I suspect a number of you are aware of the complications having sex at a muay thai gym in Thailand can cause. It can be a messy affair, a matter that could be written extensively about, but a matter that I’m not going to touch in this piece. The issue, rather, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It pertains to the problems that arise when you refuse to have sex with your trainer, someone else’s trainer, or whomever in the gym that’s trying to hit it with you.
I’ve revised this piece a number of times over the past seven months. Why? Because the topic is not only complex, it’s one that I’m trying to approach without judgment. My intent is not to make sweeping generalizations; it’s to create a dialogue. I can only do so by sharing some of what has occurred to me training in Thailand over the past year plus, as well as my perception of what I’ve witnessed. This is a matter that I believe is easier to not broach, but again, I feel that we can only benefit from discussing it or at the very least acknowledging it – there are a lot of women out there who plan to come to Thailand to train and others who are here who may think their experience, if similar, is only their own.
I’ll reiterate something I’ve written a number of times – there is great difference between the experiences of those who come to train at a gym for a few weeks, a few months and those who are here for the long haul. In many cases, in regards to this topic, you can be female, show up at a gym, any number of guys will try to get with you – and whether you decide to be with someone or not makes little difference – you’re going home soon. If you do, from my experience, chances are the long-term gym residents will know about it, and if you don’t, there is the possibility that someone will lie about it, and people will think you did anyhow. Either way, it doesn’t matter, you’re going home.
When you’re here longer, things can get more convoluted. I’ll illustrate with one personal example over the past year or so. I’ve done my best to keep this as condensed as possible while trying to adequately illustrate that which occurred. Please note, this particular situation began when I first arrived in Thailand – I was still very green, optimistic and very concerned about showing respect to the culture I was living in – both Thai and that of the gym. I knew public displays of emotion, particularly anger would be frowned upon greatly and may not only cause me to be ostracized; such displays may be reason enough to boot me out. This particular situation occurred at a gym where very few women train.
In retrospect you often see things differently than you do when they occur, but the following is my truth, and it is what it is.
When I first arrived at the gym, one of the trainers made it known he was attracted to me. I didn’t think much of it until he told a fighter from another gym that was pursuing me, that he and I were lovers. This didn’t sit well with me, so I confronted him about it privately and let my feelings, or rather, lack of, be known, again. He said he understood and I didn’t let his actions affect me too deeply.
Shortly after, gifts were purchased. He wanted to take care of me and I wanted distance. When I told him I could do things independently, he was upset for days. Eventually he accepted it.
At times, when he drank, he was dangerous. There were phone calls asking into my room at night. There was controlling, manipulative behaviour. There was an instance where he got physical and I didn’t speak to him for weeks. He was heartbroken and shook when he apologized. There was another where he became overbearing and I threatened if he didn’t get himself in check; I’d discuss the situation with the owner. He paused for a long time, months – but then something changed that made every receptor in my body stay on point, not only during the waking hours, but at night when I tried to sleep. It affected everything for weeks – my eating patterns, my training, my ability to speak Thai and at times, I seriously questioned if my mental stability was getting slack…was I seeing things that didn’t exist?
Months previously I had decided to cross train at another gym. I was dealing with a situation that is other from this one, but was intense – it eventually became one that I had to call the police and my embassy for assistance – perhaps that situation is for another piece. Just know that because of this second situation, I was fielding calls from strangers – mostly men. And mostly men that were pretending to be men that I had met or that wanted to meet me. Please note, all of these calls were in Thai and I was still struggling with the language severely. One of my regular callers was named Jak. Whenever I’d receive a phone call of this nature, from anyone, I’d save the number and block it. I had a couple entries for Jak, the last one being noted at Jak3. Jak3 called me a number of times while I was at the other gym yet I felt it wasn’t the same Jak as the previous callers, despite the name. Why? I recognized the sounds of the street behind his voice. I swore they were from my old gym. Nonetheless, I questioned myself…why would someone from my old gym call me pretending to be someone else…
Why didn’t I change my phone number? Two reasons: pride and because all of my financial institutions in Canada had it as a reference. I couldn’t change the files from abroad. I decided to deal with the callers hoping they eventually would become bored of me. In time, I changed the number due to the other, more intense situation.
