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A peek at Bangkok’s Soi Twilight

John Ryan Mendoza discovers Bangkok’s infamous go-go bars and boys. And while he admits that “I did feel my pulse pound and felt some internal heat rise at the initial minutes of my first experience,” after a while, “all I see is impersonal and mechanical ramming.” For the heck of it, though, he believes it is something worth checking out.

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THAT FIRST TIME

10:00 PM.
It was too early to party in Silom Soi 2. And there was still no text from a gay Pinoy friend who was passing through Bangkok on his way to Bangladesh. So I walked to Silom Soi 4 and I saw a vacant table at Telephone Pub. I took a seat and killed some time over a bottle of cold Thai beer.  I could actually feel stares from those around me crawl over my skin. I was the only Asian guy in the middle of al fresco tables full of more mature Caucasian men. Conversations were hushed. The beats pulsated loud just across where all the Asian men were. With company, it could have been fine, but my alcohol intake still wasn’t enough to not care at all. I inserted the few Bahts under the bottle and walked my way to Patpong.

The street night bazaar was still bustling with tourists. Souvenirs, shirts, faux Rolexes, Valium, and all sorts of other stuff were everywhere. I’d rather go to either Pratunam or Jatujak for some of these things. I headed to the sidewalk, where I was approached by a guy who offered me the “Pussy Ping Pong” menu. He led me to the doorway of one of the bars with an ongoing show. It was certainly pussy, not playing ping pong, but with a paintbrush. She was drawing an elephant. Cultural pride, indeed. Of course, this was not any of the choices I would order.

11:00 PM.
At Surawong Road I finally found the flashing neon lights of Soi Twilight (Soi Pratuchai) with keywords “boys”, “show”, “men”, “big”. Crowds of people came and went at the entrance. I was welcomed by an overly eager Thai guy who kept repeating “fucking show” and “11:30” as he aggressively led me to Boys of Bangkok.

Bangkok2The sight of an array of boys and men in tight skimpy briefs on stage greeted me. Twink, muscled, chubby, androgynous, pale white, dark brown, tattooed, pierced, smooth, scarred… these were some of the options moneyed patrons can choose from. I sat on a bleacher at a corner and checked my phone for messages. A floor manager came to me and pointed to the sign that says phones that would take photos will be confiscated and then took my order of a bottle of beer priced at 150 Baht. Men, young and old, and some women started to fill the seats as the guys on stage periodically rotated to showcase their wares.

Then the lights started to dim and the club music shifted to some sort of drum roll. All the guys exited to the back stage. A few moments later and on cue with another round of club music, a tall, pale, slim, androgynous looking guy with heavy dark eye make-up and a cape came out. He sashayed to the front of the stage, and then he turned around, removing his cape to flaunt a big bare erection. He did another round of touring on stage, now stroking himself. He then disappeared behind the back curtains.

Then he came out again, now on all fours and a leash on his neck attached to a chain held by a brown muscled guy with a condomed hard-on. The guy on the floor crawled to the front of the stage while the other was prepping himself with lube and got hold of a roll of tissue. Then ready to receive while still on all fours, the leashed guy started to get slowly rammed from behind. Some cartoony sounding Thai music started playing and the thrusts seemed to be synced to the beats. Then positions shifted from doggy to missionary to standing to walking and, lastly, while swinging on chains attached to the ceiling.

After some 10 minutes or less, they stood up and went behind the curtains and were replaced by another couple, muscled and tattooed Thai men. Unceremoniously, the other one just bent over and then the other one instantaneously got in and went on with the same routine.

Then after some prescribed time, they just stood up and left. Then the lights glared and the gallery of guys was there again. The floor manager sat beside me and asked me who among the guys I wanted. He then pointed to some, then advertised them to me with statements like “Number 4 has a big dick. You like?” and “Same your age or you want younger like number 11? He can do everything.” I just smiled, refused through some little Thai words I know, paid my bill, and got out.

12:30 AM.
My friend finally arrived with his female colleague. We tried to find any of those shows, but unfortunately, show time was really over. We decided to party, instead, at DJ Station.

ANOTHER TIME…

In my more recent visit, I toured two gay friends and their hetero colleagues to these shows. When we got to the area, we expectedly got assertively greeted by a guy who was saying “very big” and kept on clasping his forearm. Curious, we gave in to the advert and found ourselves at another bar located upstairs.

Same guys-in-briefs galore on stage welcomed us. This time, it was less diverse. The guy options seemed to be more skewed towards the twink category. At this bar, there was a preliminary dance show of two guys in see-through underwear gyrating against each other over some American ballad.  The next set was another couple now bare and hard, just stroking. Now we were convinced that the forearm clasping advertising guy on the street was indeed accurate. After some rounds on stage, they went down to the audience to give everyone more up-close experience (of course for some tip).

