The attempt to create a community based on shared sexual orientation is a unique historical and cultural undertaking, and one which has been crucial in Western countries, enabling gays and lesbians to become a political movement and demand their rights. However, the notion of gay community raises a number of challenging questions when applied to other settings. Is gay identity merely an invention taken up by gays and lesbians in the modern West? Does it have a role to play in cultures that may not share the same sense of homosexuality as identity? What becomes of the gay/lesbian political movement if we openly acknowledge that multiple sexualities exist, and that 'gay' and 'lesbian' does not signify 'a people' but a 'sometimes behaviour?'
In this paper, I will focus attention on the social constructions of gender and sexuality in Thailand, and the discourses and institutional contexts within which these are located. My intent is not to define gender differences in talk, nor to characterise how gender/sexuality is 'done' in interaction. Rather, I want to explore the ways Thais talk about sexuality itself and the ways that sexual identity is performed in order to show how some Thai men and women are contesting and resisting hetero-normative labelling. In so doing, I will challenge the relevance of 'gay' and 'community' to Thai contexts.
This paper is part of a larger research study exploring the discursive and sexual practices surrounding bar-based male sex work in Bangkok, Thailand. A number of premises have motivated my interest in Thai male sex work: first, that homosexual practice has been a muted presence in the Thai HIIV/Aids campaign and in the discourse surrounding HIV/Aids. Second, that this discursive silence marginalises male sex workers because, in order to understand the social contexts of male sex work, we need to be able to talk openly about both male-male sex and male prostitution. Third, that research on Thai male sex work has tended to focus on individual issues, such as demographics or reasons for entering sex work, rather than on contextual issues, such as the interactions between sex workers and their clients; or to the way in which male sex work is socially constructed. My interest in the topic was prompted further by studies reporting that the majority of Thai male sex workers do not homosexually identify, are behaviourally bisexual, and compartmentalise their commercial and recreational encounters. What was I, a gay-identified Western man, to make of this? After all, the workers were having sex with men. Should I concern myself with sexual behaviour or with identity?
The need to unravel sex, gender identity and gender roles, patterns of sexual behaviour and sexual meaning, and to move away from the confinement of binary gender categories is well-noted. Freudian and empiricist accounts of sexuality have tended to view sexuality as fixed or intrinsic states, in which masculinity and femininity are merely the active and passive forms of the same sexual drive. By contrast, social constructionist theory views social structures as neither unitary nor cohesive: rather, rules and norms may be and are contested, and social structures may be and are transformed. Gagnon and Simon and Plummer, for example, begin with the understanding that sexual meanings are social products situated within larger socio-historical formations. These are neither given nor fixed, but are continually 'worked at', and negotiated through interaction. Thus, while individual actors learn and enact 'sexual scripts,' they also contest and re-shape the 'rules of play'. Agency is central here for it is the intended and unintended consequences of human action that reproduce and transform social structures.
Discourse theory adds a further dimension, emphasising how discursive practices act as regulating functions that produce distinct social realities. Nevertheless, as Rosemary Pringle notes, the stress on power relations and the ways in which subject positions are produced allows no pre-existing actors. James Gee offers a way forward here. arguing that each discourse in a society is 'owned' and 'operated' by a socioculturally defined group of people who play various 'roles' and give various 'performances' within it. Further, each discourse is normative in that it involves ways of talking, acting, interacting, valuing and believing which, in turn, display membership in a particular social practice.
Such discourse communities are not ideologically innocent, however, but are organised around the production and legitimation of particular forms of knowledge and social practices at the expense of others. Nor are they transparent, and it is the aim of critical discourse analysis to attempt to unmask what is naturalised and taken for granted within particular discourses, and to locate the structures, strategies and other properties of text, talk, verbal interaction or communicative events which play a role in the modes of reproduction of power. Further, the discursive reproduction of dominance has two major dimensions, namely that of production and reception, so that social power may be jointly produced. Thus, an analysis of strategies of resistance and challenge are as important in understanding actual power and dominance relations in society as the discursive strategies employed by the elite to maintain inequality.
What all of this means, is that forms of discourse which express ideology must be viewed, not only as socially and historically situated practice, but also as linguistic constructions which display an articulated structure. While it is individuals who use and create discourse to construct, reinforce and critique social roles, there are also whole sets of linguistic, semantic and pragmatic exclusions, the meanings that are unwelcome and non-functional in given contexts.
In this paper, I will attend to the 'censorship' inherent in the linguistic production of gender and sexuality in Thai social contexts by examining two critical events. The first event was a ban announced in December 1996 on gays and lesbians entering into Thai Primary School Teachers Colleges (Rajabhat Teachers Colleges). The ban was not rescinded until almost a year later, and I will look specifically at the way Thai lesbians and gay men organised themselves around and resisted the ban. I will also put to question stereotypes that suggest Thailand is accepting of different sexualities. The second event was the appearance in Bangkok in February 1998 of a young kick boxer, sporting nail polish and lipstick. I will examine this event as a site that created havoc with traditional performances of gender and sexuality. I will also look at how Thai lesbians and gay men are reconstructing the Thai language in order to name their sexual orientation. I will then turn my attention to notions of gay identification and community attachment, and examine their relevance to Asian contexts. I will argue against the uncritical application of Western paradigms to the study of Thai sexuality, though this paper is as much about my own efforts to avoid falling into the same trap.
Thailand has long had an image of being a tolerant society, and one in which lesbians and gay men are able to live without the fear of being publicly attacked or ridiculed. Sittitrai et al., for example, have argued that outward discrimination against homosexual behaviour is not prevalent in Thailand, as long as the behaviour remains discreet. It came as a surprise, then, when in late December 1996, the Rajabhat Teachers Institute announced that homosexual students would be banned from enrolling in courses leading to degrees in kindergarten and primary school teaching. According to a report in the English-language newspaper, The Nation, the ban was apparently prompted by the death of a Chiang Mai University student, who had been murdered 'by a gay man in a fit of jealous rage.' The announcement was quickly endorsed by the then Minister of Education, who argued that people of '"wrong sexual orientation" could not provide "good" role models for Thai children. The ban was rescinded in September 1997, after a cabinet reshuffle saw the appointment of a new Minister for Education but not before there had been considerable public debate and a flurry of activity in the local Thai and English language press.
