October summary of the Thai press the Bangkok Post translated the Thai Rath’s banner headline as “Pistol Toting Nightwalker Being [End Page 375] Hunted in American Editor Murder Case.” The bowdlerism of this translation becomes clear when it is compared with the Thai Rath’s actual headline, which read in full, “Hunt for Gun-Toting Kathoey in Farang Editor Murder Case, Bangkok World [Premises] Searched for Evidence, Test Results of Chauffeur’s ‘Door’ [i.e., anus] Finds No Trace of Semen.” 44 The Bangkok Post translated kathoey as “nightwalker,” which might mean either a female or a male sex worker. The newspaper also omitted any reference to Berrigan’s driver’s anal examination (the term “door” is a shortening of “heavy door” [thawan nak], a formal expression for “anus”). The Thai Rath did not explain why the chauffeur had been required to undergo this examination, but presumably it was to determine whether he had had sex with Berrigan.
The English-language press clearly saw Berrigan’s homosexuality and the sexual character of his murder as private matters and therefore improper to communicate to its readership. The Thai-language newspapers that followed the same policy were sometimes praised by the English-language press for the “high standard” of their reporting. For example, the Bangkok World staff writer Manoj Vudha said of the Siam Rath that “the paper’s presentation of the story . . . was the most laudable [of the Thai-language press] in terms of maintaining an ethical standard in the handling of news.” 45 What Manoj appears to have meant is that, unlike the popular press, the highbrow Siam Rath had not mentioned Berrigan’s homosexuality.
The first explicit English-language reference to homosexuality came five days after the murder. On 8 October the Bangkok Post reported that the Thai-language Phim Thai had run a headline story titled “Incriminating Evidence Points to Two Homosexuals in Berrigan’s Murder Case” and that another Thai-language paper, Kiattisak, had run a story under the headline “American FBI on Berrigan’s Case Robbed by Homosexuals.” 46 However, the Bangkok Post provided no other details and failed to mention anything about homosexuality in its own reports on that day. On 9 October Berrigan’s own paper, the Bangkok World, reported: “[That] North Bangkok Metropolitan Police authorities would clamp on two transvestites as principal suspects in the still unsolved murder case of Editor Darrell Berrigan Friday morning was reported yesterday by Daily News (which gave three banners to the story) and Phim Thai (two banners). . . . The police had been trying to trace a police sergeant believed to be a transvestite and had intensely questioned another, the paper [Kiattisak] said.” 47 It was the first time that the Bangkok World had referred to a kathoey connection, but, like the Bangkok Post, it did not report these stories in its own coverage and omitted any mention of Berrigan’s homosexuality. Significantly, the Bangkok World failed to report the Thai Rath’s lead story [End Page 376] on 9 October: “Kathoey Reveals Berrigan’s ‘Transvestite’ Life—Says He Raised Young Men as Husbands.” 48
Divergent Theories of the Murder Motive
Divergent theories of the murder motive were also advanced in the English- and Thai-language press. On 5 October the Bangkok World reported that the police surmised that the motive might be political or linked with rivalries over Berrigan’s inheritance. In his will Berrigan had left all his property connected with the paper to Vichai and all remaining assets, including his house, to Ari; the Thai Rath reported that the total value of his property was 1.9 million baht (about U.S. $40,000). It also reported that Ari had said that communists might be behind the murder, because Berrigan was “a fierce opponent of communism” and the condition in which his body had been found suggested that he had been tortured by communists. 49 On 6 October the Bangkok World took up the political angle again: “Police, who are now seriously considering political motives for the murder, are beginning to probe the possibility of Berrigan’s posture in the car and the disarray of his clothes as having been rigged up by the murderer to throw the police off track.” Also on 6 October Siam Nikorn reported that a spokesman for the U.S. embassy had stated that the motive might be political, with communist involvement, but that the police had ruled out political motives and had put the murder down to personal factors or a homosexual relationship. 50
In the first days after the murder those close to Berrigan, including his colleagues at the Bangkok World, his adopted sons, and U.S. embassy representatives, emphasized the political angle, while from the very first day the sections of the Thai-language press that had no affiliation to him or his associates drew attention to the personal and homosexual angles. The English-language press reported on Berrigan’s public life and detailed the police inquiries that directed attention to this morally more acceptable domain, while the popular Thai-language press focused on his private life and highlighted the police inquiries that directed attention to the salacious and sensational.
Statements about the political angle, while sometimes linked with communists, were more often vague. It should be recalled that Berrigan’s paper was aligned with the U.S.-sponsored Phao clique, which had been defeated by the Sarit clique several years earlier. Sarit had died in 1963, but his chosen successor, Thanom, was prime minister at the time of the murder. It appears that the U.S. authorities and both English-language dailies in Bangkok suspected that Berrigan had been murdered by someone in the Sarit-Thanom group because of interclique [End Page 377] rivalries but could not state it explicitly for fear of drawing a negative response from the government.
As the political motive became untenable due to a lack of evidence, however, the Thai-language press began detailed investigations of the more likely sexual motive, interviewing Berrigan’s associates and contacts and conducting inquiries at the venues he had been known to frequent. On 7 October, while the English-language press still emphasized the political angle, the Thai Rath noted that police inquiries had now focused on Berrigan’s “sexual degeneracy” [kamawitthan]. In an interview one Kumut Janreuang, a business associate of Berrigan who had recently resigned from the Bangkok World, said that he had told the police that Berrigan had sexually assaulted [pluk plam] his son twice and that everyone at the newspaper knew of Berrigan’s homosexuality. The Thai Rath also reported that the previous day police had made inquiries at a number of Bangkok bars that Berrigan frequented, in particular the Star Night Club, the Two Vikings Bar, the Mitsui Bar, and the Playboy Bar. 51 On 9 October Siam Nikorn described Berrigan as “having the illness of sexual degeneracy” [pen rok kamawitthan], and the Thai Rath said that during the previous night one of its reporters had
penetrated a jungle of kathoey in the middle of the city to conduct interviews in a search for the detailed facts behind the “transvestite” [lakkaphet] life of the murdered farang editor. . . . At every locality . . . all of the interviewed transvestites [phuak lakkaphet], who are born with a male form but who feel that they are women, were unanimous in insisting that, while Mr. Berrigan was a man, he had the feelings and desires of a woman and that he had a special liking for teenage youths, whom he loved as his “husbands,” not as his “wives.” 52
The interviewed kathoey insisted that Berrigan had absolutely no interest in kathoey who cross-dressed, “because kathoey who dress as women have the same feelings as Berrigan.” 53
In following the English- and Thai-language reports, one might at times be reading about two different men. In English, Berrigan is an honored and respected member of the community. In Thai, he is sexually degenerate. The Thai and English discourses barely acknowledge each other; they operate by markedly different sexual ethics, each presuming to report what “in fact” took place. This split appears to reflect the fact that, as one longtime American resident of Bangkok who knew him reports, “Darrell’s [sexual] preferences were . . . better known to Thais than to foreigners.” 54 However, the split between Berrigan’s “English life” and his [End Page 378] “Thai life,” as well as the very different narratives presented by the English- and sensational Thai-language papers, also indicate the operation of multiple gender/sex discursive regimes in mid-1960s Bangkok.
The differences between English- and Thai-language reportage also reflect local class differences. Since World War II the “quality” English-language press in Bangkok has employed many English-, American-, and Australian-educated Thai journalists and editors and has found its market among middle- and upper-class, English-literate Thais as well as among expatriates, whose values it therefore reflects. In contrast, the popular Thai press uses the language and reflects the values of the urban working class and the rural peasantry that constitute its market. However, while non-Thai-literate expatriates reading only the English-language dailies and non-English-literate Thais reading only the Thai-language dailies may be thought to inhabit disparate discursive worlds, educated Thais have access to all news sources in both languages. Thus this section of the population bridges the foreign and local discursive worlds. Thai gay identity emerged at the interface of these domains of cultural and class difference.
Arresting and Charging the Murderer
On 13 October 1965 twenty-two-year-old Chayan (also spelled Jayant or Chaiyan) Maksamphan was arrested and charged with Berrigan’s murder. Chayan subsequently confessed to it after ballistics tests had proved that a gun taken from him at his arrest had been used to kill Berrigan. Chayan’s arrest at a railway station in his home province of Samut Songkhram, about eighty kilometers southwest of Bangkok, gave the case a dramatic climax: “Police approached Jayant at the station from various directions to prevent escape. Jayant reached for his gun but was caught in a headlock.” At the same time, two of his friends, twenty-one-year-old Songkhram Sisattha and twenty-two-year-old Buri (Chim or Jim) Nanthapaurya, were arrested in Bangkok. Chayan was charged with “premeditated and malicious murder” and Songkhram and Buri with being accessories. 55
The Bangkok Post described Chayan as “a strapping, handsome youth” nicknamed “Aet (sometimes anglicised to Ed) Bowling” because he liked to hang out in bowling alleys near the Victory Monument in central Bangkok, not far from Berrigan’s residence. The Thai Rath provided a typically titillating angle in its 14 October front-page story, titled “‘Gunman’ Murderer of Farang Editor Cornered, Police Arrest the Whole Gang and Find the ‘Murder Weapon,’ [Murderer] Confesses He Shot Berrigan While ‘Making Love.’” 56 The Thai expression translated as “making love,” fak rak, literally means “to court” or “to give one’s heart to a [End Page 379] beloved.” Here it implies that Chayan had played the role of a male suitor and Berrigan the role of a courted woman.
