February 16, 2003
Nostalgia for the bad old days–TV series
In the television event of the year, director Tsao Jui-yuan is set to bring Kenneth Pai’s highly regarded novel ‘Crystal Boys’ to TV sets nationwide
by Yu Sen-lun, Staff Reporter
It was the early 1970s in Taipei, a time when Hsimenting had the most glamorous cabaret in town and American GIs roamed Shuancheng Street and Chungshan North Road. For men the fashion was tight-fitting boots, tight trousers and colorful turtle-neck sweaters or tight, flowery shirts. And 228 Memorial Park, then known as New Park, was the meeting place for Taipei’s gay community. It was here that the acclaimed novel Crystal Boys, hailed as the first novel to focus on gay culture in Chinese society, was set.
Published in 1983, the book has been translated into numerous languages, including English, French, German and Japanese. As author Kenneth Pai writes: "In our kingdom, there are only dark nights, no daylight. Once the sky turns bright, our kingdom becomes invincible … . In our kingdom, there are no divisions between rich and poor, noble and low, old and young, strong and weak. What we have are each other’s bodies that burn with desire so hot that the pain is unbearable. And each other’s lonely hearts that drive us crazy … ."
In 1986 Crystal Boys was made into a feature film. And now, starting tomorrow, the novel will be presented as a TV mini-series by Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS). For many reasons, from the book’s literary value to the new program’s casting and production costs, the production Crystal Boys can be seen the most highly anticipated television drama in Taiwan in the last two years. The series stars up-and-coming actors Wing Fan (The Best of Times 2002) and Ma Chih-hsiang (Brave 20 2002); established actor To Tsong-hua; and revered actors such as Ko Chun-hsiung, who has won several Best Actor awards at the Golden Horse awards and Asia-Pacific Film Festival, and Ting Chiang and Wang Chueh. The cast alone is enough to excite many Taiwanese movie fans, as it gathers together the best-looking group of Taiwanese actors ever to perform in a TV drama. And for purists, "Wing Fan is exactly like Lee Ching [the main character] in my book," said Kenneth Pai at a press conference on Wednesday.
Handsome and a bit melancholy, Wing Fan was seen by Pai as the actor best-suited to play Lee, a sensitive, reserved boy who is both protagonist and narrator in the 400-page novel. "My novels have been adapted for cinema and television many times, but I especially liked the cast for this one. Many of the young actors turned in outstanding portrayals of the lost boys in my story. And more importantly, the film recruited a lot of established actors to play the father figures. They are wonderful actors.
On this account, I would say the series was a success," said Pai, after watching all 20 episodes of Crystal Boys. Pai’s novel also transcends what some might regard as the stereotypical themes (in the West) of recent gay literature – eroticism, relationships, drag queens, gyms, superior fashion sense, neurotic personalities, etc. – both in that it touches on what was for most Taiwanese born in the 1970s the common experience of high school, as well as in its groundbreaking nature. As writer and cultural critic Nan Fang-shou said, "Pai’s Crystal Boys was the first literature exploring gay culture in contemporary Chinese society. Pai explores it in a deep and profound manner." The novel has many distinct and well-developed characters and complicated human relationships. Its physical center starts at New Park’s lotus pond and extends through the bustling streets of Hsimenting and Chungshan North Road, to local gambling houses and brothels in Sanchung in Taipei County, all the way to New York and Tokyo.
These characters and locations are juxtaposed with popular music from the time: The Beatles, Tom Jones and cha-cha and tango dancing. Crystal Boys is not merely about gay culture, it is about the aura of 1970s Taipei. "My original intention was not to make a gay work. Having read the book so many times, I’m always fascinated by the atmosphere of the 1970s. At that time, there was a special kind of the warmth among people in their relationships, be it friendship, family or romantic love. This kind of warmth seems to have been lost now. So I wanted to recollect the feelings and the aura again on screen," said Tsao Jui-yuan, director of the mini-series. Crystal Boys begins with Lee Ching being turned out by his father due to "misbehavior" with his schoolmate in the high school laboratory. Lee then starts frequenting the park at night, looking for love and money.
Coach Yang, a fat, dapper middle-aged man, plays teacher to the "young birds" like Lee in the park. He teaches them how to pick up customers, raise their price and protect themselves from the police. Teenagers like Lee and his friends are the favorites of older visitors to the park. His best friend Little Jade is the favorite of a movie studio boss, but Jade likes the Japanese-style ojisan Mr. Lin, a local businessman. Another friend, Wu Ming, is loved and fed by Mr. Chang, a sophisticated but mean-spirited middle-aged man. And Lee gets picked up by a handsome 30-something named Dragon, although the coach warns him not to. The son of a high-ranking general, Dragon has a sinister reputation.
The producers of Crystal Boys worked hard to capture the feel of 1970s Taiwan, creating 80 different sets for the series. They rebuilt a movie theater and changed its billboard to advertise a Bruce Lee film. They went to Hsinchu to find an old, unrenovated veteran’s villages for soldiers from the mainland. And several sets were reconstructed in modern cabaret houses in order to get the old cabaret in Hsimenting just right. "The whole process made us realize that many of the old buildings and entertainment venues, especially the veteran’s villages, are vanishing. It’s really very sad," Tsao said.
Apart from that, everyone involved seemed pleased with the result. "I was very touched by the film. It captured the mood of my novel splendidly," Pai said. Ting Chiang, who plays the kitschy but strong-hearted Coach Yang, said the series was one of the most exhilarating acting experiences he has had in a long time. "It was a rare chance for all of us to be involved in such a large and well-made production like this one," Ting said. "I am proud to have been a part of it."
