White Asians Wanted: Queer Racialization in Thailand Open Access

Kang, Byung'chu Dredge (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/sf268599s?locale=en


Scholarly and popular literature often asserts that Caucasian partners are the most desirable, given the political and economic dominance of the West, its media, and beauty ideals. However, based on five years of ethnographic fieldwork in Thailand between 2004 to 2014, I contend that middle class gay men in contemporary Thailand profess preferential desires for "white Asian" partners (i.e. Northeast Asians, Sino-Thais, and Chinese diasporans in Southeast Asia), who are, like Caucasians, associated with light skin color, high economic development, and cosmopolitan modernity. New Asian regionalisms and racializations facilitate such preferences. Thais are increasingly thinking of themselves as "Asian," belonging to a common geography and race. In this context, desires for future social mobility are projected eastward onto newly idealized white Asian partners from economically and culturally powerful countries such as Japan and Korea. Thailand's geopolitical position, situated between wealthier and poorer countries in the region and globally, shapes romantic partner preferences. Thai middle class gay men imagine, embody, and use partnerships with white Asians to instantiate their middle class position. Bourdieu's theory of distinction helps to explain why middle class Thais are avoiding relationships with Caucasians. Thais stigmatize visibly interracial relationships because they are often associated with prostitution. Thai preferential desires for white Asian partners occurs in the context of middle class distinction making in a middle income country with an international reputation for sex tourism. While the poor typically consider any relationships with foreigners beneficial, and the wealthy often consider themselves to be above such concerns, the middle classes are particularly anxious about establishing, elevating, and maintaining their precarious status position. Romantic partnership patterns are one means to manage status concerns. These middle class attitudes and practices, however, are complicit in the ongoing marginalization of sex workers, migrant laborers, and poor or rural Thais. This study demonstrates that development and globalization do not replicate Westernization, but rather locally engage transnational forces and capitalism in an increasingly multi-polar world.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments. i

Notes on Transliteration and Conversion. vi

Map of Asia. xiii

Map of Central Bangkok Gay Venues. xiv

Key Events in Thai History. xv

Preface. xvii

1. Introduction. 1

2. Saving Face & Making Distinctions: Development, Morality, and Sex Work in Thailand. 59

3. Paradise Lost and Found in Translation: Frictions in Queer Media and the Public Performance of Sexuality. 149

4. Drawing New Boundaries: Contemporary Thai Racializations. 189

5. "White Asians": Beauty and Transformation in a Trans-Asian Context. 233

6. Eastern Orientations: Middle Class Gay Desire for "White Asians". 315

7. "True Love": Romance between "Ordinary" People. 351

8. Conclusion. 391

Glossary. 405

Biographical Notes. 409

Methods. 415

Notes. 433

Bibliography. 477

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