Then the main show.  This bar this time is quite challenged in their casting. The fuckee had no front teeth and seemed drugged out of his wits and the tattooed skinny fucker was obviously exerting effort to pretend to even like it. We just had another bonus for a show of some suckfest happening behind us in the bleachers between a guy from the stage and a very enthusiastic customer.

Overall, I did feel my pulse pound and felt some internal heat rise at the initial minutes of my first experience. But after a while, all I see is impersonal and mechanical ramming. Yet still, I do recommend anyone who is interested to see this for him/herself, for fun or we can just euphemize it as an “anthropological exposure.”

Enjoy Silom!

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

Health & Wellness

Trans women can safely maintain estrogen treatments during gender affirming surgery

The practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

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There was no difference in blood clots when estrogen hormone therapy was maintained during gender affirming surgery.

This is according to a study (titled, “No Venous Thromboembolism Increase Among Transgender Female Patients Remaining on Estrogen for Gender Affirming Surgery”) helmed by John Henry Pang with Aki Kozato from Mount Sinai, and was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Historically, the lack of published data contributed to heterogeneity in the practice of whether doctors and surgeons advised transgender women to withhold their estrogen therapy before surgery. The sudden loss of estrogen in the blood was sometimes very uncomfortable with symptoms that amounted to a sudden, severe menopause.

So the researchers tapped 919 transgender patients who underwent gender affirming surgery at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery between November 2015 and August 2019. Notably, including 407 cases of transgender women who underwent primary vaginoplasty surgery.

This study found that the practice of withholding estrogen prior to gender affirming surgery was not necessary. Most transgender women can now safely remain on their estrogen therapy throughout surgery.

The bottom line: This study found that most transgender women can  safely maintain their estrogen hormone treatments during gender affirming surgery.

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Health & Wellness

Facebook posts help facilitate belief that HPV vaccine is dangerous to health

Nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

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The human papillomavirus infection, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HPV is associated with health problems including genital warts and cancers, but a vaccine has been available since 2006 to help stop the virus. The CDC reports more than 12 years of data supports the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, yet HPV vaccination rates still remain low.

Social media has a history of being a popular place for sexual health discussions, and the HPV vaccine is one of the most discussed vaccines on the internet. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has studied more than 6,500 public HPV vaccine-related posts on Facebook from 2006 to 2016. In a previous study, Luisi used these Facebook posts to identify a negative trend on Facebook related to how people perceive the HPV vaccine.

Now, she suggests this negative trend on Facebook may also cause people to develop a false perception of the health risk of the vaccine. After looking at the percentage of posts that made the vaccine seem more dangerous, less dangerous or neither, Luisi found nearly 40% of Facebook posts about the HPV vaccine amplified a perceived risk, and the data suggests these posts had momentum over time.

“We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks,” she said. “It’s more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine, but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don’t.”

Luisi suggests the spread of this negative information may lead people to have a false perception of the vaccine, so people should consult their doctor or health care provider before making an informed decision.

“Facebook remains a very popular social media platform for adult audiences, which necessitates action to address HPV vaccine risk messages,” she said. “People are going to see what they are going to see on social media, so it’s important to not only take what you see on social media, but also talk to a doctor or health care provider. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Luisi notes research must continue to address the perception of vaccine safety where the vaccine is perceived as a greater health threat than the virus or disease it prevents, and her study could also inform officials for the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine roll out and distribution.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, people are likely going to see a lot of negative information, and that negative information will be what trends on social media,” she said. “But, if the public can anticipate this negative information, it will be interesting to see if that will that make them less sensitive to the perceived risk of the vaccine.”

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Health & Wellness

Depression and stress could dampen efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

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Decades of research show that depression, stress, loneliness, and poor health behaviors can weaken the body’s immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

A new report accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that the same may be true for the new COVID-19 vaccines that are in development and the early stages of global distribution. Fortunately, it may be possible to reduce these negative effects with simple steps like exercise and sleep.

Vaccines are among the safest and most effective advances in medical history, protecting society from a wide range of otherwise devastating diseases, including smallpox and polio. The key to their success, however, is ensuring that a critical percentage of the population is effectively vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.

Even though rigorous testing has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution are highly effective at producing a robust immune response, not everyone will immediately gain their full benefit. Environmental factors, as well as an individual’s genetics and physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system, slowing the response to a vaccine.