The debate was characterised by two competing discourses. For the proponents of the ban, the over-riding concern was that teachers are accorded substantial respect in Thai society and thus wield considerable influence. They argued that the issue was not about 'constitutional violation' but about 'role models' and 'right behaviour'. On the other hand, those who opposed the ban framed their discourse in terms of human rights and discrimination. These two oppositions are apparent in the following extract from an article reported in The Nation:
Mixed opinions obvious reflection of social divisions
The issue is ultimately about what kind of person you want your child to be. And participants at The Nation's round-table discussion debate yesterday on the government's intention to prevent homosexuals from becoming teachers offered clashing opinions on the subject.
To the anti-gay participant, the future of children is too big a stake and they won't take any chances. Teachers must be '"role models" who pose no threat of instilling 'sexual deviancy' in young minds. Boys must be taught to be men, and girls must be taught to be women,' they said.
The other side maintains that discrimination against homosexuals exposes children to an even greater danger, the hatred and prejudice. that will make them grow into bad adults....
'We are not talking about discrimination or constitutional violation,' said Sawat Udompote, deputy secretary-general of the Rajabhat Institute. 'The point here is about personality, which is important in a teaching career.' He insisted that Rajabhat ... was not discriminating against anyone. Gay students could still enrol in other faculties that have nothing to do with teaching young children, he said. 'Like it or not, we have to admit the fact that teaching requires a good personality, which can serve as a role model for children,' Sawat said....
Adirek Rattanapanya, chairman of the Association of Secondary School Administrators, insisted that unlike most other careers, teaching required good mental qualities. 'Small students stay with their teachers almost the whole day. They watch their teachers the whole day,' he said. 'Teachers are supposed to transfer not only knowledge, but also right behaviour.'
Also at stake in the debate, was a point of view not uncommon in Thailand, that of homosexuality as pathology and a concern with the 'cause' of homosexuality. Until recently, Thai media and academic discourses have typically described both male and female homosexuality in negative terms only. The list of negative qualities commonly attributed to homosexuality includes: phit prapheni [against customary norms], sia chaat koet [to have wasted or spoiled one's current incarnation], witthaan [queer, abnormal] and wipparit [perverted]. Within these discourses, the homosexual is conflated with 'wrong' personality and 'inappropriate' behaviour. This preoccupation with the aetiology of homosexuality and the positioning of the homosexual as the deviant 'Other' are reflected in a second article reporting the views of Thai psychologists (Fig. I). The article also underscores the weight Thais give to maintaining 'smooth interpersonal relations' and to non-confrontation. Bilmes has argued that the values of social harmony and personal autonomy are braced together in Thailand so that the Thais are constantly negotiating their relationship to the social group. However, in withholding their approval, the psychologists legitimised the Institute's ban on homosexual students, for to ignore something is not a passive act but one that requires volition.
The Nation, 25 January, 1997, p. 1.
Psychologists on fence over gay ban
PSYCHOLOGISTS yesterday called for sympathy and understanding for homosexuals, while at the same time neither condemned nor supported educational institutions banning homosexuals.
A discourse of non-interference, which allowed the psychologists 'room to manoeuvre.'
Dr. Thongchai Thawichachat, deputy director general of the Mental Health Department, and other psychologists gave a press conference yesterday at the department on the subject of how to prevent children from imitating homosexual behaviour while not violating human rights.
A discourse of cause and effect - homosexuality is caused through 'imitating.'
A furore has broken out recently over a government ban on homosexuals from attending teaching training at Rajabhat Institutes. Homosexual and lesbian activists denounced the ban, which starting in March, will bar homosexuals from teacher training colleges on the grounds they do not make good role models.
A discourse of acceptance but one also indicative of a hierarchy of terms deployed within the discourse eg. I understand, I accept, I tolerate, I respect and so on. Though usually well-intentioned, these terms are of themselves condescending.
Thongchai said homosexuals are not sexually abnormal. Persons who had sexual abnormalities were those, for example, who have sex with a dead body or with children. Homosexuals should not be socially segregated but be given sympathy and understanding, he added.
Dr. Sujarit Suwanacheep, an adviser to the department, said most homosexuals do not feel good about their sexual preference and want to change, but cannot. 'Homosexuals are usually depressed. Society should not add insult to injury but should console them and help them live happily,' he said.
A discourse that frames homosexuality as pathology and the homosexual as a victim to be pitied.
Dr. M. L. Somchai Chakrapan, director of Srithanya Hospital, said the public's opinion about homosexuality will change in time. 'People nowadays accept homosexuality more than before. In the past, such behaviour was viewed as a criminal act,' he said. The director said educational institutions have the right to ban homosexual students. The Public Health Ministry will neither support nor oppose their decision. 'Homosexuals need not change the way they are. But if they are violent, then they need to change that behaviour,' he said.
Two discourses compete for attention here: the first discourse, framed in terms of non-confrontation, also withholds approval; the second frames the homosexual as deviant Other ('they' need to change their behaviour).
Dr. Dusit Likhanapichitkul, a psychologist at Yuwaprasart Hospital, said teachers make good role models, especially for children between the ages of three to six. He said homosexual teachers should be aware that children tend to imitate adults and should modify their behaviour accordingly. Educational institutions should also carefully screen teacher applicants, he added.
A discourse that frames heterosexuality as fragile and easily spoiled.