The Bangkok Post reported that a police officer had described Berrigan’s confessed killer and his accomplices as “a bunch of spoiled juveniles who are heavy gamblers during the day and who would kill for a pittance.” 57 Both the English- and Thai-language press portrayed Chayan as a tough hoodlum or jikko who led a gang of other jikko youths in the Victory Monument, Pratunam, and Soi Leucha areas of the city. A dated term, jikko denoted a smartly dressed, slick-haired urban hoodlum who imitated the nonconformist style of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood screen heroes such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley. The term appears to be derived from a midcentury English borrowing. One possibility is a contraction of gigolo [Thai jikkolo], with its English sense of a male sex worker for female clients. In his sex guide Bangkok after Dark, however, Andrew Harris states that jikko is derived from Chico, the name of a gang member in West Side Story. While the reference to the impact of West Side Story on Bangkok youth is no doubt accurate, Harris’s details are not quite right. In fact, in the 1961 United Artists film version of West Side Story, Chico is one of the derogatory terms that members of the white street gang, the Jets, call their rival gang, the Puerto Rican Sharks. Chico is no doubt derived from Chicano, and the “Polack” and “Mick” Jets also taunt the “Spick” Sharks with similar abusive terms, such as Chic and Chickie, playing on associations with chicken, meaning “cowardly.” One can imagine rebellious Thai urban youth in the 1960s identifying with the “cool” tough style of the black-haired, dark-skinned Latino street gang in New York and labeling themselves after their screen heroes. Interestingly, the female partner of a jikko was called a jikki, perhaps derived from one of the other terms for the Sharks in West Side Story or from the English slang term chick, for “woman.” Writing three years after Berrigan’s murder, Harris provides an expatriate view of male sex workers that reflects the coverage of that sensational event:
Although there is a certain amount of casual homosexuality in much of Thai society, the Chicos [i.e., jikko] are not casual. They are tough, hard-bitten young hoods, one of the unfortunate results of the city having grown so large so quickly, dislocating hundreds of thousands of people and presenting them with new temptations. The Chicos materialized at the end of World War II, when they were known as Cowboys, a name they received because they imitated the gestures and tough talk of movie cowboys. They are more refined now; “West Side Story” is today’s model. In addition to establishing the beginnings of a pimping system, the Chicos have been [End Page 380] responsible for several waves of robberies, some quite brutal, and they have also found a source of money in the foreign homosexuals living in Bangkok. They are not full-time professionals like the katoys [i.e., kathoey] are, or at least they do not present themselves that way. It is to them merely a means of living with a minimum of work. 58
In his confession Chayan said that on the night of 2 October he had gone out drinking with his friends Songkhram and Buri. Along Soi Leucha the three men had been invited by Berrigan into his car. Songkhram and Buri had subsequently gotten out of the car, while he and Berrigan had gone on to the Playboy Club. They had then driven back to Soi Leucha, where Chayan had shot Berrigan “in self-defence against improper advances.” 59 The police believed, however, that the three men had planned Berrigan’s murder in advance and that they had had an appointment with him on the night of the murder. Buri and Songkhram later admitted that they had both known Berrigan well and that on that night they had asked him to go with Chayan, whom he did not know as well. 60
Chayan initially denied that he had stolen Berrigan’s wallet or Rolex watch. However, police told the press that they had confiscated the watch from a third person, who claimed to have bought it from Chayan. In seeking to confirm that robbery was the motive for the murder, the Bangkok World reported that “one of the men involved was overheard by a reporter to have said that he did not think the farang (Berrigan) would have so little money in his pocket.” The Thai Rath also did not believe that Chayan had murdered Berrigan to protect his manly honor: “Aet Bowling assassinated the farang editor while they were making love in the death car, his only motive being financial gain.” 61 Countering Chayan’s claim that he had acted in self-defense, the Thai Rath said that he had “willingly offered himself in love in accord with Berrigan’s wishes. In this regard, Berrigan had the sexual desires of a woman.” 62
In the days after Chayan’s arrest and confession the Thai-language press presented detailed accounts of what it saw as the motives and circumstances of the crime. However, the English-language press continued to report that the motive was “still a mystery.” 63 The reluctance of the English-language press to release details of Berrigan’s sex life extended to its failure to report some of the details of the police inquiries. For example, on 15 October the Bangkok World published a front-page photograph of Chayan reenacting the crime in Berrigan’s car under police supervision, according to standard procedure. The caption read, “Captain Thanee Homhual of Phya Thai Police Station . . . instructs the gunman, Chaiyan Maksamphan, to tell what Berrigan did first so that the policeman impersonating [End Page 381] Berrigan could go ahead with the re-enactment of the happenings during the fatal night” (1). But the paper did not tell its readers about the sexual encounter that had preceded the murder. Of all the papers, Berrigan’s own, the Bangkok World, was the most protective of his privacy. Only in a separate report on 15 October did it associate its former editor with homosexuality:
In his confession Chaiyan told police that he asked Berrigan to drive him to his house in Theves [an area of Bangkok] but Berrigan drove him to the mud lane off Soi Leucha and tried to force him into a homosexual act. Chaiyan told police that he became so angry that he took out his pistol and shot Berrigan. In the reenactment of the crime Chaiyan did not show why he became angry. He demonstrated that he had his .38 Smith and Weston [sic] pistol at his waist hidden by his shirt and held there by his belt. He made the policeman impersonating Berrigan move from the front seat to the back seat and demonstrated how he too got up from his front seat and leaning over Berrigan, shot him at the base of the skull. . . . Chaiyan’s confessions, police sources said, did not tally with the evidence in their possession.(1, 8)
Chayan perhaps sought to obfuscate the events that had taken place in the car because he was ashamed to admit that he had consented to have sex with Berrigan. While the English-language press declined to draw indecorous conclusions from the contradictions in Chayan’s statement, the Thai-language press interpreted the facts with its usual directness. In late December, Police Major General Monchai Pankongcheun told the Bangkok World that the Berrigan murder inquiry was closed and that the depositions taken from all three accomplices gave robbery as the motive: “Asked if there was any chance of it being a hired killing, Gen. Monchai said that nothing in the investigation pointed to that and that the prosecution will charge the defendants with murder for robbery.” 64 The three men were apparently brought to trial in January 1966, but their fate is not recorded in the press reports of the period. 65
Masculine Homoeroticism: Destabilizing the Discourse of Kathoey
Berrigan’s prominence in Bangkok and his status as a respected foreigner made solving his murder especially urgent. Casting a wide investigative net, the police regarded all kathoey and homosexually active men as suspects. In their desperate search for clues, the police and the Thai-language press subjected Bangkok’s [End Page 382] kathoey and homosexual subcultures to unprecedented scrutiny, exposing for the first time the extent of these networks.
In the context of providing background information on police inquiries and Berrigan’s homosexual lifestyle, the Thai-language press often gave prominence to interviews with sex workers labeled kathoey. On 9 October the Thai Rath reported that one of its reporters had interviewed both “low-class kathoey who satisfy the lust of youths with degenerate sexual desires [arom witthan] and high-class kathoey who have unbelievably high incomes.” 66 These sex workers had been interviewed at “kathoey dens” [laeng kathoey] “hidden away in the dark corners of nighttime Bangkok, such as [those] beside Khlong Prapa in Samsen, in Pratunam, Saphanphut, Wat Khaek on Silom Road, beside the Silver Star Bar in the middle part of Silom Road, and outside the General Post Office.” The frequent use of the term “den” [laeng] to refer to kathoey and later to gay meeting places suggests an established association between kathoey and illicit activities. However, all of the “kathoey dens” were open-air spaces and may have been no more than areas that “men” and kathoey cruised for sex and that were also frequented by male sex workers. Some of these localities, such as Pratunam and Silom Road, remained late-night cruising and hustling areas into the 1990s.
The Thai Rath report named five “high-class” kathoey—Porm, Phailin, Phrae, It, and Daeng—who “make a living from farang and congregate in a dark corner beside the Silver Star Bar and who make no less than three or four thousand baht a month.” While the term for “class,” chan, may denote institutionalized social stratifications such as “working class” or “middle class,” it is used here in the broader sense of level of social refinement, stylishness, or status. The press reports tell us little about the socioeconomic backgrounds of the kathoey sex workers, but it would have been possible for a “high-class kathoey” to come from a working-class background, provided he or she had the income to dress fashionably and acted in a refined manner. The distinction between “low-class” [chan tam] and “high-class” [chan sung] kathoey sex workers appears to have been based on the price asked for sex and to some extent on the ethnicity of the clients, not on actual class background. “Low-class” kathoey sex workers were cheap and serviced a predominantly working-class or lower-middle-class Thai clientele, while “high-class” kathoey were expensive and serviced the affluent expatriate community as well as wealthy Thai men.
Successful feminine performance in terms of Western or “international” [sakon] notions of femininity also appears to have distinguished high-class from low-class kathoey. A Thai Rath cartoon published at the height of public interest in the Berrigan case and Bangkok’s sexual subcultures represented four sex workers [End Page 383] —two kathoey, a man, and a woman—sitting on a bench, presumably waiting for customers. One kathoey, labeled “low-class kathoey,” is dressed plainly in a sarong and has a simple hairstyle, while another kathoey beside her, labeled “high-class kathoey,” is attired in Western-style women’s clothing and has a necklace, a handbag, and a bouffant hairstyle. The masculine-attired male sex worker sitting next to the two kathoey is labeled “high-class employee” [rap-jang chang sung], and the female sex worker (distinguished from the two flat-chested, cross-dressing kathoey by her prominent breasts) is labeled “low-class employee” [rap-jang chan tam]. 67 The cartoon appears to reflect the view that the new gay form of homosexuality—represented by the male sex worker—was a “high-class” phenomenon and indicates the intersection of status, modernity, and international/Western style, together with the masculinization of male same-sex eroticism, in the emergence of gay identity in Thailand.
On 10 October the Thai Rath published a story by some of its reporters who had gone to yet another “kathoey den” in a park behind Wat Makork monastery in the Phayathai area of Bangkok and had interviewed a twenty-seven-year-old kathoey named Jamlorng (Noi) Bunleua, described as a prostitute [kathoey ha kin] who had once slept with Berrigan some years earlier. 68 That Jamlorng had done so, and that kathoey previously interviewed by the Thai Rath had insisted that the American did not sleep with transvestites, suggests that while Jamlorng was labeled a kathoey by the newspaper, he was a masculine prostitute rather than a cross-dresser. (While the dominant stereotype of a kathoey was that of a cross-dresser, the term was widely used to describe any male who desired erotic and romantic relations with other males in preference to females.) Jamlorng told the reporters that he had never worked in the Soi Leucha area, where Berrigan lived, because he was a “low-grade” [”grade” tam] kathoey and Soi Leucha was an upmarket area frequented by male prostitutes who demanded high prices. 69 However, he did know two “high-grade” [”grade” sung] kathoey, “Kathoey Chusak” and “Kathoey Jung-jai,” who lived in Soi Leucha and were kathoey phu-chai, that is, “masculine kathoey” or “kathoey who are men.” 70 Unlike new and unusual terms, such as gay, that are routinely placed inside inverted commas in Thai-language press reports, kathoey phu-chai is not highlighted in print, which suggests that it was familiar to readers. This expression also indicates that, at least in some circles, performatively masculine men who had sex with other masculine men were recognized as a type before the introduction of the term gay, which subsequently replaced the older Thai expression.
However, if kathoey is understood exclusively as a gender category, as it was generally in discussions in both Thai and English, then kathoey phu-chai [End Page 384] remains problematic, because it combines in a single term seemingly contradictory references to masculinity and femininity/effeminacy. In press reports the partners of kathoey phu-chai often were unlabeled, presumably because they, like the partners of all other types of kathoey, were merely thought of as “men.” If so, we are left with the question of what distinguished kathoey phu-chai from phu-chai, or “men.” Jamlorng’s account indicates that the male hustlers who hung out around Soi Leucha and were paid by expatriates like Berrigan to penetrate them sexually were included in the category of kathoey phu-chai. That is, even men who were performatively masculine could be called kathoey. In their case kathoey seems to have had little to do with femininity or effeminacy; it denoted a broader typology in same-sex relations in which gender was but one dimension. Other factors operative in labeling masculine sex workers kathoey appear to have been age, relative wealth, and class.