February 16, 2003
Writer keeps aloof from sexual politics
by Yu Sen-lun, Staff Reporter
Kenneth Pai’s books are treated as the bible of Chinese gay culture by some and as a folk history of the 1970s by others. It came as no surprise then that people were eager to ask how much of the fascinating world of young drifters and their loves and lusts had been part of his own experience. "The word fiction already indicates that what you read is not real," Pai said during a panel discussion for the TV mini-series Crystal Boys. Pressing the point, a member of the discussion suggested that Pai, like the character Dragon in the novel, was a handsome son of an Army general. "I didn’t kill anyone, let’s get that straight," he said, nimbly sidestepping the question. A higher proportion of Pai’s work has been turned into films, TV or stage plays than almost any other contemporary Taiwanese writer. Stories such as Jade Love, Kim’s Last Night, Crystal Boys and Wandering in the Garden,
Waking from Dream are recognized classics of Chinese-language fiction. He is a master of various writing styles and is famous for his subtle depiction of women. With his literary reputation is unassailable, curiosity about this writer tends to focus around his sexual orientation. "When I write, I always put myself on the same line as my characters. I feel their worlds and emotions with them," Pai said in reference to his "experience" of the events that take place in Crystal Boys. "You have to have keen observation and also a great sympathy towards your characters," he added.
In Crystal Boys, all the main characters come from broken or dysfunctional families. They are young male prostitutes and their relationships are mostly unstable. This raised the question: Aren’t these characters reinforcing the stereotypes of gay people, was another question that came up. "For me, it is a story, a drama. The most important thing is that it can touch you and make you sympathized with the characters. That’s what matters. Because what I want to express is human nature and human feeling. As with heterosexuals, the world of homosexuals is also about human nature," Pai said.
March 16, 2003
Race and sexuality make a fascinating tangle at film fest
Tony Ayres, an Australian-Chinese filmmaker, talks about Asian men and how they sruvive the gay scene down under
By Yu Sen-lun, Staff Reporter
The Chinese title of Tony Ayres’ Walking on Water translates as "If you love me, kill me". Many expected an action thriller with black humor, making it one of the best-selling works showing at the Taipei Film Festival. But such expectations couldn’t have been more wrong. The film won the 2002 Teddy Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, an award for gay and lesbian films. It also shot Tony Ayres, a relative unknown in the European market, into the limelight at the very gay-friendly Berlinale.
Back home in Australia, the film won five major prizes in last year’s Australian Film Institute Awards. With the film’s success, people realized that Ayres had also made eight short films and was also the author of a short story collection. "When you see the film, you know that it is not about being gay at all," said Ayres in an interview last Friday, visiting Taipei for the film festival. It is a story about how people deal with loss and grief. The film begins with two people helping their terminally ill roommate and best friend Gavin to die in a dignified and less painful way.
But things do not go as planned. First, a massive dose of morphine doesn’t work. And then, after the funeral, the two both embark on an emotional rollercoaster: illicit affairs, taking the leftover morphine, breaking-up, caustic arguments and unwitting betrayals. As its Chinese title suggests, the film contains intense emotions.
While the material could make it a conventional melodrama, Ayres view of his characters and events is refreshingly unsentimental. "I try not to use the conventional way to talk about the way people deal with death. Grief is such a complicated and confusing emotion and everyone has his own way responding to it," said Ayres. Speaking of unconventional, Ayres has every reason to be different.
Apart from Walking on Water, the film festival is also showing three short films which more clearly and boldly reveal Ayres’ background. China Dolls (1997) is a reflection on the issue of race and sexuality. Here the China dolls are not Chinese girls but Asian gay men in Australian society. In the film, Ayres presents the taunting nomenclature of the gay subculture: rice queens (Caucasian men who prefer Asian men), potato queens (Asians who prefer Caucasians), sticky rice (Asian for Asian), and fruit salad (all colors welcome).
On the other hand, he had different Asian men talk about their experiences facing all these stereotypes. Ayres also appears in the film confessing his own racial complex being a Western-educated Chinese living in Australia. "I felt excluded because I had such a longing to be in," admitted Ayres in the film, while in front of the camera he symbolically painted his face white. "Sexual and racial identity is a basic element in my past works," said Ayres, whose parents came from Shanghai and who acquired his surname from his step-father. Growing up in a completely Western environment, the only Mandarin he could speak was "ni-hao-ma."
In his films, he lets us see a world of Chinese Australians who have lived in the country for five generations and in whose lives little Chinese culture can be found. In Sadness (1999), Ayres features photographer William Yang, a fifth-generation Chinese who journeyed to northern Queensland to explore the murder of his uncle in the 1920s. Juxtaposed with this are photo stories of his close friends who are struggling with AIDS. Being honest and open about his sexuality, Ayres runs the risk of being stereotyped. Although his new film seeks to go beyond sexual or ethnic politics, he is still asked if he will keep on making gay films.
"I have never thought of myself as either a gay filmmaker or not a gay filmmaker," he said. "When Woody Allen makes a film, he doesn’t need to say the film is about straight love," he added. . Tony Ayres’ China Dolls, Sadness and Mrs. Craddock’s Complaint are showing at Taipei Film Festival today starting 8pm at the Metropolitan Hall located at 25 Pate Rd., Sec. 3, Taipei.
Mar 09, 2003
Notes of a Desolate Man’ is a meditation on one man’s experience of gay life in Taiwan(book review)
Named one of 1994’s best books by the `New York Times,’ `Notes of a Desolate Man’ is an ambitious meditation on one man’s experience of gay life in Taiwan
by Bradley Winterton
Notes of A Desolate Man
By Chu Tien-wen
Columbia University Press
This novel isn’t new, but it has recently become accessible online in digital form in two different formats, as well as being issued in paperback.
As it has never been reviewed in the Taipei Times it seems appropriate to take a closer look at it now.
When Howard Goldblatt was in Taipei last month he pointed to this book as the most challenging he’d ever translated (he tackled it along with his wife, Taiwan-born Sylvia Li-Chun Lin). This, and the fact that it’s a Taiwanese novel about gays, written by a woman, that has been voted one of the best books of the year by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, makes it something we should sit up and take note of.
Chu Tien-wen is famous for her vividly-etched short stories set in Taipei, for instance the title story of Fin de Siecle Splendor which features fashionable young women taking drugs in hot-springs and exchanging chat about apricot scrub creams and rose blushers against a brighter-than-life subtropical background.