The Thai lesbian group, Anjaree, worked steadily throughout the year to promote resistance to the ban and were active participants in various forums. In December 1997, they culminated their efforts with a public meeting on the rights of 'women who love women.' Khun Anjana Suvarnananda, a spokesperson for the Anjaree group, noted in her opening remarks that Thais, and especially Thai women, are not comfortable speaking openly about their personal lives, and disclosure of one's homosexuality is difficult as it is seen to affect the family's 'face'. However, as Khun Anjana noted, the ban against homosexuals entering Rajabhat Teachers Colleges raised questions for many Thai women and men about whether or not being lesbian or gay should remain a personal matter. Working in conjunction with a German Human Rights Group and The Union for Civil Liberties in Thailand, Anjaree invited Thai academics, the Thai press and the public to openly discuss lesbianism.
Their decision to bring together prominent academics and medical professionals to speak on behalf of Thai lesbians was a telling strategy. As noted above, Thai society has traditionally accorded respect to academia and their words carry considerable weight and are not easily dismissed. But this did not mean that the women remained in the shadows, and during the forum they were quick to step to the microphone to offer an alternative point of view or to counter a stereotype. When one panellist suggested that homosexual behaviours could be a result of an 'unhappy' childhood, Amporn Boontan offered this rejoinder:
You might say I am a lesbian [because of something in my past]. I don't know about that. What I do know is that the reason why I am a lesbian today is because I want to be.
In general, outward discrimination against homosexual behaviour is not prevalent in Thailand. Nevertheless, the fear of public reproach remains, as Jackson and Sullivan explain, 'So long as a Thai homosexual 'man' or 'woman' maintains a public face of conforming to normative patterns of masculinity or femininity, respectively, he or she will largely escape sanctions.' Such sanctions might appear mild by Western standards, but for Anjana Suvarnananda, the denial of social acceptance is one of the most powerful control mechanisms at work in Thai society.
Although Thai people aren't violent or hostile towards homosexuals in a way that some countries' societies are, there is another kind of control mechanism at work here that's just as traumatic for those on the receiving end. ... [Thai] society doesn't see lesbian relationships as legitimate or meaningful.
The reluctance to openly discuss homosexual behaviours and the need to be discreet has, in the past, removed male homosexuality from public discourse and rendered the Thai lesbian invisible. Unwittingly though, the ban against homosexual and lesbian teachers, opened Pandora's box and moved the debate about homosexuality out of silence into a public arena, where it became a discourse of public consequence and a 'site of engagement' in which identities were claimed, imputed, ratified and contested. Thai sanctions against male and female homosexuality are generally non-confrontational, involving the withholding of approval. The response by Thai gay men and lesbians to such sanctions may be explicit and firm. Nevertheless, their 'resistance' is also non-confrontational; instead, they elect to enlist support from outside the gay and lesbian 'community', most notably from Thai academics and professionals.
Kick boxer man
In her study of gender and sexuality in Thailand, Rosalind Morris found herself 'astounded by the plasticity and heterogeneity of Thai gender and sexual identity.' Living in Thailand, I myself took note of two young male shop assistants who were wearing a brush of eye shadow. I was intrigued by a young man who sold me stamps in the local post office and, who over the course of a year, grew out his hair, began wearing lipstick and blush, and developed breasts. But I was definitely surprised when in February 1998, a kick boxer appeared on the Bangkok fight scene wearing make-up, lipstick, and a hair band. In this section, I will look at how the arrival of the 16 year-old Parinya Kiatbhusaba collapsed popular assumptions about masculinity and the effeminate kathoey.
Having won more than twenty fights in his home-town province, Parinya was well qualified to box in Bangkok's Lumpini stadium. But Parinya was no ordinary kick boxer and he became a household name before the fight had begun.
The Nation, 25 January, 1997, p. 1.
Thai Boxing / Historic Fight
Transvestite slugger snatches
Manly points win at Lumpini
But refuses to climb the scales naked at weigh-in ceremony
A transvestite boxer created a stir at Lumpini Stadium last night when he refused to strip for a weigh in as required by regulations.
Parinya Kiatbhusaba, tears rolling down his cheeks, complained: "This rule is unacceptable. How can I strip in public?"
Mr Parinya, who wears make up, lipstick and a hair-band to keep flowing hair in place,
fought 22 fights in the Provinces before coming to Lumpini for his first big fight in Bangkok.
Not used to the rule of stripping naked for the weigh-in, Mr Parinya's shock at the requirement and gushing tears won over boxing regulators, who allowed him to wear underwear.
The shy, 16-year old Mr Parinya looks fragile but can be a terror in the ring. "So I would like to warn my opponents not to get distracted by my eyes or my smile because this smile has
knocked out 18 boxers in 22 fights over the past two years," said Mr Parinya.
Pongsak (Oven) Sor Bunma, his opponent, who has seen 28 fights in his career, said the bewitching smile would not distract him. "I will not be shaken by his smile. I will give him a big lesson so that he will learn Thai boxing is the game of a real man," Pongsak said.
Mr Parinya outpointed Mr Pongsak in the fight although he suffered a slight cut to the left eyelid.
Fight picture, Parinya, The Nation, (p. 10.)
What is newsworthy here is that a young man wearing make up should subscribe to what has traditionally been a man's domain, the homosocial world of boxing, in which masculinity is consolidated through the grouping of men together in the unity of gender sameness. Parinya confounded expectations even further when he went on to win the fight, a win not anticipated by his opponent Oven Bunma, who had predicted: 'I will not be shaken by his smile. I will give him a big lesson so that he will learn Thai boxing is the game of a real man.' But win he did, and the crowd watching the match were reportedly full of bemused admiration:
'Lady-boy' kicks the boss
The cheers from the ten thousand strong crowd crammed into the stadium were deafening as Parinya, 16, in full makeup, outpointed his opponent over five rounds to net the 40,000 baht prize money.
'It was amazing because the boxer was not a real man, but a lady boy,' said one spectator, 'But he can use his body like a man. Most women can't do that. Sometimes even men can't do it,' the spectator said.