In short, kathoey was a marked category of sexual inferiority in a male homoerotic culture structured by intersecting power hierarchies. The masculine-feminine binary so dominated this complex that it often masked other relations of dominance and subordination. Vis-à-vis the “men” who had sex with them, kathoey were often thought of as junior partners in terms of age and as lower-class partners in terms of social status. 71 The hierarchies that defined their inferior position were usually aligned. That is, kathoey were viewed as feminine/lower-status/junior, while “men” were seen as masculine/higher-status/senior. However, in some situations, such as in relations between kathoey phu-chai and “men,” these alignments came apart: the “masculine kathoey” simultaneously occupied a prestigious position because of his performative masculinity yet an inferior position because of his relative youth and lower-class status as someone engaged for sexual services. While the press reports provide only a sketchy view of relations between “men” and “masculine kathoey,” it is possible that the power dynamic of a commercial relationship sometimes ensured that the purchaser of homosex was labeled “man” and the seller kathoey whatever their ages or gender performances.
Although gender was but one component of the kathoey construct, the notion of the transvestite or the transgendered dominated popular conceptions in the Thai-language press and the attempts of the English-language press to translate the term. The hierarchies that positioned a male as a kathoey were themselves ranked, and gender was so overwhelmingly important that other dimensions, such as age and social status, were often subsumed in it. In other words, in the Thai gender/sex system of the 1960s, femininity/effeminacy was the symbolic indicator of inferiority in same-sex relations. All other modes of inferiority were so deeply inscribed with the mark of the feminine that in popular understandings they at [End Page 385] times became indistinguishable from this gendered construction of homoerotic relations. Yet while the other dimensions of the kathoey’s inferiority vis-à-vis a “man” were obscured, they were not destroyed.
The nonalignment of the gender, age, status, and commercial hierarchies in the case of the kathoey phu-chai made it a problematic category of the dominant conception of kathoey. In particular, how was a man who paid a kathoey phu-chai to penetrate him to be labeled? In some situations Thai copywriters seem to have considered the clients of all types of kathoey, including kathoey phu-chai, to be “men.” However, the Thai-language press also labeled Berrigan a kathoey for being just such a type of man, giving greater consideration to his preference for “feminine” or receptive sex than to his seniority in age, class, wealth, and race. Yet if Berrigan was a kathoey and the men who penetrated him were also kathoey, then we arrive at a crucial destabilization of the kathoey-“man” pattern of homoeroticism. The interweaving hierarchies that determine positioning as kathoey and “man” come apart, which creates the discursive contradiction of homoeroticism as a relation between two types of kathoey rather than between a kathoey and a “man.” The contradiction emerges from the fact that both kathoey occupy marked positions of sexual inferiority, although in different dimensions of eroticized power. For Thai reporters, Berrigan was a kathoey because he engaged in receptive anal sex. For Jamlorng, male hustlers like Chayan were kathoey phu-chai because they were younger, lower-class sex workers.
The press reports did not represent the contradiction in such stark terms. Nevertheless, the terminological confusion and the groping for conceptual clarification in accounts of Berrigan’s lifestyle and of the kathoey scene can be seen to have emerged from a destabilization of the patterns of dominance and subordination that determined who was called a kathoey and who a “man” in same-sex erotic relations. The reports at times appropriated masculine homosexually active men within the predominantly transgendered framework of the kathoey. The English-language papers translated references to kathoey in the Thai-language press as “transvestite” or “homosexual,” alternating between gender- and sexuality-based understandings on a seemingly random basis. In its 10 October summary of the Thai-language press, the Bangkok World noted that Phim Thai had reported the disappearance of “two transvestites whom the police would like to arrest,” even though it is clear from the report that the men were masculine kathoey and not cross-dressers. Two days later the Bangkok World changed tack and reported that in his final hours Berrigan had been seen not with kathoey but with “beatniks,” a translation of the term jikko. 72
It was not only English translations that created confusion in trying to capture [End Page 386] masculine homoeroticism within a predominantly transgendered conceptual framework. The Thai-language press often used kathoey unqualified to refer to cross-dressing male transvestites, male hustlers, and masculine homosexual men. For example, the 5 October front-page headline of Siam Nikorn read, “Police Round Up Kathoey for Questioning: Unraveling Clues in the Case of the Murdered Farang Editor.” 73 Reporting that the police had rounded up two of a “second type of woman” [satri praphet sorng] for questioning, the story inaccurately used a common colloquial expression for cross-dressing kathoey to describe two masculine youths whom the rival Thai Rath had characterized on the previous day as Berrigan’s “sleeping partners.” The same story included a front-page photo of Ari and Vichai, Berrigan’s adopted sons; while both men are masculine in appearance, in white shirts and dark ties, the caption describes them as kathoey. On 9 October the Thai Rath reported that on the night of his murder witnesses had seen Berrigan leave the Playboy Club with a “transvestite woman” [phu-ying lakkaphet]. 74 Farther on in the report, however, it becomes clear that this person was neither a woman nor a transvestite but a masculine-dressing male prostitute. Also on 9 October the Thai Rath reported that the police had searched the Patpong area and the Playboy Club for “two kathoey, Mr. Nuan and Mr. Phai, who make a living from farang and who, as confirmed by the first type of kathoey [the ‘transvestite woman’], can be placed in the category of men for hire [phu-chai rap jang]. But the police could not locate these second-type kathoey [kathoey praphet sorng] at these places” (16). 75 Cross-dressing kathoey were commonly called a “second type of woman,” an expression still popular today, while masculine homosexual men and male prostitutes were sometimes called a “second type of kathoey,” an obsolete expression, since replaced by gay, that appears to have meant a kathoey who failed to match the stereotype of effeminacy.
Thus there is little regularity in how the press described male sex workers and masculine homosexually active men. Before the word gay entered public discourse in mid-October 1965 they were sometimes given feminine designations such as kathoey, “second type of woman,” or “transvestite,” even though they did not cross-dress, while at other times they were described in masculine terms such as “second type of [i.e., nonfeminine] kathoey,” “masculine kathoey,” even jikko. At times copywriters used expressions from both feminine and masculine registers in the same paragraph. On 7 October the Thai Rath reported an interview with a kathoey who surmised that Berrigan had been “assaulted and murdered by a kathoey. The assassin was probably a teenage hoodlum [jikko], who within kathoey circles are called ‘men who sell themselves’ [phu-chai khai tua] and who congregate in front of Lumphini Park and wander around in front of the Erawan Hotel, [End Page 387] places generally known among those farang who have the same desires as Mr. Berrigan.” 76 On the same day the Thai Rath also reported that the police had questioned kathoey who frequented the Patpong and Silom Road areas and had found one, called “P,” who had often had relations with Berrigan: “This kathoey . . . does not like to dress as a woman but instead dresses like a normal man, . . . has the heart of a hired gun hoodlum [nak-leng meu peun] and carries a .38 caliber revolver” (16).
In part, the multiplicity of terms and the interpretive confusion reflect the fact that reporters sometimes drew on the subcultural argot of their kathoey and male sex worker informants and at other times used only popularly known generic categories. From a distance of almost four decades, the distinction between subcultural argot and mainstream usage is not always easy to make. However, it is fascinating to observe the destabilization of popular conceptions of kathoey that was effected by the irruption into public discourse of finely nuanced distinctions marked by unambiguously subcultural expressions such as phu-chai khai tua. 77
More important, the terminological confusion signals a critical point in the history of the Thai gender/sex system, when predominantly gender-based discourses proved incapable of representing the behaviors and identities forming around notions of masculine homoeroticism. This moment would begin to pass with the popular Thai press’s discovery of the foreign term gay as a label for the kathoey phu-chai, which provided a focus for the amorphous anxiety that something was awry in the expected pattern of relations between kathoey and “men.” While the reports of kathoey prostitutes were intended to titillate readers, they did not suggest a new, extraordinary, or disturbing phenomenon. The Thai-language press may have never provided so much detail about kathoey, but it is clear that the reporters expected their readers to be familiar with this type of male and not to regard him as a major concern. By contrast, subsequent reports of male prostitutes identified as gay did present them as a disturbing new development that required police intervention.
The “Discovery” of Gay Men in Bangkok: Problematizing Masculine Homoeroticism
The character of the Thai Rath’s reporting of masculine male prostitutes changed dramatically on 11 October, when it published a front-page story under the banner “Thai Rath Finds Den of ‘Men Who Sell Themselves’—Total of Two Hundred Members, High Incomes.” 78 The first paragraph read: “The Thai Rath has found a den of ‘men who sell themselves’ and who call themselves ‘gay.’ There are two [End Page 388] hundred members, and they make a sizable income from being farang’s sleeping partners. They have unbelievably high incomes.” It appears to be the first published occurrence of the word gay in any Thai source; 79 however, we can assume that the word had been in use in certain circles of Bangkok’s male prostitute and homosexual subcultures for some time before it was discovered by the press. Nevertheless, the fact that Jamlorng, the “low-class” kathoey sex worker interviewed by the Thai Rath, used the expression kathoey phu-chai for masculine male prostitutes indicates that in late 1965 gay was not in general use in Bangkok’s sexual subcultures and was perhaps restricted to Thai men who had relations with homosexual expatriates. But by the early 1970s it had become the preferred self-reference term among many homosexually active men in Bangkok.
The existence of masculine male prostitutes had been reported alongside stories of transvestite prostitutes before. However, the Thai Rath’s 11 October story differed from earlier reports of “men who sell themselves” in several respects. First, the men identified as gay were nowhere described as kathoey; on the contrary, their masculinity and difference from kathoey were emphasized. Second, this and subsequent exposés about gay prostitutes were associated with a shock-horror response not found in reports of men labeled as one or other variety of kathoey. Despite having published a detailed report of “masculine kathoey” prostitutes the previous day, it is clear from the language he used to describe the gay sex workers that the Thai Rath journalist believed that he was informing readers about a startling, disturbing new phenomenon. The report centered on a group of youths
who call themselves and are known as the “gay group” [phuak gay]. It is almost beyond belief that a den of these gays or men who sell themselves has come to exist in Thailand, and at their meeting place the gays or men who sell themselves confirmed that Mr. Berrigan and his adopted son Vichai Chaicharoen used to associate with them. All of the teenage youths who have this surprising occupation are handsome and of smart appearance and can be called attractive men [chai song ngam, lit. “men with beautiful bodies” or “men with attractive physiques”]. They have the minds of complete men, not of kathoey, and never dress as women. All their clothes are fashionable and come from famous stores.
The secrets of this den have never before been revealed in the pages of a newspaper. They [the den members] were proud to relate that their group of men who sell themselves, as they are called by kathoey, and who call themselves gay has about two hundred members. Among this number are public servants and [film] stars. They all live in good houses, [End Page 389] because farang like Mr. Berrigan who have chosen them to be their husbands rent accommodations for them and provide them with an income of between eight hundred and a thousand baht[a month].
The report emphasizes not only the masculinity of the members of the “gay group” but also their fashionable, high-class appearance and the fact that at least some of them were from privileged and high-status backgrounds. In the mid-1960s public service was a prestigious, if not always high-paying, occupation. The gay form of male prostitution and homosexuality was shocking because of its perceived breach of class as well as gender norms.
The reports of “masculine kathoey” prostitutes were titillating, yet the exposé of gay prostitutes who dressed and acted no differently from many men labeled kathoey was followed by an intensive critique in the Thai-language press. On 15 October the Thai Rath published the first in a series of six editorials under the title “Civilized People in Dark Corners,” by the cryptically named “999.” 80 These editorials presented some of the most vituperative antihomosexual and anti-Western polemics to have appeared in the Thai-language press. A similarly intensive anti-gay and anti-Western public discourse emerged only in the mid-1980s, in response to the first reported cases of AIDS among homosexual Thai men, who it was assumed had been infected from sexual contact with Western men. 81 The series title attacked the supposedly “civilized” farang, and the first installment claimed sarcastically that Berrigan had provided valuable assistance to the Thai people both in life and in death, for his murder had revealed the behavior of
his civilized foreign friends who come noisily searching for worldly pleasures in Thailand’s dark corners. We do not say thank you for the perverted behavior of this group of civilized people, because we believe that it is caused by the perverted minds and desires of a certain group. . . . But we offer thanks as lawmakers and students of political affairs, because there is a principle that “law follows events” or, in other words, when certain events present a danger to society, the state will draft a law to control those activities, define them as wrong, and lay down punishment for anyone who engages in them.
During the following days 999 detailed the deficiencies of Thai law, which did not criminalize male homosexuality, and called for punitive statutes to suppress Thai gay prostitutes and their Western homosexual clients. In the second installment of the series 999 surmised that the cause of Berrigan’s death was “his own sexually [End Page 390] perverted behavior”: “If this is true, we need to consider another group of people, namely, men who sell themselves or who call themselves gay. If the activities of this group are left to run wild, they will present a danger to the country, both in terms of public peace and order and also, without a doubt, in terms of the good morals of the people.” 82 Calling on the government to take action, the newspaper predicted a “horrendous social disaster” otherwise. Several days later 999 claimed that male prostitution was much more detestable and dangerous than female prostitution: “If a person of the male sex makes his living from prostitution, it will constitute a significant danger to the safety and order of the country and to the good morals of the people. This is because these people have degraded, perverted, and abnormal minds and may commit other serious crimes against society, such as the murder of Mr. Berrigan, or they may become a criminal element if they congregate in large numbers” (3). 999 also targeted foreigners as the source of the perversion of gay prostitution, counterposing the supposedly pure Thai moral order to the sexual “filth” brought to the country by Westerners:
If we analyze the facts in detail, we will see that there are almost no clients [of gay prostitutes] who are genuine Thai citizens, and most are foreigners. This may be because our Thai culture and customs are strict and consider such behavior shameful and disgraceful, but individuals who call themselves civilized may think that such things are ordinary and everyday. Nevertheless, given that we are an independent country, we should be able to proudly enforce a law that cleans up and wipes out filth from our land, because such a law not only would protect and enhance Thailand’s high mental culture but would also maintain public order and uphold the good morals of the people.(3)
Siam Nikorn also portrayed the gay form of male homoeroticism as dangerous, but it did not follow the Thai Rath’s lead and call for the criminalization of kathoey or gays; it cited unnamed “medical circles” that considered it inappropriate to enact such a law because homosexuality was a mental problem best treated medically. Almost two months after Berrigan’s murder Siam Nikorn ran a follow-up about gay prostitution in its “Siam Nikorn Window” [Na-tang Siam Nikorn] column, penned by the pseudonymous Bang Yikhan, under the heading “A New Occupation of Thai Youth.” 83 In contrast to many other journalists, who linked the “gay group” exclusively to Western homosexual clients, Bang Yikhan observed that they also had wealthy Thai clients. Nevertheless, he saw gay prostitution—but, significantly, not kathoey prostitution—as an imported Western phenomenon: “This [End Page 391] type of activity is not something that Thais have thought of or invented. Rather, it is something that has spread from the social conditions of Western countries and is expanding and becoming popular among groups of Thai youths in extremely disturbing numbers.” Bang Yikhan noted that even though the “occupation of being gay” may “give some of our Thai youth a good income, it will become a dangerous disease in Thai society and culture.” He added that “this activity is something that our forefathers saw as disgraceful” but took a more liberal view than the Thai Rath’s 999: “It is inappropriate and irrational to arrest these men or to make a law to oppress them”; it was appropriate only for the police to detain and warn them.
In late October 1965 the details of Berrigan’s murder and the forthcoming trial of the accused were overshadowed as the Thai-language papers debated the propriety and legality of the participation of gender-normative men in male prostitution. Kathoey prostitutes, whose existence had been known and reported on for some time, had never elicited similarly anxious or moralistic editorials or calls for criminalization. Furthermore, no calls for the criminalization of all forms of homosexuality had followed the reporting of other homosexual crimes in the Thai-language press in the same year as Berrigan’s murder. (Another homosexual murder case and an attempted murder that became front-page news in 1965 are summarized in the appendix.) These crimes conformed to cultural expectations, with the criminals labeled kathoey and the victims represented as gender-normative Thai male lovers. Kathoey are commonly stereotyped as emotionally volatile people easily incited to crimes of passion when they are abandoned by a lover or discover a partner’s infidelity. The “Thai-style” kathoey crimes reported in 1965 were no less violent than the attack on Berrigan, but because they followed expected forms of kathoey-“man” behavior, they were not perceived as culturally disruptive or threatening to the wider community.
Despite the Thai Rath’s calls for anti-gay laws, the government did not need to institute new legal measures to prosecute gay prostitutes. A 1960 antiprostitution law that already banned commercial sexual activity by both women and men was more consistently enforced, and more intensive police surveillance was directed at homosexually active men and kathoey. On 17 October the Thai Rath staff writer Si-siat gave his regular “Diverse Problems” [Saraphat panha] column the heading “Gays Should Beware of Soon Being Rounded Up” and wrote that “this disgusting thing will be gotten rid of. . . . I’ve heard that the police are soon going to get serious with this group.” 84
The police action continued for several weeks. More than a month after the Thai Rath had revealed the existence of gay prostitutes, Phim Thai ran a similar exposé of male prostitution in Bangkok under the front-page banner “Roundup of [End Page 392] Group of Youths Employed as Men’s Husbands, Confess They Are Popular with Farang, Hundreds Belong to Gang Called ‘the Gay Association’ [chomrom gay], Monthly Incomes of Two to Three Thousand [Baht].” 85 A front-page subheading read, “‘Gay’ Gang Called In for Reformative Training: Exposed, Mostly Students in Group of Two Hundred.” 86 The article described the “perverted method of making a living” by “provid[ing] pleasure” to farang men and reported that the head of police had ordered the members of the “gay group” arrested and brought in for “reformative training”: “The police warned them to give up this activity because it is extremely disgraceful to foreigners, and then released them” (1). Whereas the Thai Rath’s editorials had criticized gay prostitution as shameful to Thais, the police who detained the prostitutes admonished them by saying that their behavior was disgraceful in the eyes of foreigners (presumably different foreigners from the youths’ Western clients).
This comment signals the impact of Western views on Thai sexual ethics. Indeed, the Phim Thai report suggests that the police were more concerned about upholding the country’s image in the eyes of foreigners than about the morality or legality of male prostitution from the Thai point of view. Moreover, while the revelation of the existence of the “gay group” was uniformly condemned in the press, there was significant disagreement about the nature of the “problem” and how to solve it.
From “Safe” Kathoey to “Dangerous” Gay
Several factors were at work in constructing the new gay category as problematic and potentially dangerous. The anti-gay polemics highlighted its foreign and morally disreputable origins. Calls for criminalization and medical intervention were bolstered by claims that the gay men’s clients were almost all Westerners and that gay prostitution also had a foreign provenance. Given the sensational murder of the prominent American resident with which the category was initially associated, it is little wonder that it bore the double stigma of the foreign and the illicit.
In the press polemics, however, the mark of the foreign was overdrawn for rhetorical effect. The claim that Westerners brought both male and female prostitution to Thailand, although commonly made in populist nationalistic discourse, is not substantiated by the historical record. Scot Barmé has documented early-twentieth-century Thai press debates about the growing numbers of female prostitutes servicing Thai men. Rachel Harrison has analyzed representations of the female prostitute in Thai literature since the early 1930s, and almost without exception they focus on women working in brothels with Thai clienteles. 87 These [End Page 393] analyses indicate that heterosexual prostitution emerged in Thailand to service a local market, which subsequently expanded to include Western men.
It also seems unlikely that homosexual prostitution had a solely foreign provenance. According to the 1965 press reports, the young gay prostitutes had wealthy Thai clients, but they are nowhere revealed or described. The visibility of foreign clients and the invisibility of Thai clients of both kathoey and gay sex workers in the press suggest a selective media focus. Apart from telling readers of the existence of Thai clients, the Thai-language newspapers provided no information on those who frequented the “dens” of kathoey and gays to purchase sex. Were they part of the same social networks as the foreign clients, or were the Thai and foreign markets for homosex separate, as the reports implied? How did the Thai clients of kathoey and gay sex workers view themselves? Were these “men” the same, or did they represent different sexualities, erotic tastes, or preferences for feminized and masculinized male bodies? While the press represented the Thai clients simply as “men,” were they really not differentiated from Thai males who had relations exclusively with women? Were the Thai “men” who sought out kathoey and gays merely casual visitors to their dens, or were they members of regularized or even institutionalized social networks that inhabited them? Were the dens the scene of an expected pattern of relations featuring romance or other notions of commitment between Thai “men” and kathoey or gay sex workers, or were they merely impersonal marketplaces for transacting sex? The reports of the Berrigan murder do not answer these questions. However, the absence of Thai “men” from them warns us that in these sources we see only part of the picture. A more complete story of the origins of gay identity in Thailand could be written if we had access to information that permitted these men to emerge from the shadows.
