Taipei in 2019 bustles with energy and expectation. This year, Taiwan could become the first government in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage (We’ll know by May 24th). And it’s not just marriage that’s under debate. The island is bustling with tensions. Old versus new. East versus west. Rickety street stands selling steamy 50-cent dumplings look more and more out of place. The shops in the buildings behind them, once selling fruit and vegetables are being replaced by Starbucks, 7-11, and the latest Japanese culinary fads. Every moment in Taipei feels ephemeral. You know it won’t look the same tomorrow, but you can’t quite guess what it will become.
Gay nightlife in Taipei is surprisingly queer. Venues like Fairy Taipei (No. 51, Lane 308, Guangfu South Road. Tel: +886-2-2741-8852. www.facebook.com/fairytaipei) blur lines between straight and gay spaces, and mix L, G, B, and T together quite gracefully. These blurred lines create comfortable spaces for new ideas and new people, making Taipei’s LGBT scene somewhat of a haphazard concoction du jour. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, there may be no better place to choose your own adventure.
My husband and I hold hands everywhere in Taipei, and for us it’s never turned any heads. One of my Taiwanese friends once said to me, “the main thing I’m scared of in Taipei is my parents finding out that I’m gay. Your parents don’t live here, what do you have to be scared of?”
In our latest trip to Taipei, I took my husband to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (No. 21, Zhongshan South Road www.guidetotaipei.com/visit/chiang- kai-shek-memorial-hall). I wanted to show him the big grand blue (I think it looks a bit purple) octagonal roofs (because “eight” in Cantonese is pronounced like “fortune” in Mandarin, so eight is a lucky number). We happened to catch the changing-of-the-guard ceremony (every hour on the hour). It’s not Buckingham Palace, but who doesn’t like to watch men in uniform do a little dance? I went up to one of the guards after, just to ask a few questions. This guy was wearing a blue suit with colorful pins, carrying a rifle. “These plaques all tell the story of how great Chiang Kai-shek is,” he explained, “but the reality is that nobody is perfect. He made some bad decisions too.” I was shocked by his candor. If Chiang Kai-shek’s historical mythology can be questioned, what other myths are people questioning in 2019? The question that’s on everyone’s mind this year: What does it even mean to be Taiwanese? Ask folks this question, and you’ll get a big mix of answers. Since the 2016 election of Taiwan’s first female president, I’ve found that more and more Taiwanese people are publicly questioning/debating what futures they want. There’s a bustling energy here right now, even if its form is not quite yet defined.
On May 24, 2017 the courts mandated that the legislature create same-sex marriage laws by May 24, 2019. Following this court mandate, certain socially conservative groups in Taiwan organized to get an anti-LGBT referendum on the November 2018 ballot. The referendum resulted in a heartbreaking loss for the LGBT community. Taiwanese voters voted against changing the Civil Code marriage regulations to guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married.
As of now, the Constitutional Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage will still go into effect, overriding the referendum results for most intents and purposes. If all goes as planned, Taiwan will become the first place in East Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. However, many LGBT people in Taiwan fear that, following the results of the referendum, the legislature will purposefully stall their commitment.
This year’s Taiwan LGBT Pride will be on the last Saturday in October. It will be important. Last year’s Pride brought over 120,000 people from across East Asia to march through the streets of Taipei. Already the biggest pride in Asia, Pride 2019 will likely be Taipei’s biggest pride event yet. For foreign visitors, this year’s Pride weekend may not be for the faint of heart. It could either be one of the East Asian LGBT community’s biggest celebrations yet or develop into an emotionally charged and purposeful march for justice. Either way, it’s likely to be an historic event that I won’t miss.