By Mrs. V
“Are you gay?"
I have never asked anyone that question in my entire life. It’s not that I’m not curious. Like everyone else, I also occasionally speculate the sexual orientation of a friend or celebrity. I even gossip about it with close friends. It’s also not because I’m shy. After becoming friends with gay people, I’ve gradually become more open and daring about all sorts of topics.
I guess it’s because I will always remember the first time someone came out to me. Having already gone through so many hardships, he sounded slightly nervous, and I could feel the heaviness of trust he laid in my hands.
So I regarded coming out as something sacred.
It’s someone else’s choice, and not their responsibility; it’s their trust in me, and not their obligation to me.; it is my honor, and not my authority. So it became one of my little personal demands not to force people to come out, no matter who it is. Whether the person is close family, the president or a presidential candidate, they are all the same to me.
Obviously, when the person in question is a public figure, things may be a little more complicated. When homosexuality was still highly stigmatized, forcing someone to come out wasn’t only impolite, but could also be dangerous because people were discriminated, alienated and hurt for being openly gay. Things like your family turning away, getting cast out of your community or losing your job were common. You could even lose your life. A lot of times people didn’t even have to come out for these things to happen. They merely needed to be suspected of being gay.
After living in such a dark era, the social perception of homosexuals gradually changed. Many people no longer see being gay as a disease. Gays are treated slightly more equally. Heterosexuals finally have the chance to learn about actual same-sex relationships and are able to witness more and more celebrities come out in public as an example for others.
I have always admired the courage and selflessness of these people. They’re willing to expose the most private side of themselves in front of strangers for the rights and benefits of the community.
On the other hand, I also found that some people seem to mistake this bravery as an obligation, as if exposing oneself is a responsibility and that public figures are required to inform us of their sexual orientation.
It is true that the coming out of public figures often has a positive impact. It not only helps the society understand the gay community better, but also supports homosexuals by sending out the message, “You are not alone." But when we understand how challenging coming out can be and that homophobia still has a strong presence in our society, what right do we have to force homosexuals to advocate for themselves through self-sacrifice?
Everyone with the courage to come out should be praised, but those who have doubts and wish to wait should also be respected.
I bring up this topic because the presidential elections are coming up and one of the candidates, Tsai Ing-wen, is suspected of being a lesbian by opposing party members because she is single. Some people believe as a presidential candidate, Tsai is obligated to disclose her relationship status and sexual orientation.
Will someone’s sexual orientation affect his or her governing skills? Or will Tsai’s sexual orientation influence your willingness to vote for her? Doesn’t this imply negative attitudes towards unmarried or lesbian women? Isn’t this using someone’s sexual minority and existing prejudice in the society to attack a political opponent?
Some critics say it’s not sexual orientation they are concerned about, but the concealing of it. They say a president is not a king. Presidents shouldn’t have any privacy, whether it’s health, relationships or social interaction. But these critics don’t hold the same attitude for every kind of privacy. For example, if presidents need to reveal everything, shouldn’t we demand President Ma Ying-jeou to report to us his bowel movement on a daily basis (health issues)? Should heterosexual candidates publicly announce how often they have sex with their partners (health and relationship issues)? Should we question whether or not a candidate is still in touch with childhood friends (social interaction)?
Any of the questions mentioned above sounds ridiculous, but why do we feel like it’s an obligation when someone’s sexual orientation is being discussed? It’s as if being gay is still a sickness you need to report and homosexuals have to accept these threats and expose themselves completely.
When facing political figures that wish to represent us, we must demand transparency and honesty with things like assets, strategies and political ideologies. “These are important for governing a country and the law." But one’s sexual preference does not fall into this category. At least before we have concrete information on how sexual orientation can influence governing skills, our opinions and attitudes towards political figures are merely gossip, which is built upon our society’s demonization of homosexuals.
Critics are obsessed with Tsai Ing-wen because of social prejudice for unmarried women. It’s considered to be a problem, and unmarried women are bad. It is also because they are of the firm opinion that one’s sexual preference can be used to evaluate someone.
Another common argument is that the president’s sexual orientation is an issue of national safety.
If the president’s mysterious significant other is abducted, it could bring about national disaster. On the other hand, the president’s partner often enjoys power. If the president’s sexual orientation is unknown, it may cause difficulties in supervising their spouse. Enemy states might also threaten a country with its president’s homosexuality.