The difficulty of answering these questions is compounded by the fact that there were at least three different uses of the term gay in 1965: those that obtained among Western homosexual expatriates, among the homosexually active Thai “men” who had relations with them, and among Thai press reporters. Among expatriate men, gay seems to have had a meaning similar to the one current in U.S. subcultures in the 1960s; namely, it referred to men who sought romantic and sexual relationships with other homoerotically interested men who also called themselves gay. For Thai reporters, gay referred to masculine male prostitutes who penetrated Western and rich Thai male clients. That is, in the mainstream press it referred to a commercialized and gendered form of homoeroticism similar to that of the kathoey phu-chai, or “masculine kathoey.” Copywriters used gay to refer both to male prostitutes who participated in homosex simply for the money and to men engaged in long-term and possibly romantic relationships with Westerners and other Thais. [End Page 394]
Perhaps the most important use of gay in mid-1960s Bangkok, namely, the one obtaining among homosexually active Thai men, is the most obscure in the press reports. We have no interviews with men from the “gay group” that shed light on how they understood their homoerotic relationships or on the meanings they attached to the word gay when they used it to label themselves. All we have are the attempts of copywriters to represent the term from the subcultural argot. However, it is likely that for homosexually active Thai men, gay did not have the meaning that it had for homosexual expatriates or Thai copywriters.
Meanings of Gay in Public Discourses
Nowhere in the press reports at the time of Darrell Berrigan’s murder was it claimed that the behavior of kathoey prostitutes had resulted from perverted Western influences. Kathoey prostitutes were consistently portrayed as an indigenous and largely amusing phenomenon. Gay prostitutes, in contrast, were labeled a Western-derived perversion and portrayed as a serious problem that required legal or medical intervention. Indeed, the term “perversion” [wiparit] in these reports only occasionally extended to men labeled kathoey. Kathoey had long been called “degenerate” [witthan] in both journalistic and official discourses. However, gay men were more likely to be called “perverted” [wiparit], a newer term associated with pathologizing biomedical and psychiatric discourses. While witthan and wiparit were often used as synonyms in popular discourses, the fact that the older term was more often used to describe the deviancy of the kathoey, while the newer term more commonly denoted the deviancy of homosexuality, suggests the emergence of a new type of difference.
However, the question of who was labeled kathoey and who gay in the 1965 reports was not straightforward. It was not a discernible difference in a male’s gender performance that determined whether he was a “safe” kathoey or a “dangerous” gay. These two categorizations reflected competing understandings of homoeroticism rather than any difference in performance. In the 1960s a Thai man did not have to act effeminately or cross-dress to be labeled kathoey. Masculine males who were perceived not to exhibit all the expected qualities of a man, including, for example, engaging in male prostitution, were also commonly called kathoey. Once a male was labeled kathoey, whatever his appearance or demeanor, an array of gender-based assumptions defined his distinctiveness from, as well as his possible erotic relationship with, normative men.
In the 1960s a masculine homosexually active man whose eroticism was appropriated in the gender-focused discourse of the kathoey was subjected to less [End Page 395] intense critique than a similarly masculine man who was understood in the emerging public discourse of gay. The “masculine kathoey” [kathoey phu-chai] sex workers revealed in the press immediately following Berrigan’s murder were considered no more problematic than the cross-dressing kathoey who were also interviewed and reported on. Only when these men were distinguished from kathoey as gay—and the first reports went to great pains to make it clear that gay men were not kathoey—did the intense critiques and calls for legal and medical intervention begin. The problematic status of gay men in 1960s Bangkok derived in part from their transgression of the implied class hierarchy that had historically distinguished “low-class” kathoey from “high-class” men.
Indeed, there was one important objective difference between masculine kathoey and gay prostitutes: the latter were said to be much better dressed and to look more high-class, if not actually to come from privileged backgrounds. Indeed, in the eyes of the Thai reporters it was the “gay group’s” perceived higher-class status that most distinguished them from “masculine kathoey.” The “gay group” was doubly shocking because its members breached both the gender and status hierarchies that had distinguished kathoey sex workers from their “men” clients. Kathoey were seen as low-class, and their involvement in prostitution was considered a petty but tolerable social nuisance. However, gay prostitutes were seen as high-class, or at least of a higher class than kathoey, and for this reason their engagement in debasing sex work was considered a major social concern in need of intervention. The transition from the predominantly gender-defined effeminate kathoey to gay as a masculine phenomenon was therefore accompanied by a redefinition of male homoeroticism as something that could take place between two males who were both from high-status backgrounds. Indeed, it appears that it was the “gay group’s” high-class status that most challenged Thai reporters’ stereotypical understandings of homoeroticism as involving effeminacy. The masculinization of Thai notions of male homoeroticism that was involved in the emergence of gay identity was intimately related to the perceived upward shift in social status.
In terms of the older kathoey-“man” model, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the gay form of homoeroticism was that it was a relationship between two males who in many respects were “the same.” Whatever their behavior or demeanor, in established discourses the kathoey and the “man” were thought of as different, and their relationship was seen as a coming together of opposites: of feminine with masculine; junior with senior; employee with client; and so on. While the reports tell us that the gay prostitutes were younger than their clients, their masculinity and high-class appearance meant that they shared a number of culturally significant markers of privilege with those clients. [End Page 396]
Nevertheless, the problem of same-sex relations between males considered to be “the same,” rather than opposites, was not completely new. The fact that both “masculine kathoey” sex workers and their clients could be called kathoey produced inconsistencies in the press reports; this type of relationship could not be pinned down in a hierarchical discourse of homoeroticism predicated on constituting the two partners as different. Gay appeared on the stage of public discourse at a moment when a number of varieties of kathoey were destabilizing the older and simpler binary system. Most important, the distinctiveness of gay—seen from the very beginning as linked with masculinity, the foreign, high-class status, and so on—meant that it could be conceived as a different type of difference from that of the kathoey. It is tempting to see in this different type of difference the emergence of a distinctive Thai discourse of sexuality, such as Foucault traces in nineteenth-century European discourses. 88 However, the fact that Thai gayness was deeply inscribed with the gendered mark of masculinity, class distinctiveness, and cultural foreignness should alert us to the possibility that something other than a Western-style discourse of sexuality was at work here.
The Institutionalization and Splitting of Thai Gay Identity after 1965
The meaning of gay in Bangkok’s sexual subcultures in the mid-1960s is the most hidden dimension of this new category. However, while we have no contemporary definitions of gay from the Thai men who used this term to describe themselves, we do have numerous reports from within the subculture, starting in the early 1970s. 89 These reports can be used as a basis on which to reflect back on the origins of Thai gay identity several years earlier; while only an indirect indicator, they suggest the distinctive non-Western character of Thai gayness from its inception.
In Thailand today one finds highly visible transgender/transsexual kathoey whose partners are still called simply “men” or phu-chai. That is, the “pre-gay” model remains and continues to be labeled precisely as in the 1960s. However, we do not find males called “masculine kathoey,” “second type of kathoey,” or any of the other types of “nonnormative,” that is, nonfeminine kathoey found in Bangkok in 1965. Instead one finds a well-established gay category, understood as a type of male who relates sexually with other males who are also called gay. Gay appears to have supplanted the category of “masculine kathoey,” but it did not displace or destroy the feminine/effeminate kathoey.
Gay thus represents an addition to the Thai system of male categories: the insertion of a ternary term into a formerly binary order. The male homoerotic Thai world is now inhabited by kathoey who relate with “men” and gays who relate with [End Page 397] other gays. But the continuing power of gender as a mode of hierarchicalization in relationships influenced the subsequent development of the new gay category. By the early 1970s the Thai form of gay had split into distinctive “gay king” and “gay queen” varieties, that is, gay men who engaged in insertive and receptive anal sex, respectively. While the use of “queen” is widely known in all English-speaking gay and transgender subcultures, the use of “king” to denote the gay opposite of a queen appears to be uniquely Thai. When I first encountered Bangkok’s gay subculture during my doctoral research in 1982, labeling as “gay king” and “gay queen,” or simply as “king” and “queen,” was often as strictly enforced in relations between masculine-dressing males as the kathoey-“man” distinction was upheld in that coexisting pattern of homoerotic relations. 90
Given the importance attached to labeling as “king” and “queen” in the 1970s and 1980s, it seems unlikely that this gendered structuring of Thai gay relations in terms of “top-bottom” or “inserter-insertee” pairings was not apparent in the 1960s. Perhaps the members of the “gay group” discovered by the press in 1965 had other ways to label this pairing, which simply went unreported. Or perhaps those in the “gay group” used gay in something approaching its Western sense when speaking English with their foreign clients and partners but used a different gendered understanding of gay homoeroticism when talking among themselves in Thai or when relating with Thai customers and partners. We simply do not know. No doubt gay, like any newly appropriated word, saw an initial period of fluid usage before a common understanding emerged among Thai users of the term. But we have no evidence that in Thai subcultural understandings gay ever took on a Western sense or was not understood in terms of a gendered hierarchicalization of relations between male partners. That is, we have no evidence that in Thai homoerotic subcultures sexuality has ever been detached from gender.
Despite its subsequent splitting in terms of the gendering of homoerotic acts, gay helped consolidate the place of the cross-dressing feminine/effeminate kathoey as well as that of the masculine-dressing “man” in the Thai gender/sex order. The institution of gay saw the removal from the domain of kathoey-“men” relations the problematic pattern of erotic relations between masculine-dressing males, which in the mid-1960s appeared to destabilize what it meant to be a kathoey and perhaps also a “man.” The current system of male identities—“man,” kathoey, “gay king,” “gay queen”—thus preserves the old as well as incorporates the new, including multiple gendered and eroticized differences in an expanded and hybridized discursive regime. It should be noted, however, that this incorporation left neither the kathoey nor the “man” unchanged. After the institution of gay as a new male identity, kathoey no longer referred to masculine-dressing males, as [End Page 398] it sometimes had in the 1960s, and the notion of “man” was heterosexualized; masculine males who interacted with other masculine males were no longer called “men” but were increasingly labeled gay. That is, kathoey-“man” relations were restabilized by a new set of understandings that restricted both the gendered performances and forms of eroticism associated with both of these categories.
The hybrid character of Thai gay identities is perhaps most clearly marked by the fact that this term replaced the expression kathoey phu-chai or “masculine kathoey,” in which the two gender poles of the historical model of male homoeroticism were immediately juxtaposed. Thus in popular discourses of the 1960s the gay man, as successor to the kathoey phu-chai, was imagined as a male in whom elements of both the kathoey and the “man” or phu-chai were incorporated. There seems little doubt that the foreign Western or high-class associations of gay contributed to its coming to be understood to denote a different type of erotic and gendered difference from the kathoey. However, the specificity of Thai gay identity also emerged from a transformation in indigenous discourses whereby the two former poles of the feminine kathoey and the masculine phu-chai were imagined as coming together in a single person. As the successor to the kathoey phu-chai, gay marked a hybridizing of indigenous binaries as well as of the local and the foreign.
