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HOW CITY INFECTS THE GAY DWELLERS WITH HIV: A Comparative Study of Gay Urbanites in Bangkok and Jakarta

Safir Soeparna

Contents Introduction: What Urbanization Brings to the City ..................................................................................... 1 Understanding Gay Urban Spaces in 20th Century........................................................................................ 3   Coping with the Early 21st Centuries’ Gay Urban Physical and Virtual Spaces ........................................... 6   Gay Urban Scale Economies ....................................................................................................................... 11   The Amplification of the HIV Epidemic by Gay Urban Spaces ................................................................. 12   Examining the Nature of the Gay Urban Spaces..................................................................................... 12   Examining the Nature of the Sexually-Active Gay Urban Dwellers ...................................................... 16   Conclusion: What City Brings to Gay Dwellers ......................................................................................... 17   Bibliography ................................................................................................................................................ 19  

Introduction: What Urbanization Brings to the City Urbanization has been an essential factor in a metamorphosis of society's lifestyle. The process of transformation from a traditional way of life to a neoteric standard of living is greatly influenced by the physical growth of urban areas. Nowadays, city dwellers are, in general, more efficient in finishing their tasks and achieving their desires than they were decades ago. Take the laundry chores as an example. The city dwellers in the old times need to commute to communal wash-houses to do the laundry. Today, one does not have to keep an eye on his/her laundry as the washing machine will email him/her when it is done. Email or internet connection, in retrospect, was hardly an accessible privilege for pre-modern societies. The robust information and communication network expansion is undoubtedly the physical growth that is entailed within the development of cities all around the world. More and more wireless local area network and mobile internet service being installed in the city. Wi-fi hotspot and 3G connection can easily be spotted in the city, and therefore, the city dwellers are more inclined to internet use than ever. Before the emergence of wireless network, people heavily rely on fixed-line local area network, and as a result, home-based desktop is the only access they have to gain internet connection. For those who do not own internet-connected desktop nor possess any desktop may fulfill their network insufficiency through internet-connected desktop renting service or what we call today internet cafe. However, we see less internet cafe today than we used to. With the emergence of smartphone and integrated wireless connection, city inhabitants can easily connect to the internet anytime and anywhere they want. They read the most recent news, check the incoming emails and socialize with people within social network on a tip of their fingers. That said, maintaining and expanding social interaction, both physical and actual, among city-dwellers has never been this simple before. Gathering people for a business meeting or social party, introducing one to another over dinner plan or even talking to stranger over virtual chat can be effortlessly done with a single click. The consequence of such a rapid social interaction’s expansion is that it may stimulate a new form of urban lifestyle that can be parasitic toward the city dwellers themselves. The spread of sexual transmitted disease and HIV is one of the consequences. In his HIV/AIDS and Urbanization article, Tim Dyson (2003) believes that urban lifestyle serves a conduit for HIV-risky influence. Dyson asserts that the wider a social interaction turns into, the easier a sexual encounter becomes; and the easier a sexual encounter becomes, the easier a sexual transmitted disease infection occurs. In the light of HIV epidemic: the gay city-dwellers are more vulnerable to the infection spread than any other group. Men having sex with men1 (MSM) have been the key affected demographic, along with 1

‘Men who have sex with men’ and the corresponding acronym ‘MSM’ represents all men who engage in

homosexual behavior, regardless of gender identity, incentive for engaging in sex or identification with any particular ‘community’. MSM and gay are interchangeably used in this paper.


female sex workers and injected drug users, when it comes to HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific (UNAIDS, 2011). MSM in the region are 19 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population (UNDP, 2011). Taking Dyson’s conclusion into account, urban lifestyle has evidently been a conduit of the epidemic and the vulnerability of MSM towards the epidemic. The paper will, therefore, analyze the role of urban sphere in spreading the virus within MSM. The key research question that enables this study is “how does a city inflict an HIV-risk platform for MSM population?” The study focuses on MSM population in two cities: Bangkok and Jakarta. The reasoning behind the selection of Bangkok and Jakarta relies on the severity of the epidemic and the intrinsic gay-themed relationship between Thailand and Indonesia. According to UNAIDS (2012), Thailand accounts for MSM population with the highest HIV prevalence2 in the region. The HIV prevalence in Thai MSM is 20%, or in other words, one in every five Thai MSM is HIV positive. In Bangkok, HIV prevalence among MSM attending the Silom Community Clinic increased from 25 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2010 (UNDP, 2011). HIV incidence in the MSM Cohort Study averaged 6 percent from 2007 to 2011. Incidence was highest among young Thai MSM aged 18-21, with 30 percent becoming HIV infected over four years. Indonesia, on the other hand, hosts the third3 most vulnerable MSM population with the prevalence as high as 8.5% (UNAIDS, 2012). HIV prevalence among MSM in Jakarta increased four-fold from 2 percent in 2003 to 8.1 percent in 2007 (UNDP, 2011). Intriguingly, Indonesia and Thailand, despite being influenced by different religions – as Buddhism is the major religion of Thailand while Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim population, share an essential connection when it comes to the popular culture of gay lifestyle. Thailand, or particularly Bangkok, has been dubbed by Indonesian gays as the utopic destination to fully commit gay lifestyle (Jackson, 2011). Such assertion may come from the fact that general Indonesian population’s tolerance towards gay society is not as high as that of Thai (Murray, 2000). While Bangkok has been claimed to be Asia’s top gay destination, Jakarta relatively shows a slow progress in liberating the gay activities, and thus, it is not surprising to witness the praise given by Indonesian gays to Thailand, the nearest neighboring country with invigorating gay life. That said, with the presentation of two different cities signifying differing cultures and settings, the paper will present comparative analysis between Bangkok and Jakarta in the context of the connection between the cities and the HIV within MSM populations. The paper will start by examining how cities like Bangkok and Jakarta gives a birth to the visibility of gay community in 2

HIV prevalence is a medical term to describe the level of severity of HIV epidemic in certain demographic.

