A Night in a Bangkok Brothel
To know a place is to know the people. This is why I check Grindr in every location.
Grindr is far nicer to use in Bangkok than Australia. Where I’m from, the app is known for its racism, fem-hating and body-shaming rather than its welcoming queer community.
We were in Bangkok to visit an old friend, and seeing as Bangkok is in Thailand, the heart of the gender-bending world, we had to see a drag show.
On our last night, I took the crew to a bar I blearily recalled from previous escapades.
Not only were the girls giving some of the best face from the upstairs stage-balcony, they did a mean lip synch to ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ – no easy feat even when English is your first language. They looked 100 per cent woman, unlike on the Australian drag scene, where you see men in dresses.
One of the people in charge, Boy, recognised me from my antics the night before. He was super cute, so I told him as much. We leaned in towards each other, but I was pulled away by my mates before we could have a Disney-like pash. They were in desperate search of Go-Go Boys: hot guys dancing on stage who wanted our cash – apparently queens like Boy just didn’t cut it for my d-hungry friends. I resisted their tugs for a minute and stayed trading pics with Boy on Instagram, mentally planning to surprise him with plane tickets to Sydney for the Mardi Gras celebrations in 2018.
After wandering through the Silom sidestreets, we end up at a dodgy looking establishment suitably named Dream Boys. The voluptuous drag queen outside, Natalie, gave us free entry. Initially delighted, we were then shocked to find that the drinks cost us a good 400 Thai baht each (longnecks of trendy beer from the 7/11 are only 60). Still, we decided to roll with it and let ourselves be ushered into a three-tiered amphitheatre surrounding a stage.
Once we’d ordered drinks and lit a ciggie, it hit me: there were some 30 guys lined up on stage in matching white underwear. Each was adorned with a white badge featuring a number in bold red sans serif, and every minute or so, a man would take a step forward and rotate.
We were in a brothel.*
A change in music signalled the start of the show, and the lads jumped off the stage. It was much raunchier than anything I’d seen the night before. One boy in a jock strap pushed a couch out and took a seat as soft music played (Enrique Iglesias?). Another came out and did a slow strip tease before going down on the seated guy, elaborately. Shocked silence met the scene change as the guys climbed back on stage.
I wolf whistled enthusiastically.
Some of the boys looked over and smiled, but I wasn’t ready to make eye contact. Instead, I glanced opposite. My eyes fell on an older ladies hens party and an out-of-control, very large gentleman, who went so far as to put his hands down the pants of the manager.
Getting bored with my friends’ lack of action despite their insistence on being there, I finally decided which guy on stage I liked best. His name was James. I gave him a wink and a beckoning headshake and he smiled back broadly, being perhaps the second most built of the boys, who seem to be picked for their youthful faces.
James leapt off the stage and walked around the other patrons to join us.
He was very handsome, no doubt about it. I tipped him a couple of hundred Baht straight away, putting it subtly in the only piece of clothing he was wearing. I got him a drink; he asked for a smoke.
James me told me he’s Vietnamese and really likes his job – it’s his only one, and I’m pretty sure his nightly wage was half the cost of my drink. I checked with him where was okay to touch – everywhere but his butt – and he told me how handsome I am, which I’m pretty sure was his way of expressing his happiness at the fact I’m under 30 and slim.
Natalie, who I’d now figured out was the host, insisted James’ call out fee would be 2000 baht (around $76AUD). I would have been happy to pay if I thought the profits were going to James and not to Natalie or the house. Or if I wasn’t so broke by this point in the trip. I’m all about supporting sex workers in (arbitrarily) poor countries.
I beseeched my mates to do it for an early Christmas present, and even tried suggesting I’d allow them to watch, but alas: they denied me.
I asked James if he likes girls or boys. His reply blew my mind. “I like girls, but ladyboy okay too,” he answered with a cheeky grin. I tipped him some more.
“Are you into kissing?”
After a quick smooch, my group exited and I was forced to follow, leaving James behind.
Though I’m disappointed in my mates for not hiring James for me for the night, I’m somewhat relieved I didn’t have to navigate the boundaries one has to with a professional, especially a gay-for-pay professional.
In theory, I’d prefer to pay someone I wanted to sleep with, firstly because it’s so easy for me in the context of a developing country where the prices are kept low by Western currencies, and secondly when it’s an opportunity to pass on wealth to people whose services I fully appreciate as a valid and often empowering lifestyle choice.
But I’m still not sure how I feel about being in a position of power like that.
I genuinely like almost every guy I have casual sex with – and a bonus of paying for it is that you don’t have to get to know the person first. But then, is my plan to buy plane tickets for Boy different because the offer of sex is somewhat less obvious, less negotiated, than it would be in a brothel or online?
Again, I’m undecided, but I’m determined he gets to see Mardi Gras in Australia one day.
*While not an actual sex on premises venue (SOPV), upon transaction of the aforementioned sum, James would depart with us, Natalie explained while caressing my English friend, and James’ service stopped at blow jobs with no penetration.
Cover by Nayeem Kalam