Notes of a Desolate Man is rather different. It’s narrated by an initially timid gay teacher, Xiao Shao. His youthful gay friend, Ah Yao, lies dying of AIDS in an American hospital. Ah Yao has pursued a wild life and is also a committed activist for gay and lesbian rights. Strongly contrasting with him is the narrator’s devoted lover, Yongjie, a man with a perfect body and a faithful disposition to boot. The couple would like to embark on a gay marriage, a state they enter mentally while attending mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
When Yongjie goes away on an assignment to Yunnan province, Xiao Shao experiences loneliness and begins to feel his age. His meditation on the nature of the young in the mid-1990s, the "Fido Dido generation" as he calls it, is one of the best things in the book.
What contributed to this novel’s early fame when first published in Chinese in 1994 was the very wide range of cultural reference it contained. There are discussions of Foucault, Levi-Strauss, Goethe, Johann Sebastian Bach (as well as Bach flower remedies), the movies of Naruse Mikio, Fellini and Ozu Yasujiro, and much more. There are also lengthy passages describing Miles Davis’s trumpet playing, a failed attempt to set up a thriving fish tank, and society’s hypothetical evolution to patriarchy from matriarchy. The concept of a feminine, humane, and by implication quasi-homosexual Age of Aquarius, superseding the materialist and war-oriented masculine culture that has dominated the last 2,000 years, also makes a surprising reappearance.
What also initially caught the public’s eye was the list of innumerable color shades in the text, and the accompanying sense of the author positively trawling for rare words, whether they were herbs, colors or scents, especially when they carried a strong sensory association. This was at the time a signature tactic of this particular writer, something she was known for and that was therefore expected. In a book as theoretical as this it also provided some very welcome oases of relief.
In addition there are passages set in Egypt (Karnak), Italy (Venice), Japan (Kamakura), as well as references to maybe 50 classic writers, 30 famous films, and an uncountable number of abstract ideas.
The picture of male gay life this book paints is simultaneously a sympathetic one and one of addiction. The gay man who reverses day and night, goes to gay saunas five times a week, and has so many casual partners there’s no way he can remember them all, is set side by side with the social radical who’s intent on breaking the line of biological descent."We are the terminators of the kinship system," the narrator proudly proclaims after reading Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques and Foucault’s History of Sexuality.
This is a gay cultural tour that lacks only one thing — any credible evocation of gay experience. There are very many ideas here, but gradations of feeling and perception are far more difficult to find. Plot-wise, too, this isn’t a thrilling book. At times it reads more like a dissertation than a novel. For readers living in Taiwan, it may well be its Taipei setting that constitutes its most immediate attraction.
Some people will think this isn’t so much a novel as a dissertation on mid-1990s youth culture, taking in alienation, designer fads, computer games, androgyny and the like, and containing more than its fair share of cultural theory. As a result, many readers are going to find the book more than a little wearying. The best books all give pleasure, albeit pleasure of different kinds, with not all of them giving pleasure to the same sorts of people. But the weakness of this book as a novel is that it’s more a catalogue of ideas and associations than a pleasurable story with developed characters and dramatic developments. This novel was a major event when first published in Chinese. It took Taipei gay life seriously, and set it in a rich and elaborate sociological and cultural context. It was the product of a major Taiwanese writer who was to go on to reap great success.
Nevertheless, the issue of display will not go away. Was this writer merely bent on displaying her multiple talents, or was she genuinely intent on pleasing the reader? That the answer will be the former for many people is the reason this book is, in the final analysis, less than the masterpiece it might otherwise have been.
Notes of a Desolate Man remains a major landmark, but the feeling that it has been pieced together rather than written is in places unavoidable. Great books have to have something pressing to say. Chu Tien-wen does not, at least in this book, give the impression she is under that compulsion.
July 13, 2003
Book Review: Lesbians in Taiwan–A bed of roses
Academic Sang Tze-lin says the country is the most progressive place for a gay and lesbian identity in East Asia, except for Japan
by Bradley Winterton, Contributing Reporter
The Emerging Lesbian, By Sang Tze-lin; 380 pages; University of Chicago Press Subtitled Female Same-Sex Desire in Modern China, The Emerging Lesbian holds Taiwan in reserve until its final chapters. But when it eventually turns to the island, it comes out with all guns blazing. Taiwan, Sang Tze-lin proclaims, has since the early 1990s pioneered the emergence and definition of a lesbian identity in a way that’s unique in the Chinese-speaking world.
American-style its arguments may be, but in a pan-Chinese context they are crucially important. The future, she argues, may show that Taiwan sowed the seeds of a modern Chinese lesbian identity which the mainland’s same-sex-oriented women eventually followed.
The book, which started life as a Ph.D. thesis at Berkeley, California, is an academic work that looks at the evolution of lesbian politics in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It doesn’t, despite its title and subtitle, find evidence of very much of an unbridled nature being done or publicly said in China. The absence of the free interchange of ideas there means that such groups as exist have had to express themselves in guarded, and especially non-political, language.
In Taiwan, however, things could hardly be more different.
Taiwan’s fiction about lesbian and gay sexuality in the 1990s became "voluminous" the author claims. She points to the "uncountable" number of MOTSS ("Members of the Same Sex") domains set up by students on the Internet BBS (Bulletin Board System) here. She points to Web sites such as that of Hong peiji ("G-zine"), described as an electronic journal featuring incisive feminist and lesbian commentary with intentionally "offensive" graphics, the work of a group at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University.
Another Taiwanese lesbian Web site she points to is that of the TO-GET-HER Lez Cyberpub. Furthermore, quoting a 1996 American source that focused on Taiwanese female same-sex culture, she states that there were, even seven years ago, over 30 lesbian bars ("T-bars" [T for tomboy]) in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung where the clientele was "very young," generally between the ages of 14 and 23. "The growth of these organizations throughout the 1990s in Taiwan is emblematic of the vitality and strength of the lesbian and feminist movements on the island," she writes.
"The Taiwanese militant lesbian feminist persona is not just a new lesbian identity. It is an unprecedented public female identity, at least as far as the Chinese-speaking world is concerned." It’s important to underline just what the writer is saying here: Taiwan’s lesbian presence represents, irrespective of sexual preferences, women standing up as a group in public in a way that has no parallel in any other part of the Chinese world.
