Taking on Taipai

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Taking on Taipei

By Antonia Kao*

I told myself my stay in Taipei, Taiwan, was only going to be for the nine months of my Chinese language program. I knew I hated the environmental stressors there: pollution, traffic, heat, acid rain, roaches, and that huge population of the saddest-looking, skin-diseased stray dogs that leave their faces everywhere. But human beings have an amazing ability to adjust. I ended up staying two years.Taking on Taipei

In 1994 I landed smack in the middle of a period of incredible change for queers in Taiwan. I continued to hear the stories of gay men seeking lesbians for fake marriages and lesbians getting divorced (and getting everyone off their backs). But in the two years I was there, a slew of things happened: the opening of Taiwan's first feminist bookstore; the inception of numerous new bars, organizations, and publications (including the first glossy G&Lmagazine); the first ever Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day; the first ever Gay and Lesbian Art Festival; the creation of Taiwan's first queer publishing company; and the debut of three-themed radio programs. It was-and is-an incredible time to be queer in Taiwan.

My experience in Taiwan this time around was shaped by the fact that I ended up as the lover of Sharon Hsu, the manager of Locomotion. Loco, opened in 1994, is Taiwan's first mixed-gender, nonkaraoke, nondisco, movement-oriented queer bar. Loco holds regular events, maintains one of the most comprehensive collections of queer publications and newspaper clippings in Taiwan, and has a collection of queer rental videos.

Sharon is one of the few publicly out queers in Taiwan. (Even so, she's out only with her English name, maintaining her Chinese one for travel-agency work.) Because I was also willing to be out, we ended up serving as guest speakers or interviewees for college classes, radio shows, student projects, and magazines.

It was also because of Sharon's visibility that, when activist Xie Wei-chen proposed Taiwan's first queer-themed radio show for the Democratic Progressive Party's station, he showed up at Loco to ask Sharon to be the female cohost. (I got involved, too, as "guest alien.") There were nights when, speeding through the acide rain on Sharon's scooter to the midnight show, we wanted nothing more than to be in bed. But then we'd get there and be thrown into a heated discussion, a series of hang-up calls trying to clog up our lines, a thoughful call-in from a straight grandparent, or an emotional call-in from an isolated queer who'd just found the program by accident. Then it would be utterly clear why we had to be there.

I began to listen with U.S.-born views on hold. I listened and watched as queers pushed the movement forward from behind closed doors. I listened as Taiwanese queers warned each other against coming out, advised each other to pose as "good" daughters and workers, and counseled one another to wait patiently for social change.

As for me, I got fired for the first time for coming out. One morning, too, Sharon and I woke to obscenities spray-painted all over the Loco's entrance. And then there were the "coincidental accidents," such as Sharon's scooter getting pushed over frequently, or that one time when sand was poured into its gas tank, or another time when dog shit was wiped on its seat.

These events were part of being queer in Taiwan. But then, so too were the celebratory midnight cha-cha feats at the popular gay dance club, Funky's, and the knowledge that I was participating in a revolution, the likes of which I would never see at home.



--Antonia Kao is a queer first-generation Taiwanese-American whose writing has appeared in random places.

*Date and source unknown.