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Queer Bangkok

21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights

Peter A. Jackson

Publication Year: 2011

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

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Contributors

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pp. vii-ix

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A Note on Thai Transcription and Citation of Thai Names

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pp. xi-

There is no generally agreed system of representing Thai in roman script, and all current systems have some limitations. In this book we follow a modified version of the Thai Royal Institute system. This system makes no distinction between long and short vowel forms; and tones are not represented. We differ slightly from the Royal Institute system as follows: “j” is used for the Thai ...

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Queer Bangkok after the Millennium: Beyond Twentieth-Century Paradigms

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pp. 1-14

Sexual and gender cultures change constantly in response to shifts in social, political, and economic forces. This book details major changes that have taken place in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) cultures and communities in Bangkok in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The capital of Thailand since 1782, Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis of more than ...

I - Markets and Media in Bangkok’s Queer Cultural Transformations

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1 - Bangkok’s Early Twenty-First-Century Queer Boom

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pp. 17-42

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

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2 - Competing Cultures of Masculinity When Thai Transgender Bodies Go Through Muay Thai

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pp. 43-57

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

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3 - Back in the Spotlight: The Cinematic Regime of Representation of Kathoeys and Gay Men in Thailand

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pp. 59-80

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

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4 - Loves of Siam: Contemporary Thai Cinema and Vernacular Queerness

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pp. 81-98

Under its current entry for “Cinema in Thailand”, Wikipedia (2010), the popular, open-content on-line encyclopedia, lists a total of eleven genres that it says are central to the industrial and aesthetic economies of modern Thai film. Of the eleven, the genre with the longest, most detailed sub-entry—and, not incidentally, the only one to have a hyperlinked cross-reference to a separate entry of its own—is “Gay Films”.

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5 - Encounters in the Sauna: Exploring Gay Identity and Power Structures in Gay Places in Bangkok1

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pp. 99-117

As a young, gay-identified Filipino who first visited Bangkok in 2002, my initiation into the gay life of the Thai capital came with a visit to the globally famous sauna, The Babylon.2 The images that played in my mind at the time overwhelmed me: the multi-storey building in Mediterranean-style and incorporating a hotel, gym, pool, restaurant, theme/fantasy rooms; an organized business operation that employed upward of twenty individuals.

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6 - Cyberspace, Power Structures, and Gay Sexual Health: The Sexuality of Thai Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in the Camfrog On-line Web-cam Chat Rooms

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pp. 121-140

In the era of globalization, the Internet strongly influences the lifestyles and behaviour of Thais in both their working and private lives. In particular, many Thai youths and young adults incorporate these technologies into their lives, behaviours, self-identities, and thinking, so adopting technological innovations to seek time and space to explore their identities and life experiences in virtual domains. One of the technologies they use is Camfrog.

II - Queer Bangkok in Twenty-First-Century Global and Regional Flows

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7 - The Romance of the Amazing Scalpel: “Race”, Labour, and Affect in Thai Gender Reassignment Clinics

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pp. 143-162

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

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8 - Bangkok’s Beautiful Men: Images of Thai Liberality in an Indonesian Gay Novel

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pp. 163-179

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

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9 - Speaking of Bangkok: Thailand in the History of Gay Singapore

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pp. 181-192

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

III: LGBT Activism, Rights, and Autonomy in Thailand

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10 - Capitalism, LGBT Activism, and Queer Autonomy in Thailand

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pp. 195-204

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

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11 - The Language of Rights, Deviance, and Pleasure: Organizational Responses to Discourses of Same-Sex Sexuality and Transgenderism in Thailand

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pp. 205-228

When describing a cultural or societal pattern of beliefs, it is tempting to slip into a singular narrative. Ascribing a set of attitudes or beliefs to a cultural area reinforces the idea of a discrete, almost organism-like entity that has unity, coherence, and defined borders such that the cultural entity can be compared with other, similarly discrete entities. This model, popular in early anthropology in the form of structural-functional or cultural-personality approaches, ...

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12 - The Rainbow Lobby: The Sexual Diversity Network and the Military-Installed Government in Thailand

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pp. 229-250

Twenty years ago, observers described a Thai paradox. Thailand, it seemed, had a relaxed attitude towards homosexuality. There were no anti-homosexual laws. Gay host bars, discos, saunas, and massage parlours functioned openly. Gay bars paid off the police to operate, just as straight bars did. Transgender kathoeys were visible and were understood to be part of Thai society. There was no apparent ban on homosexuals taking government jobs or serving in the military.

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13 - Transpeople (Khon kham-phet) in Thailand: Transprejudice, Exclusion, and the Presumption of Mental Illness1

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pp. 251-267

Gender identity variance (a person’s identification as belonging to a gender other than that into which he or she was allocated at birth) appears to be a crosscultural and trans-historical aspect of human diversity; people of gender variant identity have been present in many societies across many historical periods. In the past, such people were often mistakenly labelled as “hermaphrodites”, even when their physiologies were indubitably male or female. In recent decades, gender-variant people in the West have come to be called transsexual, sometimes transgender, often more informally as “transpeople”.

Notes

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pp. 269-283

A Glossary of Thai LGBT Terms

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pp. 285-286

Bibliography

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pp. 287-301

Index

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pp. 303-308


E-ISBN-13: 9789888053728
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888083046

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 12 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Queer Asia