To be honest, I still don’t understand these arguments. It brings a bunch of question marks to my mind. First of all, even if the claims mentioned above are all true, Tsai has to wait until she is actually elected before she is obligated to respond, right?
Furthermore, will our knowledge of this person increase his or her chances of getting kidnapped? For one thing, it should actually be safer if less people know about this person. For another, there are also specific types of regulations and safety measures pertaining to the president’s spouse, first-degree relatives and other people that have been cleared by the president. As a result, even if our president has no legal spouse, but a partner (whether heterosexual or homosexual), he or she will still receive special protection, regardless whether or not we know of this person.
If people are worried about the abuse of power, then we should examine the integrity of the president. What we should rely on is an even better supervising system, rather than assuming only a partner could be involved in this kind of situation. After all, if a president that abuses authority is elected, who knows if the benefits wouldn’t go to the president’s childhood friend?
As for the president’s sexual orientation becoming a tool for blackmailing and threat; isn’t that what the people forcing others to come out are doing? Doesn’t this kind of blackmail come from our intolerance of different sexual preferences? And isn’t this intolerance because of people prying and defaming? The idea that “we might use this reason to defame you, so you should publicly let us legitimately defame you" is a logic I can’t comprehend.
This kind of logic is not only used on Tsai Ing-wen. The current President Ma Ying-jeou’s sexual orientation has also been questioned before and he was also asked to come clean. As the biggest supporter of the idea of “special relationships,” Feng Guang-yuan often uses reasons such as the abuse of power and national safety issues to back the concept.
But if what we’re really concerned about is how private affairs can harm the public, isn’t the main point to prove which aspects of the public will be influenced and how? And is this private we speak about really that important? This personal affair could be a family member, a childhood friend, someone who once saved the president’s life when he was chased by a dog as a child or perhaps even someone who possesses an embarrassing family video of the president. The word private can have a thousand meanings here. But whether it’s Feng who is obsessed with Ma’s sexual orientation or Shi Ming-de who is especially curious about Tsai’s sexual orientation, it seems like they have already decided this privacy has to do with sexual relationships, specifically homosexual ones.
It’s not a coincidence that Feng and Shi are on the same page on this issue. As a matter of fact, the reason gender and sexual preferences are topics that can be attacked and discussed is most people believe that there is still good and bad in different genders and sexual orientations.
When the prejudice of homosexuals being a flawed race still exists in the minds of so many people, it doesn’t matter what Shih or Feng says. As long as there’s a hint of a special relationship between Ma and Jing, or if Tsai is requested to explain if her “mysterious single relationship status” is due to her sexual orientation, it is easy to come to the conclusion that “Ma/Tsai = homosexuals = bad presidents.”
What’s even worse is no matter how the criticized person reacts to the accusations, it’s very hard for the person to break away from this kind of suspicion.
Take Tsai for example. If she really admits to being a lesbian, the prejudices could be effective. But if Tsai denies or refuses to respond, her “abnormal” single status (as it is so hard for our society to accept an older women who do not get married) will continue to encourage and strengthen the assumption that she is lying and people will continue to force her to come out.
Both Shih and Feng happened to choose the topic of sexual orientation as a tool to challenge their opponents, not because they are really concerned about the issues of power abuse and national safety, but merely because it’s such an effective weapon. On one hand, they deliberately ignore the historical and social reality of the gay community, and describe coming out as a simple and natural procedure; on the other, they continue to manipulate society’s prejudice and misunderstandings about homosexuality (for example, a homosexual identity will become means other countries use to hold up and threaten us). While stigmatizing their political opponents, Shih and Feng take away opportunities for gays to come out and survive.
What’s more is that they are very keen on emphasizing their support for homosexuality to the outside world in all other occasions, but forget that just seconds before they were hurting and twisting the privacy of homosexuals and their rights. This two-sided method is very heartbreaking and offending.
I do not wish to dismiss anyone’s effort and devotion to promote equal rights, but at the same time, whether we are netizens, screenwriters of a gay movie, or human rights activists, no matter what reasons we have, it’s really none of our business if someone is gay and whether or not they wish to come out.
Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang