Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press (May 13, 2014)
Amazon: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Amazon Kindle: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Benjamin Law considers himself pretty lucky to live in Australia: he can hold his boyfriend's hand in public and lobby his politicians to recognize same-sex marriage. But as the child of immigrants, he's also curious about how different life might have been had he grown up in Asia. So he sets off to meet his fellow Gaysians. Law takes his investigative duties seriously, going nude where required in Balinese sex resorts, sitting backstage for hours with Thai ladyboy beauty contestants, and trying Indian yoga classes designed to cure his homosexuality. The characters he meets — from Tokyo's celebrity drag queens to HIV-positive Burmese sex workers and Malaysian ex-gay Christian fundamentalists to Chinese gays and lesbians who marry each other to please their parents — all teach him something new about being queer in Asia. At once entertaining and moving, Gaysia is a wild ride and a fascinating quest by a leading Australian writer.
From the chapter “China”
Doock came from Henan province. Because of timing and geography, his parents weren’t subject to the one-child policy, so Doock had a little brother, whom I’ll call Leung. When Leung announced he was getting married, Doock’s parents were horri- fied, since it was traditional for the eldest sibling to marry first. To them, siblings getting married in the wrong order was shameful. It would have been enough to scandalise the entire village. When Doock’s mother heard that Leung was engaged to marry, she cried every day down the phone line, begging Doock to marry someone first. It was pretty intense. Doock’s main concern was his little brother. He didn’t want to make Leung wait forever, so he turned to his gay friends for advice.
‘What you need to do,’ they told him, ‘is marry a lesbian.’
Doock stared at them.
‘Well, what are your options?’ they said. ‘You can postpone it, but your younger brother’s already engaged. You don’t want to make him wait, so the only option is to just get married. Find a lesbian who wants the same arrangement as you. Everything will be fine.’
Doock and Eric were wary. They’d both heard bad stories – and even seen firsthand – how these sham weddings could get out of hand. At one, the gay groom had made the mistake of inviting his gay friends. They’d gotten completely smashed on booze and treated the whole thing like a joke. One of them had climbed onto the lazy Susan and asked another guy to spin him around and around, cackling and hooting while everyone looked on in horror.
In the end, though, Doock and Eric agreed with their friends. There wasn’t another option. They set up an account with Tianya.cn and started searching for lesbians.
As it turned out, finding lesbians for a fake wedding was a little like going on a game show to see who’s behind the mystery door. First up: Lesbian Couple #1! And what did these lesbians want? An official marriage certificate, shared property and a relatively wealthy husband! Looking back, Doock and Eric felt Lesbian Couple #1 were too aggressive in their demands. ‘The require- ments were more strict than if you were choosing a real husband,’ Doock said. Lesbian Couple #1 were quickly ruled out.
Lesbian Couple #2 weren’t interested in shared property, but did want a legally binding marriage certificate and children. For Eric and Doock, both of those things were out of the question, especially the kids. It was a shame, because Lesbian Couple #2 and the Baos got along really well and shared the same dry sense of humour. Lesbian Couple #2 wished the Baos the best and referred them on to Lesbian Couple #3.
‘Ah, the third couple,’ Doock said now, bowing his head.
‘One meeting determines a lifetime.’
Lesbian Couple #3 lived in Tianjin, China’s third biggest metropolis behind Shanghai and Beijing. Eric had already been scheduled to go to Tianjin for work, so Doock booked tickets to come along for the ride.
The Baos met the lesbian (I’ll call her Linda) and her girl- friend in a hotel lobby. Like the organisers of any decent crime, everyone thought it would be best to chat in a public place. Doock showed me a picture of Linda on his Nokia mobile phone. She was a handsome, bespectacled, broad-faced woman with a square jaw and a sensible haircut, dressed in a fuschia blouse.
‘She looks nice,’ I said, passing the phone back to Doock.
‘Very butch,’ Doock said, nodding.
Doock, Eric, Linda and her girlfriend broke the ice by talking about their hobbies, backgrounds and jobs, before moving on to their relationships. Linda and her partner, whom I’ll call Susan, had been together for a decade and were childhood sweethearts. Susan had already fake-married a gay guy in Beijing; now Linda’s parents were pressuring her to get married too. Though Doock and Linda barely knew each other, it was obvious that their needs matched up perfectly. That’s all it took. The marriage was on.
From there it was all amateur theatre, complete with wed- ding costumes and fudged lines. Doock explained Chinese parents didn’t care how couples had first met, but he and Linda concocted a story anyway, something about having a mutual friend. ‘If I forgot my lines,’ Doock said, ‘I’d look to Linda for help and she’d cover for me.’ It helped that Doock bore an uncanny resemblance to Linda’s late father. His future mother-in-law took an immediate shine to him.
There would be two weddings: one for Linda’s mother and another for Doock’s parents, since they lived so far from one another. The in-laws would never meet. For both weddings, neither Linda nor Susan invited anyone who knew they were lesbians. To be safe, Doock and Eric didn’t invite any of their gay friends either. The only people who knew the true identi- ties of the couples were the celebrants, who were actually actors the couples knew. No one could risk anything. None of this was about fun.
At the Tianjin wedding for Linda’s mother, Linda’s relatives gave Doock hóng-bau, traditional red paper packets stuffed with money that are given at Chinese weddings instead of gifts. Doock refrained from drinking, mainly because he didn’t want to get drunk, but also because he needed to drive. It made for a long evening. After the wedding was over, Doock drove his new mother-in-law back home, then drove with Linda to the entrance of Tianjin’s superhighway. Eric and Susan were waiting for them by the side of the road. The couples exchanged partners and Doock took all the hóng-bau money out of his trousers.
‘Here,’ he said to Linda and Susan. ‘This isn’t mine.’
Together, they drove to Doock’s home province of Henan and hired two hotel rooms: one for Doock and Linda; the other for Eric and Susan. In the middle of the night, under cover of darkness, the couples opened their doors, crept down the corridor and, giggling like high schoolers on camp, exchanged partners again.
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