Bangkok Bar Boy by Richard Vohl is well written which is perhaps a little unusual for its genre. It put me in mind of Gaysia by Benjamin Law. At times the story is incredibly detailed, perhaps too much so in some areas. The book starts with a brief prologue set in Bangkok but this is followed by a long and occasionally tedious section about the author’s life as a gay man in Middle America and Los Angeles. This early part of the story becomes more interesting when the author meets Tien, a Vietnamese boy who has immigrated to live in the States. Although the writer and Tien come to love each other theirs is not a sexual relationship. They come to regard each other as ‘family.’ The family is later joined by Al, a male nurse who has come from the Philippines. Al is straight and is married (to a woman).
Eventually the author who works as a software designer decides to go on a trip to Bangkok to sample the gay life there. Again there is a lot of detail and I feel that we didn’t really need a moment-by-moment description of our story-teller’s journey on a commercial airliner.
The author books a room at the Babylon gay resort which has the biggest sauna in Thailand (and perhaps the world). Here we come to the most moving part of the story. The author ventures out to explore Bangkok’s boy bars and eventually ends up hiring a young man, Kirt, to go back to his room for sex. The American visitor and the boy become genuinely fond of each other and after several days (and nights) Richard Vohl believes that they genuinely love each other. However he faces a dilemma; if they are really in love how can he keep on paying the boy for sex? On his part young Kirt cannot conceive of giving up work.
Towards the end of his trip Richard falls in love with another boy called Golf and this time we feel they might have more of a future. When the author returns to the States Golf gives up his sex work and gets ‘legit’ work and there is a strong suggestion that he will share the author’s life.
Despite the fact that everyone who stays at Babylon receives a free day pass to the adjoining gay sauna our author only visits this facility briefly – and that’s to take a shower. There’s a hint that he disapproves of the action that goes on in gay saunas but he obviously doesn’t have any qualms about hiring boys out of bars for sex. Puzzling.
Unusually for this kind of books perhaps, the text has many photographs. The author tells us they have been taken on his cell phone and they look like it. At least a third of them are not of sufficient quality to be published. However, all on all, I feel that Bangkok Bar Boy can be recommended.
- Reviewed by Alistair Young