Prevalence of 60% means that 6 out of surveyed 10 people are infected with HIV. 3

The second most vulnerable MSM population can be found in Vietnam with prevalence as high as 16.7%.


terms of urban spaces in 20th century and the early 21st century. Such an examination is eminent to comprehend in order to inspect the trend that leads the capacity of the gay urbanites in apprehending the benefit of gay-specific virtual spaces, which will also be explained in the subsequent chapter. In the final chapter, therefore, the emergence of both physical and virtual space will further be scrutinized in order to reveal its correlation with the HIV spread.

Understanding Gay Urban Spaces in 20th Century The main cause of swift urban population growth throughout developing nations such as Thailand and Indonesia was and has been a rural-urban migration that was initiated in postcolonial era. McGee (1967) suggested that in post-independence era, political and economical instability in the rural area, rather than the city’s lure, was the culprit behind the migration. Batavia (the former name of Jakarta), for example, received an influx of rural communities who escaped from the ongoing conflicts in parts of Sumatera and East Java during postcolonial era. Keyes (1977), who examined urbanization in mainland Southeast Asian cities including non-colonialized city like Bangkok, however, suggested that postcolonial period witnessed a growing rural-urban migration due to how rural communities found their life in countryside insecure yet they also hoped the city will provide economic opportunities to them. Today, however, countryside’s instability plays a little role, if any, in inflicting rural-urban migration in Jakarta, and therefore, both Jakarta and Bangkok has now been receiving migrants mainly because of the cities’ lure. The lure of the city has been traditionally defined as economic advantages offered in the city (Keyes, 1977; Silver, 2008). However, Hart (2002), Luibhéid (2005) and Cantu Jr. (2009) suggested that sexual orientation plays a role in attracting people to live in a big city and, in the case of homosexual migrants, the migration patterns into big city is to seek a more supportive and less homophobic environment. Bangkok is the epitome of such migration pattern (Hart, 2002). Under the fast-growing Thai economy, the gay-oriented business establishments emerged to resemble those in Western countries (Jackson, 2011). Bangkok’s 20th century witnessed the first opening of gay bar in 1970s, first publication of gay magazine called Neon and first opening of gay sauna in 1980s and further expansion of Bangkok’s commercial gay sector targeting the urban middle class in 1990s (Jackson, 2011). Such growth is evidently the platform for the combination of economic advantage and supportive environment to cause queer rural-to-urban migration4. The vibrant conservative value that may degrade homosexuality has been an imprisoning nature that rural gay men want to escape from. In regards to this, the question "what makes a city tolerant 4

Term queer migration is coined by gender studies’ professor, Eithne Luibheid, to emphasize the role of sexual

orientation (i.e. being homosexual) that affects the decision to migrate. Given how ‘queer’ has been popularly used to substitute word gay and lesbian, queer migration refers to the circumstance where a migrant believes that the new place he/she migrates to will provide substantial difference on how he/she practices his/her homosexuality.


place and what make a rural area intolerant?" may arise. Theory of proximity used by a Harvard economist Glaeser (2011) in explaining how the city like New York intellectually and financially thrives may be sufficient to elaborate how city like Bangkok can be open-minded towards gay society. City represents proximity, density or closeness among its inhabitants – or in other words, city offers a wide selection of social network through its density over a large number of inhabitants. Intellectual wise, city speeds innovation by connecting its smart inhabitants to each other through its density. Same thing goes with tolerance. City amplifies tolerance by connecting its open-minded people to each other. Such a density may not be particularly found in countryside, and therefore, countryside is left behind in practicing the forbearance. Yet, one may argue that if tolerance is able to be transmitted through urban proximity, so is intolerance. Thus, the further question is “what makes tolerance outwin intolerance in the context of theory of proximity?” Certain factors that can be considered as medium for urban density’s capability step in to answer the question. In retrospect, political, cultural and economic settings play a considerable role in shaping urban proximity’s capacity to spread the tolerance and lessen the intolerance. Buddhist teaching that relatively acknowledges homosexuality in such a neutral judgment (Leyland, 1998; Shulich, 2009) might be mediating the former, while the adaptability of Bangkokians with its growing heterosexual sex industry that caters Western men, such as American soldiers, in 1960s (namely since the Vietnam War), becomes the intermediate for the later. Hence, when the first gay bar appeared from the transformation of supposedly heterosexual bar in Silom’s Soi 4 in 1970s due to the owners’ business rational in seeing a huge potential financial gain from a large number of gay customers5 who mixed in with the heterosexual crowd (Suite 101, 2008), the emergence of the first Bangkok’s gay scene succeeds to thrive, and in fact, has consistently been experiencing expansion until today. Starting at early 90s, the fixed-line phone started to pick up in the city and the western-inspired gayoriented phone dating service started to emerge in Bangkok (Satchakorn & Stone, 2013). Local gay phone dating services, such as Line, worked out by setting up a hotline number in which the customers could set up a voicemail profile containing their personal introduction as well as browse the fellow customers’ voicemail profile. The service would then also connect one costumer to another so that they can chat to each other. The customers could then set up a date in person by either exchanging pictures via post first, which may take days, or going on a blind date. The future in-person encounter would later then be interpreted to judge the connection direction: friendship, casual sex or committed relationship.


There are two school of thoughts in defining the main gay customers that are catered in 1960s: one claims that the

commercial gay scene in Bangkok emerged first to cater the demands of the local Thai gay market and the foreign gay market subsequently got accommodated (see Jackson, 2011) and another suggests that commercial gay scenes developed as a smaller niche market catering to mostly Western visitors first (see Shulich, 2009).


