Monday, April 30, 2012

My Coming Out and the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

people holding up a large waving rainbow banner

One day while exploring Taipei, Taiwan last October I approached a street intersection and noticed a curious amount of people, traffic, and a lot of color. I quickly discovered I had stumbled upon the 2011 Taiwan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade--the largest such parade in Asia. For the next couple of hours I followed the parade and watched some of the rally that followed.

Seeing people freely and openly march for a social cause in a land rich with Chinese culture felt surreal. Nothing like this was possible in mainland China where I had been living for over five years. The parade also brought to mind several friends who had repressed their sexuality but felt comfortable during their college years to "come out".

And thinking about that day now, I am reminded of a particular challenge I faced as a youth regarding my own sexuality. It in no way compares in magnitude to the challenges faced by many LGBT youth around the world. But it highlights a sometimes overlooked benefit to decreasing LGBT discrimination.

My challenge was coming out as straight.

During my high school days I occasionally heard stories about people announcing to their sometimes surprised family and friends that they were homosexual. Sometimes they had previously insisted even to themselves that they were heterosexual. Sometimes they had even gone so far to have married someone of the opposite sex. Being the type to deeply ponder a variety of topics, I wondered if I could become gay or already be gay and not yet realize it. I saw no indications I was gay, but how could I be sure I was not deluding myself as others had? I even wondered if my asking the question was itself a sign that I was truly gay. A skeptical and probing mind that would later serve me well in my research work proved to confound itself on this issue about which I knew very little.

It was not solely a logical exercise. Although I never saw homosexuality as something bad or requiring changing, I viewed it something best not to be--it seemed to come with many disadvantages. For example, why would I want to be something that a number of other people derided? Or why would I want to be automatically disallowed from a normal rite of passage and expression of love for many: marriage? So it deeply mattered to me. And it caused me no small amount of stress over an extended period of time. I was worried someday I would discover I was gay.

One day after years of pondering the issue off and on, I had a revelation. It was something I could have asked myself earlier, but I had not previously understood sexuality well enough to realize it might be so simple. I asked myself if I had ever felt a sexual reaction to a female. Undoubtedly I had. In fact, often I felt my hormones had a mind of their own and was maddened by the degree to which they could distract me.

And it clicked... I had no control over it. It was just there doing its own thing like the beating of my heart.

So, I asked myself if looking at or thinking about a male had ever made me feel aroused. The answer was again simple: no. I had never experienced anything even close. Ever skeptical, I wondered if I could be repressing some feelings. But I quickly dismissed that idea. Completely burying such feelings or denying their existence seemed inconceivable-they were just too strong.

Was my reasoning flawless? It did not matter. With those simple questions the issue was resolved for me. And so to myself, I confidently came out as straight. Admittedly, I did not go public. I knew it was not necessary and would only raise unwanted questions by others. I also knew that it would completely bewilder my longterm girlfriend.

Looking back, I have no problem that I questioned my sexuality. With a mind that even managed to question its own existence (happily resolved) it was probably inevitable. But I do question why it had to be so stressful and an issue of such concern. I wish I had lived in a world where I had received more guidance about how to explore such issues. Part of me also wishes that I could have been strong enough to feel more at ease with my personal exploration. But this was not at all easy. Even today, for many youth who realize they are LGBT there are no immediate and complete solutions to the challenges they face in their environment, and they can only take comfort in hearing "it gets better". But most importantly, I wish I had lived in a world where I had known that being an equal member of society could be assumed regardless of what I discovered. In this world I would have had no need to worry. This is precisely the goal of many around the world who work to decrease LGBT discrimination. Their goal should be the goal of straight people as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transexuals.

So as I witnessed tens of thousands of people marching:

paraders at the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

paraders carrying signs

Tens of thousands of people attending a rally:

large crowd sitting on the ground with a colorful stage in the distance

more of the crowd at the rally

Individuals publicly expressing themselves however they chose:

young women hold signs that say free hug and LGBT

young man holding a sign and dressed up in a maid's outfit

two young men with rainbow flags

two young women holding hands with Chinese writing on their backs
The young woman on the right has “我是夏娃” written on her back.
It translates to "I am Eve".
The other has "我爱夏娃" which translates to "I love Eve".

same two young women who are dressed with minimal covering and vines

paraders and watchers

man dressed up in colorful women's clothing and wearing a large wig

two young women with rainbow stripes painted on their left cheeks

Companies and religious organizations displaying their support:

Person in an Android Robot suit and others wearing shits with two Android Robots holding hands and a rainbow flag

group standing behind the sign Promise Giver Christian Action Network

And police ensuring that it could all occur safely and peacefully:

police cars and motorbikes providing traffic control and security

I felt so much hope and excitement for the people of Taiwan -- LGBT & S.

To capture more of what I saw that day, I have created a short five minute video of the parade. It shows just a small portion, but I have tried to make it reasonably representative. I believe it can serve as an especially important look at an LGBT Pride parade for those who have never had the opportunity to see one. As noted in the Taipei Times:
Part of the parade marched through neighborhoods around National Taiwan Normal University, where many conservative families live, hoping that the residents would acquire a better understanding of LGBT communities through more contact, organizers said.
I am not so naive to expect this post or single video to change anyone overnight. But I believe they can play a small part in opening people's minds. In that spirit, they can be an opportunity for the parade to march through even more neighborhoods.

See the creatively dressed people. See the companies showing their support. See the dancing. See the rainbow-colored dog. Much else is captured. And many of the paraders had no special clothes, no signs, and otherwise would blend into any crowd. Those portions of the video may seem boring but that ordinariness says so much.

People expressing their desire for themselves and others to love who they choose. People trying to bring positive change, both in minds of everyday people and in the policies of their government. People seeking the day when everyone will be treated as equals regardless of their sexual orientation.

See the people who came out:

 (HD version of the video is available by clicking the gear symbol. Or you can find it here.)

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