Parinya's fame quickly spread beyond Thailand and he was wired across the globe by the international press, and viewed on CNN and BBC world news. Perhaps, unable or unwilling to trust this new 'truth', the news reports appeared more concerned with Parinya's performance, than with the fact that he had won the fight. Parinya willingly played to his new fans:
'Pretty' pugilist an overnight sensation
Parinya, clearly enjoying his new-found fame, was looking forward to his next match, and those into the future with some trepidation.
'I don't want to fight any handsome man. I just don't want to hurt him,' the boxer said.
Yet that hardly appeared the case on Tuesday when the considerably good looking Oven Bunma took a battering from the dolled up Parinya, who unleashed a fierce combination of hooks, uppercuts, kicks and flying elbow attacks on his opponent. It didn't help the dazed Oven's ego when Parinya waltzed over to him on the final bell and gave him a light peck on the cheek.
What remained unsaid throughout these press reports was that Parinya could not have stripped for the weigh-in and maintain his performance of kathoey. He would have been undone. But I suggest that the dilemma was greater for the boxing regulators, who had been 'won over' by Parinya's tears and had allowed him to keep his underwear on during the pre-fight weigh in; for to insist that Parinya undress would have exposed his masculinity and shattered the cultural stereotype that kathoey are not 'real' men.
Like his Filipino or Indonesian counterpart (the bakla or waria respectively), the Thai kathoey is feminised with unspoken but strict rules governing his behaviour. Thus the male kathoey is expected to adopt traditional forms of address reserved for women (such as the first person pronoun chan instead of pom, or the sentence particle kha instead of khrap), dress in female clothing, and generally perform femininity. Kathoey are sometimes referred to in Thai as phuying praphet song or the 'second type of women.' But Parinya was quick to check his submission: 'Don't get distracted by my made up eyes or my smile [he warned] and keep in mind I have knocked 18 boxers out in 22 fights over the past two years.' But in the end, an article in The Nation newspaper was able to evoke poverty to smooth away the troubles and explain how Parinya had turned to boxing despite himself:
Parinya was born in Bangkok, but his family moved to Chiang Mai in search of work. Because of poverty, Parinya had to box at a very tender age to earn money for the family despite his homosexual inclinations.
The ubiquitous presence of the kathoey in Thailand might suggest, at first glance, a challenge to the traditional patriarchal gender system. But as Peter Jackson notes, the kathoey, in enacting femininity in feminine spaces, reinforces the gender system. Further, while the kathoey have access to the female domain, the naming of kathoey as 'second type of woman' firmly relegates them into an inferior position within that domain. Thus, even though kathoey are readily visible in Thai society, the term remains marked and problematised and nowadays, is often used in a derogatory way like the terms 'poofter', or 'queer' deployed in Australia. However, the appearance of Parinya in the boxing ring, performing kathoey (sporting external signs of femininity at least) but demanding room in a male space clearly troubled normative gender boundaries. Boxing is a game for real men and real men do not wear lipstick.
In the next section, I will turn my attention to ways in which Thai gay men and lesbians name themselves, and in so doing, also challenge normative stereotypes
Naming one's sexuality
One day, I was travelling in a taxi across Bangkok with a Thai friend, Wit, and had with me, in a clear plastic folder, newspaper articles about Parinya. Wit noticed the clippings.
Wit:   Ah, Parinya.
GS:   Mm, kathoey roon mai [new generation kathoey]
Wit:   He's not a kathoey.
GS:   What do you mean by kathoey?
Wit:   What do you mean by kathoey?
What ensued was a four-hour discussion about naming and when to deploy particular terms. Wit explained that he uses faen (a non-gender marked term) when referring to his boyfriend in Thai but he prefers 'my boyfriend' to 'my lover' when speaking English. For him, boyfriend is more direct and explicit while 'lover' he associates with promiscuity, a bit of extra on the side (chuu in Thai). I am not suggesting here that Wit is in anyway reluctant to name his sexuality in Thai: 'My mother calls me kathoey [as] that is the word she knows. My nephews and nieces call me toot' (from the film Tootsie). Rather, Wit prefers to select his moments and in some instances, he deliberately marshals his first language to challenge stereotypes about gender, as in the following riposte which mixes feminine pronouns and sentence particles with masculine attributes: chan pen phuchai, na ya.
There is no indigenous Thai noun for a homosexual person other than kathoey, and in a number of circumstances the language of homosexuality is English. But while terms like gay, gay king and gay queen have been appropriated and re-invented into the Thai vernacular, they lack coherence and mean different things to different people. For some, gay has been used as a label for 'modern' and 'egalitarian' homosexuality through a process of stigma transformation; for others, the word has become a euphemism for men who are homosexually penetrated. As in other parts of the world, the presumption remains that masculinity and male homosexuality cannot co-exist and in the traditional Thai scheme of things, the 'real man' [phuchai tem tua] generally maintains his masculinity in homosexual encounters as long as he performs the 'male' role. Thus, a homosexually active Thai man may eschew naming himself as gay, associating it with behaviour expected of a kathoey. The play is about avoiding stereotypes and rigid categories of exclusion and inclusion.
Yim, another self-identified gay man, resisted the notion that he had to be either 'active' or 'receptive' (ie. king or queen). For him, gay means exclusive sexual relations with other men and being able 'to do everything.' Such resistance defines a space different from that understood by the traditional masculine-feminine opposition which has historically structured male-male sex relations in Thailand. The point to keep in mind here is that while gay has been appropriated into the Thai vernacular, it does not necessarily reproduce the gay-straight binary of Western discourse. Rather, gay in Thailand is often deployed as a mechanism to disengage from the label kathoey and its feminine association - I am not a kathoey. As such it is a performative term that disrupts the binary male-female opposition and short-circuits accepted beliefs about masculinity. Similarly, other terms deployed by homosexually active Thai men like seua bai ['bi-tigers' or bisexual men], queen or king are not identity laden terms but performative and their usage denotes behaviours in these situations; homosexuality is what you do and not who you are.
