The truth is, making the decision to leave your home country and live internationally is much the same regardless of your sexual orientation. If you are a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person, you’re going to make the best of your experience, no matter who you’re cruising at the airport on the way out of town.
Being a gay man in his 50’s who has spent the majority of his adult life in a single relationship (if you don’t include that 6 years in my 20’s with a madly handsome, but tragically flawed, Irishman from Westchester…), I’m hardly the poster boy for the party-hearty, disco till dawn stud of past decades. Heck, even in past decades that hardly described me, although I have always had an abundant appetite for living la vida loca as the opportunities arose.
So this gay, 50-something, former executive, previously partnered guy decided to leave the U.S. and move to Thailand. What went through my mind, you ask? Was I filled with visions of scantily clad and absurdly buff young Thai boys gathering round me at every turn? Did I see myself returning to my 30’s and throwing myself back into the gay bar scene, sleeping with a myriad of guys probably unsuitable for any sort of LTR consideration? Would I become the stereotype of an older guy who finds true love with a younger, thinner and probably sweeter Thai boy and get a cottage by the sea near Phuket? So many questions!
When I arrived in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand last August, I had three goals already on my to-do list. I wanted to get involved in supporting the English-language Gate Theatre, join the large and successful Chiang Mai Expat Group and study for my TEFL certification to teach English as a second language. Oh, I also wanted to do a video series on the expat experience. None of these goals had anything to do with my sexual orientation, which supports my initial hypothesis. However, unless one chooses to be asexual, there are itches to be scratched, so to speak.
Expats, overall, tend to be free-thinkers and non-judgmental. If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have chosen to leave the comforts of Perth or Denver or Stuttgart for a foreign country in the first place. I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the first of several expat group activities. Would I feel odd, ostracized, out of my element? No way! I glad-handed and networked myself around the room just like I did when I was working. No one was anything except welcoming, gracious and kind. Meeting people was easy, figuring out who was worth a further investment of time was the challenge.
The farang (see also Falang), or Westerners, that I’ve observed or met fall into a wide swathe of ages, orientations, styles and backgrounds. There are the married couples, the single men, the formally single men who have snagged a Thai wife or boyfriend, single men who are still looking for a Thai wife or boyfriend, “sexpats” who don’t want a Thai wife or boyfriend – and the “kids”. Those include the backpackers, missionary volunteers, language students learning Thai or ESL, and trust fund babies taking a break before jumping into the career fray and frenzy at home. Quite a mashup, don’t you think?
Of course, as I was perusing my stated goals, meeting the myriad of nomadic archetypes and working through my own personal adjustment reaction to this unique Asian culture, I was seeing how I could get laid. One great thing about Thailand, being gay is not an issue, for anyone. And gender-bending is widely accepted here, as witnessed by total acceptance (respect?) for lady boys and gals who favor men’s haircuts and apparel. Finding a playmate is very easy in this country, which of course is why it has achieved such a reputation among the hypersexual contingent internationally.
I admit it. I fell prey for the panoply of young, cute Thai guys that frequent the bars locally. And, to be honest, the abundance of clean, well-staffed massage spas are heaven-sent for men in need. I have tried it all, as I am wont to do. Yet the experiences I’ve had only harken me back to the title of that old Peggy Lee tune from the 70’s, “Is That All There Is?” For me, personally, no amount of sex can substitute for friendships and relationships well-earned. Yet, for a man in his 20’s or 30’s, these exploits and expletives no doubt become memories to last a lifetime.
Yes, I am a man who decided to leave my home country and move abroad. I am an expat, a gay one at that. I am a rare breed, in that I am quite comfortable going through the journey solo. That’s not something many people could do and I know it. But isn’t that part of the enticement, after all? I am only responsible for me. And if that moment ever arrives when the stars align and the oceans part for another lover, I’ll be ready. Until then, it’s full steam ahead. I am having fun achieving my goals and posting on my blog New Nations: The Expat Experience. I’m even figuring out who is worthy of a further investment of time, energy and resources!
If and when you decide to take the plunge toward expat living, you will find that being gay is a gift. The open world view, the absurdist humor, the ability to accept myself and others makes life full of new beginnings every day. Gay or straight, who wouldn’t want such an exciting chance to start again?
Robert Stephen (Steve) Browning is a US expat currently living in Thailand who is soon to relocate to Medellin in Colombia. He blogs on his experiences at New Nations: The Expat Experience and here he shares with us some of his motivations for becoming an expat.