far from being the case that Asia is this sort of heterosexual place, Southeast Asia has this long history of relative sexual permissiveness, and in fact this allegation that this is somehow not part of our culture is completely back to front – the thing that is not part of Southeast Asian culture or not part of Malaysian culture is really the homophobia, which was imported through colonialism …
- Dr Julian Lee
Sunday 9 September was the first instalment of our two-part “gaysian” spectacular looking at LGBTIQ Asia and its connections with queer communities here in Australia.
Brisbane-based writer Benjamin Law travelled through Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar and India while researching his latest book, Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East. We chatted about what he saw of queer life and culture on his journey and what Australian queers can learn from our peers overseas.
> Gaysian Part 1 – Benjamin Law (21’03″)
I’ll warn that the interview includes the term “ladyboys” which I recognise is often used as a slur against trans women but was also used by some of the women Ben spoke to in reference to themselves. Also, towards the end of the interview, I mention that India passed legislation for a third-gender option on passports in 2005 while Australia only began to offer a gender X passport option late last year. But I shouldn’t have implied that these two developments were equivalent because the E on Indian passports was legislated in recognition of hijras, who have a really particular history in South Asian cultures as a third gender but who in building global connections might tend to identify more with trans people, while in Australia the X gender option is offered only to people with intersex conditions. In fact I’ve noticed that quite a few Asian NGOs use “LGBT” instead of “LGBTI” or “GLBTIQ” so I’m not sure if that points to a similar sidelining of intersex issues as in Australia or if it’s a conscious split between “LGBT” and “I” movements.
I also talked to RMIT (and formerly Monash Malaysia) academic Dr Julian Lee about what motivates governments to be policing sexuality, about the state of LGBT activism and change in Malaysia, and how Australian queers can support the growing movement there. This segment was re-broadcast on 3CR’s South-East Asian politics show, Girt by S.E.A.
> Gaysian Part 1 – Julian Lee (22’38″)
Julian and I talked about Justice for Sisters, a campaign for the rights of Malaysian mak nyah (trans women), which POC THE MIC held a fundraiser for a couple of years ago. Four mak nyah are currently challenging Seremban state shariah law against “cross-dressing” and the case will be heard on October 11. If you want to find out more about what trans women in Malaysia are facing and what you can do to support them, go to justiceforsisters.wordpress.com. For a general overview of contemporary LGBT activism in Asia, I can recommend the documentary Courage Unfolds which you can watch online here.
- “Crazy Love” by Ai Haruna, a pop star Ben met who is probably the most famous trans woman in Japan
- “Tickin’” by Melissa Li and the Barely Theirs, an Asian-American queer woman who is also part of queer/trans music and poetry duo Good Asian Drivers
Part Two of our gaysian spectacular looks at what it means to be queer and Asian in Australia. The all-queer, all-Asian, all-spectacular cast includes Queering the Air presenter Loretta, guest presenter Raina and guests:
- Melbourne community group organisers Fei (Yellow Kitties – queer Asian women), Dylan (Anbar – South Asian queers) and Aaron (Gay Asian Proud – queer Asian men) on building supportive communities and connections among Asian queers
- artist profile of writer and Peril magazine editor Lian Low
- Shinen Wong (blogger and columnist for fridae.asia) and Gary Paramanathan (filmmaker and founder of multicultural film festival Colourfest) on queer Asian-Australian arts, media and representation.