This photo of people entering a hotel is used with no implications intended or implied whatsoever.
Public displays of affection (or PDAs) are considered to be extremely poor manners in Thailand. The topic was addressed in the post "Hello, Young Lovers" back on August 2nd, if you'd like an overview. Today's post scratches the surface of another aspect of affection - what I sometimes refer to as "rented affection"; club workers who, for a fee, will do far more than merely stroke the egos of their clients.
Heterosexual or Gay, it's much the same - prostitution is the World's Oldest Profession. It's been around since before recorded history and will always be with us in one form or another, I expect. When I was doing a 9-to-5 office job I used to joke with my co-workers how our jobs were just another form of prostitution, too: we were selling our bodies and minds for a fee and doing things we didn't necessarily like or approve of! My guess is if you're honest with yourselves you've been in a similar situation at some point in your life at least a few times. Oh, go ahead... admit it. Nobody's going to know.
Thailand has the unfortunate reputation as being a destination for tourists who are primarily visiting for hedonistic reasons. I know of an unsettling number of folks who have never seen much of anything there outside of Patpong, Soi Cowboy, Soi Twilight or Boyztown - those being a few of the better known areas for finding paid company. It's their great loss.
Club workers in that line of work are usually in it for one of two reasons: cash or security. The cash can be part of an immediate need (food, shelter, drugs) for the day, week or month - or a longer-term need, such as savings for a farm or future for themselves and/or their families. The "security" can be in the form of a mate who will themselves provide the financial or emotional security for the future. There are multiple sub-catagories, but these are the two I've heard of the most often. If you stop to think about it, that's the reason many of us do our daily jobs, whatever they are. Same same, but different!
Nevertheless, we expect to be treated with some respect while on the job. This is an area of thin ice to be walking on when it comes to prostitution. Although the Thai view of sexuality is far less restricted (read: far less uptight) than it is in the West, most workers I've interviewed don't tell their family and friends back home what they do for a living. More on that another time, too.
What's disturbing is to be out somewhere and be faced with (more often than not) Western males who feel they're free to act inappropriately and make displays of "affection" while with a Thai. Given a little (or a LOT of) liquid courage many seem to believe they're actually as irresistible as they think they are, and that their advances should be not only welcomed, but received with a certain amount of gratitude. It's rampant in the clubs catering to gay and straight people of both genders, but I've noticed it's both more prevalent (and distasteful) among male customers.
For the workers who can't keep up the mai pen rai facade it's a humiliating experience, and it always makes me feel a little ashamed for all involved. For example: a 19 year old heterosexual male being escorted out of a bar and down the street by a gay man old enough to be his grandfather. The young man is smiling (as is his job) but it's often a strained smile. The older man often buys into the deception along with the hours, and far too often with it a sense of entitlement, and that's a large part of the problem - "You're mine" as if they're a puppy or a new watch.
They're human beings, people. There are bad folks everywhere and I'm certain there are thousands of stories about customers being taken advantage of, cheated, lied to and the likes - but face it: the workers may very well have learned it from their customers.
I'm going to draw some heat for this post, but I welcome your constructive comments. I'll be writing a lot more about this, the workers and their stories as we go along.