Naming has been even more problematic for the Thai lesbian as there is no equivalent word in the Thai language other than the phrase 'playing with friends', connoting women being sexual with each other. In choosing a name for themselves, the Thai lesbian group Anjaree created the word; 'Anjaree' means 'someone who follows a different path'. More recently, the group have adopted the expression ying rak ying [women who love women]. As group co-founder, Anjana Suvarnananda, explained that 'lesbian' is seen as a loaded term because of its association with pornography and its misappropriation into the erotic fantasies of Thai men. The terms tom-dee, from tomboy and lady respectively, are also favoured by some Thai women to name their sexual orientation and are also performative in nature:
Previously the terms tom-dee were self-constructed and neutral. Thai society will accept the two binary opposites and tom-dee are the engagement of this. In this construction, the dee's femininity is not hurt - it stays up. The tom (on the other hand) is a form of resistance in that the tom is saying she will not play the submissive and inferior Thai women, that she is equal to men.... The tom served [in the past] as a technique to attract other women when no other forms of seduction were available. In this sense, tom-dee is an erotic play that serves both private and public spheres.
In this section, I have argued that the denial of social acceptance of homosexuality is one of the most powerful control mechanisms at work in Thai society because it is a mechanism of 'silencing' that ensures there is no discursive space available for debate. Eve Segewick calls this a privilege of unknowing for 'in the theatrical display of an already institutional ignorance no transformative potential is to be looked for.' I have also examined how some Thai women and men in same sex relations name themselves, and when they choose to deploy and or reject naming. I conclude that while Thailand lacks the extreme homophobia ingrained in many Western societies, sanctions against homosexuality do exist and there is a definite delay in applying stigmatised labels to oneself. Thai social contexts are characterised by inclusion rather than exclusion. To name oneself as homosexual is to name oneself as Other and outside group norms, an action that would intrude on the values of 'smooth interpersonal relations' and the 'presentation of public order.'
I disagree strongly with any suggestion that Thai 'gay' identity is an importation from the West, or a product of the globalisation of gay. To concur would be to deny local discourses, traditions and institutional contexts. It would also deny Thai lesbians and gay men agency within these cultural and situational resources. Rather, I support the views of Thongtiraj who has argued: '[That] Thai women in same-sex relationships are creating their own terms and concepts to contest their identities reveals that lesbianism is not a Western import, but very Thai.' Similarly, Thai 'gay' men are reconfiguring the Thai language to describe their homosexuality.
I return now to the questions posed at the outset: does gay identity have a role to play in non-Western cultures? What would it mean to acknowledge that 'gay' and 'lesbian' does not signify 'a people' but a 'sometimes behaviour?' Thai sanctions against homosexuality tend to be non-interventionist, and Thai gays and lesbians can show their resistance to restrictive social norms by simply ignoring them. For this reason, we would not expect to see a 'gay community' as in the West with its tradition of liberation, simply because without oppression, there can be no liberation. While there is evidence of an emerging middle class gay lifestyle in some parts of Thailand, it is important to remember that for many Thai women and men, their homosexuality is private and outside public purview. For others, same-sex encounters typically comprise only one portion of their sexual wardrobe; gender and sexuality do not necessarily follow from desire. The implications are that in the context of promoting safe sex behaviours among homosexually active Thai men and women, it is necessary to problematise the concept of community. This is particularly so for HIV/AIDS interventions directed towards Thai male sex workers, the majority of whom are behaviourally bisexual. I propose instead that Leap's formulation of 'gender career' is capable of accounting for the fact that gender and sexuality may be temporal and thus provides a way forwards.
For many Asians, the notion of 'coming out' as a means of breaking the silence around homosexuality is a 'very white model.' It is not that questions of sexuality have no significance or legitimacy or priority in Asian contexts, but rather that material conditions affect social priorities differently in Asian cultures, as they do elsewhere. Peter Jackson argues that in Thailand, talk about homosexuality is more strongly monitored and subject to heterosexual norms than homosexual practice itself. In this context, the Rajabhat Teachers College ban may be seen as an attempt to counter public discussions of homosexuality and not as an attempt to suppress Thailand's 'burgeoning and diverse sexual subcultures.' I have shown in this paper how some Thai lesbians and gay men are beginning to problematise the silences surrounding homosexuality by resisting established norms, both linguistically and performatively. The manner in which Thai lesbians and gay men are re-assigning their own meanings to, and in some cases, rejecting Western terms to describe their homosexuality, is a reminder that Western perspectives hold no privilege. I have argued that for Thai men and women, gay-identification is constrained by a gender-role ascendancy that maintains the notion of 'real' men versus submissive women, 'second type of women' [kathoey] or effeminate men, but that this regulation conceals the discontinuities that pervade Thai transgender, gay and lesbian contexts.
 D. A. Miller, Bringing Out Roland Barthes, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992, p. 23.
I would like to thank all the Thai men and women who gave of their time to inform the research and who agreed to openly discuss their lives. I would also like to thank Dr. Peter A. Jackson (Research Fellow, School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra) and Dr. Anthony Pramaulratna (Executive Director, Thai Business Coalition of AIDS) who commented on earlier versions of this paper.
 Lillian Faderman, 'A Bisexual Moment,' The Advocate, September 5, 1995.
 See Elizabeth H. Stokoe, 'Talking about Gender: The Conversational Construction of Gender Categories in Academic Discourse,' Discourse and Society, vol. 9, no. 2, (1998):217-40.
 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York and London: Routledge, 1990; Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
 The male sex industry is extensive in the four major cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket with a variety of formal (organised in commercial outlets) and informal (free-lance) sites. In Bangkok, as many as fifty commercial venues are located throughout the city. These include go-go bars, saunas and gyms offering massage services, karaoke bars, male escort services, and clubs that offer a range of services, one of which may be commercial sex. In addition, free-lance workers are found walking the streets or cruising the discos, pubs and cinemas frequented by homosexually active men; See Graeme Storer, 'Bar Talk: Thai Male Sex Workers and their Customers,' in Men Who Sell Sex - International Perspectives on Male Sex Work and HIV/AIDS, ed. Peter Aggleton, London: UCL Press, 1999, pp. 223-40.