In the mid to late 90s, internet came in and became popular in Bangkok. The trend of Java-based gay online chatting that was popular in Western world, such as ICQ, and Palm Plaza online forum, eventually penetrated Bangkok’s gay dweller’s lifestyle. The gay dwellers start to find an encounter online. The phone dating service started to vanish as the internet chatting service took off. Java-based chat, however, was far less advance than the typical chatting we know nowadays. Exchanging text was pretty much what the service could deliver. However, that was still far more convenient than taking through a phone. The users could also exchange pictures with another online platform without relying on post anymore. At this period, however, the computers were not owned by many dwellers. The internet café, thus, became popular to cater those who did not own a computer and internet connection. All in all, the popularity of both physical and virtual space for gay-dwellers started to complement each other. A momentous formation of gay-oriented public facilities, however, fundamentally began as soon as the firstborn gay bar in Soi 4 contaminated the surrounding bars to be gay-specific business, and then, the business network expanded wider to the surrounding area, such as Soi 2 of the same road, to create more diverse business, such as dance club and go-go bar. Today, the neighborhood – or what western lingo refers as pink neighborhood – is connected with even more diverse gay-themed businesses such as gay porn DVD shops, underwear stores, sex toy selling booths, gay massage parlor and gay accommodations that are found within the walk from one soi to another. Silom, consequently, has been the epitome of Bangkok’s gay urban space6. Such an existence of gay urban space is, therefore, as mentioned before, a considerable factor in causing the influx of gay rural people to the city in 20th century. Take the waiters in the bars of Silom’s soi 4 as example. They are mainly from the provinces outside Bangkok, such as Isan and southern provinces; hoping that Bangkok can fulfill their gay lifestyle aspiration as well as their needs to afford the above-the-poverty-line life. Jakarta, on the other hand, was not in the same pace with Bangkok. Urban proximity does not seem to positively affect the tolerance towards gay minority. The adequate medium, such as Bangkok’s less judgmental Buddhism teaching, was evidently absence in Jakartan society. Instead, Islam – a religious view that condemns homosexuality – prevailed significantly. In retrospect, the theory of proximity still works in a sense that it spreads intolerance as the city connects closed-minded people to each other. Thus, many gay-oriented activities were catered secretly in internet as soon as the internet usage began its 6

Urban space is defined as a dynamic aspect of urbanization in which it play synergistic and structural aspects. The

term gay urban space comes to the surface to signify how gay urbanites signify such synergistic and structural aspects. In a synergistic perspective, the emergence of particular area of the city that is virtually flocked by gay visitors (such as Bangkok’s Silom or Paris’ Le Marais) or inhabited by gay inhabitants (such as San Fransisco’s Castro) entails how gay urban space conforms to the criteria of large quantity such that they are situated in a space that makes them noticeable by both heterosexual and homosexual individuals. In a structural perspective, the created “gay space” then formatively contributes to the city through financial flow (and its taxation) and law compliance.


popularity in the mid 90s with first gay-chat online group found in 1998 (Boellstorff, 2005). Four decades after Bangkok gave a birth to its first gay scene, 2002 signified the first appearance of gay public place in a form of night club named Moonlight. Unlike Soi 4 that eventually makes up the whole alley to be a gay site, Moonlight – which was located in a two floor lot in the city’s area that was vibrant with colonial buildings – did not exude any cultural spillover towards the surrounding space. It remained as a clustered gay site that was only known to a limited gay Jakartans. Hence, the creation of Moonlight did not inflict a gay urban space whatsoever. Essentially, the absence of gay physical space in Jakarta’s 20th century, or period before that, suggests that queer rural-to-urban migration in Jakarta, if any, was not as vibrant as what Bangkok witnessed. However, it should be noted that the influx of gay migrants in 20th century did exist but it merely happened on economic motivation. A mild indication for the subsistence of queer migration in Jakarta might be traced back to the suggestion that, in 1978, a group of transgender Jakartans helped rural gay men, who fled their village to escape their conservative families, settling down in Jakarta by teaching them the hairdressing skill and making them work as hairdresser (Peterson, 2011).

Coping with the Early 21st Centuries’ Gay Urban Physical and Virtual Spaces The twenty first century definitely experiences a more changing and dynamic urban lifestyles in many parts of the world, including the capital towns like Bangkok and Jakarta. In 2011, 23% of Thai population, as oppose to 3.69% of population in 2000, subscribed to internet connection; the striking increase also emerged in Indonesia as, in 2011, 18% of Indonesian have access to internet, as oppose to less than one percent of population in 2000 (International Telecommunication Union, 2012). The increase of internet use is an applicable indication of the changing urban lifestyle given how the internet has an affluent role in shaping people's life activity, as the introduction chapter has implied. It certainly affects the gay community, retrospectively. The gay community becomes more visible due to more exposure given to them contributed by the rapid and constant flow of information, particularly from the western world, through internet. Such visibility is also accompanied by the dynamicity of urban spaces occupied by the gay community itself. Yet, Bangkok and Jakarta has its own trend to analyze. Bangkok’s gay communities and commercial scenes have been marked by periodic spurts of growth and 2000s represent the most rapid expansion of Thai gay modernity among youth and working-class men and women, accompanied by the mainstreaming and massification of representations of sexual and gender diversity (Jackson, 2011). Silom is no longer the only magnet for gay urbanites in Bangkok and more and more stand-alone gay venues found in the hetero-normative neighborhoods. For example, Babylon - a gay-owned complex consisting sauna, restaurant and hotel catering gay locals and tourists - is located in within two hundred meters away from the embassy of Austria as the two reside in Soi Nantha, Sathon.


