Field Notes from Pride in Taiwan: LGBTQ*, Taiwanese-American, & Everything In Between

Taiwan was one of the few places worldwide able to celebrate LGBTQ* visibility and acceptance during this year’s Pride Month. Hundreds of participants wearing rainbow masks marched in Liberty Square on behalf of those who could not due to the pandemic. In the face of the recent killings of Black transgender individuals such as Tony McDade, Dominique Fells, and Riah Milton in the United States, this march symbolized community, solidarity, and resilience in necessary times. 

This was also my first Pride. Though greeted by a thunderstorm as I exited the station, I was soon welcomed by a colorful crowd with an energy that could not be extinguished by the downpour. People of all countries, from Australia to Switzerland, joined to celebrate. Drag queens were parading with sparkling sky-high heels. Same-sex couples marched laughing, holding hands. Chi Chia-Wei, a famous Taiwanese gay civil rights activist, was waving a giant rainbow flag. 

As I raised my rainbow poster for a photo under Liberty Square, I couldn’t help but reminisce on how impossible this simple act would have seemed five years ago. Same-sex marriage was not yet legalized in Taiwan. Faggot was still a buzzword. Holding my then partner’s hand in public garnered glares, once even angry yelling. Closeted, bullied, and outed, I struggled to understand my sexuality alone. It was like being trapped in a perpetual state of drowning, arms flailing, calls for help on mute. Online LGBTQ* content gave me initial solace, but felt binary—American or Taiwanese, straight or gay, cisgender or transgender. Few could clarify my grapples with the confusing fluidity of pansexuality and of also being a Third Culture Kid nudged between Taiwan, US, and elsewhere. 

Taiwan has since become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, but public support remains insufficient, as shown in the results of the 2018 Referendum Election, where 61.12% voted in favor of enacting a separate law to legalize same-sex marriage, as opposed to codifying it into the constitution to guarantee same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Homophobic and transphobic jokes remain a common cultural commodity, even in my household. Today, I am out to my siblings and friends, but not to my parents. Coming out, like queerness, is not a concept in my traditional Taiwanese family. It is merely an American import—one that I have yet to deliver to my homophobic parents. 

Reconciling coming out with Taiwanese and American culture can be a persistent tug-of-war. The American approach centers individualism, which clashes with collectivist values like 面子 (saving face) or 孝心 (filial piety) that are ingrained alongside rigid gender norms and heteronormativity in my family. I am taught to prioritize the needs of others, especially those of elder family members, before my own. As a result, I have always feared that coming out to my parents would be interpreted as a betrayal of filial piety intended on making my family lose face. Meanwhile, I am simultaneously instructed by American culture that I should do what is best for me, even if that might hurt others. It does not help that a language gap exacerbates this clash. My parents’ dominant language is Chinese whereas mine is English. To convey my sexuality in English would risk them misunderstanding, while Chinese would impede my expression. 

The open-endedness of pansexuality also makes me question how practical coming out is. After all, being attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity leaves open the possibility of me settling down with a cisgender man. On one hand, I don’t want the gender of my future partner to decide my relationship with my sexuality. On the other hand, not coming out to my parents could save a lot of emotional turmoil. It means they can avoid the stress of coming out to others, of becoming known as the parent to an LGBTQ* child in a society where 46% of the public still view homosexuality as abnormal, where parents’ reputations are inextricably intertwined with their children’s. And it would free me from the labor of confronting their homophobia. But at what cost? A lifetime of suppression and hiding? 

Where LGBTQ* meets Taiwanese-American is a place of constant interrogation and nonexistent answers. It is where the frictions and incongruities become most jarring. Yet it is also where I am able to see all sides clearer—the Taiwanese, the American, the Third Culture, and the LGBTQ*—than if I were to only be at the center of one. This clarity allows me to continue examining how coming out to my parents fits into my Third Culture background, just as I keep exploring the dimensions of myself both within and beyond my sexuality. I like to think that just as there is power in coming out, there is also power in choosing not to. Pride comes in many forms; I witnessed this at the march. It is the lovely couple holding hands under Liberty Square. It is the drag queen voguing in towering red heels. It is the famed gay-rights activist with whitened hair waving a giant rainbow flag. And it is, most certainly, also me. So, I put on a wide grin for the camera and lifted my rainbow poster even higher, above all that came before and all that is to come…

One Response to “Field Notes from Pride in Taiwan: LGBTQ*, Taiwanese-American, & Everything In Between”

  1. Hits home. I chose to take the American path of individuality and have been told by my parents that I’ve 丟了面子 and am no longer the 孝順 child that they’ve raised.

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