James Barns, the editor, web master, writer, publisher, marketing director, etc., etc., etc., of Out In Thailand recently published an article called 5 Things They Don’t Want You To Know About Thailand. Had it been slightly edited and written as satire it would have been a funny piece. Instead it just came across as funny-strange. Attacking half of what you claim is your readership – as dubious as that percentage may be – is an unusual move for any publication. Even for a free trade magazine that relies on Thailand’s sex trade for its existence. Anyone stumbling across that article who was unaware of the back story would have to wonder just what it was that got the writer’s panties in such a wad. Those more familiar with why that article appeared in Mr. Barnes free publication can only be reminded of the truth in that old adage: you get what you pay for.
Out In Thailand attempts to promote its monthly issue on the gay Thailand message boards, the very same forums it now claims are responsible for everything wrong with the perceived image of gay life in Thailand. Or I should say did attempt. Its editor quit posting those messages on two of the three boards after those forums’ members repeatedly pointed out inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his magazine, as well as an objection to misleading hyperbole like claiming the publication of an exclusive interview that was actually a reprint of some other publication’s exclusive interview. And then on the sole forum left to him for promotion, the members recently took him to task for publishing inaccurate maps of the bar areas in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai.
5 Things They Don’t Want You To Know About Thailand was Mr. Barnes’ response to the public bitch slap he received on that forum. It’s a temper tantrum, not a piece of journalism. Although now Mr. Barnes would have us believe his article was an attempt to rectify the incorrect image of gay life in Thailand that sexpats and sex tourists insist is the only version of Thailand that exists. Kinda like Bill O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone. Where you hold up someone else’s nonexistent standard so that you can then shoot it down. I’m not sure if Out In Thailand is bringing in the income Mr. Barnes hoped for, or if it will ever become the premier Gay Magazine in Thailand that he claims it is, but if not there’s a future with FOX News just waiting for him. Well, at least an unpaid internship.
In the opening of his diatribe, Mr. Barnes claims there is a group of old gay expats who lurk on the online forums ” ready to snipe and bitch and advise the newcomer of ‘how things really are.’” He goes on to state they pose as experts but only strive to infect others with their cynicism. Kinda like Mr. Barnes has in his introduction to explaining the five things said forum lurkers don’t want you to know about gay Thailand. So my bad. Forget that adage about getting what you pay for. More to the point would be Nietzsche’s quote “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” But equally educational, I’m sure, are the five things Mr. Barnes says “They” don’t want you to know about Thailand.
Evidently the first thing “They” don’t want you to know is that there exists a large cadre of young gay Thais who are not moneyboys, a “new generation of middle classed, well-educated Thais who have ambitions that never even acknowledge prostitution.” Who knew? I thought every Thai male was a moneyboy. Guess I’m gonna have to re-think my plans for a hot night out with General Prayuth on my next visit. It’s just a shame Thaksin isn’t still in power ‘cuz rumor has it he’d do just about anything for money.
What Mr. Barnes conveniently forgets in drawing his conclusion that sexpats and sex tourists think all Thais guys are moneyboys is that gay transplants and visitors looking to get laid tend to hang out in those places where they are. That’d be those places Mr. Barnes identifies on his publication’s maps to make finding them that much easier. At least when he gets the locations right.
Nevertheless, now that we’ve been properly schooled and know not every Thai man is a moneyboy, let’s move on to Mr. Barnes’ second thing “They” don’t want you to know. Um, which is again about moneyboys. Not that they all are, mind you. But those who are are not just in it for the money. They are also capable of committing random acts of kindness. As proof Mr. Barnes recounts a tale of having a flat tire one night while pulling up to one of his favorite watering holes, one which one would assume was accurately identified on his publication’s map. Before he could say ‘moneyboy’ Mr. Barnes relates, “one of the freelancers spotted my predicament.” It’s probably a good thing Mr. Barnes didn’t have his flat amidst a group of those “middle classed, well-educated Thais who have ambitions that never even acknowledge prostitution” instead, ‘cuz then who knows what would have happened.
But moneyboys aside, Mr. Barnes soon found himself surrounded by a group of . . . ooops, young moneyboys, who all pitched in to fix his flat while he went inside for a shot of gin (which should not be confused with the beer all sexpats drink for breakfast, according to Mr. Barnes). And while it is not one of the five things “They” don’t want you to know about Thailand, this incident does shed some light onto the phenomenon of why it takes six salesclerks to help you at a department store in Thailand, and why there are eight employees assigned to your table at restaurants in Bangkok.
But as not all fairy tales do, this one ends happily, proves moneyboys are not just about money, and is certainly not the only incident that would do so as Mr. Barnes tells us he could recount many such stores. Undoubtedly as many as there are moneyboys in Thailand.