While Silom now is infamous for a space where gay foreign tourists flock, Lamsalee junction makes up Bangkok’s gay urban space that are off the tourists’ radar. Lamsalee junction is far from the downtown Silom as it is located in the eastern outskirt. The area is filled by clubs and pubs that cater gay middle class urbanites such as university students, first jobbers and self-employed locals. Lamsalee junction becomes the point of discussion of this chapter because they signify how the niche demographic groups have an intrinsic influence over the creation of gay urban spaces. Also, it is important to note that the sole emphasize on the emergence of gay clubs/bars in this section is utilized due to the fact that gay clubs/bars are historically defined as a barometer of an enlargement of gay commercial sector. Gay bathhouses or gogo bars would never exist without being predated by the bars. Given its more sociable setting, gay bars is a more suitable parameter to project the quantity of gay residents than any other gay-oriented business establishments, and therefore, the niche-targeted establishments like bathhouses and gogo bars would only appear after the success gay market monetization proven by the bars/clubs. Bangkok hosts the country’s top universities. There are at least 30 universities found in Bangkok with capacity of hosting thousands university, and therefore, the city inevitably attracts male high school graduate youth from outside the city. The more male influx evidently means the more incoming new gay urbanites. Lamsalee junction, which is close to two big universities: Ramkhanghaeng University and ABAC's ramkhanghaeng campus, is the example of area that is affected by such student influx. The two universities hosts thousand students and consequently inflict the creation of housing and dorms catering the incoming students from outside the city or Bangkokian whose parents live far away from the campus. Consequently, these housings penetrate a student life towards the neighborhood. The remark of student life can be seen from the emergence of student-friendly businesses such as affordable restaurants and coffee shops, hip clothing stores, online game café, sport arena and all other facilities that sustain the student life outside the campus. But in the campus, however, is where the students evidently face a tremendous life transition as they begin to formulate a more grown-up social connection with their new peers. In regards to this, it is no mystery that university has become a platform for the gay youths to eventually socialize with their gay peers and to help them form a self-identity. In doing so, just like the interactive figure of heterosexual youths, hanging out in public over drinking or dancing becomes a part of the gay youths' social agenda. Going to downtown Silom from their neighborhood, however, is taxing for most of these youths. Not only it is far and costly to go to Silom, Silom clubs require identity verification and only allow entry to patrons who are above 20 year old. Meanwhile, the majority of this group age between 17 to 20 years old. Clubs and pubs like ICK and Zee's Zone, therefore, exists in Lamsale junction to seize the financial opportunities from this particular demographic. Predictably, Lamsalee gains its fame as young gays’ assembly nightlight spot as the gay students from other universities, and who presumably live from different neighborhoods, flocks there to congregate with the 7

fellow youngsters, which is contrary to Silom, as the area is flocked by much older men. Furthermore, as students are commonly budget-conscious, the drinks' prices in Lamsalee bars are far cheaper than in tourists-flocking Silom bars. Essentially, the Bangkok's gay urbanites who want to avoid overcharged drinks opt to go here rather than to Silom. In addition, as the area gains extra fame as the magnet for young gays, Lamsalee gay zone also eventually attracts adult gay men who are attracted to the younger counterparts. Ergo, the crowd is expanding and so are the business, and as a result, Lamsalee ultimately becomes another remarkable gay urban space in Bangkok. The emergence of Silom and Lamsalee gay zones define the diversity of Bangkok’s gay urban spaces. With just these two areas, Bangkok fabricates the gay lifestyle to be sustainably inclusive as everyone’s taste is being accommodated. Gay dwellers who are into more mature and international crowd may opt for Silom, while those who are more into younger and local scene may select Lamsalee as their night out destination. Jakarta, on the other hand, illustrates a far less successful gay urban space's expansion despite the increasing visibility of its gay online community. A gay club named Heaven existed in 2003 yet only survived for four years until 2007. The location occupied two floors of a boutique office building in a wealthy neighborhood in the southern part of Jakarta, Dharmawangsa. Like Moonlight, Heaven did not create any expansion towards the surrounding. The sign of the place was even hideous. The passers-by would not notice the existence of the club unless they had been told beforehand. It takes another three years until Jakartans finally have another gay club. Occupying a corner side of a mall in Jakarta’s strategic central business district, the new club, which is named Apollo, has been a focal player in delivering gay entertainment towards the Jakartan since then. In 2011, Heaven reopened in new location near Jakarta’s famous Bunderan HI in a garage-looking space that seems to be hiding behind the bigger buildings. From that year, the two clubs, which are located eight kilometers away from each other, have been making up for the lack of variety in Jakarta’s gay space. Jakarta might not have lots of gay physical spaces (and at some period the city hosts nothing at all) to cater its gay inhabitants yet there are particular spaces in the city that are vibrantly associated as gays' cruising ground. Those places are a public swimming pool in Pasar Festival, the furthest top floor of Atrium Mall, Banteng public park and particular hotels’ gyms (Emka, 2008). Cruising grounds also exist in Bangkok yet its tangibility was less significant than that of Jakarta since Bangkok has vibrant gay physical spaces. The popularity of Jakarta’s gay cruising ground has been tremendously helped by the existence of online chatting platform that has been popularized in late 90s. mIRC (in which it has infamous Indonesian gay-only chatting room that contains smaller chatting rooms divided based on the city) and online Indonesian gay discussion forum such as provide the gay Jakartan to interact and make a social encounter without the compliance of meeting in the assembly point. 8

