Rainbow in Asia: LGBTQ in Asian Culture

One could think that around the world, homosexuality is accepted just like in some countries, but in reality, there are MANY places where it is still a taboo. In some places, you can be punished for being the way you are.

LGBTQ rights in Asia are limited compared to other countries. Sadly, being homosexual it’s an outlaw in about 20 Asian countries. Only Israel and Taiwan have a wider ranger of LBTGQ rights, and Thailand is joining them slowly but surely. Though, it’s very frequent in countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan, it is still very rare and sometimes even frowned upon.

It’s very contradictory because we can see representation of homosexuality in movies, dramas and even in music. Many would go crazy if two K-Pop idols kiss accidentally, but God forbids if they come out! Anyone can write fanfiction about two idols but I’m pretty sure that if they confessed their love, fans wouldn’t support it. Countless idols and actors had dressed up as girls to “make people laugh”, girls had dressed up as boys too for the same reason, and this makes me think what would happen if they actually want to do it a reality, what if they like being like that? Would fans still support them? It’s really sad that the entertainment industry uses them to make money but wouldn’t accept it if it was real.

Homosexuality has always been present in Asia. Not because is a taboo means that there isn’t any. In fact, in many countries, is a common thing since ancient times. In China, for example, after the fall of the Han Dynasty, homosexuality was widely accepted. Several Chinese emperors are suspected of having homosexual relationships, though they were accompanied always of a woman to “cover up the secret”. The opposition of it came later around 19th and 20th centuries.

There are stories that detail same-sex relationships as the one between of the Emperor Ai of Han and one male concubines. Though stories like that one were common, they often ended in tragedies and were full of violence. Another example of homosexuality in China is the story od Bian Er Chai, where the homosexual relationships are portrayed as enjoyable and presented as very common during the 3rd century. Emperors had to marry a woman and have kids but could also have a relationship with a man. Bisexuality was tolerated as second practices and same-sex activities. The real opposition came in the Tang Dynasty and it was influenced by Christian and Islamic values.

Painting of Qing Dynasty

In the Qing Dynasty, some people worshiped a Taoist deity named Tu Er Shen, who is now considered the Guardian of same-sex love. The story of Tu Er Shen is a tragedy but is interesting and beautiful. Tu Er Shen, in reality was a soldier named Hu Tianbao who fell in love with a nobleman. He was caught peeping on him while the nobleman was naked, so he was executed. The guardians of the spirit real took pity on him because his crime was committed out of love and they made him a deity and protector of same-sex love. His spirit became a rabbit and he visited an old man in his dreams to ask him to build a sanctuary. His followers were persecuted and eliminated. The Temple of Tu Er Shen is located in New Taipei and it’s the only religious temple dedicated to same-sex love.

In ancient literature, pronouns of he and she were not distinguished. Poetry of that time can be read as either hetero, homo or neutral.

Being homosexual in China became legal in 1997 and in 2001, homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses in China. In April of 2018, People’s Daily published a Weibo (a Chinese social media) emphasizing that there is more than one sexual orientation and homosexuality is not a psychological disorder. This was a HUGE step in China’s LGBTQ community.

Even though LGBTQ culture remains underground, there are many places for them to visit and have a good time in peace. There are also many websites and organizations for rights campaigns. In China, homosexuality is not outright condemned, but it isn’t fully accepted as a social norm. Many homosexuals stay in the closet to avoid getting jeopardized in their jobs and to not be an embarrassment to their families. Even in the entertainment industry, there are BL dramas, but they censor the romance, just give a few hints. I hope that soon this change and everyone can live their life happily as they are.

Taiwan is the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage, this was in May of 2019. They are still fighting to have the right to adopt children as a same-sex couple. In 2011, there was an event were around 80 lesbian couples held a wedding party to promote awareness of same-sex love. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education are banned since 2004. Discrimination in work was banned in 2007 and anyone who violates this, can face a fine of 1.5M of NT. In 2010, topics of LGBTQ rights and non-discrimination were included in school textbooks. For now, Taiwan is the most progressive Asian country in regards of LGBTQ rights.

The situation in Thailand is a really interesting one. Same-sex marriage is still not legal but surprisingly they very open about being LGBTQ, at least the younger generation. Thailand is known for being the tourist haven for same-sex couples, yet people from this community still face a lot of discrimination in all aspects. LGBT are most accepted in the entertainment industry, there’s a lot of representation in dramas, but if they wished to pursue a career in a more serious field such as medicine, they won’t be accepted as they are. There’s still a lot to achieve for the local LGBT in Thailand, is as they are being used merely for entertainment and that’s totally not okay!

There’s a lot of representation in Thai BL dramas where same-sex couples don’t hide their love. 3 Will Be Free is a drama that portrays the struggles of trans people, even though the company of the series has a bad history for disrespecting the trans actress that appeared in the drama.

From the drama Love By Chance

In South Korea, being LGBTQ is legal, however, legal partnership is not available. Transgender people can have sex reassignment surgery after 20 years old and can change their gender in official documents. In these days, people are more acceptant of it, but the community still faces discrimination. Many Korean idols show their support to the community openly and they had talked about it through their platforms, in their music, in their videos, and had even written letters about it. There’s only a few that had come out and though it was very controversial, it was a huge step for the community.

South Korea has a wide history of men dressing as women or behaving as them, like the King Hyegong, who was thought to be girlish and many historians describe his as having the appearance of a woman. He was killed because “the palace couldn’t accept his femininity”. There’s also the existence of the hwarang, a group of Silla warriors known for their homoeroticism and feminity. Hwarang means “floweing knights”. There’s a drama after that where you can see their behavior, men with beautiful dresses, long hair, and a lot of poise. In literature, there are the Samguk Yusa, which are Korean legends that contain verses that reveal homosexuality among the hwarang.

From the Korean drama Hwarang

For Asians, coming out is a process that requires a different approach because of their cultural norms and traditions. I think they are so exposed to love anyone but what I can’t seem to understand is why it wouldn’t be acceptable of doing it in reality. The fact that representing the LGBTQ community in entertainment is okay but not accepting it in a daily basis is really odd. What’s the difference? Dramas and music portray a possible reality. LGBTQ people are more than entertainers, they are humans just like you and me, and they deserve to be treated as such. I’m rooting for their rights, not only in Asia, but all around the world.