"We are left, then, with an intriguing question indeed," she goes on, "Whether the pointed critiques of the structuring of gender norms, differences, and hierarchies that Taiwanese lesbian feminists have advanced on the island for over a decade can catalyze similar developments on the mainland in the near future." In discussing the remarkable upsurge of gay and lesbian writing here in the 1990s, Sang Tze-lan gives a lot of space to Qiu Miaojin, the author of The Crocodile’s Journal, who took her own life in Paris in June 1995, aged 26.
She considers the book "honest" and "questioning" and contrasts it favorably with "more ideologically-driven novels and short stories that certain queer theorists-cum-writers produced in 1990s Taiwan." Of course it’s not all a bed of roses here for lesbians and gays. Sang points an accusing finger at Taiwan’s sensationalist and "schizophrenic"
Chinese-language print and TV media, on the one hand ever eager to give publicity to gay and lesbian issues, yet on the other hand unable to resist falling back on satiric stereotypes. Qiu Miaojin’s book, too, gave a lot of space to (in Sang’s words) satirizing the Taiwan media’s "invention of homosexuals as a mystical, biologically distinct species." Nor is Sang uncritical of the flourishing study of gender and sexuality in Taiwan’s universities.
Local academics who comment on the new fictional material so profusely, she says, have become TV and media personalities in their own right, despite their tendency to tirelessly cite Western queer theory. NTU and the National Central University are given as the powerhouses of this analytical and promotional discourse.
Sang points out that in China, by contrast, not only was homosexuality unmentionable in public prior to the 1980s, but also that, even now, no major female writer there has yet publicly claimed a lesbian identity. After considering the situation in imperial China, the book looks at Republican China (1911 to 1949) and sees at least a debate on the viability of female same-sex love there. It then moves on to analyze the work of some prominent feminist authors in the contemporary PRC. The two most important of these are Lin Bai, author of One Person’s War, 1994), and Chen Ran , author of Private Life, 1996). Both of these books are perceived in China as embodying a new female sensibility, part of the approved movement toward the expression of individual views (up to a point).
Sang argues, however, that the true nature of the feelings explored in both books is actually a lesbian one. Both authors, however, in interviews with Sang, refused any such identification. Nevertheless, when Sang visited Beijing again, in 1998, she met a group of self-identified lesbians. When she asked if they planned to start a campaign, one of them significantly remarked, "We want life, not politics."
In an obscure footnote, the author refers to Taiwan as "my native place" and China as "my ancestral land." It’s strange, therefore, that the book lacks interview material with Taiwanese writers. Nevertheless, the research into published material on Taiwan appears extremely thorough. What this book shows is what many people have long known, that Taiwan is the most progressive place for a gay and lesbian identity in all East Asia, with the possible exception of Japan.
August 5, 2003
Two gay couples marry in Taichung
by Taiwan News, Staff Writer
With the blessings of their friends and colleagues, two couples of gays and lesbians exchanged vows and got married in Taichung City, central Taiwan, yesterday, which was also Chinese Valentine’s Day that falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. "Hsuan," a 23-year-old man who works at a pub in downtown Taichung, had been dressing himself up as a bride since early yesterday morning in order to marry his other half, nicknamed "Ma Ke."
The couple did not inform their family members of their wedding, which was under the auspices of several hotels and wedding companies in central Taiwan. "Hsuan" said he did not know how his family members felt about his marriage. "I am fulfilling a commitment I made to ‘Ma Ke’ after I reached the age of 20," he said.
"I don’t care how other people see our marriage as long as ‘Ma Ke’ and I feel happy staying together as a married couple." "Ma Ke" said their biggest wish is to adopt a couple of children and form a real family after getting married. He said he did not prepare a wedding present for his wife. "I guess that our wedding itself is the best present for both of us," he said.
Although "Hsiao Ju" and "Hsiao Pei" are just a little more than 20-year-olds, they have exchanged vows and lived together for a long time. Both of them said they have not regrets or second thoughts about the fact that they should be a couple. Proudly showing off their rings, "Hsiao Ju" and "Hsiao Pei" said they were not used to being trailed by reporters after they announced their decision to get married and form their own family on Chinese Valentine’s Day.
They thought of postponing the wedding, but decided to go ahead with their plan as scheduled. Their marriages, though not legally recognized by Taiwan’s law, is proof that true love are unrestricted by different sexes, nationalities, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, said an organizer of the event.
October 27, 2003
Taiwan moves to abolish death penalty, legalise gay marriages
Taiwan’s government is drafting legislation to abolish the death penalty and legitimise gay marriages, a cabinet official said. If the laws are approved by parliament, Taiwan would be the first in Asia to legalise marriages among people of the same sex.
Jointly drafted by the presidential office and the cabinet, the proposal is designed to protect basic human rights, the official said. "More than half of the draft has been completed so far, of which the gradual removal of death sentence was ratified," he said. In October 2002, President Chen Shui-bian announced that Taiwan would gradually phase out capital punishment. The presidential office said Monday the move to abolish the death penalty would ensure the right to life to everyone, including convicted criminals. The government is also seeking to legitimise gay marriages and recognise the right of homosexual couples to adopt children, he said. "The human rights of homosexuals have been gradually recognised by countries around the world," the United Daily News said quoting the presidential office.
"To protect their rights, people (of the same sex) should have the right to wed and have a family based on their free will," it added. Under existing adoption rules, gays and lesbians are not considered as prospective parents. The Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Association hailed the legislation which its officials described as an act of "goodwill" from the government. "It would be our pleasure to see the development. Basically we are positive towards the goodwill from the government," said Chan Ming-chou, an official with the association. However, Chan told AFP that there was still a long way to go before discrimination against homosexuals ends. The final draft of the bill is expected to be ready for parliamentary review in December, the cabinet official said.
1 November 2003
Gay rights march in Taiwan
Gay rights supporters have marched through the streets of Taiwan’s capital in what organisers have described as the Chinese world’s first gay parade. About 300 people marched from the Taipei 228 Peace Park to the Red Playhouse, a restored brick theatre in the city’s entertainment district. People waved rainbow-coloured flags, the symbol of the gay rights movement, and wore a wide range of costumes, ranging from military uniforms to Japanese kimonos.