The new wave of social networking websites in Indonesians’ internet trend such as Friendster and Facebook also play prominent position in connecting the gay Jakartans. Those websites comes with interfaces that are more user-friendly and the profile owners can easily show their personality with the pictures and ample profile description. This is a huge leap as the gay profile owners can easily connect to the the fellow gay users with more personal acquisition by examining the others’ profiles. Although Friendster and Facebook are not gay-specific social networks and not all gay users explicitly refer themselves in their profiles as a gay, the gay users develop a strategy where they examine the characters of the profile they are looking at by weighing the gayness of such profile. In retrospect, these gay users try to find out if the profile falls to certain gay stereotypes (such as sissy picture pose, metrosexual look and style and association of the profile with gay-friendly activities or popular culture) before they send any messages. At the end of the day, if the recipient turns out not to be gay, the sender will not experience any significant loss or harm as the misunderstanding only happens online, not in the face-to-face interaction. In general, gay communities in both Bangkok and Jakarta have been utilizing the function of internet to facilitate the interaction. Nevertheless, given the lack of gay spaces and how the tolerance within the society is not prevalent, it is suffice to conclude that the online-initiated encounter case, in which the people can avoid a public disclosure, is much more desired in Jakarta than it is in Bangkok. Jakartan gay youngsters and adults, poor or rich, in or out7, rely heavily on the presence of internet to initiate an encounter. Another new wave of social network in a form of gay dating site became popular in Southeast Asia in the mid to late 2000s. Pioneer websites like Manjam and PlanetRomeo easily became gays’ favorite website in both Bangkok and Jakarta. Each website has hundred users log on daily. These website incorporate what Friendster and Facebook have but, as a gay dating site, they give the users more freedom to express their gay identity. Sensual pictures and sexual preferences are part of the profile description allowing the users to intimately know each other. However, most of the users use a nickname and do not reveal their real name. Some also only use headless pictures. This can be seen as the coping mechanism in protecting the real identity in a sense that these users are not entirely open with their sexuality. As a side note, even though the website is designed to be a platform for meeting a potential date, sexual encounter is what the users look for the most (Satchakorn & Stone, 2013). In late 2000s, the increasing use of smartphone has been a business incentive. Social gay sites like Manjam and PlanetRomeo became available on mobile phone and they give the users more practicality and accessibility to socialize virtually. However, the more innovative gay social online network 7

The term “in” and “out” refers to whether the person admits to his surrounding that he is gay (so-called ‘out’) or not

(so-called ‘in’).


technology was introduced by geo-social mobile application called Grindr. Grindr uses GPS-locator from the users’ smartphone and tell the users the nearest fellow users with the detail of the approximate distance. In other words, Grindr helps telling gay men the whereabouts of the other gay men. The application, inevitably, becomes an easy mean for the gay men to pursue sexual encounters with the “newly found friend”. Today, Grindr is not only the geo-social mobile applications found in the gay men’s smartphone as more IT companies design more similar applications. Hornet, Jack’d, Woof, Manhunt mobile and Mobile PlanetRomeo (from the same company who creates PlanetRomeo) are among the most used gay applications by Bangkokian and Jakartan gay residents. It is important to note that the use of these gay social online networks is uniquely an urban phenomenon. Given that the internet network connectivity is the basic requirement of the accessibility towards these social technologies, modernization – which essentially starts in the urban area – becomes a prominent factor in providing the gay residents, both in Bangkok and Jakarta, to acquire the chance of wider social network. The use of geo-social gay network is even more distinctively an urban occurrence given its reliance on 3G network, which is more prevalent in big cities than it is in rural area. Therefore, the rural gays may not profoundly use or rely the gay social application as much as urban gays do. This emergence of gay social applications, on desktop or on mobile, considerably creates a so-called virtual space for the urban gay residents. Such a virtual space can be considered as a substitute or a complimentary for the gay urban space. In regards to this, Bangkok and Jakarta may once again show different trends to examine. While western world such as Europe and North America see a declining of gay urban spaces in 2000s, Bangkok witnesses an opposite fashion (Jackson, 2011). Jackson (2011) argues that the decline in western world is due to two observable facts. First, the more tolerance given to the gay community makes the gay residents to blend in hetero-normative setting more freely, and thus, then need to congregate in gay urban spaces is waning. Second, the increase use of gay social online network gives the assurance towards social interaction outside the gay-specific spaces. Bangkok, on the other hand, treats the trend of gay social online networks as a complimentary to the existing gay urban spaces. If anything, these gay online platforms contribute to the expansion of the gay urban spaces itself. The social online platforms become a common mean of connecting two gay strangers (or more) to initiate an experience of the gay urban space itself. This is largely true for a case of gay foreign visitors who want to connect with the gay locals yet want to experience the Bangkok’s gay spaces as well. Reversely, the social online platform may also become a further regimen for the patrons of gay clubs and bars. The visitors who come to the gay area with their fellow platonic friends or who come alone may find social online platforms as their easy access to initiate an interaction with a new people. In other words, the


conversation with a stranger that may traditionally be held over the bar encounter is now taken into virtual space like the message exchanges in the application. While the explanation above evidently shows that Bangkok treats virtual gay spaces as a complimentary for its gay urban spaces, Jakarta, on the other hand, predictably shows different trend. Given the lacking of gay urban space in Jakarta, the social online networks substantially proves how internet had a significant role in filling in the vacuum of gay urban space in Jakarta. The gay virtual space in Jakarta is more an alternative than it is a complimentary space. The prevalence of social dating site and geo-social application helps the Jakartan gays to rely less on the existing gay spaces.

Gay Urban Scale Economies The previous two chapters imperatively present the idea on how the urbanization and the infrastructure that grows along with it enables gay men, either the local urbanites or the visitors, congregate and form communities within the cities. Such congregation is a factor that is essentially considered as the element of urban scale economies. Urban scale economies refers to the basis of urban agglomeration in which it serves the scale of economics performed by the inhabitants in the city (Glaeser, 2011). It signifies the capacity of city, that is inhibitated by a large number of residents, to meet the expense of creation of particular needs. Urban scale economies enable the city to afford cinema, art gallery, shopping mall and other tertiary facilities in a sense that the city provides enough market to financially sustain those facilities. Taking urban scale economies into account of gay urbanites, the cities are examined into their affordability on creating gay urban spaces towards the gay residents. Bangkok and Jakarta, as what previous chapters have elaborated, show two conflicting patterns: one being normative, while the other showing deviation. Bangkok is an example of normative urban scale economies. The explanation of the creation of gay urban space in Bangkok, elaborated in the previous chapters, shows a sufficient evident to suggest that the gay urbanites in Bangkok make up enough number to make the city to be able to afford gay-specific spaces such as club and saunas. Bangkok sets a paradigm that concludes that, in 21st century (the post-initiation period), the creation of gay urban space and the influx of gay migrants are affecting each other. The creation of gay spaces inflicts gay influx and the influx of gay migrants endorses more gay-specific facilities to be built. Jakarta, on the other hand, fails to set exemplar of urban scale economies on its physical gay setting, despite its aptitude in hosting a large number of gay inhabitants8. The possible culprit behind this is predictably the society’s eminent socio-culture that condemns homosexuality. The closing of Heaven in 8

Even though the citizen census has not been capable to provide a valid date on the number of gay inhabitants, the

evident suggests that megacity like Jakarta hosts a large number of gay people within its 23 million residents.


