Life with a gay Asian friend will go more smoothly if you understand certain differences.
Western men who visit gay bars or other gay venues in Thailand will readily meet Thais who speak enough English to socialize. Moreover, these Thai men are eager to meet you. Sooner than expected, you may find yourself socializing with new friends, or even dating on a level that involves more than a trip back to the hotel room.
Any Thai who speaks enough English to carry on a conversation with you probably understands western customs to some extent. But he’ll still be more comfortable if you understand, and respect, his* own culture and customs.
Some of the customs below apply only to dating, others will be relevant in a variety of other social situations as well.
You’re the social superior. The notion of dating someone on a non-equal basis is tough for most Americans to swallow, but in Thailand, the concept of social superiority is too ingrained to be ignored. (See the Social Hierarchy page.) This doesn’t mean you treat your partner shabbily. And in bed, everything can change. But on a date, it’s assumed that you’ll pay. (If a Thai invites you, and offers to pay, that’s fine; but don’t expect it.)
Don’t initiate public demonstrations of affection. No kissing. No holding hands. (Granted, straight male friends may hold hands or walk arm-in-arm in Thailand! But everyone reads the situation differently when it involves a western man and a Asian man.) Let your friend set the pace for what’s acceptable and comfortable.
Compliment often; never criticize. If you must make a comment that might be construed as “constructive criticism” in the U.S., do it subtly, and balance it with compliments. Far better to just compliment.
Don’t compare your country favorably to Thailand. Such comments would be rude in any country; they seem particularly boorish in Thailand. In general, don’t boast, brag, or act superior about anything.
Dress well. Dress reflects status. Long pants, and clean, pressed clothes, are expected of someone in your position.
Be generous. This, like dressing neatly, is expected of someone of your status.
Make way for little differences. Your new boyfriend may use your toothbrush, leave pools of water on the floor after a shower, wear your clothes without asking, or leave footprints on the toilet seat. None of these acts is unusual by Thai standards, and there’s no reason to object to them. (After that kiss, you think it’s unsanitary to share a toothbrush!?)
Be prepared to be sniffed! Sniffing someone’s cheek shows intimacy.
Don’t be surprised by unannounced visits. Thai people commonly drop in on friends without notice. While they’re more likely to do this with other Thai friends than with a westerner in a hotel, it could still happen. If so, do your best to at least make time for a drink; then you can explain that “this isn’t a good time for a longer visit,” should that be the case. Wouldn’t it be awkward if you’re entertaining this week’s boyfriend when last week’s date drops in? Yes, indeed. But sufficiently common that the Thais have a term for this situation: It’s called a train crash. Respect each man’s feelings and his need to “save face,” and move along.
There will be occasions when it’s appropriate to make exceptions to many of these rules, but let a Thai friend guide the way in determining those occasions.
Meeting Gay Men and Developing Relationships
Thais are friendly people. They like Americans, and they’re eager to introduce you to their country. They’re also shy, and most will hesitate to start a conversation with a westerner. It’s up to you to break the ice, but once you do, the rewards are great.
Gay Americans are pleasantly surprised to discover that regardless of their physical appearance, they’re likely to be considered more attractive by gay men in Thailand than in the U.S.
If so, great! Play safe and enjoy yourself. But as you get accustomed to this very different world, it may help to ponder a few thoughts in advance.
Take time to get to know the scene
Thais tend to be shy with westerners. In a gay disco, cafe, bar, or sauna, many men may look your way, but only a few – if that – are likely to actually approach you – be it for a quickie, a date, or more. It can be tempting to accept the first appealing offer that comes along.
This is your vacation. Spend it as you like! But please let us point out a couple considerations.
First, the man who makes an aggressive approach probably ends up with quite a few sex partners. We hope you’re taking all the appropriate precautions against AIDS, but many other sexually-transmitted diseases are out there. Who do you think is most likely to give you an unwanted souvenir of Thailand – the guy who comes on strong, or the one who shyly smiles at you, but waits for you to make the first move?
Second, a Thai man who aggressively comes on to you has already adapted heavily to western ways. Odds are, after quite a few American and European partners, he’ll have picked many of our customs. Nothing wrong with that, and it could make your date go more smoothly. But if you’re eager to see and understand a different culture, you’re more likely to get that experience when you’re the one to start up a conversation with a new friend.
Keep expectations in line
After two dates, you may suspect that your Thai friend is hoping for a far longer and more serious relationship that you are. That’s not uncommon. Be flattered, but in fairness to him, try to gently but firmly explain what’s realistic from your perspective.
By all means, exchange emails if you’d like to stay in touch. Think twice before giving out your phone number. It’s a drag to be awakened in the middle of the night (mid-afternoon in Thailand) by a former date asking for money for an emergency.
Is he after love … or just money?
You’ve had several dates with a man. He seems genuinely in love with you, eager to make you happy, eager to be with you. Then, out of nowhere, he asks you for money for some purpose. Is that all he ever wanted?
No. At least, not in the vast majority of cases.
Here in the U.S., we like things black and white. We draw a firm line between lovers and golddiggers. In Thailand this distinction, like many others, is far less clear. Chances are, all the emotions your friend has shown were genuine and heart-felt. But you have more wealth than he can dream of. In Thai culture, it’s normal and expected that the person of higher status will show generosity to a partner.
And honestly, is this so different from how we behave in the USA? Suppose you met an attractive, personable man, and had a few enjoyable dates with him. Then you discover that he’s fabulously wealthy and could support you in great comfort for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t your heartfelt feelings for him get just a little bit stronger? Does that make you a golddigger?
Ultimately, romantic relationships are always a complex mix of physical attraction, personal chemistry, and some practical considerations. The mix may be different, or may express itself differently, in Thailand, but that’s no reason to break off an otherwise enjoyable friendship. Show some of the generosity that is appropriate in this context, and be clear, but tactful, about your limits.
*We use the male pronoun because this page is compiled primarily from the experiences of gay men, and we expect it to be largely read and used by gay men. The advice is generally, but not entirely relevant for lesbians, and we welcome comments from women travelers about their experiences meeting and socializing with other women in Thailand.