Submission note: "A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora"
This study analysed the emergence of sexual subjectivity among 25 young same-sex attracted men in rural Thailand, who were interviewed three times over an 18-month period during the time they graduated from high school and moved on to the next phase of their lives. The study was partly inspired by a desire to understand the context of HIV transmission among Thai men who have sex with men. When looking at the men’s first awareness of being different, two patterns were found: the largest group had a sense of gender nonconformity from early childhood, whereas the rest only knew they were different when they fell in love with another man at a much later age. Buddhist beliefs and traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity played important roles in the young men’s initial understandings about homosexuality and same-sex relations. Most conceptually divided same-sex attracted people in feminine ‘bottoms’ and masculine ‘tops’. Sexual experiences with fellow-minded friends gradually weakened these conceptual links between gendered identity and sexual behaviour. Object choice (a man rather than a woman) gradually gained in importance for understanding homosexuality, leading to a greater valuation of masculine demeanours and behaviours. The internet was also important in promoting masculinity as an aesthetic ideal via pornographic imagery and as a platform for increasingly masculine presentations of the self. Despite these processes of masculinisation, many young Thai same-sex attracted men searched for romantic relationships based on complementarity and difference (feminine with masculine, old with young, rich with poor) rather than on same-ness. Most of the more effeminate men saw their sexuality as valuable, and some—especially those coming from poor families—engaged in sex work and used their youth and beauty to find a wealthy long-term partner. Thai characteristics of (good) personhood and forms of culturally appropriate communication determined how they dealt with disclosure of their sexuality and explained the men’s desire to remain part of the mainstream of society. In conclusion, traditional gender-based understandings about homosexuality were gradually destabilised and engaged with modern urban ideas about being gay, leading to a variety of hybrid ideas and fluid expressions, creating both confusion and angst as well as opportunities for exploration of new ways of expressing sexual subjectivity.
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