The third thing “They” don’t want you to know about Thailand – and y’all better sit down for this one ‘cuz it’s gonna really blow you away – is that “there is far more to Thailand than the commercial sex business.” I know. Whodathuink? But there is. According to Mr. Barnes, there is entertainment, food, movie theaters, art, dance, music . . . and the list goes on. None of which, unfortunately, advertise in Mr. Barnes’ publication. Nor does his magazine run articles about those places. But there are “lovely locals who are thrilled to assist and entertain visitors” too. And occasionally fix your flat tire while you get your afternoon shot of gin. But enough about moneyboys. Let’s talk about ladyboys instead.
Mr. Barnes says the fourth thing “They” don’t want you to know about Thailand is ladyboys. Which is probably why TAT doesn’t feature ladyboys on the cover of any of its publications. It’s all a big conspiracy. And not that you should ever refer to a ladyboy as a “thing.” Unless you’re Mr. Barnes, But his point is that ladyboys are not untrustworthy thieves. And he’s right. Because the fact is, those ladyboys who ply their trade along Sukhumvit can always be trusted to be thieves. It’s kinda their thing. So don’t misunderstand them as being criminals. That’s not why the Boys in Brown routinely raid the area and haul them off in a paddy wagon.
What ladyboys are, according to Mr. Barnes, are brave, resilient, folk who work hard to “make a crust”. Which, by default must mean they are not part of the “middle classed, well-educated Thais who have ambitions that never even acknowledge prostitution.” But Mr. Barnes says they may also be “high functioning executives” who still have to work hard to make a crust. Huh. Talk about your glass ceiling. It’s just a shame Mr. Barnes can’t get his publication’s maps accurate enough to pinpoint where a visitor could find such upstanding examples of Thailand’s third gender. ‘Cuz I’ve heard those ladyboy cabarets really make for a fun night out.
Fortunately, Mr. Barnes didn’t go with The Top Ten Things They Don’t Want You To Know About Thailand, and stuck to a mere five instead. ‘Cuz #5 itself is just a rehash of the indictment against old sexpats he began with. Specifically, what Mr. Barnes wants you to know – but “They” don’t – is that internet forums are not the fount of all knowledge. Duh. That’s what Twitter and Instagram are for. ‘Cuz Out In Thailand certainly isn’t. And forum contributors have “limited experience of the real Thailand.” I’ll bet few have ever had a flat tire in front of a moneyboy bar. But while said forum posters may lack real Thailand experience, they do have “embittered agendas and bile” and “admissions of failure wrapped up in their pitiable ego trips.” Which you should not confuse with Mr. Barnes’ article no matter how similar the two may sound.
Mr. Barnes wants you to know that Thailand is changing rapidly, and despite the old guard’s inability to change, you should seek out the new, seek out the truth and seek out your little slice of paradise and find the new way that is beautiful, exhilarating and fab! By which, I’m guessing, he doesn’t mean Out In Thailand. ‘Cuz if this article is an example of what he publishes, there is little new, truthful, beautiful, or exhilarating about it.
As a free rag, Out In Thailand does serve a purpose. It advertises the places gay tourists might want to visit, assuming they are interested in prostitution. But you’d almost think the publication doesn’t want you to know about the “middle classed, well-educated Thais who have ambitions that never even acknowledge prostitution” because while busily “providing the best media and information for the tourist and expat alike” it never makes mention of those folk.
In its ‘City Guide’ for Bangkok, after a short introduction paragraph that informs you shopping opportunities abound, like the Patpong Night Market, Out In Thailand quickly gets into listing massage parlors, short-time hotels that offer hot and cold running boys, and what has to be the classiest gogo bar in town, Nature Boy. Which is fine. The magazine’s distribution is those places sex tourists gather, so catering to them makes good business sense. But then acting like you’re all above that, doesn’t. And when Alexa ranks the popularity of your publication’s website far below that of the message boards that you warn against, and attempt to draw your readers from, you might want to rethink your strategy.
If the majority of readership is quickly becoming gay Thai guys, as you like to claim, maybe you should publish it in Thai. And those difficult to get accurate area maps can be discarded ‘cuz most gay Thai boys already know where all those places are. If you want to educate gay sexpats and visitors about all the other things wonderful about Thailand, that it is not just all about moneyboys, publish articles about its wats, its museums, its night-time entertainment options that don’t revolve around the sex trade. Instead of articles about the latest gogo bar to advertise in your publication.
If you want to do Thailand’s ladyboys a service, how about an article about the proposed constitution recognizing Thailand’s third gender and what that means to the country’s ladyboys instead of a review of a ladyboy cabaret (that advertises in your publication). And if you despise those who contribute on Thailand’s gay forums so much, how about no longer posting promotional links on those message boards. Because there’s another apt adage to consider, that one about biting the hand that feeds you.
Or maybe you could just get those maps updated correctly.