My sleeping pattern became erratic when I received a call from Jak3 at my home gym. Having blocked the number, my phone didn’t ring, however the phone was in my hand when the call came through. Before I thought about what I was doing, I answered it. Jak3 didn’t lay out the same line of questioning as expected. He was neither jealous nor accusatory; rather, he invited me out for dinner with some of the nak muays and the owner of the gym. Jak3 was the trainer.
At the time another female was in residence. She had arrived when I was cross training. We compared stories and ours weren’t the same. The boys teased us both, but I felt something was different with me. She didn’t see it, but I could sense it. Something was different than even a few months prior. Everyone was still friendly and open, but I could read in some of their eyes that something had gone amiss. I felt as if I was watched at times, their eyes trying to read mine, trying to make something out. During this time, the trainer began to pay more attention to me. Again, this was a gym where we all had to live together and he was the trainer the gym deemed responsible for Foreigners. I couldn’t avoid him and felt that keeping things level was in everyone’s best interest – I was there to train and he had a lot of power.
Nonetheless, in an act of defense I asked the other muay ying to watch me. I requested she ensure that I was never left alone with him when he was drinking. I asked that she walked me to my room which is literally four meters (?) across from the gym and keep an eye on me. She wasn’t convinced it was a dangerous situation; she was more concerned with a situation I had been dealing with concerning another trainer at the time…
Then a new kru arrived that I had previously met. We were happy to see one another. However, shortly after his arrival, his behaviour changed. He followed the pattern a number of new faces at the gym had. He looked at me differently and kept himself at a distance. I’d catch him watching me sometimes…I knew something was off….this pattern had been going on for months.
Sub sequentially the nature of the teasing began to change. A number of people started on me more frequently about the trainer. Lighthearted, private teasing wasn’t uncommon because people knew he liked me and it just became a friendly joke at times, but now, when he wasn’t present people asked if I missed him. When I asked where he was, they asked if my heart was broken. A guy cringed when I touched him, one kid screamed. And then, it was something I caught in the eyes of one of my favourite people, something I still can’t identify, perhaps sadness, perhaps disappointment, but it was the confirmation I was looking for…
Again, I approached the trainer privately. I asked why everyone was teasing me about him. He became defensive and instructed me to tell people we weren’t giks (lovers/hook ups). I asked why people would even believe that, and that’s when I got my answer. Point blank, he stared me in the eyes and said:
“Because everyone thinks you’re mooa”.
This completely wiped my mind clean. It didn’t make any sense to me. I don’t even flirt. He then again went into chastising me – all of which turned to babble…I wasn’t concerned with what he was saying, but that sentence, that sentence describes what I saw in the eyes of the guys at the gym. Questioning, disappointment, judgment and with some, contempt. For reasons unbeknown to me, I had lost their respect.
I went back to my room and made some phone calls. I called people I trusted, people who independently told me the same truth. The trainer had been telling everyone we were sleeping together.
At this point, and actually in previous months I realize I could have spoken to the owner about this issue. Why didn’t I? In part, I felt that I wouldn’t be believed. I’m Falang and I’m female – our reputation here in Thailand generally is, we’re promiscuous. The term ‘free sex’ gets thrown around a lot in regards to Falang. Sometimes I feel the local translation of ‘free sex’ is as follows: Falang women are prostitutes you don’t have to pay for – we’ll sleep with anyone, anytime. Also working against my case – the trainer has been with the gym for twenty years. Why didn’t I leave? Because I had developed an attachment to the gym and at times, I had received incredible training. I also felt this would happen at another gym. I’m not solitary in this type of experience, and this isn’t the only trainer I’ve dealt with in this regard…
So how did I handle the situation? I waited until breakfast when I knew a lot of people would be present, walked into the gym, to the trainer and simply asked, “Why are you lying to everyone? Why are you saying we’re having sex when you know it’s not true?” People were shocked, he was horrified, and I don’t know if I adequately masked the pain and anger in my eyes.