 Chris Lyttleton, 'Messages of Distinction: The HIV/AIDS Media Campaign in Thailand,' Medical Anthropology, 16, (1996):363-89.
 For a full discussion of why greater attention should be given to homosexually active men, see Chris Beyrer, War in the Blood: Sex, Politics and AIDS in Southeast Asia, Bangkok: White Lotus, London and New York: Zed Books, 1998, pp. 172-74; and Malcolm McCamish, G. Storer, and G. Carl, 'Developing Effective Interventions for Male Sex Workers in Thailand,' forthcoming Culture, Health and Sexuality.
 Piyada Kunawararak, C. Beyrer, C. Natpratan, W. Feng, D. D. Celentano, M. De Boer, K. E. Nelson, and C. Khamboonruang, 'The Epidemiology of HIV and Syphilis among Male Commercial Sex Workers in Northern Thailand,' AIDS, 9, 1995, pp. 517-21; Anand Narvilai, 'Young Men Following in their Sisters' Footsteps,' Bangkok Post: Outlook, 02 July, 1994, p. 25; Theewasak Nopekesorn, S. Sungkarom, and R. Somlum, HIV Prevalence and Sexual Behaviours Among Thai Men aged 21 in Northern Thailand, Thai Red Cross Society, Bangkok: Program on AIDS, Report no. 3, 1991; Weerasit Sittitrai, C. Sakondhavat, and T. Brown, A Survey of Men Having Sex with Men in a North-Eastern Thai Province, Thai Red Cross Society: Program on AIDS, Research Report no. 5, 1992; and Prakob Sriwatjana, 'Life Styles and Health Behaviour of Male Prostitutes in Patpong Area,' presented at the Third International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific and Fifth National AIDS Conference, Chang Mai, Thailand, 14-17 October, 1991.
 See, for example, Rosemary Pringle, 'Absolute Sex? Unpacking the Sexuality/Gender Relationship,' in Rethinking Sex: Social Theory and Sexuality Research, ed. Robert W. Connell and Gary W. Dowsett, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1992, pp. 76-101; Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity; and Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex," New York: Routledge, 1993.
 Jeffrey Weeks, Sexualities and its Discontents: Meanings, Myths and Modern Sexualities, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1985.
 Sue Kippax and June Crawford, 'Flaws in the Theory of Reasoned Action,' in The Theory of Reasoned Action: Its Application to AIDS Preventive Behaviour, ed. Terry, Gallois and McCamish, pp. 253-69.
 J. H. Gagnon and W. Simon, Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality, London: Hutchinson, 1974.
 Ken Plummer, Sexual Stigma: An Interactionist Account, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1974.
 Both Gagnon and Simon, and Plummer emphasise the 'sexual script' as a framework for analysing how sexual roles and sexual situations are socially constructed. However, as Pringle notes, the central role of power as a shaping force in the positioning and production of subjects remains marginal to their understandings. See Pringle, 'Absolute Sex? Unpacking the Sexuality/Gender Relationship'; and Gagnon and Simon, Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality.
 Kippax and Crawford, 'Flaws in the Theory of Reasoned Action.'
 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon, 1977; Foucault, Power/Knowledge, ed. and trans. by Colin Gordon, New York: Pantheon, 1980.
 Pringle, 'Absolute Sex? Unpacking the Sexuality/Gender Relationship.'
 James Paul Gee, The Social Mind: Language, Ideology and Social Practice, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992.
 The development of the concept of discourse communities can be traced back to such writing as Foucault's analysis of 'discursive formations' in The Archaeology of Knowledge, [New York: Random house, 1972]; and Geertz' work on 'local knowledge' in anthropology. See C. Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology, New York: Basic Books, 1983. While the concept of discourse community lends itself to many interpretations, one cross cutting theme is the idea of 'language as a basis for sharing or holding in common: shared expectations, shared participation, commonly (or communally) held ways of expressing.' See A. Rafoth, 'The Concept of Discourse Community: Descriptive and Explanatory Adequacy,' in A Sense of Audience in Written Communication, ed. Gesa Kirsch and Duane H. Roen, Newburry Park: Sage Publications, 1990, pp. 140-52.
 Christopher N. Candlin, 'Explaining moments of conflict in discourse,' in, Language Topics: Essays in Honour of Michael Halliday, ed. Ross Steele and Terry Threadgold, Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Co., 1987, pp. 413-30.
 Teun A. van Dijk, Discourse Analysis, Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1996.
 Van Dijk distinguishes the production and legitimation of dominance in text and talk from its effects on the social minds of recipients: 'Discursive (re)production of power results from social cognitions of the powerful, whereas the situated discourse structures result in social cognitions ... in both cases discourse forms the crucial mediating role. They are truly the means of the symbolic reproduction of dominance.' See van Dijk, Discourse Analysis.
 John B. Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1984; Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990, p. 259.
 Candlin, 'General Editor's Preface,' in The Construction of Professional Discourse, ed. Britt-Louise Gunnarson, Per Linell and Bengt Nordberg, London and New York: Longman, 1997, pp.viii-xiv.
 Pierre Bourdieu, 'The economics of linguistic exchanges,' Social Science Information, vol. 16, no. 6, (1977):645-68.
 Critical event - a particular event around which a variety of discourses assemble themselves and which can be tracked through various media (newspapers, comic books, television, and theatre performance) as a sequence of genres. By locating a particular critical event in time, one is able to examine the response to the event in the media as well as the discourses that lead up to the event. I would like to thank Jonathon Bollon, Project Coordinator with the 'HIV/AIDS and Constructs of Gay Community Project,' National Centre for HIV Social Research, Macquarie University for his invaluable insights and for providing the image of 'discourse streams' to describe the tracking of the discourses that assemble around a particular critical event.