2007 might be caused by the financial failure due to the low number of customers to keep the business going. However, the slow business happened not because there were not enough gay urbanites to cater, but it was because the conservative environment that still attached to some part of gay demographic. The conservativeness hindered the club to conduct an effective marketing campaign and made the gay urbanites reluctantly frequent the club. The conservativeness also affects the business setting itself. Even though the evident suggests that Jakartan gay community is more visible than ever, the business permission and regulation set by the city’s governance may still discriminate the creation of gay space. Large sum of money or manipulation on hiding the gay disposition of the business might be involved to protect the business’ continuity. All in all, the unsupportive climate makes the entrepreneurs in Jakarta reluctant to construct a gay space in the very first place. Unlike Bangkok’s gay urban life that sees a prospect of expansion, Jakarta’s gay urban life might be as stagnant as it is today.

The Amplification of the HIV Epidemic by Gay Urban Spaces Sexual interaction is one of the conduits of HIV transmission, if it is conducted without protection. As HIV is transmittable via body fluid exchange, unsafe sex manifestly enables HIV infection to occur. Gay urban spaces, on the other hand, have become substantial means in supporting the concurrence of sexual encounters. This section will explain how gay-oriented spaces become a supportive facility in assisting sexual encounters among gay urbanites, and at the end of the day, magnify the HIV epidemic within the gay city-dwellers. The observation on both Bangkok and Jakarta in regards to such phenomenon will then follow subsequently. Exploring the Nature of the Gay Urban Spaces It is sensible to start the explanation of the topic with an examination on gay sauna as, given its purpose, gay sauna embodies the most aphoristic role in catering sexual encounter needs among other gay spaces found in the city. Gay sauna, or gay bathhouse, which historically was coined in western world, works differently with the heteronormative sauna. Though it serves public sauna to be used by the patrons, gay sauna is commercially designed for the visitors to engage in sexual activity with the fellow customers. Hence, it is suffice to say that gay sauna is the most axiomatic gay urban space that enables the occurrence of sexual intercourse. As the sexual activity, if it occurs, is not served by the staff of the sauna but is between the patrons, gay sauna cannot be considered as brothel house. No money is exchanged except on the entrance fee. Other than the sauna and steam room, the typical amenities in gay sauna are locker room, showers and dark room. Dark room, or so-called maze, is the area where it is laid out in fashion to allow the customers conduct sexual activity. It is normally constructed like a maze and it includes cubicles or small rooms


where the sexual activity can be conducted more privately. Under a dimly lit, patrons of gay sauna are required to only wear towel, underwear or even be naked to wander the facility. Unlike in clubs or bars where the patrons may just want to enjoy drinking and spending time with friends without intention to seek a sexual partner, all the patrons in sauna come with an intention to engage in sex. Also, dissimilar to finding a sexual partner through online, the patrons of gay sauna do not need to exchange conversations in detailing the appointment to commit in sexual activity. Exchanging looks and body languages between two patrons in signaling a mutual attraction between the two is the common introduction before the sexual activity. In other words, gay sauna provides a much more instant sexualbased connection towards gay urbanites than other gay spaces. Gay clubs, bars or discos may also serve as a passage for sexual intercourse among gay city-dwellers. Like the crowd of patrons in heterosexual discos, some of the club visitors may simply come to have a nice time with dancing and drinking, while others have an additional intention to do cruising for a sexual partner. Although the 'ritual' may not be as instant as in gay sauna, clubs offer what gay sauna does not have: loud dance music, dance floor and an array collection of alcohol drinks, and therefore, there are always gay urbanites who prefer club to sauna in order to find a sexual partner. Another gay urban physical space that should be scrutinized is a gay gogo bar, or some people refer it as gay sex shows, which showcases erotic nude male dancing and sexual activity performances along with comedic show performed by drag queen9. Similarly to the heterosexual counterparts, gay gogo bars offer entertainment and a spot for cruising. The entertainment comes in a form of both platonic and sensual shows they perform on stage along with the alcohol drinks the patrons can order from the bar inside the establishment. A spot for cruising provided by gogo bars, on the other hand, entails a specific form of sexual partner hunt. In every break between the staged shows, the stage will be filled by numerous boys wearing only underwear on the stage with buttons showing a specific number pinned on their underwears. These boys are escort or male prostitutes. The patrons of the bar can make an arrangement with the bar's staff to hire the lined up escorts by mentioning the escort's number. In the other words, while sauna and clubs enable the sexual activity arrangement among the customers, gogo bars work similarly to brothels as the establishment directly provides the patrons a sexual partner from the crowd of escorts they offer. As mentioned before, with the emergence of gay-oriented dating websites like PlanetRomeo and Manhunt or GPS-based applications like Grindr, sexual partner hunting does not only limit to physical spaces, but also through virtual spaces. These applications enable gay men to find and meet a sexual partner and conduct sexual encounter without occupying the physical spaces mentioned above. Interestingly, the 9

Term drag queen refers to a man, not necessarily a male-to-female transgender, who dresses up in women’s

clothes, typically for the purpose of entertainment. In many Bangkok establishments, however, such entertaining role may also be fulfilled by a male-to-female transsexual.