Yet the singular hybridized category of gay soon split: the “gay queen” came to reflect the kathoey pole and the “gay king” the phu-chai pole of the kathoey phu-chai. That is, after 1965 Thai gender hierarchies reconstructed gay as an internal relation of difference, indicating the continuing power of indigenous notions of homoerotic relations to normativize intrusive foreign patterns to local forms. Gay may have been given a distinctive place in the Thai system of male identities beside kathoey and “man,” but only by mirroring in its own new domain the older pattern of gendered homoerotic relations. Though emerging on the pattern of a relation between two similar men, this foreign model of gay appears to have been sown in infertile soil in Thailand. Gay achieved an established place in the system of male identities only after it had been indigenized to accord with local expectations of homoeroticism as a relationship between two males understood to represent the opposite poles of a gendered binary pair.
The establishment of this expanded set of male identities was not smooth or automatic. The appearance of gay in the mid-1960s sparked contestation and debate that continues to this day. However, the dual masculine and bourgeois tendencies of gay appear to have been crucial in solidifying the category as a new identity in Thailand, as well as in arguing for its legitimacy and distinctiveness from kathoey. In the late 1980s the Thai gay activist Natee Teerarojjanapongs coined the term kunlagay, “gay of good breeding and birth,” to convey gay pride [End Page 399] and the notion that “gay is good.” Kunlagay became the name of the newsletter of the now defunct HIV/AIDS education and support group FACT (Fraternity for AIDS Cessation in Thailand), which Natee founded and led for several years. 91 While the high-class status of gay men produced a horrified response in the mid-1960s—“How could such high-class young men be involved in such low-class things?”—in the following decades the same factor was used to good effect by gay activists attempting to legitimate same-sex relations by linking gay with proper (high-) class roles and polite, socially conformist behavior. In Thailand, unlike Western countries, gayness has not usually been associated with notions of the homosexual as a sexual radical who self-consciously transgresses cultural norms. Such “low-class” attitudes and confrontational behaviors are more often seen, by both gay-identified men and the broader population, as characteristic of kathoey, who are commonly stereotyped as ostentatious, attention-seeking, bitchy, and sexually aggressive.
By no means all Thai men who identify as gay come from privileged backgrounds, but they tend to acquire the class cachet integral to Thai understandings of the term since it appeared in public discourse. Furthermore, to move from the discourse of kathoey to that of gay is not only to acquire a more prestigious social status but also to insert oneself into the international, Westernized perspective of the Thai middle and upper classes. The move represents an interlocking series of transitions from kathoey perceived as feminine, low-class, local/Thai to gay imagined as masculine, high-class, international/Western. The concomitant masculinization of Thai male homoeroticism is therefore closely related to the country’s progressive integration into Western-dominated economic and cultural networks since the mid-nineteenth century. In particular, the bourgeois associations of gay identity in Thailand appear to be related to the emergence of the Thai middle class in the twentieth century as the commercial, technocratic, intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic mediators of their country’s incorporation into the expanding networks of globalizing capitalism.
The mid-1960s chomrom gay or “gay association” exemplified all these factors. The members of the association were well-educated, presumably English-speaking young men who worked in modernizing sectors such as the public service and the film and entertainment industries, and their intimate relations with foreign men were also commercially mediated. (The relationship between the emergence of Thai capitalism and transformations in the indigenous system of gendered and eroticized identities is beyond the scope of this essay. The work of John D’Emilio, David T. Evans, Donald Morton, and Michael Connors on capitalism and homosexuality [End Page 400] in the West would provide a useful starting point for such a study.) 92 While I am critical of Dennis Altman’s notion of global queering, I agree that we “need a political economy of homosexuality, one which recognizes the interrelationships of political, economic, and cultural structures.” 93 However, to avoid the universalizing and reifying tendencies of Altman’s argument, I would replace his interest in general structures with a poststructuralist investigation of local processes.
Aftermath of Berrigan’s Murder
Darrell Berrigan’s death had an importance far beyond the shocking murder of a prominent farang in the middle of Bangkok or the salacious revelations of his private life. The investigative reporting of the Thai Rath, in particular, alerted the population to changes taking place in the Thai gender/sex system. The discovery that gender-normative men who neither cross-dressed nor acted effeminately made a living from male prostitution overturned the assumption of reporters, and presumably of many of their readers, that male homoeroticism involved effeminization. Berrigan’s murder revealed in the most sensational way that actual homosexual behavior among many Thai men was significantly different from that of the stereotyped kathoey. Under the supposed influence of “perverted foreigners,” homoeroticism and male prostitution were no longer contained in the stigmatized group of kathoey but extended to men who looked and acted no differently from other men. Indeed, the revelation of the existence of gay prostitutes was sometimes represented as more disturbing than the murder itself had been.
When gay burst into public knowledge in Thailand, it was stigmatized as “filthy” [sokhrok], “disgusting” [na-rangkiat, man-sai, khaya-khayaeng], “shameful” [na-ap-ai], “disgraceful” [na-batsi-batthalerng], “sexually degenerate” [kamawitthan], “sexually perverted” [kamawiparit], and “associated with crime” [phit-kotmai]. It was subjected to intense negative labeling in terms of three intertwining sets of discourses: informal popular discourses of normative gender and sexuality, emerging medical discourses that pathologized homosexuality, and legal discourses. In addition, gay was portrayed as a Western influence that corrupted Thai youths by encouraging them to engage in prostitution and possibly also to commit murder and other crimes.
Significantly, the sensation surrounding Berrigan’s murder did not, despite calls from the Thai Rath, lead to the criminalization of noncommercial homosexual relations. Thai lawmakers, unlike their Western counterparts during earlier periods, did not consider it their role to attach legal penalties to what cultural values [End Page 401] labeled inappropriate sexual behavior. Rather than being portrayed as something criminal in itself, gayness was denounced as an incitement to criminality, and it was the assumed consequences—prostitution, robbery, murder, and so on—on which the law and police enforcement focused. In subsequent decades in Thailand gay identity’s association with the multiple privileged positions of masculinity, high social status, modernity, and the West appears to have been strong enough to overcome many of the initial negative reactions and to secure a basis for increased, but by no means full, tolerance of this new identity.
Press coverage of Berrigan’s murder had important consequences for the formation of public knowledge and stereotypes of homosexually active men. First, it contributed to the emergence of a public, official discourse about transgenderism and homosexuality. Until the mid-1960s neither homosexuality nor transgenderism had been considered a serious topic of discussion. The Berrigan case contributed to the relocation of homosexuality from the private domain of gossip, innuendo, and humorous disparagement to the public domain of “social issues” that did deserve serious, often anxious consideration by the press, academia, and officialdom. Furthermore, the revelation that gender-normative men were having sexual relations with each other prompted public and academic discussion of the differences between kathoey and gay men, including attempts to understand the specificity of the new category of gay and reconsiderations of the meaning of the old category of kathoey.
Homosexual expatriates like Berrigan appear to have had a disruptive impact on Thai gender/sex discourses in the mid-1960s. Farang did not introduce homoeroticism to Thailand. However, the playing out of Western forms of homosexual desire created discordant effects in indigenous discourses of homoeroticism, variously leading to confusion among Thai observers and to criticism and resistance from certain circles, as well as contributing to the emergence of new erotic and social alignments among Thai homosexually active men that fostered a distinctive gay scene in Bangkok.
The Berrigan case highlights how shifts in sexual attitudes took place and new identities emerged at the interface of indigenous and Western gender/sex discourses in mid-1960s Bangkok. Masculine-identified homoeroticism was not a new phenomenon in Thailand then; it had been acknowledged and labeled in local discourses before the borrowing of the term gay. In the late 1960s masculine homoeroticism was relabeled gay, and older Thai expressions for this phenomenon became obsolete. Gay marks a continuity with earlier masculine homoerotic behaviors at the same time that it represents a break with the older transgender discourses of the kathoey. In this transition local understandings of gender, class, and [End Page 402] status have been as important as Western sex-cultural influences, with Thai gay identity emerging from a complex set of hybridizing processes rather than from a unidirectional transfer of models of sexual identity from the West.
In other words, Thai gay identity does not represent an unmediated imposition from a foreign sexual culture. Rather, it has emerged from a reformulation of indigenous hierarchies of gendered and erotic power consequent on their destabilization at local sites where Western and Thai gender/sex cultures intersected. The splitting of the new gay category into gendered “gay king” and “gay queen” varieties indicates the continuing power of the Thai system of identities to normativize disruptive foreign influences to local models. Given the persistent influence of gendered notions of eroticism, it may be argued that the Western categories of sexuality and sexual identity never arrived in Thailand, despite the borrowing of Western labels. In understanding the emergence of gay identity in Thailand, it is therefore important to remember historical continuities even as we draw attention to the discursive ruptures and realignments that accompanied the appearance of this new category.
Peter A. Jackson is research fellow in Thai history in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at Australian National University. He has written extensively on Buddhist history and sex and gender transformations in Thailand and is currently writing a history of gay Bangkok from the 1960s to the present. His books include Buddhism, Legitimation, and Conflict: The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism (1989) and Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand (1995).
Appendix: Two Other Homosexual (Kathoey) Crimes Reported in Late 1965
Berrigan’s murder was not the only homosexual crime to make front-page news in Bangkok in 1965. The following two stories also received prominent coverage and are examples of a relatively common type of news item involving kathoey in the 1960s. They provide insights into the homoerotic relationships between Thai men who had little or no contact with Western homosexual men or the nascent gay subculture in Bangkok. It should be kept in mind that the following accounts are represented in terms of dominant public discourses of male homoeroticism, which required one partner to be labeled kathoey and the other “man.” These reports do not necessarily reflect how the men themselves understood their relations. Neither story refers to the Berrigan case or the “gay group.” Rather, these stories reflect “pre-gay” mainstream understandings of same-sex relations.
About two months after Darrell Berrigan was murdered, the Thai Rath ran a front-page story under the banner “Indignant Kathoey Ties Self and Unfaithful Lover Up with Electric Cord, Turns On Power in Hope of Dying Together.” 94 According to the story, a twenty-year-old kathoey, Sonthaya (Anek) Pinpetch, tied up his unfaithful male lover, seventeen-year-old Uthit Srisam, with an electric cord while he slept and turned on the power, intending to kill both himself and Uthit. However, Uthit’s older brother heard the two men’s screams, rushed in, and turned off [End Page 403] the power, saving their lives. Uthit was taken to the hospital, where he recovered; Anek escaped and was still at large at the time of the press report. Apparently, Uthit and Anek had known each other for several months, and during a period of mourning after his father’s death Uthit had asked Anek to “sleep with him as a friend” [norn pen pheuan] to keep him company and to keep up his spirits. The two had then had sexual relations.
