What is it Like to be Gay and Asian?It is difficult enough for young men and women in Australia to come out when they realise they are gay, but being gay when you belong to a culture that doesn’t accept homosexuality is much more difficult. One of my clients is a young Chinese man who is studying in Sydney. He suspected that he was different, but had never been in contact with other gay young men in his small town. It didn’t take him long to embrace his sexuality in Australia, but his parents expect him to come home when he has finished his studies. He is the only son and realises his parents will be devastated to learn he may not marry and have children, and he expects this will bring shame on the family.
In 2013, Benjamin Law, an Australian author and journalist, wrote a fascinating book called Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East, a journalistic exploration of LGBTQI life in Asia. He visited many Asian countries to investigate what it’s like to be gay in Asia.
In China, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997, but only in the last decade have cities like Beijing and Shanghai seen the rise of lesbian and gay communities with bars and gay meeting places. Few Chinese gays and lesbians come out to their families and many feel they have to marry, which is tragic for them and the partners they choose. Lesbian women often experience physical violence from their parents when they are found out.
It has become popular over the last few years for gay Chinese men to marry lesbian women. There are websites for finding lesbian wives and in Shanghai there is a yoga studio that holds a party every month where gay men and women can ‘shop’ for a spouse. They can then easily live separate lives and still satisfy their families who may never find out the truth.
Taiwan is to become the first country in Asia to legalise same sex marriage, after the island’s constitutional court ruled in May 2017 that their current laws defining unions as between a man and a woman are invalid. Taiwan’s high- est court, the Council of Grand Justices, said barring gay couples from marrying violated “the peo- ple’s freedom of marriage” and “the people’s right to equality”.
Thailand has become a popular holiday destination for gay couples and it could soon be cashing in
on another niche market if a proposal to legalise gay marriage is accepted. In Japan, there is no law against homosexuality, but there are no civil unions or gay marriages yet, and overall the subject is kept silent. There is no religious basis for discrimination but gay people still struggle with Japan’s strict family and gender roles.
Countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei still outlaw homosexuality and Singapore has a draconian law that criminalises sex between men.
My client will be living here for a few more years, but it doesn’t look like things will change soon in his native continent.