Gay rights groups organising the event said it was the first such parade in the Chinese world, and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou echoed their claim. "This is the first such parade in Taipei, the first in Taiwan, even the first in the Chinese world," he said, telling the crowd he was in favour of gay rights. "We must loudly tell each of you, gay friends, if you live in Taipei city, we will not commit any discrimination or harassment against you because of your sexual orientation," he said.
November 2, 2003
‘We are homosecxuals! We love you!’ The gay pride parade is Hotline’s latest effort to push the envelope for social acceptance of homosexuals and their rights to form a family
by Vico Lee, Staff Reporter
Carrying rainbow flags, nearly 1,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans-genders and their supporters marched along a 1.5km stretch of downtown Taipei in the first gay pride parade in Taiwan yesterday afternoon. Welcoming those who came to join them with cheers and hugs and shouting, "We are homosexuals! We love you!" to hundreds of spectators along the way, the joyful procession marched for 30 minutes from 228 Park, along Hengyang Road, to the Red Playhouse in Ximending.
"I certainly wish we could go on [and march] for three hours across the city, but this is already a good start," said Lee Ming-chao, director of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline, a major homosexual help group, which organized the parade. The word "tongzhi" means comrade and includes gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-genders.
Tokyo held its first lesbian and gay parade in 1994 and it has since been held sporadically.
In South Korea, 600 marched around a park in Seoul, in June, for its first Lesbian and Gay Parade.
Homosexuals in Thailand have the Bangkok Gay Pride Parade, which grows bigger every year and was said to be have attracted 200,000 marchers last year, according to city officials. "Tokyo did it. Thailand did it. Since Taipei bills itself as an international metropolis, we can try it," Lee said. As part of the Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Movement, Taipei, an annual homosexual community fair organized by Hotline for the past four years, the gay pride parade is Hotline’s latest effort to push the envelope for social acceptance of homosexuals.
"As previous events went down well with the public, this year we expanded it outside a fixed location, to test what is acceptable by the public," Lee said. Taipei City Government has subsidized previous festivals and granted NT$720,000 this year, which Lee said was not much but enough for the rental of basic equipment and lunch boxes for volunteer workers. "We would also like support from government officials, in the way the New York mayor attended the march [in New York]." said Lai Gang-yan, a volunteer worker at Hotline.
Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, appeared at the end of the parade for a motivational speech. Both the starting and destination points have historical meaning for the gay community. As a decades-long clandestine meeting ground for homosexuals, 228 Park, previously called New Park, was the setting for Taiwanese novelist Kenneth Pai’s 1990 gay classic Crystal Boys, which opens with the protagonist being thrown out of his home by his gun-brandishing father raging at his homosexuality. The parade ended in Ximending, at the Red Playhouse, because it used to be a popular gay hangout in the 1970s, when it was a rundown cinema.
Leading the way on the march were two black-suited young women holding hands, with their "brides" in tow, dressed in sequined red and white wedding gowns. They were followed by a motley bunch of military officers, chest-baring cowboys and a dolled-up young man in a flowery kimono. Trailing behind, a high-spirited man was holding up a boyfriend-wanted advertisement for his "gay" dog.
Staff from the homosexual specialist book store Ching-ching showed up in Chinese opera costumes, starting a wave of shutters clicking. The most eye-pleasing group, the Waterboys, a group of homosexual beach enthusiasts, strutted and flexed their tanned biceps and big chests, dressed in just swimming trunks and glamorously plumed party masks. Some 20 marchers wore masks and dressed up as Shizuka, a main character in the well-known Doraemon cartoon series. "Everybody knows the character Shizuka, but you may not really know the people around you. They may be homosexuals, but you don’t really know it," said N.T., who led the group. Very few marchers, however, were in drag, because, Lee explained, Taiwanese homosexuals don’t feel comfortable doing it.
"During the first festival, only participants in drag were shown on TV footage. It looked like all gays are drag queens, which is not true. Gays here don’t even think that drag represents the community." The group pushing baby carts highlighted the serious political message behind the sea of rainbow flags. The aim of the event, Lee said, was to call for homosexuals’ rights to form families and adopt children. "
The Ministry of Justice drafted the Protection of Human Rights Basic Act, but it’s still a long way to go before we see homosexuals form families. We’re voicing our support for the bill and hope it will become law soon. Many homosexuals are waiting for it," Lee said. Few spectators knew this, but that did not seem to affect their enthusiasm for the march. "It feels great to see so many people gathered together, to show their love for each other. It’s also a lot of fun," said a female traveler from Sweden. Not everyone was sympathetic, though. "It’s fun to see other kinds of people at a homosexual march, but I would never let my children join this kind of thing," said a waitress at the Chian-long Fang restaurant, who watched the parade go by.
Other groups represented at the march were the Association for Ri Ri Chun, a rights group for sex workers, the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries – AIDS victims and carers also went on the parade. "AIDS groups and sex workers, like homosexuals, have long been repressed over sex-related issues," said Wu Hsu-liang, a Hotline promoter. "They support each other to gather more strength." Wang Pin, Secretary General of the Taiwan Gender/Sexuality Rights Association, which also joined the procession, hoped the gay pride parade would help raise awareness of a wider range of human rights issues and help fight discrimination against homosexuals.
"Taiwan does not lag behind other Asian countries in terms of homosexuals’ human rights, but homosexuals are still being discriminated against, though not in obvious ways," Wang said. "People in Taiwan do not actively confront homosexuals, as in the West, probably because Asians are more reserved. However, if people know you’re gay, they still won’t accept you, though they won’t say it. Consequently, homosexual rights have been a neglected issue, because people don’t care. That coldness, that unwillingness to talk about homosexuals hurts more. The parade has brought the issue into the media spotlight for at least a couple of days," Wang said.
