What you need to know
Taipei Pride is not the last word on queer life in Taiwan.
Taipei Pride was the largest LGBTQ event of 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 130,000 attendees. The event was widely reported as a testament to Taiwan’s remarkable containment of Covid-19, and the country’s lively and inclusive LGBTQ scene.
But with all the well-deserved positive press coverage Taipei Pride has garnered, some voices within the LGBTQ community in Taiwan have said that the event cannot be considered the last word on queer life in Taiwan.
“As a queer Black and Asian woman here in Taiwan, it’s not often that I see myself represented in Taiwan, or indeed in other Gay Pride parades around the world,” said Toi Windham, the organizer of the Magic Unicorn float which made its debut at Taipei Pride. “Generally, Pride parades uplift and focus on the gay men, but representation matters. Other queer femme and people of color have expressed similar feelings of a lack of representation,” Windham told The News Lens. The Magic Unicorn float for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and queer femmes was the first of its kind to be organized by western foreigners in Taiwan, to promote racial minorities and people with genderqueer/feminine identities.
Increasing Trans Visibility
The varied nature of Taiwan’s scene was present in the evening prior to Taipei Pride, when the second Taiwan Trans March took place. Organized by the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBTQ+) Hotline Association, the march around Ximending brought over 1,500 people together to support Taiwan’s transgender community. Similar to last year, the march aimed to spread awareness of trans issues and support people living outside of the gender binary.
Jaeden Soo, an advocate for the Taiwan Non-Binary community, emphasized the importance of participating in both the Trans March and Pride for mainstream visibility. Soo told The News Lens at Taipei Pride, “I’m grateful for Hotline because they’re heavily involved in both. They organized the Trans March and have been promoting LGBTQ advocacy for 20-plus years. They help bring trans issues and lesser-known issues like queer disabled people, mental illness in the community, and queer Indigenous people, up on the mainstream stage at Taipei Pride.”
Soo also said that trans visibility at Pride is “important as there are people among the masses marching at Taipei Pride and they can see that they aren’t alone.”
Using her Community Convos platform, Windham co-hosted a trans/non-binary discussion panel with Jean-Paul Weaver on October 27, to address the confusion many people feel around transgender and non-binary identity and expression. One of the goals of the panel was to confront the misunderstandings and harmful questions about bodies that many trans people face.
With experience in trans and Indigenous activism, Weaver stressed the importance of respecting people’s chosen pronouns, and how colonialism has affected the discrimination trans and non-binary communities face. Panelists Jaeden Soo, Sam Garcia, and Qori Moorehaul discussed their experiences growing up, their families, relationships, and their journeys to self-love and acceptance.
At the panel, Soo, a translation and interpretation student, brought up the importance of language for identity and queer expression. Struggling to find the vocabulary to define their gender identity in their mother language of Mandarin, Soo said that they could only feel their gender through English language, U.S. and western culture, and the internet.
In recent years, Soo has found a community in Taiwan and is finding their voice in Taiwanese and Mandarin on gender and sexuality. “It’s important to speak in your mother tongue, because no matter who understands you, your ancestors will hear you,” Soo said at the Community Convos panel.
The drag and performance scene
Outside of organized marches and community events, a variety of gender expressions can be seen through the art of performance. Around Taipei, there has been an increase in creative outlets to challenge the binary, restricted to male and female — especially the overly sexualized ideals of masculinity and femininity present in gay clubs and conventional drag queen performances.
Sam Garcia uses drag under the name Rafaela as an opportunity to play with gender, as a form of self-expression, experimentation, and gender freedom. Garcia said to The News Lens, “The most celebrated mainstream images of drag are most often gay cismen that transform into a hyper-feminine, believable woman. While this reveals the fluidity of gender, it also reinforces the gender binary by maintaining the idea that masculinity and femininity should not exist together at the same time, in the same individual.” Along with gender-mixing drag stars like Rafaela, drag kings, and Indigenous drag queens have provided an alternative to standard western drag queen performances seen around Taipei.
‘More room for queer artists to thrive’
Outside of drag, there are still artists and performers disrupting the binaries in Taipei. One such example is Kira Jacobson, a Taiwanese/Ashkenazi multimedia artist, who recently had their first exhibition, “in short, a spasm!,” at Oomph this October. Their collection of oil paintings and an opening performance with movement artist Tong (童筒仝, Tong Tong-tong), aimed to address “the experience of being an ambiguous body in a deeply hierarchical and categorical society.”
Jacobson did not promote their work or themself in a way that focused on gender identity. Jacobson said to The News Lens, “My own identity as a queer, non-binary person comes out in the work as I’m using my own body, but my identity is not explicit, rather embedded.”Jacobson continued, “There's so much more room for queer artists to thrive in Taipei, it’s already such a queer-friendly city in many ways. I can only hope that my work opens up an avenue for other artists to feel like they could also have a show.”
Queer life and gender expression in Taipei are not homogeneous. The opportunities to see, learn, and connect with others in safe spaces for all — cisgender and genderqueer, in English and in Mandarin, speak of a scene rich beyond the confines of mainstream.
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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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