Anek was said to have completed the final year of secondary education (Matthayom 8) and to have played the role of hero or phra ek in local productions of Thai folk operas or likay. If Anek played the masculine phra ek, then he was probably not a transvestite, and so the Thai Rath’s use of the appellation kathoey to describe him should not be taken to mean that he cross-dressed; moreover, Uthit appears to have regarded him simply as a male buddy. Uthit’s request that Anek “sleep with him as a friend” had no necessary sexual connotations, since same-sex friends in Thailand commonly are physically intimate. Sharing a bed and providing emotional support in a time of distress would not in themselves have been regarded as abnormal behaviors for young male friends.
After the two had begun sleeping together, Anek became increasingly jealous of Uthit and forbade him to go out with women. According to the Thai Rath, Anek had told his friends: “I can’t live without Uthit, because I’m just so in love with him that I could die for him. But if he disappoints [i.e., deceives] me, I want us to die together.” However, as Uthit later told the reporter, “Huh, how could I love him? He’s a man, the same as me.” While Uthit had invited Anek to sleep with him and had had sex with him, he had not viewed their relationship as a romantic one, as Anek had done. Anek attempted the murder-suicide after Uthit had rejected his profession of love, and the newspaper concluded its report by describing their affair as “forbidden love [rak torng-ham] that almost led to murder” (16).
In December 1965 Phim Thai reported a kathoey murder in Khorat, about two hundred kilometers northeast of Bangkok, under the banner “Kathoey Shoots Flight Sergeant ‘Sleeping Partner’ [pheuan norn], Indignant over Squandered Money, Deserted in Love.” 95 The article also had a front-page subheading, “Headlocked, Then Shot in the Chest in Restaurant, Ordained Together Then Disrobed to Become Husband and Wife.” According to the story, a man had been chased through Khorat’s central market by another man wielding a gun. The chased man, who was much smaller, was cornered in a restaurant and placed in a headlock by his assailant, who then shot him several times at point-blank range. The murderer, thirty-year-old Narong (Choey) Phusawan, was said to be a well-known local kathoey, and the murdered man was twenty-eight-year-old Ekong-at Chang-ngam, a flight sergeant at Khorat’s air force base. Ekong-at had had an open relationship [End Page 404] with Narong as his “husband” for more than two years. 96 Narong, the son of the owner of a private school in Ubolratchathani, in northeastern Thailand, was very well off and had lived with Ekong-at at the air base. However, the newspaper claimed that Ekong-at did not really love Narong and had squandered 80,000 baht (U.S. $4,000) of his money; indeed, his profligacy had caused the fatal altercation. The previous year the two men had been ordained as Buddhist monks for the three-month Buddhist Lent or rainy season retreat at Wat Sai, in Angthorng Province in central Thailand, apparently in an attempt to patch up their relationship. However, after they had left the monkhood, they had continued to quarrel.
Immediately before the murder the two men had been on their way to a heterosexual brothel [samnak kha praweni] and had quarreled violently in the tricycle taxi. Narong had escaped the murder scene in a motor taxi and headed north toward Khon Kaen but had been apprehended by the police on the way. Phim Thai described the events as a case of “homosexuality that became murder” (15) and added, in the final sentence, that Narong was a “two-sexed man” [chai sorng-phet] who “had both types of sexual organs.” This comment, unrelated to the rest of the report, was so placed as to suggest that Narong’s unusual anatomy explained the crime of passion.
* This essay has been prepared as part of the research project “Thai Sexualities: The Emergence of Sexual Subcultures,” funded by the Australian Research Council. The essay has benefited significantly from the comments of the two reviewers, and I wish to thank them for their detailed suggestions and criticisms concerning an earlier version.
1. See Peter A. Jackson, Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand (Bangkok: Bua Luang, 1995); and Jackson, “Kathoey <> Gay <> Man: The Historical Emergence of Gay Male Identity in Thailand,” in Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson and Margaret Jolly (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 166–90.
2. See, e.g., Neil Miller, Out in the World: Gay and Lesbian Life from Buenos Aires to Bangkok (London: Penguin, 1992); Dennis Altman, “The New World of ‘Gay’ Asia,” in Asian and Pacific Inscriptions, ed. Suvendrini Perera (Melbourne: Meridian, 1995), 121–38; and Gerard Sullivan and Laurence Wai-Teng Leong, eds., Gays and Lesbians in Asia and the Pacific: Social and Human Services (New York: Harrington Park, 1995).
3. Dennis Altman, “Rupture or Continuity? The Internationalization of Gay Identities,” Social Text, no. 48 (1996): 77–94; Donald Morton, “Global (Sexual) Politics, Class Struggle, and the Queer Left,” Critical InQueeries 1, no. 3 (1997): 1–30; Dennis Altman, “Response to Donald Morton,” Critical InQueeries 1, no. 3 (1997): 31–33. For a range of responses to Altman’s notion of global queering see the July 1996 Internet edition of the Australian Humanities Review (www.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/emuse/Globalqueering).
4. Fran Martin and Chris Berry, “Queer ‘n’ Asian on the Net: Syncretic Sexualities in Taiwan and Korean Cyberspaces,” Critical InQueeries 2, no. 1 (1998): 67–94.
5. The expression “gender/sex” inverts Gayle Rubin’s influential early notion of “sex/gender system” (“Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance [Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984], 267–319) and marks the continuing priority of gender over sexuality in Thai identities. The inversion of Rubin’s term also signals my disagreement with the contention that gender and sexuality can be considered independent constructs requiring distinctive theories and modes of inquiry. See Peter A. Jackson, “An Explosion of Thai Identities: Peripheral Genders and the Limits of Queer Theory,” Critical InQueeries 2, no. 2 (forthcoming). In questioning the gender-sexuality distinction, I am indebted to Michael Connors for his comments on an earlier version of this essay and for the insights in his article “Missing Gender and the Fetishism of Sex: ‘Gay’ Responses to the Sexuality Debates,” Thamyris 2 (1995): 207–28.
6. Altman, “Rupture or Continuity?” 88.
7. Scott Bravmann, Queer Fictions of the Past: History, Culture, and Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 26.
8. Altman, “Rupture or Continuity?” 79.
9. See Garry Wotherspoon, “City of the Plain”: History of a Gay Sub-culture (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1991); Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London: Gay Men’s, 1982); Theo van der Meer, “Sodomy and the Pursuit of a Third Sex in the Early Modern Period,” in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt (New York: Zone, 1994), 137–212; and George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York: Basic, 1994).
10. David T. Evans, Sexual Citizenship: The Material Construction of Sexualities (London: Routledge, 1993), 93.
11. Jeffrey Weeks, “Discourse, Desire, and Sexual Deviance,” in The Making of the Modern Homosexual, ed. Kenneth Plummer (London: Hutchinson, 1981), 92.
12. See Peter A. Jackson, “Thai Research on Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 8 (1997): 52–85.
13. See Jackson, “Explosion of Thai Identities.”
14. The sources for this study were located largely by chance. While scanning Thai newspapers from the 1960s in the National Library of Thailand in September 1995, I came across a single reference to kathoey in a banner headline, and from that moment a paper chase took me through the Thai-language collections of libraries in Australia and the United States as well as in Thailand.
15. William Warren, Jim Thompson, the Legendary American of Thailand: The Remarkable Career and Strange Disappearance of Jim Thompson (Bangkok: Jim Thompson Silk Co., 1994), 32.
16. Alexander MacDonald, My Footloose Newspaper Life (Bangkok: Post Publishing, 1990), 98.
17. Warren, Jim Thompson, 25.
18. See Peter A. Jackson, “Tolerant but Unaccepting: The Myth of a Thai Gay Paradise,” in Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand, ed. Peter A. Jackson and Nerida Cook (Chiang Mai: Silkworm, forthcoming).
19. A range of recent studies consider hetero- and homoerotic desire in the Western imperialist project. On colonized Southeast Asia see Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995). On British India see Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The “Manly Englishman” and the “Effeminate Bengali” in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995); and Christopher Lane, The Ruling Passion: British Colonial Allegory and the Paradox of Homosexual Desire (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995). On the Mediterranean region see Robert Aldrich, The Seduction of the Mediterranean (London: Routledge, 1993). For a general study see Rudi C. Bleys, The Geography of Perversion: Male-to-Male Sexual Behaviour outside the West and the Ethnographic Imagination, 1750–1918 (London: Cassell, 1996).
20. Alexander MacDonald, Bangkok Editor (New York: Macmillan, 1950); and MacDonald, My Footloose Newspaper Life.
21. Jorges Orgibet, From Siam to Thailand: Backdrop to the Land of Smiles (Bangkok: Kofco [Thailand], 1982), 19, 21.
22. Warren, Jim Thompson, 250.
23. Bangkok Post, 4 October 1965, 18.
24. Thai Rath, 4 October 1965, 16.
25. For a detailed account of the Seri Thai during World War II that draws on U.S. sources see John B. Haseman, The Thai Resistance Movement during the Second World War (Bangkok: Chalermnit, n.d.).
26. Donald F. Cooper, Thailand: Dictatorship or Democracy? (London: Minerva, 1995), 32.
27. Bangkok Post, 4 October 1965, 18.
28. “Obituary—Prasit Lulitanon—The Presses Begin to Roll,” Bangkok Post (Internet ed.), 21 May 1997.
29. For the conflict between Phao’s and Sarit’s cliques see Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian, Thailand’s Durable Premier: Phibun through Three Decades, 1932–1957 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1995), 192–212; and David K. Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 260–62.
30. According to Prasit, in the 1970s the Bangkok World merged with the Bangkok Post; the former became an afternoon tabloid, and the latter remained a morning broadsheet. The Bangkok World closed in the 1980s because of poor sales (“Obituary—Prasit Lulitanon”).
31. “PM Pays Respects to Berrigan,” Bangkok Post, 8 October 1965, 1.
32. “Berrigan Murder Case: Police ‘Confident’ of Catching Murderer,” Bangkok World, 5 October 1965, 1, 4, 8.
33. “Complexities [in Case of] Murder of Bangkok World Editor: [U.S.] Embassy Sends In Investigators to Join in Solving the Case, Sleeping Partner’s House Searched, Foster Son Held for Tense Questioning” [Kha bk. Bangkok World sap-sorn: Sathanthut song nuay seup ruam khli-khlai khadi, khon ban khu-norn, kak luk-liang sorp khriat], Thai Rath, 5 October 1965, 1, 16.