The festival’s tongzhi dream lover contest and tongzhi love song poll attracted some 16,700 and 18,600 votes respectively. "In the first year of the poll, some winners expressed antipathy toward being voted homosexuals’ dream lovers. Such an attitude is no longer apparent. Actor Tony Yang, who was in the chart, even showed up to support the festival." This year’s top tongzhi dream lover was Ella, a member of the popular girl band S.H.E. Following behind were Hong Kong star Karen Mok and Singaporean singer Sun Yan-zi. All three are artists popular for their healthy and energetic images.
Tongzhi’s favorite love song is A-mei’s Brave, the refrain of which goes: "I’ve been brave for too long/decided to live for you alone/but I can’t let you know/it tortured me so." The lyrics were said to reflect homosexuals’ efforts to remain courageous and optimistic in a hostile society. The march, however, was not a coming-out party, as Hotline had advised participants concerned at being exposed to disguise themselves with face masks. Roughly 20 percent of the participants did so. One computer engineer covered herself in a large hooded overcoat and a gold mask.
"None of my colleagues know that I’m lesbian and it would cause me trouble if they saw me here," she said. A college sophomore, who called herself Kim, did not disguise herself but was wary of approaching media cameras. Though she said her non-lesbian classmates were supportive, Kim said she would rather her parents not find out about her orientation on TV news. "When society is still unfriendly toward homosexuals, why should we put everything under the sun for the public to see, why should we open our hearts? If some homosexuals have to wear masks, it’s not homosexuals’ problem, it’s society’s problem," Lee said.
"People in Taiwan often pretend there’s no homosexuals in this society, that’s why we are going on the street in hundreds to show people that we’re here. If we stop people from ignoring the existence of homosexuals, we’ve achieved our goal."
November 7, 2003
Gays have reasons to be prouder
by Bih Herng-dar
Last week, President Chen Shui-bian was honored with the 35th International Human Rights Award at a ceremony in New York. Around the same time, Taiwan’s first gay pride parade took place in Taipei City. The relationship between these two events deserves our thorough discussion. In early 1996, some masked representatives from a homosexual alliance gathered in front of the Taipei City Hall to protest against then Taipei Mayor Chen’s failure to keep his promises to homosexuals regarding the city’s New Park (today’s 228 Park) – a famous gay hangout.
Seven years later, more than 1,000 homosexuals participated in a gay parade without masks. Although they marched only along a 1.5km stretch from the 228 Park to Hsimenting, they have endured great hardships to get this far. The 228 Park has finally turned from a land of darkness – as portrayed in Taiwanese novelist Kenneth Pai’s 1983 gay classic Crystal Boys – into a playground where all homosexuals can joyfully express themselves.
The truth is: homosexuality is not scary. What is scary is society’s prevalent homophobia that forces homosexuals to deny it or feel disgusted with themselves. Still, despite the extremely unfavorable environment, gays and lesbians have tried to find a way out, and have bravely demonstrated their strength to society over the past few years. Homosexuals have formed groups, established magazines and radio shows, opened stores and done research, and now hold an annual festival – the Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Movement, Taipei. Heterosexuals cannot keep their heads in the sand and pretend that homosexuals do not exist. The death of Cantonese superstar Leslie Cheung, who was brave enough to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, was grieved by not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. As more and more homosexuals come out of the closet, heterosexuals have gradually learnt how to understand, respect and interact with them.
Some are able to view the gay parade as an ordinary event. However, such superficial acceptance will be tested in the future. The key point lies in whether heterosexuals can treat their relatives and friends the same way if they find out they are homosexual. In fact, for those homosexuals who courageously choose not to wear a mask in the gay parade, perhaps the most difficult part was to come out to their parents. Ironically, some parents are able to accept their homosexual children out of their love for them. But they are still unable to accept homosexuality deep down. Is this because most homosexuals cannot have a son to carry on the family name? If that is the case, should those who prefer not to get married and those who do not or cannot give birth also be condemned?
Heterosexual women are one of the groups that should show acceptance to homosexuals, since heterosexual hegemony goes hand in hand with sexual discrimination. The stereotypical image of a gay man is that of a sissy. Society cannot accept a man who displays feminine qualities or a man who does not take a dominant position in an intimate relationship. Such ideas, maintaining that good men should not learn from women, are basically discrimination against women.
Straight men should also accept homosexuals because homophobia deters emotional expression and non-competitive intimate communication among men. While society is full of male violence and heterosexual conflicts, homosexuals do not initiate attacks on heterosexuals. The heterosexuals who talk, interact and make friends with homosexuals are in fact brave people who dare to face their own homophobia.
The short journey from the 228 Park to Hsimenting demonstrated the happiness of the gay movement in Taiwan despite the difficulties. Next year, let’s all get onto Ketagalan Boulevard to share our sameness and celebrate our differences.
Bih Herng-dar is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Building and Planning at National Taiwan university and a member of the Taipei Society. . Translated by Eddy Chang and Jennie Shih
Taiwan’s first gay groom awaits legislation to legalize wedlock
Gay writer Shu Yu-shen had all the blessings a person could ever ask for when more than 500 guests and international media attended his wedding here seven years ago. But something was still missing. Now 42, Shu hopes to soon complete his picture perfect wedding with the missing piece – a marriage license – as Taiwan’s government finalizes legislation permitting gay marriages or civil unions in a move unprecedented in Asia. "I am really looking forward to the day when it becomes a reality," he said.
A writer and expert in human sexuality, Shu shocked many in November 1996 when he tied the knot with boyfriend Gray Harriman, a Uruguay citizen, in Taiwan’s first and only public gay wedding. "The ceremony, though not legally binding, has deepened the sense of commitment and responsibility we have for each other," Shu said. He believes positive media coverage of the event, which had also triggered controversy, helped reduce social bias towards homosexuals and pave way for the island’s progress in gay rights today.
Taiwan’s cabinet is currently drafting a human rights bill which will allow homosexual marriages and grant gay couples the right to adopt children. Other clauses still under debate focus on the use of the death penalty and human cloning among other issues. The bill was scheduled to be completed by Wednesday, international Human Rights Day, but it has been postponed until early next year due to the complexities of the issues involved. Once the bill is approved by parliament, Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to legalize marriages or civil unions between people of the same sex.
