Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Picked The Wrong Week To Quit Sniffing Glue

I was very excited about starting this blog with my distinguished colleague. I could almost taste it. Then I decided to quit smoking. It's been 19 hours. The smart money is still on me rushing out to buy a pack in the next 24 hours, but that's neither here nor there. The point is the following may surprise you with its incoherence, and I blame that on precipitously low nicotine levels.

Good. A week ago, I stumbled across this blog. And was immediately gripped. It's the story of expats and bar owners in Thailand, with contributions from readers who live or are regular vacationers in Thailand. And spend a lot of time having and paying for sex.

Sample quote: ". . . back in the states and when I was younger I would jerk off if the wind changed directions but in Thailand I feel like self-love is almost a sin. Like I am wasting it when I could be out sharing myself with others."

My favorite detail is when one of the bar proprietors, searching for a copy of Michel Houllebecq's Platform (a great book; also could be described, in a gross oversimplification, as a book about sex tourism), discovers that the bookstore has placed it in the "Thailand Section."

So the blog is, intentionally, gripping on that level -- the encounter with a world of which one knows nothing, the gradual transformation of that world into a semi-familiar place with rules which you, the reader, come to understand (there are all kinds of acronyms like TG, LT, ST that you struggle with but over time, become familiar; you start to recognize the names, etc.). In that way, not unlike Harry Potter or Moby Dick. They're pretty good writers, and, while it's often about sex (and not recommended for workplace viewing per se), it's rarely pornographic. And there's a thrill in mastering (or believing yourself to have mastered) a foreign subculture in that way.

But a lot of what makes it gripping, for me at least, is the whole paying for sex issue, paired with periodic rants about what's ruined American women. Which, apparently, ranges from Oprah to chick flicks and crosses feminism and unattractive lesbians en route (with disclaimers attached about not disliking women).

As an American woman, and a feminist, the latter obviously makes me queasy. And I guess it makes me queasier about the first part as well. In the abstract I'm not sure I think there's anything wrong with paying (a consenting adult) for sex. But when it coexists so closely with contempt for women they consider inadequate as sexual partners, then it seems a little stranger. Women that they don't find attractive don't simply fall into a category of people who are not sex objects (like, say, other men) -- they become objects of derision and anger.

I don't know. I keep thinking I'm going to come to some conclusion about the whole thing. But instead I just seem to bring it up to everyone I know.


Anonymous said...

I found your review of the The Big Mango blog refreshing and unbiased. I am a contributing writer to this blog and I am an American man. I love, respect and work with many American woman. I also like to have fun in Thailand and really enjoy the company of Thai women. I like to pay for sex and the woman I buy sex from there, love to get paid for sex. There is such a taboo among many of my American feminist friends towards Thailand and what it offers to the sexual tourist that I very much appreciate your open mindedness take on the situation. Not all of us hate American woman.

Noko Marie said...

The usual argument against paying for sex is that it harms the person paid, in the sense that this person is used as a mere means, or objectified. My reply to this is generally that as long as the choice to have sex in exchange for other goods is made freely and autonomously, no one is objectified and there is nothing improper here.

Your post raises a more difficult question, though. Is there a relationship between paying for sex and regarding women as objects in some deeper sense? Interestingly, on this line of thought, the persons harmed in paying for sex might not be the payee only but also women in general.

There may be no simple answer. I'm inclined to err on the side of freedom, but that's just me.

Thanks to "anonymous" for the comment.

Captain Colossal said...

Thanks for the comment, "anonymous." I would be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle to be open minded because I do feel threatened (on the most personal level) by the concept. But I don't think that's reason for moral outrage.

I certainly don't think that sexual tourism necessarily implies hatred for American women either.

Meanwhile I'm entirely with noko marie as far as erring on the side of freedom, if there's a question of error.

The Secretary said...

Just for kicks, I'd like to ask if any of us can answer the following: what does it mean to get paid for sex?

Captain Colossal said...

A fair point, secretary, and one made repeatedly on the Big Mango blog, where people often argue that you're going to end up paying somehow so why not at least have the bargain made up front. And even if you leave money behind, you can still be in the realm of (non-monetary, implied) exchanges. So is making those kind of transaction explicit better or worse?

Captain Colossal said...

Why do I find it soothing that the Big Mango bloggers are still capable of misguided romanticism even while knowing it won't work out?

~h said...

I write this with complete respect:

From the mind of a recently divorced 42 year old American man.

Captain Colossal:

Misguided romanticism: Knowing "romanticism" wont work is the point of mongering in a place such as Thailand. No strings attached, free to flirt, free to engage and be engaged with, free to have fun, free to fuck and most important free to move on if you want.
It is purely entertainment on an adult level.

The Secretary:

What does it mean to get paid for sex? It just may be the oldest transaction in the history of mankind and it is a pure act of commerce when the emotional aspect is removed. Both sides benefit and no one is hurt.

Yes there are people and children forced into sexual slavery and it is a deplorable act upon which harm should be taken against the perpetrators. But that is not the question here.

Let's get back to Thailand. Take a country that has a huge population of poor people, many of them beautiful women. Not a lot of opportunities to move up in the world especially if you are female. Primarily raised in a patriarchal society to be subservient. A very poor educational system. Many single mothers who want and the need to provide for their children and extended families. A religion that doesn’t base itself on good and evil and doesn’t condemn people because they choose to live a life not sanctioned by its belief. A government who knows its tourist trade would suffer if it cracked down on this type of hospitality.

Prostitution, concubines, second and third wives have all been a part of Thai culture and officially and unofficially accepted for hundreds of years.

These factors have made it a viable choice for woman,transvestites, gays and even straight men from Thailand. Of course they don’t go parading it around their home town neighborhood or brag to family members, but if one is discreet she/he can really supplement their income and contribute to the larger family, which they all do.

Please feel free to read my entry's under the name ~h:

Go to Reader submissions,
start at the bottom Day 1.

~h previously "anonymous"

PS. Feedback, good or bad is welcomed...

Captain Colossal said...

~h: Always nice to have a name to attach. I guess in terms of the "misguided romanticism," I just meant I'm struck by the extent to which it's difficult to get away from the models of romantic behavior which are standard in western discourse. For example, your dealings with #111 (at least as reported on the Big Mango blog) seemed to take on a tenor of romantic behavior that has more to do with conventional "relationships" than a strictly cash exchange. And I think the boundaries between those two models of interaction are pretty interesting. How do we separate them out, and how do we feel about each of them, separately, and then as they blur into each other?