Thailand is well known internationally for the size and vibrancy of its diverse and highly visible gay, lesbian and trans (kathoey) communities. In comparative studies of the histories of modern gay communities in Asian metropolises, such as Tokyo, Taipei and Bangkok, there has been considerable debate about whether local factors have been the driving forces in the rise of new same-sex cultures or whether Asian societies have borrowed or imported these novel cultural forms from the West. In this article, we argue that in the later decades of the 20th century, Bangkok’s gay bars and magazines were significant local influences in the development of modern patterns of homoeroticism and gay culture in Thailand. We use Thailand’s first commercially successful gay magazine, Mithuna Junior, as a source of historical information to understand the emergence of social and commercial connections between gay bars and urban middle-class gay men in Bangkok during the 1980s and 1990s. As Thailand’s market economy grew rapidly from the 1980s, the size of the middle class and the urban area of Bangkok both expanded significantly. During this period, gay bars and commercial Thai-language gay magazines created both real and virtual social spaces for middle-class homosexual men to explore their sexual and romantic lives and to develop an enhanced sense of sexual identity based on same-sex preference. In this highly dynamic situation, the editors and publishers of Mithuna Junior magazine collaborated with gay bars to produce new forms of homoerotic consumption and socialisation in which gay patron-client relationships based on class stratification developed as a dominant pattern in modernised capitalist Thailand. The distinctiveness of Thailand’s modern class-structured gay culture reflects the fact that it has emerged from the local conditions of Thai capitalism and domestic Thai-language print media.
|Journal of the Siam Society
|Published - 2021