Only a small number of countries legally recognize same-sex marriages, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada. Ambassador at large and lawyer Ken Chiu said the bill, which he helped draft, would protect the human rights of gays and lesbians, often the target of insult and discrimination. "We need to acknowledge the existence of homosexuals, who deserve to be treated equally regardless of their sexual preferences," Chiu said.
But the Taiwan Gay and Lesbian Association said more needed to be done in addition to "goodwill" from the government. "Homosexuals need more than the rights to marry and adopt children but also the protection of their safety, work rights, and other social benefits," spokesman Chang Ming-chou said. Chang estimated the number of homosexuals was at least five percent of the island’s total population, which now stands at 23 million.
In a survey released by the association Tuesday, 96 percent of the 1,580 homosexual respondents said they had been the subjects or witnesses of abuse and discrimination against gays and lesbians. There has also been debate in the wider community about whether gays should be able to adopt children. Under existing rules, gays and lesbians are not considered as prospective parents. National Taiwan University sociology professor Lin Duan was cautious on the issue of adoption.
"Further studies and debates are required to assess the impact of allowing homosexual couples to adopt children since a third party is involved here," Lin said. Writer Shu said he was not ready to adopt children but hoped to soon have his marital status legalized, not merely for the symbolic meaning but also for the practical needs of gaining the rights and benefits granted to civil married couples. For instance, he was able to enjoy Harriman’s medical benefits in San Francisco after they registered their partnership with the civil authorities there. San Francisco is one of the U.S. cities which recognize gay partnerships and allow the sharing of certain benefits by the couples.
A transgender warrior spreads the word to Taiwan
Leslie Feinberg, a pioneer in the gay, lesbian and transgender liberation movement, is in Taiwan to meet fans and sign copies of her translated book
by Bradley Winterton, Contributing Reporter
Leslie Feinberg made her name in 1993 with her lesbian novel Stone Butch Blues (Firebrand Books, Ithaca, New York). The book described how in the 1950s and 1960s lesbians in the US were sent to psychiatric hospitals by their parents, beaten and raped over and over again by the police after raids on their bars, and routinely discriminated against, often violently, at work and in public places.
Feinberg is currently in Taiwan for the first time, addressing audiences, meeting people, and signing translated copies of her novel. On Saturday she gave the keynote address at a one-day conference organized by the Center for the Study of Sexualities at the National Central University in Chungli, Taipei County.
We met on Sunday afternoon in Taipei where she and others were answering questions at the main Eslite Bookstore on Dunhua South Road. I began by asking her to what degree the character Jess in her novel was herself. "What I always say is that you have to have lived the reality to write the fiction," she said, suavely dressed in a smart black suit and blue-grey tie. She pointed out that she was essentially a working-class activist, and the way she went on to answer questions from the floor suggested a familiarity with addressing rallies and large gatherings, with all the energy they characteristically require.
"I have been waiting three years to meet Leslie," said a fashionably-dressed male Taiwanese journalist. "Her book had a great influence on me when I read it three years ago." "I’m here to meet my idol," said a female worker in the finance sector, probably in common with 100 or so others who later stood in line to get their books signed.
Feinberg has had a brutally hard life if the experiences of Jess in the novel are anything to go by. Today, however, she exhibits a confidence and a determination bred of long experience of oppression. "I am now getting a little of the recognition and respect that in reality all people deserve," she said. "I was in an Iowa gas station in a snow storm when someone said: ‘Didn’t you write that book?’
And in a supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, where I live, a mother came up to me and said: ‘Can my little girl shake your hand? Then when she’s older she’ll understand whose hand it was she shook.’"
From an existence that was formerly alienated and marginalized, she now has interaction with people all over the US, and worldwide via e-mail. She marveled at how she could sit in her apartment in Jersey City – a place she said was a little bit like Chungli – and see words that she had written in English printed in Chinese. This would be just another proof that everything had been worthwhile. There were still problems to be overcome, however.
"I come from an old tradition of butch lesbians who can’t use either the men’s or the women’s bathroom safely," Feinberg said. "And even now I have to get a passport stating that I’m a man in order to avoid trouble at the airport when I get home." She went on to point out that progress is not automatic.
The gay, lesbian and transgender movement of the 1920s in Germany was wiped out by the Nazis. Everything that’s been achieved could still be swept away, she said, and she and others were working hard to see this didn’t happen. Someone asked whether her books shouldn’t be accessible for free on the Internet.
"I’m a captive of capitalism just like everyone else," Feinberg replied. "Until I’m freed I’m still a captive. My novel was issued by a small publishing operation run by one woman. But what I do promise you is that when I get home I’m going to put some pages in Chinese on my Web site." The issue of the adoption of children by same-sex couples was raised. "I believe all people have the right to raise children and to love them," she said.
"What a wonderful gift love is to give a child!" Also on the panel was Minnie Bruce Pratt, Feinberg’s partner and the author of several books including Walking Back Up Depot Street. She commented that when she came out as a lesbian she immediately lost custody of her two children, then aged four and five. Parental rights were consequently close to her heart. "This is an area of common cause between gays and lesbians and the transgender community," she said. "Being a good parent is nothing to do with sexual behavior. Care and love are the only requirements for parenting."
Leslie Feinberg said that she had started "Stone Butch Blues" as a continuation of her work as a grass-roots organizer. The late 1960s and early 1970s in the US witnessed an upsurge of the people – black, Latino, Asian, the anti-Vietnam-War movement. Gay liberation and feminism had essentially been part of this left-wing movement, she said, and a reaction against the anti-communist witch hunts that characterized the US in the 1950s. "In those days parents said don’t wear that color, don’t walk like that, don’t do that with your wrist, don’t walk so strongly, and so on.
In the US in the 1950s being different was punished mercilessly. When people understood this, those with the best hearts said that it was wrong and that it had to stop." Feinberg’s book Transgender Liberation looked back at our ancestors on all continents and discovered that the hatred of difference was a new concept. In the past our ancestors believed that diversity was good and made the whole society strong. People have different bodies, and as a result different ways of loving and being attracted to each other, Feinberg said.
