Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Evening in Soi Twilight

Admittedly I get tired of the Americans who assume I am a sex tourist. Because that is all they know about Bangkok. And even about sex tourism, clearly, they do not know much.

Believe me: if you spent a sober hour in a go-go boy bar, watching exactly what goes on, not only would you not buy sex – you would not be tempted.

Or rather: to buy sex your own level of anguish would have to be extreme, or your skill at blindness highly practiced. Your loneliness would need to be at a near-fatal level. None of which excuses anyone from anything -- though others who have known desperation may harbor secret sympathy. Which they would be wise to keep to themselves.

I remain on the periphery of these places – because that is my district, my territory and vocation. These boys bearing numbers are my smudged little brothers, these tottering old johns are my very own despicable uncles. I’m a guttersnipe.

Soi Twilight (or Soi Pratuchai, or Soi Boy, as it is also called) has clearly been hurt by the unrest and economic downturn. The Banana bar is closed. The door to Future Boys is boarded up. The little street looks forlorn without all its lights, like a Christmas tree with bulbs burnt out. Fresh Beach Boys must be nearly out of business; the johns walk in and walk right back out again. At Bangkok Massage, where there used to be a crowd of boys in blue shorts teasing men as they walked past, there are now only two or three, playing with their phones and looking bored.

Jennifer, the cordial Hong Kong transvestite who perennially holds court on Soi Twilight, with her pearlescent flowing blouse, her ponytail and dangling earrings, says the best show is still at X Size and anyway, “They take good care of you there.”

One thing that perplexed me as a child was that, not only were there things I was not supposed to do, there were things I was not supposed to know. I was the kid the other kids asked the meaning of dirty words. (How did I explain cunnilingus? It must have been absolutely hilarious.) I was always in trouble for what I knew. Even when it was something that everyone knew – I was in trouble for admitting that I knew.

This pattern has continued all my life.

This idea of appropriate knowledge is not restricted to sex. Not at all. Most dinner parties would sooner excuse one for discussing fellatio than Afghanistan or the environment. Ignorance, and the pretense of it, is a very important part of being a good person.

I remember the strenuous pride middle-class people in Denver showed at being entirely ignorant of bus routes and schedules. I’d ask someone about a bus and they’d go on at length about how they knew absolutely, totally nothing about the buses, which ferried the poor around town. I’ve never even been inside of one. It was like asking a guy, in front of other guys, for advice about impotency. I wouldn’t know anything about that!

At X Size, like all the bars on this street, the young men stand on stage in white underpants with red plastic numbers attached. The lights at X Size blink continuously red, yellow, white, and it always seems to me that there is one color at least that tells the truth. It’s all a grand show. Blink. The boys are bored, exhausted, and forlorn. Blink. It’s a cabaret.

If you look closely enough at the young man as he grins on stage, or makes eye contact with a johns, or flexes, or arranges his crotch, you can see his mother in a small northern village, his father the farmer and Red Shirt sympathizer, his sister he hopes will never come to the city, his girlfriend with whom he endeavors to forget all the johns of the past two hundred nights.

Business is no good. The young men try to make eye contact with me and I do everything I can to keep my face blank. Nonetheless, hustlers have psychic powers and, before five minutes have past, the roughest of the young men is sitting beside me, saying “We go your hotel? Bar fine 400 baht.” His chest and arms are covered in traditional protective tattoos. He’s straight as an arrow.

Most of the young men have only very rudimentary English skills, yet possess a deep sensitivity to verbs and particularly to the active or passive tense. Pleasantries may not be possible, but no one ever seems to get confused about the difference between “I like to fuck” or “I like to get fucked.”

Also, this young man reminds me of some vocabulary I’d forgotten. Instead of saying “suck”, these men say “smoke”. You don’t suck cock – you smoke it. This does indeed seem more casual and friendly than the word “suck” and the young man is visibly relieved to speak of smoking, rather than fucking. “You smoke me! I smoke you! No problem!”

I respectfully decline; he goes away with a tip.

The principal claim to fame of the X Size show, as far as I can tell, is that the big cock show is also a petting zoo. The well-pumped performers wander the audience and, for a tip, you can feel the heft of the thing in your own hand.

I’ve seen what happens, however, when one of the johns attempts to suddenly publicly deep-throat the monster: the young man jumps back instantly, like one of those little birds from the mouth of a crocodile.

As far as I’m concerned, Bangkok big cock shows could be a positive and life-affirming part of human culture, if only each and every audience member would take a vow, forever thereafter, to shout down any one of the countless racist numbskulls who rant about Asians having small cocks. If I had a dollar for every one of these morons I’ve run across, I could fly business class to Europe.

The fire-eater in his black leather thong twirls the fire and then swallows it. At one point he playfully lights his crotch on fire and then looks around for sympathy – yes, gentlemen, don’t we all hate when this happens?

In between the live sex acts and the shopping segments – when the boys return with their plastic numbers to the stage – there are cabaret acts. The divas take to the stage and lip-sync melodramatic anthems. Ever since I first saw a show, these divas have been my inspiration. Look at her. If she can dance in those three inch heels, with that much energy and spirit and precision, all while wearing that gigantic headdress, and that sheer gown, and those eyelashes large enough to create a breeze, if she can do all that for half a dozen elderly sex tourists, then I too can do my best and not worry about overmuch about rewards, or about those people who condemn me, so as to assure themselves.

The moment I touch my bill the faƧade of good cheer drops at once, sudden as a power outage. The man who was playfully hassling me a moment before, sits limp and bored. The host counts out change with a flashlight. The show is over – for those of us who have the luxury of going home alone.

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