This goes against my understanding of ‘saving face’ in Thailand. No one knew how to deal with me. The owner’s wife heard me (I planned this) and in an effort to manipulate the situation for his own cause, the trainer explained that I had misunderstood everyone’s teasing. However, he said it softly, I believe, so others couldn’t hear. I made sure she understood otherwise. I made sure everyone knew otherwise. He was in a no win situation. If he said he didn’t sleep with me, he would lose face in front of the guys, if he said he did; there would be possible repercussions because protocol at the gym is that trainers cannot be with Foreigners ….
In short, it was a mess that lasted about five to ten minutes. The women at the gym were trying to convince me I was wrong, that because I’m Falang, I don’t understand Thai culture. I don’t know if their reaction was an effort to save face/make the situation blow over, or if they truly believed what they were saying. They continued that I was just upset about the teasing, refusing to believe me. It was surreal and completely illogical – as though two conversations were happening and I was only included in one although they were both directed at me. I realized then wasn’t the time to discuss his physical actions. I left quietly. Enraged. Confused. Heartbroken. I’m not accustomed to being accused of lying. In the days that followed, no one knew what to do, how to act, and I couldn’t erase the sorrow in my eyes despite showing up to train. I tried to poker face it, but I didn’t have the desire to speak.
One of the guys offered to help. He spoke to a Thai friend of mine who is fluent in English. When their conversation was complete, what she told me was as though she was speaking about someone else. A number of things had been said about me in the gym, but the most jarring was that more than one of the guys had been saying I was sleeping with them. Other than the trainer, I don’t know who else, or how many…I was just told ‘a lot’…I asked her if there was anything I did, anything that wasn’t congruent with Thai culture that may have somehow crossed wires somewhere. She answered, “No, it’s because you are Falang. It wouldn’t matter what you did”. I asked her if my friend believed me. Her answer? “He doesn’t know what to believe..”
My heart emptied and went cold. Was it because I was worried about my reputation as a whore? In part, yes, because in this country, that’s a liability and may have affected my personal safety in my neighbourhood. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Could I just ignore it and continue training? Within this context, I didn’t think so. It affected too many aspects of my training – I had become the pariah. That’s what I had sensed for months but couldn’t identify fully. However, that’s not what completely made me feel as though my blood had corroded my arteries. It was the sense of betrayal. I didn’t know who my friends were.
A few days previous to this, one of the nak muays had asked if I was happy at the gym. He exclaimed, “It’s like family here, isn’t it?”
As the days passed, I continued to train and eat at the same table with everyone. At the time, I was the lone Foreigner and female. There were a lot of concerned looks thrown my way and a number of people wouldn’t meet my gaze, but I’d catch them staring. A number of the guys offered their kindness, gently making me feel welcome, included. I finally opened up to one of them, and told him everything that had transpired. I don’t know what he did with that information. I decided to leave for awhile and he tried to convince me to stay, but something inside me had turned to dust – this wasn’t what I came out to Thailand to do – I came here to train.
I wasn’t satisfied with leaving the situation as it was, I didn’t want this happening to another female, so I decided to discuss it with the powers that be. I felt they deserved an explanation for me leaving shortly after being asked to fight – they had always been respectful to me and I felt they deserved the same treatment. I sat with them in the big office and told them most about what had occurred. It wasn’t easy. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in this country – I didn’t know if I’d be believed, I didn’t know if they would turn and blame it on me. I didn’t know if it would be confirmation that women shouldn’t be allowed to train muay thai at this establishment. I was up against the cultural stereotype of the wayward, wanton Falang female and lifetimes of patriarchy. We needed a translator to assist. I was allowed to speak fully – it was then their turn. The first question asked of me… “Was he ever in your room?”….. I have no idea what, if anything was done with the information.
This, in whatever form it takes, happens more often than discussed. It’s a consistent thread I’ve become aware of that links a lot of women who are training here long-term. Our stories are different, but the problem is the same – who we choose not to have sex with can affect our training and our lives.