Someone raised the question of differences within the feminist movement. Didn’t some feminists believe that "butch" lesbians – in contrast to their "femme" partners – were wrong to try to look like men? "I am a woman," said Feinberg, "and naturally I am troubled by the sight of male oppression. It’s true that some feminists have said we butches are wrong to imitate the oppressor. But what I say is, that in the struggle for freedom we need all the sexes and all the nationalities! I will continue to struggle until all people and all groups achieve their rights, and get the recognition they deserve. Here’s what I want to change. Let me know what you want to change, and let’s get together to change things with our power!"
"It was fantastic and fabulous," said a male member of the audience afterwards. "I would never be able to be as open and honest as these people, probably as a result of pressure from my family." He went on to point out that the Japanese poet present had said that in Japan there was no legal way for a person to change their gender.
In Taiwan, by contrast, this was perfectly possible. This is the first time people in Taiwan had had an opportunity to see and hear what transgender really meant, he said. The usual local word suggested something rather like a monster. These people, by contrast, showed for all to see how very different the reality was. .
For your information: Leslie Feinberg’s Web site is http://www.transgenderwarrior.org
Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Web site is http://www.mbpratt.org
The Center for the Study of Sexualities’ Web site is http://www.sex.ncu.edu.tw
December 21, 2003
Book explores gay identity dilemmas–Coming Out: The Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association has published a compilation of interviews of homosexual men and women and some parents of homosexuals
by Debby Wu, Staff Reporter
A dazzling silver earring in the shape of a cat dangled from the right ear of 25-year-old Wu Hsu-liang, a clean-shaven baby-faced homosexual man – who was brave enough to tell the story of his life as a gay man using his real name.
Wu, who found out about his sexual orientation when he was in junior high school, said he panicked when he first realized he liked men instead of women. "I did not know what it was like being gay, and I read negative news reports and information about gays, making me feel that gays were either strange or bad people," Wu said. "And it looked to me that there were no other gays around me. I did not know where to get acquainted with people like me. I did not know what to do," he said.
Wu said that his life improved in high school, when he finally had access to more resources. "But I have no idea how my Mom found out I was gay," he said. Wu said in his first year in college, one day a good woman friend called him and said that his mom had called her and asked questions. So he panicked. "I originally planned to tell my family about my sexuality only after I graduated from college, but everything was pushed forward after the call," Wu said. He went home during the Mid-Autumn Festival that year. He said he and his mom both sat silently in the living room for a long time, like the silence before the storm. "I can’t remember who started first, but both of us ended up crying and talking through our tears," he said.
Wu said his mom talked mostly of her worries about his health, the possibility of contracting HIV and society’s discrimination against homosexuals. She also told him not to tell his father. Wu and his father didn’t confront the issue until sometime last year, when they had dinner alone. His father did not use the word "homosexual," and showed his frustration – as well as some tolerance. "I still don’t know how my mom sees me as a gay man. Maybe she thinks life as a gay man is harder, but I think she is more concerned about me as an individual, and whether I can survive on my own," Wu said.
Wu’s story was included in a new book, ‘Dear Mom and Dad, I’m Gay’, which tells the stories of homosexual men and women and the parents of homosexuals. The book was compiled by Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, the first homosexual group to have been officially registered as an organization with the Ministry of Interior.
Tongzhi means comrade and homosexual in Mandarin. One of the women who spoke about her life in the book is Chen Yu-shin, who is about Wu’s age and works as a teaching assistant at a university. Chen pointed out that "tomboy" lesbians such as herself face a unique problem compared to other homosexuals. "We are most afraid of losing our jobs and looking for a new job because we are very afraid of sticking our photos on our resumes," Chen said.
It is customary in Taiwan for employers to require job applicants to attach photos to their resumes. Chen said employers might sense something was "wrong" by looking at the photo. She said most tomboys she knew felt pained when looking for a job, and it was also difficult for them to integrate into a social network constructed on a basis of heterosexual dominance. "Survival is still the most important issue for homosexuals," Chen said.
Most of the parents interviewed for the book, who recounted their struggles to accept their children’s homosexuality, were mothers. Apparently many fathers are still too uncomfortable to discuss the subject. "I am really happy to see the publication of the book. It offers a starting point for homosexual children and their parents to learn more about the lives of families with homosexual members," Wu said.
The Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association was established in June 1998, after a series of attempted suicides in 1997 and 1998. "We are mainly helping teenage gays and lesbians because they are the ones with the least resources," said Wu, head of the hotline’s culture and information department. Wu said that after the hotline had been in existence for a time and had received some publicity, it started to receive calls asking for help from parents of homosexuals. Last year the hotline received around 800 calls, and in the first half of this year it received more than 400 calls. The hotline mainly offers counseling about identity issues and other difficulties faced by homosexuals. It also provides information about the homosexual community at www.hotline.org.tw, with links to a support network of groups and other resources.
December 27, 2003
Taiwan Gays Demonstrate Against ‘Gov’t Indifference’
by Peter Hacker, 365Gay.com Newscenter, Asia Bureau Chief Taipei
More than 30 LGBT rights groups demonstrated in front of the offices President Chen Shui-bian’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei demanding the party make good on its promises to bring in gay rights legislation. It was the largest gay protests ever held on the island, a sign of growing visibility and self confidence of Taiwan’s LGBT community.
Demonstrators attacked Shui-bian for failing to pass a promised same-sex marriage law and to legalize gay adoption and the right of gays to have access to in vitro fertilization clinics. The president announced the marriage bill in October but nothing has been heard of it since. Protestors also demanded Shui-bian reprimand DPP lawmaker Ho Shui-sheng for a recent remark that same-sex unions would cause the annihilation of the country because gay couples cannot produce offspring.
He has since apologized, but the government has remained silent. There also has been no official comment on remarks made by Vice President Annette Lu [who] told an AIDS Awareness forum that "AIDS is the wrath of God, a punishment on homosexuals." Ashley Wu, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Tongzhi (gay) Hotline Association one of the groups that staged the protest, said President Shui-bian has on many occasions advocated a basic human rights law which legalizes same-sex marriages and other rights for gays. "But so far they are just empty promises with no sign of concrete action," Wu said. Last month Taiwan held its first ever Pride march.