34. “Praphas Says: ‘Murderer of Berrigan Will Be Caught Soon,’” Bangkok World, 7 October 1965, 1, 4, 8.
35. Manoj Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion: Berry Case,” Bangkok World, 9 October 1965, 4.
36. “PM Pays Respects to Berrigan,” 1; “Hundreds at Cremation Rites for Mr Berrigan,” Bangkok World, 9 October 1965, 1.
37. “Hundreds at Cremation Rites for Mr Berrigan,” 1.
38. “No New Leads in Berrigan Murder Case,” Bangkok Post, 4 October 1965, 1, 18.
39. “Kha pleuay bk. Bangkok World . . .,” Thai Rath, 4 October 1965, 1, 16. The journalese expression kha pleuay [stripped and murdered], commonly used in the headlines of stories about sex murders, implies that the victim was raped.
40. “Police Search Berrigan House,” Bangkok Post, 9 October 1965, 1.
41. Thai Rath, 4 October 1965, 16.
42. “Kathoey phoey chiwit ‘lakkaphet’ Berrigan—wa liang dek-num thana sami,” Thai Rath, 9 October 1965, 1, 16. Lakkaphet denotes cross-dressing or, more generally, impersonating the opposite sex. Strictly speaking, it describes a behavior rather than an identity, although in 1960s Thai journalese it was sometimes used as a synonym for kathoey. In contrast, kathoey denotes an identity, not merely cross-dressing behavior, and covers a range of phenomena variously called transgenderism, transsexuality, and homosexuality in Western discourses.
43. Manoj Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion,” Bangkok World, 5 October 1965, 4.
44. “Today’s Thai Headlines,” Bangkok Post, 7 October 1965, 2; “Tam-la ‘kathoey’ phok peun khadi kha bk. farang—khon Bangkok World ha lak-than—phoey phon-phisut ‘thawan’ chofer mai phop cheua asuji,” Thai Rath, 7 October 1965, 1, 16.
45. Manoj, “Thai Press Opinion,” 4.
46. “Today’s Thai Headlines,” Bangkok Post, 8 October 1965, 3. The second headline appears to refer to a story, run in the Thai-language Siam Nikorn and summarized in the Bangkok World’s report of the Thai press, about Interpol’s involvement in the inquiries: “A member of Interpol who had wanted to examine two transvestites at a local hotel at 1.00 am Friday had given 200 Baht to them as hotel tariff; but they had made good their escape with the money” (Manoj Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion: Berry Case,” Bangkok World, 10 October 1965, 4). In the tense drama of finding the killer, this event provided a moment of comic relief: Thai press sympathies lay with the wily Thai kathoey, who had hoodwinked the dimwitted farang investigators.
47. Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion: Berry Case,” Bangkok World, 9 October 1965, 4.
48. “Kathoey phoey chiwit ‘lakkaphet’ Berrigan,” 1, 16.
49. Bangkok World, 5 October 1965, 1, 4, 8; Thai Rath, 5 October 1965, 1, 16.
50. “Berrigan Case—Murder Mystery Remains Unsolved,” Bangkok World, 6 October 1965, 1; “30,000 Baht Reward Offered: Chasing the Farang Editor’s Murderer, Police Investigate ‘Homosexual’ Clues” [Tang sin-bon sam meun—la khatakorn kha bk. farang, tr. sorp pom “rak-ruam-phet”], Siam Nikorn, 6 October 1965, 1, 8.
51. Thai Rath, 7 October 1965, 16.
52. Siam Nikorn, 9 October 1965, 8; Thai Rath, 9 October 1965, 16.
53. Thai Rath, 9 October 1965, 16.
54. Pers. com., 14 February 1997. The informant requests anonymity.
55. “Berrigan Killer to Re-enact Crime,” Bangkok Post, 14 October 1965, 1; “Berrigan Murder Case to Be Wrapped Up Soon,” Bangkok World, 19 October 1965, 1.
56. “‘Meu-peun’ kha bk. farang jon mum, tamruat tam jap dai thang kaeng phrorm ‘peun marana,’ saraphap ying khana ‘fak rak’ Berrigan,” Thai Rath, 14 October 1965, 1, 16.
57. “Berrigan Murder Probe: Accused Would ‘Kill for Pittance,’” Bangkok Post, 16 October 1965, 1.
58. Andrew Harris, Bangkok after Dark (New York: MacFadden-Bartell, 1968), 82.
59. Bangkok Post, 14 October 1965, 1.
60. “Berrigan Murder Case: Killer’s Associates Revise Statements,” Bangkok World, 20 October 1965, 1, 8.
61. “Berrigan Killer Confesses Crime,” Bangkok World, 14 October 1965, 8; Thai Rath, 14 October 1965, 16.
62. Thai Rath, 14 October 1965, 16.
63. “Killer Re-enacts Crime: Berrigan Murder Motive Still Mystery to Police,” Bangkok World, 15 October 1965, 1, 8.
64. “Berrigan Murder Case Closed,” Bangkok World, 22 December 1965, 1.
65. One expatriate American who knew Berrigan in Bangkok (see n. 54) reflected on the fates of Berrigan’s adopted sons and the murderers: “One [son] inherited the World and is now, I believe, resident in the U.S., while the other rose to a quite high position in the government and recently retired. . . . Since the murderers were not executed, I would guess they have been released by now.”
66. Thai Rath, 9 October 1965, 16.
67. Thai Rath, 17 October 1965, 3.
68. “Wanted Evidence Not Found, Names of Two Soi Leucha Kathoey Released” [Mai phop lak-than thi torng-kan, phoey cheu 2 kathoey soi leucha], Thai Rath, 10 October 1965, 1, 16.
69. The borrowed English term grade is used here as a synonym for chan, or “class.”
70. In some 1960s press reports kathoey is used before people’s names as a gendered title in association with other gendered titles, such as nai [Mr.], nang [Mrs.], and nang-sao [Miss], which indicates that it was seen as a distinct gender category alongside normative masculine and feminine identities.
71. I wish to thank Nerida Cook for her observation that age, class, and other hierarchies helped define one’s positioning as a kathoey.
72. Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion: Berry Case,” Bangkok World, 10 October 1965, 4; Manoj Vudha, “Thai Press Opinion: Berry’s Murder,” Bangkok World, 11 October 1965, 4.
73. “Tr. kwat kathoey sorp—khlai pom khadi kha bk. farang,” Siam Nikorn, 5 October 1965, 1, 7, 8.
74. Thai Rath, 9 October 1965, 16.
75. Here the two males labeled kathoey are nevertheless given the masculine gender title nai [Mr.]. By contrast, the report noted above assigns two other masculine males the title kathoey. The inconsistency in assigned gender titles in different press reports further indicates the confusion in representing these men.
76. Thai Rath, 7 October 1965, 16. Phu-chai khai tua may be translated either as “men who sell their bodies” or as “men who sell themselves.” The expression khai tua, “to sell one’s body/oneself,” was already widely used in the 1960s to describe female prostitutes.
77. I learned that this expression was subcultural argot when my use of it during a seminar at Chiang Mai University in 1994 elicited laughter from the mainly heterosexual Thai audience. When I asked why, the response was that it sounded funny [plaek di] because it was an unfamiliar play on the well-known expression phu-ying khai tua [lit. “a woman who sells her body”], widely used to describe female sex workers.
78. “Thai Rath phop laeng ‘phu-chai khai tua’—mi samachik ruam 200, rai-dai sung,” Thai Rath, 11 October 1965, 1, 2, 16.
79. Thai script is phonetic, and in transcriptions of borrowed words each letter of the English alphabet is usually represented by a corresponding Thai letter. Even a silent letter, such as the h in John, is preserved in Thai spellings; a superscript karan indicates that it is not pronounced. The first Thai spelling of gay was a letter-by-letter transcription of the English, with the y marked by a karan.
80. “Arayachon nai mum meut,” Thai Rath, 15 October 1965, 3.
81. See Peter A. Jackson, “Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism in the Thai Buddhist Tradition,” in Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists, ed. Winston Leyland (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine, 1998), 55–89.
82. Thai Rath, 16 October 1965, 3.
83. “Medical Circles” [Wong-kan phaet], “Researching ‘Kathoey,’ Solving the Homosexual Problem” [Wijai “kathoey,” kae panha rak-ruam-phet], Siam Nikorn, 18 October 1965, 1; Bang Yikhan, “Achip mai haeng num Thai,” Siam Nikorn, 1 December 1965, 4.
84. Si-siat, “Hai phuak ‘gay’ rawang tua ja don ruap rew-rew ni,” Thai Rath, 17 October 1965, 3, 11.
85. “Ruap klum num rap-jang pen phua phu-chai, saraphap farang niyom, tang kaeng mua-sum nap roi riak ‘chomrom gay’ dai deuan 2–3 phan,” Phim Thai, 25 November 1965, 1. The term chomrom denotes an association of professionals or those with similar interests or backgrounds. The young male prostitutes seem to have used this formal term ironically, lending an air of respectability and status to their marginal lifestyles.
86. “Riak tua kaeng ‘gay’ ma op-rom, phoey nak-seuksa suan mak ruam 200,” Phim Thai, 25 November 1965, 1.
87. Scot Barmé, “Towards a Social History of Bangkok: Gender, Class, and Popular Culture in the Siamese Capital, 1905–1940” (Ph.D. diss., Australian National University, 1998); Rachel Harrison, “The Madonna and the Whore: Self/Other Tensions in the Characterisation of the Prostitute by Thai Female Authors,” in Jackson and Cook, Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand.
88. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1978).
89. See Jackson, “Kathoey <> Gay <> Man,” 166–90.
90. For a detailed account of “king”-“queen” relations see Jackson, Dear Uncle Go, 24.
91. See Jackson, Dear Uncle Go, 255–57.
92. John D’Emilio, Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (New York: Routledge, 1992); Evans, Sexual Citizenship; Morton, “Global (Sexual) Politics,” 1–30; Connors, “Missing Gender and the Fetishism of Sex.” I am especially grateful to Connors for his comments on the relationship between capitalism and the masculinization of male homosexual identities in recent decades.
93. Altman, “Rupture or Continuity?” 91.
94. “Kathoey khaen faen nork-jai chai sai fai phan tua-eng lae chu-rak ploi krasae fai khao tua wang tai khu kan,” Thai Rath, 28 November 1965, 1, 16.
95. “Kathoey ying thing ja-akat ek ‘pheuan norn’ khaen phlan ngern phla rak—lork khor jor ying ok nai ran-ahan, buat phrorm kan laew seuk ma pen phua-mia,” Phim Thai, 10 December 1965, 1, 15.
96. None of the Thai armed forces has ever barred homosexually active men from enlisting or attaining officer rank.