A Guide for the Nervous Heterosexual Men in Thailand
If you are from a somewhat modernized place in America or Europe, you most likely have realized that homosexuality is a huge part of our culture and whether you like it or not it is something you have to live with. Personally, I see nothing wrong with people living their lives the way they wish. Being a heterosexual male in Thailand, however, might come with a few shocks you are not used to back at home, and even if you are not homophobic you may find your comfort level tested.
This testing of norms and your perceived status quo is all part of experiencing other cultures, of course, but here are some things to keep in mind.
The Feminine Thai Male
One of the first things you will notice in Thai culture is that many of the men are more feminine than men in Western culture, and in fact, if personal observation is to believed, there is a much higher population of homosexual people of both sexes in the population.
Couple this feminine quality with the extremely friendly nature of the Thai, especially once they have taken a liking to you, and it is not a rare thing to find yourself wondering if the man talking to you with the big friendly smile on his face might not be coming on to you.
Don’t jump to the conclusion that every man who is a little effeminate and friendly at the same time is hitting on you…in fact, don’t even jump to the conclusion that every gay man who is friendly to you is hitting on you…that’s not the way the world works.
If you are unsure and just want to get it out on the table, say something about a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. Comment on a cute woman you see walking by. These simple, subtle hints—while possibly obvious—will at least get the point across.
You can also just ask the man if he has a girlfriend and see what he says, or (shocker of all shockers…), just straight out ask him if he is gay in a polite, curious way.
In this day and age, most homosexual men see no reason to hide who they are (as they should feel), and this is particularly true in Thailand where it comes with so much less of a stigma. Even if he is indeed heterosexual, he is much less likely to be offended and has probably heard it before.
The Hand on the Leg
One behavior you might also find yourself questioning quite a bit in Thailand is when you are deep in conversation with a Thai man and he has his hand on your leg while he is talking to you. They might even nonchalantly grab your hand (sometimes simply as an extended handshake that doesn’t want to end).
This is not a sexual come-on; it’s a cultural thing. Thai men just tend to be a little more affectionate with other men and unless he is really getting frisky towards you, don’t read too much into it.
While modern Western men do try to be a little open-minded, however, it’s understandable, given your own cultural upbringing, that a man’s hand on your leg in the middle of a conversation might be uncomfortable for you and even distract you from listening. If so, find an excuse to move, perhaps to reach for something, interrupting and breaking his state so he moves his hand.
Either that or, if his English really good, just explain to him that Western men don’t really do that and it makes you a little uncomfortable.
Just choosing to get over it might bring discomfort but in the long run it may be the best option.
The Ladyboy Scene
Thailand is especially well-known for its ladyboys, who are basically transvestites or transsexuals. They are quite convincing in this part of the world, and many foreigners even say the ladyboys are the best-looking women in Thailand (personally I think this statement has more to do with the fact that ladyboys dress, act, and sport the curves of the more sexualized, slightly masculine ideal of women shown in pop American culture).
As a foreigner, it is important to know that you will often be a target for ladyboys. If you find yourself a little curious, hey, that’s your prerogative, but also realize that many ladyboys are heavily involved in the drug scene. Many even make their living tricking, robbing, and sometimes assaulting unsuspecting farang men.
In some of the island regions, the ladyboys can be quite aggressive in the clubs, and may even grab you where you don’t want to be grabbed as you walk by. Simple push their hand away, smile (always a good response in Thailand), and ask them to stop in a mellow voice. If they persist, just keep walking.
Don’t ever try to fight a ladyboy—no matter how violated you feel! Many of them grew up fighting in the streets and are seasoned, dangerous fighters. Not to mention they will most likely fight in packs…using weapons.
Most ladyboys are easy to spot once you’ve gotten used to being in Thailand but be a little wearier when you’re fresh off the plane. If you’re having trouble figuring it out, look for the Adam’s apple, though this can sometimes be “shaved” as well.
Most of them, however, are pretty decent people, and they will often just tell you if you have the brass to ask. Don’t worry too much if you get it wrong…the taller, more masculine women in the types of clubs where ladyboys typically hang out are used to the question.
If asking her is awkward for you, ask the opinion of a Thai friend.
A Special Kind of Massage
Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, the gentlemen are treated to yet another special treat that the ladies have the misfortune of missing out on. The urinal massage.
Before you start thinking this is something kinky, it’s not what you think, but it can indeed be unnerving if you don’t expect it. In higher class nightclubs frequented by Thais, there are often a pack of men working the men’s restroom. And when you walk up to the urinal to take a piss, they will come up and start giving you a shoulder rub.
To an unexpecting heterosexual man from abroad, this can lead to some punches almost getting thrown, but that’s the last way you want to respond (unless you want to get tossed out of the back of a nightclub on your teeth). This is why I’m warning you now.
Unless you want to sample what it’s like to have a shoulder massage while emptying your tank (a tip will be expected), just say no thanks—“mai ao khrab.” If you don’t want to deal with the problem at all, just take a leak in the sit-down stall with the door closed.