About the march, I want to say...] Fan Yun: Changing attitudes towards homosexuality is a mind-expanding experience

Author:Yun Fan (Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University) 12 October 2012

In fact, there are many things we don't know. If we knew those things early on, would we see the world and ourselves differently?

What is a person? What is gender? What are human desires? How should we determine the gender of a person? How can we limit human desires? What is the cost of these determinations and limitations? Who pays for this?

It's easy to take these important questions for granted as we go about our daily lives. We have always thought we knew the answers to these questions. We think we know what family is, what desires are, what gender is, what people are. It is this self-righteousness that makes the world a scary place. 

In my first year of college, I read Mead's Gender and Temperament in my anthropology textbook. This work was about gender and temperament as social and cultural formation-a rather classic, but bland-sounding view for us today. I later learned that Mead was not only a female scholar, but also a bisexual, having been married three times in her life (she considered each marriage a success), and in several lesbian relationships. Also, the original society she studied was more tolerant of homosexual behavior than our so-called civilized society. These things, which I now consider important, were not mentioned in textbooks, nor were they taught by teachers back then. At that time in Taiwan, the first openly gay man, Qi Jiawei, had just appeared in society. At that time, I had only heard of homosexuality, but I (mistakenly) thought that I was not around any homosexuals.

It wasn't until much later that my world began to change - I became more intelligent and began to grow not only a new understanding of my own history and that of others, but also a gay radar. Looking back on this process, I agree with Mead that changing attitudes toward homosexuality is essentially a mind-expanding experience.

The process of understanding LGBT people in Taiwan is still in its initial stage. In this process, the LGBT parade plays a very important role. Since 2003, we have seen colorful gay parades on the streets of Taipei City. Gays and lesbians have come out on the streets not only to give Taiwan society a chance to see "what it means to be gay", but also to give gays and lesbians from all corners of Taiwan society a chance to see others, to see being gay and lesbian as a source of pride, and to feel their real and powerful presence (even if it is so short-lived).

In 1969, for the first time, gay men took to the streets of New York in protest of police violence and discrimination against gay men in the gay bar Stonewall. The following November, 150 men took to the streets of London to protest the criminalization of male-on-male sex (over 40 years ago, male-on-male sex was a criminal offense in many countries, including the United Kingdom, see note; to this day, same-sex sex is still punishable by ten years to life in prison in countries like Burma, and even the death penalty in some countries in the Middle East and Africa). Sydney, Brazil, Taiwan, and many other countries around the world, including Vietnam, which held its first gay march this year, and Burma, where gay people first showed up for a rally. Taiwan, fortunately, just a few years ago, gradually blossomed, including Hualien, Taichung, and Kaohsiung, all of which had their own marches.

Taiwan society does not have laws that explicitly punish homosexuality, but for a long time, Taiwan society has punished homosexuality by not seeing (or pretending not to see) homosexuality in all laws. When the field of education began to see gay people in the context of gender education, reactionary forces with extreme prejudice began to openly stigmatize gay people. From invisible to visible, gay people have been walking the streets for a decade. Many activists have been giving speeches, seminars, public hearings, film screenings, and online debates, working tirelessly to confront prejudice in their daily lives, to engage in dialogue, and to open the minds of the community.

The theme of this year's Taiwan LGBT March was "Revolutionary Marriage: Equal Rights in Marriage, Diversity in Couples". This theme signifies that the LGBT movement in Taiwan has reached a new milestone in history, where LGBT people not only want to be seen, but also want to have equal rights to choose marriage.

If "having a family" is a fundamental right of the individual to pursue happiness guaranteed by law, then we ask the state to face up to the fact that there is not just one path to happiness. There are many possibilities for happiness.

Monogamous, male-female, male-female, male-female, with or without children, and, of course, single and multiple families. Happiness is no longer just a single rigid package, it can be open software. Each individual, each couple, and each family can choose the relationship and commitment that suits them, and make a promise to keep it.

We as a society are moved by the commitment of terminal cancer patients who want to get married. We do not deny the right to marry to all kinds of criminals. It is hard for heterosexuals who have never lost the right to marry to imagine how the dreams of gay people can be so mundane and yet so far away. It is also hard for us, who have never enjoyed the freedom of contract, to imagine how it is possible for plural couples to commit to each other. This year's march invites the community to free their hearts and minds, because happiness requires not only the courage to fight for equality and oppression, but also the imagination to look into the distance in a landscape of boundless freedom. If the country is truly concerned about the happiness of its citizens, then it must respect the right of all couples who want to start a family to imagine and negotiate their path to happiness.

The annual march is part of the LGBT movement, but the march is not the whole movement. If the only time gay people are seen is on the day of the march; if the coming out of gay people can only happen in a minority group or in front of a few people who have chosen to do so; if you leave the march and go back to your workplace, your school, your family where you grew up, you still cannot be seen and understood in a comfortable way, then our society and our minds still need to be expanded and our movement still has a lot to do. There is still a lot to do.

Exercise, comrades!

(Written by Fan Yun on September 20, 2012)


In Britain, for example, Alan Turing, the father of computer science, who celebrated his centenary in June this year (2012), was convicted by the criminal law and forced to undergo hormonal deprogramming after he was blackmailed about his homosexuality in 1952 when he was a professor of mathematics at the University of Manchester.
Two years later, the genius who helped the British Allies unlock enemy codes during World War II killed himself with a poisoned apple, and in 2002, the city of Manchester erected a memorial statue of him with an apple in his hand in a park between the University of Manchester, where he worked, and a gay neighborhood filled with gay bars.
The text engraved on the cast iron reads, "Alan Turing, 1912-1954, father of the calculator, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, and, sacrificial victim of prejudice.
In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a belated apology.