I’ll continue, and generalize via situations I’ve encountered as well as others…your trainer thinks he can get with you. He tries and you refuse. The quality of your training somehow changes. Then you realize you’re being traded off to new trainers, new trainers that try to get with you…new trainers that react differently when you refuse….they can lose interest, become abusive, sometimes using excessive force….all of which is generally passive in nature – blanketed, so you question the validity of their actions, your feelings….Then over time, if you stay at a gym long enough, new girls come in who receive great training. If they sleep with their trainer, it generally continues, if they don’t, something, sometimes, changes, or their trainers switch….
I’ve had a trainer say, “You won’t love me? I’ll only train you lightly…”
Am I implying that if the quality of a woman’s training changes, it’s due to the fact she’s not sleeping with her trainer? No, it’s life, a lot of it is random, but I’m questioning a pattern I’ve seen develop that seems widespread….I know a number of girls who have jumped from gym to gym because of such issues. None of this is congruent with what most of us come out here to do. Train and for some of us, fight.
Was the above situation my only one? No way, this sort of thing, in one form or another has followed me throughout this country.
What’s the answer? I have no clue, maybe there isn’t one, maybe it’s simply about people being aware of the possibility and staying on point, about listening to their intuition, about holding their ground, about knowing when it’s time to leave, about communication…
As for me, I’ve changed my approach. My Thai language skills have improved – this equates to power. I’m less vulnerable and less dependent on others. No one needs to speak for me. Likewise, no one can manipulate what I say for their own devices. People know I can understand far more than I can speak. I continue to deal with emotions privately and out of training hours, but I’m less concerned about offending those that overstep my boundaries and about being kicked out of an establishment.
Recently I was alone in the kitchen of a gym when a trainer came in. My back was turned to him and he started flirting with me, as became customary. I told him again, I wasn’t interested. He then rushed me from behind and put me in a tight clinch – he’s both larger and stronger than I am, his body pressed so tightly against mine, I could barely move. I tried to create space and once accomplished, I quickly grabbed a metal spatula and smashed him over the head with it. He released me and said that hitting someone on the top of the head is really bad in Thai culture. I told him trying to sodomize me was really bad in mine.
Not exactly what I wanted to say and it wasn’t said as delicately; I’m still working on the language…either way, this just made him like me more. In another instance that followed, he approached me from the front. Again he put me in a clinch – this time grabbing and kissing my body – I bit him until I almost drew blood. Again, this made him like me more….
I believe if any one of these men wanted to rape me, the offence would have occurred. I feel the instances I’ve encountered, although aggressive were more about intimidation and coercion than rape. For those of you who think perhaps the situation would be solved training at a gym with a number of Foreigners – instances as such have occurred when Falang men have been present at a gym.
Recently I decided to go the route of personal training – my kru and I alone at his home. Instinct regarding his character coupled with the safeguard of some heavy hitters led me to him. Perhaps part of my protection comes in the form of commerce. The money I pay goes directly into his hands. There is no middle man, no constant stream of people coming in – whether he gets paid or not is directly linked to his treatment of me. To this date, there have been no problems.
I hope this has been beneficial.
More about Laura
I’m a Canadian who decided to quit my job, sell most of what I own, pack a suitcase, and skip continents to pursue a martial art I’m not particularly efficient in. A minimalist. A modern nomad. A kid who just likes having a good time.
My attraction to muay thai is that it’s an art with no wasted motion. It has been the greatest vehicle for my continual education. It’s incredibly challenging to me – both the physical and the mental game. The latter probably more so than the former.
Currently I’m in Bangkok training muay thai fulltime. The plan is to be here for a few years, but realistically, I have no idea where this path is leading, or what the timeline is. I like change and pushing my comfort zone. A lot. Nevertheless, muay thai will be the constant among the variables.
Be prepared for updates, rambling, video content and anything I’ve learned that I think may of use to you.
This hasn’t been easy, but so far, its been a pretty sick ride.
My website http://www.milkblitzstreetbomb.com/