applications will also still be used by the patrons of the clubs or bars. Before the existence of the phonestored dating applications, hunting for sexual partner in clubs or bars typically involves touring the place to search for the desired potential sexual partner among the patrons, followed by in-person conversational introductory. The online application, however, helps the patrons eliminating such tasks as they can just log in to their GPS-based application and check out the fellow patrons in the club, who are also logging in to the application, and start the conversational introductory online, not in-person. If the conversing users like each other, they will then specify a meeting point within the club to carry on the conversation and lead it to sexual encounter. In light of this, the existence of geo-social applications evidently changes the pattern of communication among the visitors of gay physical space. The sexual encounter initiated in physical space can be conducted as soon as the agreement shared between the individuals involved, yet the encounter initiated through virtual space may take a longer time to happen as the users may not be located next to each other or in the circumstance where a sexual activity is possible, unless the users are the club patrons like in the scenario mentioned above. One prominent thing learned from the emergence of both physical and virtual space for urban gay residents, however, is that the most important social interaction still takes place in person and electronic access is no substitute for being at the geographic center of, particularly, a sexual interaction. In regards to the level of amplification, Bangkok and Jakarta share some discrepancies as well as commonalities. The fact that Bangkok hosts more gay urban spaces than Jakarta portrays a rationalization on how gay Bangkokian city-dwellers behave differently than the Jakartan counterparts in terms of the utilization of the spaces. Bangkok has ten gay bathhouses (Utopia Asia, 2013a) while Jakarta only hosts one (Utopia Asia, 2012a). With just one establishment, Jakarta’s gay bathhouse caters all kind of gay customers regardless the ages, races, racial and body type preferences and economic background. Meanwhile, with its array selection, Bangkok’s gay saunas, either purposively or not, end up targeting to or being visited by clustered kinds of group of customers (Jackson, 2011). There are many categorical classifications that can be derived from the saunas. Racial wise, there are saunas that are more preferable for gay Asian men who are attracted to gay Caucasian men than any other bathhouses. Body type wise, there are saunas that are more suitable for muscular gay men who looks for the brawny counterparts than any other venues. But the classification on economic background of the visitors might be the most suggestive parameter in examining the use of protection during sex. Gay men from lower class and/or are in younger age show weaker awareness of HIV than the ones from upper class and/or are in older age (references). This makes a concrete sense given that the younger people and people from lower class tend to have less exposure towards the HIV knowledge. The problem with this is that, the less-aware sauna patrons will be clustered in the same sauna, and thus, the crowd in such sauna is more prone to do unsafe sex than any other patrons. Although 14

saunas provide condom to its customers, there is no assurance that the condom will be used. Given that a visitor can engage in sexual encounter many times and with different people during one visit, and also, he can commit in another sexual encounter with a fellow visitor once they get out of the sauna as a further social contact might be arranged, immediately or not, the assurance on safe sex is hardly possible. The clustering of class also pertains in Bangkok’s gay clubs/bars but in a lesser degree (Utopia Asia, 2013b). As discussed in the previous chapter, there is a gay commercial area that attracts younger and working class locals more than any other areas do. Suggesting the same premise drawn from the clustering of gay sauna, this could stimulate another form of a crowd with more vulnerability towards HIV infection. The vulnerability becomes more evident with the fact that not all club/bar patrons are given condoms. Some club/bars provide free condoms and some do not. Another observable fact from the Bangkokian gay club patrons is that, as during the weekend saunas are open earlier than the clubs’ peak time and closed much later than the clubs’ curfew time, saunas become both pre-party and after-party destination for many club patrons (Jackson, 2011). The after-party purpose holds more strongly for club patrons who come to seek a sexual partner but the attempt doesn’t come to fruition. The case of club-sauna joint itinerary is more evident in the area like Silom as it hosts sauna and club within the walking distance. Jakarta, in contrast, only has two gay clubs and the clubs look identical to each other in a sense that the two clubs share a same crowd of patrons (Utopia Asia, 2012b). While Bangkok clubs witness preferential selection from the gay urbanites in a way that a certain group of gay men will stick to a certain club, the choice of clubs that Jakartan gay dwellers take into consideration is a mere demand of variety. Going to clubs on a rotational basis is common for the Jakartan gays. Given the limited amount of gay clubs found in town, the Jakartan gay dwellers also utilize the heterosexual clubs (Utopia Asia, 2012b). While patronizing a heterosexual clubs means more limitation for the gay dwellers to express their homosexuality as well as less chance to find a sexual partner, a comparison of blog reviews (such as Utopia Asia and QGuide) on Jakarta and Bangkok suggest that Jakartan gay dwellers visit heterosexual clubs more regularly than the Bangkokian counterparts. In addition, while saunas in Bangkok becomes the alternative destination when the clubs end the night, the only Jakarta bathhouse is closed around midnite. In regard to these aspects, it is evident that Jakarta’s gay physical space provides more constricted access for the gay dwellers in hunting a sexual partner than that of Bangkok does. In the case of dwellers’ behavior in gogo bars, Bangkok and Jakarta are in the opposing sides of the spectrum. In its well-known Soi Twilight, Bangkok hosts at least 6 gay sex show establishments while Jakarta has none. The patrons of gogo bars in Bangkok can be easily divided into two different intentions: the patrons who come to just watch the show and feed their curiosity without wanting to hire an escort and the visitors 15

