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three pairs of lovers with space



Little, if anything, seems to be known about Greek love in Thailand (as Siam became in 1939) before the middle of the twentieth century, when the accounts of various foreign visitors show they found it easy to have sexual relationships with local boys, sometimes with the knowledge and approval of the boys' families, and that they noticed no social disapproval. Roger Peyrefitte in Notre Amour (1967)[1] and Parker Rossman in Boys for Sale (1969) and Sexual Experience between Men and Boys (1976)  recorded some of these experiences.  Gary Shellhart wrote a novel, Kite Music (1988), about a young American boy-lover teaching in Thailand in 1967. Sounding autobiograpical, and clearly written by someone deeply familiar with Thai culture, this probably offers the best insight into Thai attitudes surrounding Greek love before mass tourism and foreign pressure changed the situation dramatically, leading to an age of consent for boys being first imposed in 1993[2] and set at fifteen.

One might suppose Greek love would have flourished in Thailand, considering both the tolerance of it Thailand had in common with most of the Far East, and her adhesion to Buddhism, which meant that large numbers of boys passed years living in monasteries as novices under the care and mentorship of monks forbidden female companionship. Kite Music does in fact portray one deep love affair between monk and novice that had transformed typically into a close lifelong friendship.

However, the lack of evidence suggests Greek love never featured much in the popular imagination.  The key to this may be the strong tradition of katoey, adult male transvestites who, amongst other things played the female parts in Siamese popular drama, in the same way boys did in Shakespeare's England.  It has often been observed that homosexuality involving transsexuals has historically been its most common form apart from Greek love, but the two forms have rarely flourished side by side.  Katoey probably go back a long way.  Siamese culture was heavily influenced by the Khmer Empire, to which Siam had belonged until 1238, and where katoey were recorded in 1296-7.[3] They existed at any rate by 1867, as “Anna Leonowens”, British royal governess of the King’s children until that year, wrote of encountering them within the walls of the royal palace:

Here were women disguised as men, and men in the attire of women, hiding vice of every vileness and crime of every enormity—at once the most disgusting, the most appalling, and the most unnatural that the heart of man has conceived.[4]

To whatever extent there were in fact love affairs between men and boys in the country, confirmation that Greek love had not caught on as an idea in latish-twentieth century Thailand comes from the only Thai source known to us for pre-1993 attitudes, the letters to and from "Uncle Go Paknam", a newspaper advice columnist for homosexuals. Two of these concerned Greek love and bore its hallmarks: both concerned boys of fourteen and men, who, according to the boys' accounts, genuinely loved them, and they were patently asymmetric: the men took the dominant roles both sexually, pedicating the boys, and in looking after them.  Yet despite this, Uncle Go, with exceptional knowledge of homosexual practice in Thailand, showed in his replies not the slightest awareness of a distinction between Greek love and androphilia.


Siamese boy, Bangkok, 1865

[1] “In the Far East,” Peyrefitte was asked by his boy lover in the translation by John Stefan (page 25), “are there boys everywhere there ready to make love?" – “Boys and girls,” replied  Peyrefitte, who visited Bangkok in 1962 according to his biographer Antoine Deléry (Roger Peyrefitte, le sulfureux, France, 2011, p. 219).

[2] Ambiguous wording in the legal clause on the age of consent for girls (raised from 12 to 13 in 1931 and from 13 to 15 in 1987) left open the question of whether it applied also to boys until this was ruled out in a court case soon before the clear, new legislation of 1993. All male and female homosexuality had been made illegal in 1903, as part of King Chulalongkorn's efforts to modernise Siam by introducing European values, but  this law was apparently never once enforced and was dropped from the Penal Code in 1956.

[3] Zhou Daguan, A Record of Cambodia, The Land and Its People, translated by Peter Harris (Bangkok, 2007), Chapter 6.

[4] Anna Leonowens, The English Governess at the Siamese Court (London: 1870) p. 94. Her description is in tune with the persona of a prim lady that she adopted, but the mendacity, plebeian and (in Victorian terms) unsavoury background of Anne Owens, as she was really called, was exposed by W. S. Bristowe in his biography of her son, Louis and the King of Siam (London, 1976) pp. 23-31.




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