 Sittitrai, Brown and Virulrak, 'Patterns of Bisexuality in Thailand,' in Bisexuality and HIV/AIDS: A Global Perspective, ed. R. A. P. Tielman, M. Carballo and A. C. Hendricks, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991, pp. 97-117; Sittitrai, Sakondhavat and Brown, A Survey of Men Having Sex with Men in a North-Eastern Thai Province.
 A ban against homosexual students enrolling in courses leading to degrees in kindergarten and primary school teaching had apparently been in force, albeit on a limited basis, since 1993. The Rajabhat Institute announced that the ban would be extended to all 36 of its campuses nationwide from March, the beginning of the 1997 academic year (Rakkit Rattachumpoth, The Nation: Focus, 13 February 1997).
 The Nation, 'Gay Lecturer Plans Group to Help Men,' January 31, 1997.
 Quoted in Rattachumpoth, The Nation: Focus, 13 February 1997, p. C1.
 See, for example: Alongkorn Parivudhiphongs, 'The Kathoey Connection,' Bangkok Post: Outlook, Thursday March 13, 1997, p. 1.; Rattachumpoth, The Nation: Focus, 13 February 1997; Sirikul Bunnag, 'Education college lifts its ban on gay entrants - regulations relaxed after NGO pressure,' Bangkok Post, 11 September, 1997, p. 2; Worathep Na Banglampu, The Nation: Focus, 13 February, 1997; The Nation, 'Mixed opinions obvious reflection of social divisions,' January 29, 1997; The Nation, 'Psychologists on fence over gay ban,' 25 January, 1997, p. 1.
Note that while there were numerous letters to the editor about the ban, these only appeared in the English language press. Thai newspapers do not carry letters to the editor and so this form of opinion making is not available to Thais unless they write to the English language papers.
 Peter A. Jackson, 'Thai Research on Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis,' Journal of the History of Homosexuality, vol. 8, no. 1, 1997:52-85.
 The Nation, January 29, 1997.
 Rattachumpoth, The Nation: Focus, 13 February 1997.
 Jackson's research on Thai academic discourses on homosexuality identified two hundred and seven Thai-language publications dealing with male and female homosexuality and transgender published between 1956 and 1994, the largest proportion of which had been conducted in the fields of medicine, psychology and education. Only nine of these were gay-positive; Jackson, 'Thai Research on Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis.'
 Suntaree Komin, 'Culture and Work-Related Values in Thai Organisations,' International Journal of Psychology, vol. 25, (1990):681-704.
 Jack Bilmes, 'Dividing the Rice: A Microanalysis of the Mediator's Role in a Northern Thai Negotiation,' Language in Society, vol. 21 no. 4, (1992):569-602.
 Suntaree Komin maintains that Thais are more situation - than ideology-oriented. As actors change, so does the situation, which in turn affects decision making and behaviours. She argues that by withholding their approval, the psychologists were, in fact, leaving themselves room to manoeuvre. (Interviewed in Bangkok, 7 September 1998).
 'The Rights of Women who Love Women: The Role of Academia and the Media,' The Thai Lesbian Forum, org. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Anjaree and The Union of Civil Liberties in Thailand, Siam City Hotel, Bangkok, (Saturday 13 December, 1997).
 Khun Amporn Boontan, Anjaree, member, 'The Rights of Women who Love Women: The Role of Academia and the Media.'
 Sittitrai, Brown and Virulrak, 'Patterns of Bisexuality in Thailand'; Sittitrai, Sakondhavat and Brown, A Survey of Men Having Sex with Men in a North-Eastern Thai Province.
 Jackson and Gerard Sullivan, 'Introduction: A Panoply of Roles, Sexual and Gender Diversity in Contemporary Thailand,' in Lady Boys, Tom Boys, Rent Boys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand, ed. Jackson and Sullivan, New York: Haworth Press, 1999 (in press).
 In Otagnonta, Bangkok Post, 21 July 1995, p. 29.
 Rattachumpoth, The Nation: Focus, 13 February 1997; Sittitrai, Brown and Virulrak, 'Patterns of Bisexuality in Thailand.'
 Norman Fairclough, Language and Power, London: Longman, 1989.
 Ron Scollon, 'Handbills, tissues and condoms: A site of engagement for the construction of identity in public discourse,' Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 1, no. 1, (1998):39-61.
 Jackson, Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand, Bangkok: Bua Luang Books, 1995.
 Jackson, 'Beyond Bars and Boys: Life in Gay Bangkok,' Outrage, 170, (1997):61.
 Rosalind C. Morris, 'Three Sexes and Four Sexualities: Redressing the Discourse on Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Thailand,' Positions, vol. 2, no. 1, (1994):15-43.
 Male homosociality is expected in certain environments (the snooker hall or football terrace); encouraged in male rituals (drinking and going to the brothel); and enforced in institutions (the military or sport); Michael Healy, Gay Skins: Class, Masculinity and Queer Appropriation, London and New York: Cassell, 1996.
 Quoted in Radda Larphun, '"Pretty" pugilist an overnight sensation,' The Nation, February 1998, p. 6.
 Capital Q, 27 February, 1998, p. 5.
 The Nation, Thursday 26 February, 1998, p. 6.
 Michael Tan, for example, notes that the Filipino transvestite, the bakla, "is tolerated only as long as he remains confined in certain professions" like hairdressing (p. 3); Michael L. Tan, 'Theory and Method in HIV Prevention: The Philippine Experience,' in Culture and Sexual Risk: Anthropological Perspectives on AIDS, ed. Han ten Brummelhuis and Gilbert Herdt, Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers, 15, pp. 271-83.
 Bangkok Post, 'Transvestite slugger snatches manly points win at Lumpini,' 25 February 1998, pp.1, 10.
 The Nation, Thursday 26 February, 1998, p. 6.
 As such, the kathoey is not intrinsically transgressive (Peter Jackson, personal communication).