who intentionally look for escort to bring home. Majority of the later is older gay men, particularly above 50 years old and come as a tourist (Shulich, 2009; Jackson, 2011). The reason for this is that the spaces such as sauna and clubs are essentially patronized by younger gay men who do not necessarily look for older gay men. Many of the gogo bar patrons who hire an escort admit that on their age and old looking physique estate, they find it hard to find a fellow gay man who mutually like them. As the sexual attraction in clubs and sauna are genuinly based on mutual attraction, brothel-based business like gogo bar become the urban solution for these older gay men demographic. What this scenario illustrates is that Bangkok is far more superior than Jakarta in terms of utilizing the sex industry’s role in adepting to the sexual needs of gay single older men. There is no doubt that gay older men in Jakarta also suffer from the same difficulty when it comes to finding a sexual partner, yet Jakarta does not provide gay urban spaces as inclusive as Bangkok does. This, again, proves the point of more restriction for Jakartan gay dwellers when it comes to physical spaces. The restriction of physical spaces, however, can be resolved by the emergence of virtual spaces. Jakartan gay dwellers may not have sauna to go once the club ends the night, but they do have gay-oriented mobile applications and dating sites to turn to if they still look for a sexual partner. Physical brothel-based business like gogo bars may not exist in Jakarta, but the gay-oriented online sites provide the virtual platform for the prostitution establishments to appear. Both pimps and independent escorts can sign up and make their profile visible to the other members of the site. Their profile will show the pictures of the escort and tells the contact details and transaction features such as service charge and hiring schedule. The trend surely exists in Bangkok as well, but the derived conclusion is that the trend proves how Jakarta’s restriction experienced by its gay dwellers can be partially recovered by gay-oriented online technology. Examining the Sexually-Active Gay Urban Dwellers All in all, it is suffice to say that the existence of urban gay physical and virtual spaces lead to an increasing sexual behavior of the gay residents. Woefully, sexual behaviors that do not embody prevention act from the HIV transmission is one of the leading sources of the epidemic. An increasing incidence of sexual encounter, on the other hand, prudently increases the vulnerability of getting infected by HIV. The increase of vulnerability leads to a higher exposure to the infection, and therefore, amplifies the epidemic as this notion is valid for a large number of gay residents. As gay urban spaces are commonly the place where the sexually-active gay city-dwellers flock, gay spaces indeed plays a significant role in magnifying the epidemic. One can say that as long as the sex is always engaged in safe manner, gay urban spaces cannot be justified as part of epidemic's amplification. The problem with such statement is that it is counterintuitive. Researches have been showing that unsafe sexual encounter is the most common mean of HIV 16

transmission within MSM demographic (UNAIDS, 2011). Given a large number of gay residents patronizing both physical and virtual gay-oriented spaces, it is suffice to conclude that these spaces indirectly mediate the frequency of unsafe sexual encounter. There are two differing reasons why it is the case. First, there is not enough knowledge of HIV10 and the awareness of the importance of protected sex held by the unsafe sex doers. From the researched MSM samples in big cities in Thailand and Indonesia, only 26% Thai gay urbanite and 44% Indonesian gay city-dwellers is equipped with HIV knowledge (UNAIDS, 2011). Second, there is enough awareness yet the circumstance during the sexual encounter outweighs such awareness. Drug-enhanced sex, in which those who engage in sexual activity consume recreational drug during the sex, is the example of such circumstance. The drug-controlled mind can easily neglect the awareness of HIV, and therefore, lean towards the practice of unsafe sex. The virtual spaces, unfortunately, fuel the drug-enhanced misconducts. While public spaces like clubs, saunas and bars are equipped with an explicit ‘no drugs’ policy, the virtual spaces rely on the private sphere of the users, and thus, face no control measures in preventing the use of drugs. The word “high” has been associatively used by the users in the mobile applications and dating sites as a term to imply drugenhanced activity desire. As the term is internationally used, this is the case for both Bangkokian and Jakartan users11. For example, a profile mentioning “I look for high fun” means that the profile’s owner seeks for fellow users who want to share drug-enhanced encounter with him. Reversely, the user who wants to look for someone who is into drug-fueled encounter can find a user who mentions “high” in his profile as well. Such codification performs an efficient manner in uniting the gay drug users as well as enlarging the chance of drug abuse towards the non-drug users. At the end of the day, this fervently verifies another dreadful side of gay space that amplifies the epidemic as well as drug abuse use.

Conclusion: What City Brings to Gay Dwellers Gay urban spaces are the urban product that answers the needs of social interaction platform demanded by the gay dwellers yet the city also improvises to also respond the opportunities exuded by the sexuallyactive gay dwellers. At the end of the day, this gay urban conglomeration both endorses and triggers the gay dwellers to be more promiscuous than they are before. It is suffice to say that gay urban men today are more sexually-active than gay urban men before the era of smartphone. Be it Bangkok or Jakarta, the promiscuity is what basically magnifies the HIV transmission. Without enough HIV awareness, the epidemic can swiftly spread.


HIV knowledge largely refers to the awareness of the virus in terms of the mean of prevention, such as the use of

condom during sex. 11

Local lingos are sometimes used to loosely translate ‘high fun’ into the local language, such as XXX for Thai users

and XXX for Indonesian users.


The form of mainstreaming and massification of the gay-oriented establishment, both physical and virtual, is what city specifically brings to the gay dwellers and may resonate with the fact that MSM demographic is more vulnerable to the HIV transmission than the heterosexual counterpart. For instance, the sex sauna and geo-social hook up application do not prevail in heterosexual demographic as intense as in the MSM population. The paper brings out the crucial features of Bangkok’s gay-oriented urban growth and Jakarta’s slow progress, from the 20th century until today, which may explain the higher HIV prevalence acquired by Bangkokian MSM. + The clustering does not prevail in Jakarta. Last but not least, Bangkok and Jakarta may not exude the same tolerance or cultural sphere towards the gay-oriented urban mainstreaming, but both HIV transmission rate within their MSM demographic show an increasing trend. Jakarta might be far behind Bangkok in terms of gay physical spaces massification, yet the materialization of virtual spaces make Jakartan gay dwellers progressively catch up with the severity of HIV epidemic led by Bangkokian gay dwellers. Virtual space: alternative or complimentative? (effect of foreign tourist). The supporting researches in regards to such conclusion are that there are more HIV-infected gay people in the city than in the rural area and the HIV prevalence within MSM in a country where gay culture is suppressed, and therefore lack of gay spaces, is lower than in a more liberal countries (show reference



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How City Infect Gay Dwellers  

The paper sheds light on how urbanization in big cities like Bangkok and Jakarta create an HIV-opportunistic scenes for their gay dwellers.

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