This is particularly troubling as the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, trigging a concurrent mental health crisis as people deal with isolation, economic stressors, and uncertainty about the future. These challenges are the same factors that have been previously shown to weaken vaccine efficacy, particularly among the elderly.

“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author on the paper. “Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”

Vaccines work by challenging the immune system. Within hours of a vaccination, there is an innate, general immune response on the cellular level as the body begins to recognize a potential biological threat. This frontline response by the immune system is eventually aided by the production of antibodies, which target specific pathogens. It is the continued production of antibodies that helps to determine how effective a vaccine is at conferring long-term protection.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the COVID-19 vaccines already in circulation are approximately 95% effective. Even so, these psychological and behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes to develop immunity and can shorten the duration of immunity.

“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and senior author on the paper. “It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”

Based on prior research, one strategy the researchers suggest is to engage in vigorous exercise and get a good night’s sleep in the 24 hours before vaccination so that your immune system is operating at peak performance. This may help ensure that the best and strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.

“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” said Madison. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”

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Health & Wellness

Bisexual men more prone to eating disorders than gay or straight men – study

80% of bisexual men reported that they “felt fat”, and 77% had a strong desire to lose weight, both figures higher than the 79% and 75% for gay men, respectively.

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Bisexual men are more likely to experience eating disorders than either heterosexual or gay men. This is according to a report from the University of California San Francisco, published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders.

A handful of studies have actually indicated that gay men are at increased risk for disordered eating, including fasting, excessive exercise and preoccupation with weight and body shape. This newer study, however, suggests that bisexual men are even more susceptible to some unhealthy habits.

For this study, the researchers surveyed over 4,500 LGBTQ adults, and a quarter of the bisexual male participants reported having fasted for more than eight hours to influence their weight or appearance. This is higher when compared to 20% for gay men.

The research also found that 80% of bisexual men reported that they “felt fat”, and 77% had a strong desire to lose weight, both figures higher than the 79% and 75% for gay men, respectively.

Now this is worth stressing: According to study co-author Dr. Jason Nagata, not everyone who diets or feels fat has an eating disorder. “It’s a spectrum — from some amount of concern to a tipping point where it becomes a pathological obsession about body weight and appearance,”Nagata was quoted as saying by NBC News.

For Nagata, several factors may be at play here, including “minority stress” (the concept that the heightened anxiety faced by marginalized groups can manifest as poor mental and physical health outcomes).

“LGBTQ people experience stigma and discrimination, and stressors can definitely lead to disordered eating,” Nagata was also quoted as saying. “For bi men, they’re not just facing stigma from the straight community but from the gay community, as well.”

Of all the respondents, 3.2% of bisexual males were clinically diagnosed with eating disorders (compared to 2.9% of gay men). For heterosexual men, it’s only 0.6%.

For the researchers, there is a need to conduct eating disorder research on various sexual identities independently. This is also to raise awareness on this issue (and how it affects different people of various SOGIESCs).

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Lifestyle & Culture

There is no silver bullet to lockdown blues, but…

There is never a magic bullet to our concerns. But we can find solutions that work for us and stick to them while in this very confusing and concerning lockdown world.

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Millions of people won’t be afraid to admit, they are hurting in lockdown. It’s not something that they have coped with well and don’t seem to be improving either. It’s harsh, very tough and daunting to be alone in the lockdown, not being able to have human contact or even talk to people, face to face. It’s not something anyone expected and thus didn’t prepare for. How could you, right?

So, depression and anxieties have led to lockdown blues. The root cause of most of our mental anguish is, not being able to live a normal life. But, there isn’t a silver bullet to this concern. In fact, most of us need to look at more nuanced cures to our ills. Let’s explore what our options are.

Sharing your blues

Lockdown blues have been felt all around the world. Whether you’re in Singapore, Malaysia, America, Italy or in the UK, millions of people are talking about what makes them cope or stressed in the day. This has been spreading on social media with hashtags such as ‘LonelyLockdown’ and ‘BeKind’. However, various message boards where you can anonymously speak about the things that are making you feel down are popular too.

It seems that the best way to get rid of the blues, at least for some people, is to let it out as it comes along. Don’t hold onto your worries, let them go by talking about them. You might be worried about your job, health, home, family, and friends to name a few. Start to talk about what is upsetting you and why. Please don’t bottle it up!

All for one
Do you ever feel like everything is getting too much and you just want a little rest bite? You just want all the stress and worry to halt for just one second. Many people believe that the only way they can do this is by taking something that numbs the pain or allows them to forget for a minute. Substance abuse is not something that should ever be entertained but if you do fall into the trap or relying on something like this, then support is never too far.

