There is a lot of confusion among westerners about Thai sexuality, mostly because we like to put labels on everything. Thais don’t think about sex in terms of sexuality, or labels. In fact, there is no word in the Thai vocabulary for gay or bisexual.
The closest thing to a Thai word for gay is kathoey, which is often referred to as ladyboy in English. Traditionally, kathoey means a third gender (woman of another kind) rather than a category of sexuality. Today, a large percentage of the population still views kathoey as a third sex, including many kathoeys themselves. Others see them as either a kind of man or a kind of woman. Even when kathoey is used to describe sexuality it only refers to effeminate [gay] males, who may be considered a transgender in the making. More about that later.
In the larger cities, where western gay influence is prominent, most English speaking boys know what gay means, but they may not understand straight or bisexual. More likely, even with males that poses minimal English skills, the term “man” or “man man” will be used to claim they are straight. I said claim they are straight, because in Thailand if you can pass for straight you are straight. Of the three, bisexual is least understood, because most bisexual males poses straight mannerisms and therefore are straight (man).
Like so many things in “The Land of Denials” it’s all about appearances rather than reality. Males in Thailand that appear to be straight are straight, regardless of what goes on behind closed doors. Most parents, particularly mothers, tend to be understanding and supportive of their gay son, but only to a point. Typically the boy is still expected to maintain appearances so the family won’t be shamed. This often results in the boy being pressured to marry and have children. In addition there is the concern over maintaining the family unit where children take care of their parents and parents take care of the grandparents, so skipping a generation could be devastating. On the other hand, many parents conclude that if their son does not have the burden of raising a family he will have much more financial freedom to take care of them in their twilight years. Regardless of how accepting a gay boy’s parents are, and how straight acting their son is, he will most likely relocate so he doesn’t have to maintain appearances on a daily basis, or risk bringing shame to his family because he can’t hide that he’s gay.
An option, for those that cannot pass for straight, is to become kathoey. While there is a prejudice toward kathoeys, society isn’t nearly as harsh toward them as they are with openly feminine [gay] males. Consequently, a very large percentage of effeminate boys, begin taking female hormones in their early teens. By the time they discover that openly gay males can live a reasonably normal life, in places like Bangkok and Pattaya, the physical damage has already been done.
In larger cities, the word gay has made its way into the Thai vocabulary, but it is still unlikely to be recognized in rural areas of the country. A couple of other labels we westerners have introduced are “gay king” and “gay queen”. I doubt many Thais would recognize them outside the sex tourism areas of Thailand. For those who do, they are interpreted as being either top and bottom or masculine and feminine. The more common of the two is top and bottom, because bottoms are not always fem and tops can be. What I find interesting is many boys will interpret gay to mean versatile (can do anything) when used in context with king (top) and queen (bottom). Of course, it depends on the individual, but from my observations a large percentage of the Thai [gay] population make use of these labels only when conversing with westerners. The more rural thinking a boy is the less likely he will have any use for these terms that are completely outside his mind set.
The thing to understand about males in Thailand, particularly with those that are younger and from the lower classes, is to them sex is sex. They may have a preference for women and they may only top, but under the right circumstances a horny Thai boy will fuck another horny Thai boy and think nothing of it. Their only concern will be about discretion, which all Thais understand and accommodate.
When they are done working and just hanging out for the evening, bring a bottle of cheap whisky to a construction site and share it with the guys. Before the night is over at least one of the boys will be willing to follow you home. For one or two hundred baht he’ll be more than happy to drop his pants and let you suck his dick. The boy lives in a communal environment where he probably can’t even jack off in private, so it could be the first time he’s gotten his rocks off in month, plus he gets a little cash. As long as the boys back at the construction site don’t know, it’s all good! Truth is the other guys probably do have their suspensions about what happened, but nothing will be said. He’s still a man, because he acts like a man, and that’s the only thing that matters.
I have a farang friend that’s been banging a Thai boy for many years. Now the guy is in his early thirties and has a wife and two kids. He’s still fucking the boy two or three times a month and occasionally gives him five hundred or a thousand baht. The guy has a wife and kids, so he’s straight, but it doesn’t stop him from throwing his legs in the air for a little drinking money.
I have been seeing a boy most of the 6 years I’ve lived in Thailand. He doesn’t try and hide from me that he’s as comfortable having sex with a girl as he is with a boy. He claims to prefer boys, only because it’s easier to fuck them and leave them. Most farang and Thai that know him have no idea he regularly bangs other boys and he goes out of his way to maintain that straight image. It would not surprise me to learn that the only reason he sees girls occasionally is to reaffirm, with his buddies, that he’s “man man”.
One night we were drinking at a bar where a kathoey friend of his worked. The two had grown up together, but until that night the kathoey friend had no idea he was gay/bi. Later he explained to me that back home the kathoey had only ever seen him with girlfriends and his activities with other boys was done discreetly. Because his mannerisms are that of a straight boy there would be no reason for even a kathoey to suspect he walks both sides of the fence.
One night we were drinking in the room and one of his [straight] friends was there. Once everyone was drunk, the two decided it would be great fun to strip naked and jack off. They would not touch each other, because in Thailand friends do not have sex. But they had no problem standing face-to-face while beating off. On another evening the two boys, a young farang friend of mine and I were socializing in the room, with a bottle of whisky. Before the evening was over my farang friend and the [straight] boy had slipped into the shower for some fun.
For many years I’ve known a very straight acting boy that works at one of the bars in Soi Twilight (BKK). He has a girlfriend but is known to go home with farangs on occasion, if paid. One night I was at his bar drinking with a very cute Thai friend of mine. The [straight] boy took an immediate shine to him and made no effort to hide it. Before the night was over they had sex and my friend topped him.
Farang come here thinking they are offing a straight boy that’s gay 4 pay. In reality it’s not about being gay 4 pay. It’s about having sex for money. Most farang are too old and fat to qualify for anything more than a paying customer, but it doesn’t mean the boy only has sex with guys if he’s getting cash in return. If asked, he will tell you he’s straight, because he believes he is. He may even have a girlfriend, but that won’t stop him from hopping in the sack with another male, because sex is sex.
Thais recognize that westerners need to look at sex in terms of sexuality and label everything. So they do their best to accommodate us in conversation about it. This leads us to believe their thinking is in line with ours, but it’s really more about them telling us what we want to hear.