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  WINDY CITY TIMES

BOOK REVIEW Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
by Sally Parsons
2014-06-25

This article shared 3360 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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By Benjamin Law

$16.95; Cleis Press; 283 pages

This is one of the most fascinating books I've read this year, in which the reader gets to explore the world of LBGTQ culture in seven Asian countries as seen through the eyes of a young gay Australian journalist of Chinese heritage.

This account, written in a most accessible, breezy style, gets the Western reader to thinking about how different cultures experience, absorb and categorize various aspects of LBGTQ life—and how lucky we have it here compared to some of these cultures.

Law travels to Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar ( Burma ) and India. He introduces us to local people, customs, laws and attitudes. He shares with us his personal reactions to what he encounters.

He starts out on the island of Bali, where the gay scene ( especially for foreigners ) has exploded. Caucasian Westerners with a lot of money are called "bulés." Gay bulés are heartily embraced. He meets Eelga, who has a thing for hot sex with older European guys "because hot."

Law discusses the social, health and economic implications of the growing sex trade. Young gay Indonesians from other islands live openly queer on Bali, far from the disapproving eyes of their families. Balinese gays, however, have to be more discreet, as word travels quickly. In Bali, a man must get married. This creates conflicts for gays. And, Law points out, although gay tourism helps the economy, it hurts the culture. Locals are troubled that Bali might become the next Bangkok, known for its active sex trade. Many sex workers don't use condoms; there is little sex education. HIV rates among men who had sex with men increased by 10 percent over the course of a year.

And so it goes. On to Thailand, where Law witnesses the world's biggest beauty pageant for transsexual women. While a lot of fun, it is one bright moment that passes quickly in a society where trans women do not have legal status and are ignored for most of the year.

In China, gays rely on the Internet for connection with other gays. And, as the Chinese Internet is carefully monitored, they have to be careful. Gays are not recognized at all. They are ghosts. Among others, Law meets Xian, a lesbian activist and possibly the first in her country to have contacted other lesbians online. Xian explains that the highest rate of violence toward lesbians is from their parents. In Chinese culture, your identity is inextricably tied to that of your family. "It wasn't possible to turn your back and run," explains Law.

In Japan, Law discovers that drag queens, camp gays and trans are popular on TV—but no LGBT people are taken seriously. "So much of queerness in Japan seemed to be a performance for straight people," he writes.

In Malaysia, both Christian and Muslim tenets treat homosexuality as an affliction that can and should be cured. Ex-gay organizations flourish.

Myanmar is particularly oppressive for gays. Between 15,000 and 25,000 die each year from a lack of antiretrovirals ( ARTs ). The government is estimated to have the worst spending on health in the entire world. ( The origin of these stats is not clearly cited although presumably from UN agencies ).

Law ends his journey in India, where he attends his first Pride parade and meets a guru, Swamiji Baba Ramdev, who claims he can cure homosexuality. Ramdev sees gays as heterosexuals who have developed bad mental habits. Through practice of pranayam and meditation one can develop mastery over perverse habits, according to him.

Law also meets dedicated Indians working tirelessly through organizations set up to educate gays about protective sex and to repeal an Indian law that outlaws gay sex.

Gaysia raises interesting questions for those who like to ponder such things. How has our culture molded the development of LBGTQ rights in this country? How do we engage with or think about LBGTQ folk from other countries, whose gay culture has been molded—or suppressed—by norms and values different from ours?

Most of the book spotlights males and their struggles and triumphs. It's disappointing for the women, but it's still a fascinating read.

'Chicago Independent

Bookstore Day'

on July 12

Nine Chicago independent bookstores are teaming to create the first Chicago Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, July 12.

To encourage Chicago readers to visit their own neighborhood store as well as the other unique stores in different neighborhoods—from Hyde Park to Logan Square to Andersonville—indie stores are offering special deals, free books, and refreshments. Customers will also receive a handful of puzzle pieces from each participating store that will fit together to create an exclusively designed frameable print by Lilli Carré.

Participating stores include The Book Cellar ( Lincoln Square ), 57th Street Books and Seminary Coop ( Hyde Park ), Sandmeyer's ( Printer's Row ), Unabridged Books ( Lakeview ), Open Books ( River North ), City Lit Books ( Logan Square ), Powell's Bookstore ( University Village ) and Women & Children First ( Andersonville ).

Email wcflinda@gmail.com for more information.

July 26 magic event

to benefit AFC

Five magicians—Eugene Burger, Trent James, Patrick Livingston, Benjamin Barnes and Robert Charles—are staging an event that will benefit the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ).

The event will take place Saturday, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St.

Tickets are $25; see magical.BrownPaperTickets.com .


This article shared 3360 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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