 Morris (in 'Three Sexes and Four Sexualities,'pp.15-43) has argued that what at first seems to be tolerance and the open acceptance of kathoey may be merely a preservation of social order through the value dualism of naa ("face") and kreng jai (consideration and 'presentation' of appropriate respect). Morris (p.36) describes kreng jai as 'ubiquitous and obligatory expression of deference' and implying 'the presentation of a mask and the veiling of felt emotion through public displays of agreeability.' The term naa means 'face' or 'front' and also connotes honour and propriety; 'naa is not a representation of subjectivity but a presentation of public order.'
 Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
 Field notes; 15/05/98.
 Chan [first person singular pronoun, used mostly by women]; pen [to be] phuchai [a man/masculine]; na ya [a 'bitchy' form of kha or ja, the politeness markers used by women]. The expression is widely used and came into currency with a 1988 Thai production of Boys in the Band.
 Jackson, 'Kathoey - Gay - Man: The Historical Emergence of Gay Male Identity in Thailand,' in Sites of Desire/Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in the Asia and Pacific, ed. Leonor Manderson and Margaret Jolly, Chicago: University of Press, 1997, pp. 166-90.
 Stephen O. Murray, 'Stigma Transformation and Relexification in the International Diffusion of Gay,' in Beyond the Lavender Lexicon: Authenticity, Imagination and Appropriation in Lesbian and Gay Languages, ed. William L. Leap, Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers, 1994, pp. 297-315.
 Jan W. de Lind van Wijngaarden, 'A Social Geography of Male Homosexual Desire: An Exploration of Locations, Individuals, Groups and Networks in the Context of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Northern Thailand,' Thai-Australian Northern AIDS Prevention and Care Program Newsletter, vol. 2 no. 4, (1995):9-12; Roy Chan, A. R. Kavi, G. Carl, S. Khan, D. Oetomo, Tan and T. Brown, 'HIV and Men who have Sex with Men: Perspectives from Selected Asian countries,' AIDS, 12 (suppl B):, pp.559-68.
 Field notes, 28/11/95.
 Judith Butler's work has been influential in re-thinking the boundaries of gender, sex and desire. For Butler, gender is a daily performance that constitutes identity through constant repetition; Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
 Took Took Thongtiraj, 'Towards a Struggle Against Invisibility: Love between Women in Thailand,' in Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience, ed. Russel Leong, New York and London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 163-74.
 Anjana Suvarnananda, field notes, 11/01/98.
 Eve Sedgewick, Epistemology of the Closet, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, p. 78.
 Murray, 'The 'Underdevelopment' of Modern/Gay Homosexuality in Meso-America,' in Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience, ed. Plummer, London and New York: Routledge, 1992, pp.29-38.
 Prue Borthwick, 'HIV/AIDS Projects with and for Gay Men in Northern Thailand,' in, Lady Boys, Tom Boys, Rent Boys, ed. Jackson and Sullivan, 1999 (in press).
 See also Storer, 'Rehearsing Gender and Sexuality in Modern Thailand: Masculinity and Male-male Sex,' in Lady Boys, Tom Boys, Rent Boys, ed. Jackson and Sullivan, 1999 (in press).
 Morris, 'Three Sexes and Four Sexualities.'
 Denis Altman, 'The New World of Gay Asia,' in Asian and Pacific Identities: Identities, Ethnicities, ed. Surendra Perera, Bundoora (Australia): Nationalities, Meridian, 1997, pp. 121-38; Altman, 'Rupture or Community? The Internationalisation of Gay Identities,' Social Text, 48, (1996):77-94.
 Thongtiraj, 'Towards a Struggle Against Invisibility: Love between Women in Thailand.'
 Jackson, Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand.
 Denis Altman, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972; Plummer, (ed.), Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experience, London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
 Altman, 'The New World of Gay Asia,' in Asian and Pacific Identities: Identities, Ethnicities, ed. Surendra Perera, Bundoora (Australia): Nationalities, Meridian, 1997, pp. 121-38; Jackson, Dear Uncle Go: Male Homosexuality in Thailand; Jackson, 'Thai Research on Male Homosexuality and Transgenderism and the Cultural Limits of Foucaultian Analysis.'
 Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
 We also need to challenge the presumption that peer relationships exist among male sex workers. Male bar workers, for example, are "fiercely independent", and the competition brought about by the over-supply discourages the formation of coherent peer groups bound together by a common interest. This is further exacerbated by the constant turnover of workers in and out of sex work. See McCamish, Storer, and Carl, 'Developing Effective Interventions for Male Sex Workers in Thailand.'
Prue Borthwick has questioned the peer education model in Thai contexts, arguing instead that a 'pee education' model (from older to younger siblings) is one of the building blocks of Thai society. This in-built structuring along age and family lines pervades almost all Thai relationships; pee-nong relations invoke trust and mutual responsibility, and age is the deciding factor in indicating the desired relationship. Peer education groups, on the other hand, are built on the identification of distinct and often 'separatist' groups, who organise around their 'otherness' before building alliances. In the west, 'gay' or 'lesbian' groups invoke relationships based on solidarity and equality, with a distinction made along gender lines. It is the levelling power of these relationships which provides the social tool inherent in peer education and which needs to be examined here. See Borthwick, 'HIV/AIDS Projects with and for Gay Men in Northern Thailand.'
 William L. Leap, 'Talking About AIDS: Linguistic Perspectives on Non-Neutral Discourse,' in Culture and Sexual Risk: Anthropological Perspectives on AIDS, ed. Han ten Brummelhuis and Gilbert Herdt, Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers, 1995, pp. 227-38.
 Leong (ed.), Asian and American Sexualities, New York and London: Routledge, 1996.
 Donald Morton, 'Global (Sexual) Politics, Class Struggle and the Queer Left,' Critical InQueeries, vol. 1 no. 3, (1997):1-30.
 Jackson, 'Beyond Bars and Boys: Life in Gay Bangkok,' p. 170. Chris Beyrer notes a similar gap between public and private discourses. See Beyrer, War in the Blood: Sex, Politics and AIDS in Southeast Asia.
 Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.