Read this American Addiction Centers review and see how they can help you. They have group therapy sessions as well as individual therapy sessions. The group therapy is very well-liked because they are very honest yet very understanding. That’s something that allows people to open up and let their feelings fly. Feelings of shame, disappointment and vitriol for the situation are very common and dealt with.

IMAGE SOURCE: PIXABAY.COM

Zen machine

Sometimes the best solutions are free. If you feel like life is getting on top of you right now, taking up online yoga or meditation classes could be your saving grace. Actually, for millions of people, since lockdown, having Zoom yoga meet-ups has been the silver bullet. If you would like to join in or find a club, go online and search for a zoom yoga club in your state or city.

There is never a magic bullet to our concerns. But we can find solutions that work for us and stick to them while in this very confusing and concerning lockdown world.  

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Love Affairs

Dating apps don’t destroy love

Contrary to earlier concerns, a UNIGE study has shown that people who met their partners on dating applications have often stronger long-term relationship goals, and that these new ways of meeting people encourage socio-educational and geographical mixing.

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Photo by Neil Soni from Unsplash.com

As dating apps escalated in popularity, so has criticism about them encouraging casual dating only, threatening the existence of long-term commitment, and possibly damaging the quality of intimacy. There is no scientific evidence, however, to validate these claims.

Now a study by the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland – and which was published in the journal PLOS ONE – indicates that app-formed couples have stronger cohabitation intentions than couples who meet in a non-digital environment.

What is more, women who found their partner through a dating app have stronger desires and intentions to have children than those who found their partner offline. Despite fears concerning a deterioration in the quality of relationships, partners who met on dating apps express the same level of satisfaction about their relationship as others.

Last but not least, the study shows that these apps play an important role in modifying the composition of couples by allowing for more educationally diverse and geographically distant couples.

“The Internet is profoundly transforming the dynamics of how people meet,” confirms Gina Potarca, a researcher at the Institute of Demography and Socioeconomics in UNIGE’s Faculty of Social Sciences. “It provides an unprecedented abundance of meeting opportunities, and involves minimal effort and no third-party intervention.”

These new dating technologies include the smartphone apps like Tinder or Grindr, where users select partners by browsing and swiping on pictures. These apps, however, have raised fears: “Large parts of the media claim they have a negative impact on the quality of relationships since they render people incapable of investing in an exclusive or long-term relationship. Up to now, though, there has been no evidence to prove this is the case,” continues Dr. Potarca.

Facilitated encounters

The Geneva-based researcher decided to investigate couples’ intentions to start a family, their relationship satisfaction and individual well-being, as well as to assess couple composition. Dr. Potarca used a 2018 family survey by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. The analysis presented in this study looks at a sub-sample of 3,235 people over the age of 18 who were in a relationship and who had met their partner in the last decade.

Dr. Potarca found that dating websites – the digital tools for meeting partners that preceded apps – mainly attracted people over the age of 40 and / or divorcees who are looking for romance.

“By eliminating lengthy questionnaires, self-descriptions, and personality tests that users of dating websites typically need to fill in to create a profile, dating apps are much easier to use. This normalized the act of dating online, and opened up use among younger categories of the population.”

Searching for a lasting relationship

Dr. Potarca sought to find out whether couples who met on dating apps had different intentions to form a family. The results show that couples that formed after meeting on an app were more motivated by the idea of cohabiting than others.

“The study doesn’t say whether their final intention was to live together for the long- or short-term, but given that there’s no difference in the intention to marry, and that marriage is still a central institution in Switzerland, some of these couples likely see cohabitation as a trial period prior to marriage. It’s a pragmatic approach in a country where the divorce rate is consistently around 40%.”

In addition, women in couples that formed through dating apps mentioned wanting and planning to have a child in the near future, more so than with any other way of meeting.

But what do couples who met in this way think about the quality of their relationship? The study shows that, regardless of meeting context, couples are equally satisfied with their lives and the quality of their relationship.

Couples with a diverse socio-educational profile

The study highlights a final aspect. Dating apps encourage a mixing of different levels of education, especially between high-educated women and lower educated men. Partners having more diversified socio-educational profiles “may have to do with selection methods that focus mainly on the visual,” says the researcher. Since users can easily connect with partners in their immediate region (but also in other spaces as they move around), the apps make it easier to meet people more than 30 minutes away – leading to an increase in long-distance relationships.

“Knowing that dating apps have likely become even more popular during this year’s periods of lockdown and social distancing, it is reassuring to dismiss alarming concerns about the long-term effects of using these tools,” concludes Dr. Potarca.

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