Book Review: Author Law Uncovers LGBT Culture in Asia with “Gaysia”

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Throwing a dart at a board.

That’s one way to decide what you’ll do for vacation. You could also call a travel agent, hop in a car and just drive or head to the backyard. No matter what you do with those precious weeks of vacay, you’ll definitely use them.

If you’re looking for somewhere to vacation, might I suggest a whirlwind tour of the Far East, during which you could get to know its bedrooms, hotels and furtive parks? Sound good? Well, before you book that trip, you might want to read “Gaysia” by Benjamin Law.

It stands to reason: If most of the planet’s population lives in Asia, then the Far East is the gayest place in the world. Benjamin Law suspected that and, as an ethnically Asian gay Australian, he was genetically in a good location to prove it. He decided he’d find his “fellow Gaysians: the Homolaysians, Bi-Mese, Laosbians, and Shangdykes.” But first, he’d go to Bali.

There, he found a “relaxing island getaway” that happily embraced gay men, where clothing was optional, even discouraged, at many resorts and “moneyboys” were willing to do anything for a fee. Sessions of “jiggy-jiggy,” says Law, were a “creative” way out of poverty for (sometimes straight) boys and young men, but because the rate of condom-use was low, the rate of HIV was high.

In Thailand, which has a “long history of transexualism,” Law attended a beauty pageant for “ladyboys.” Acceptance for these beautiful girls was evident nearly everywhere – but with no legal recognition, they had few rights as women.

Gay Chinese men are pressured by their families to marry, and many of them enter mutually beneficial agreements with lesbians under the same pressure, Law discovered. Others marry straight women, but keep mum.

In Japan, “drag queens and camp gays” are accepted, but lesbians are almost nonexistent, hiding their identity. Harmful myths about contracting (or not contracting) HIV are common in Myanmar; so common that “roughly 240,000 people” live with HIV, and four out of five “die waiting for medication.” And in India, Law found an antiquated anti-gay law, a counselor who fought against it, the world’s only openly gay royal and a (rumored-to-be-closeted) yoga instructor who claimed to cure homosexuality…

I was somewhat taken aback when I first started this book: with a brief introduction and little-to-no fanfare otherwise, author Benjamin Law jumps feet-first into his travelogue, profanely and bluntly.

Fortunately for readers, his sense of the absurd and humor smooth the abruptness of what he finds. Before long, you’re well immersed in “Gaysia” and the open (and closed) atmospheres that Law uncovers.

That’s not to say, though, that this is a completely romp-ish book. Yes, Law has unusual adventures here, but in between the funny asides and sharp perceptions, he offers serious observations which show that Asia may be halfway around the world, but is closer to us than we think.

This book is explicit and profanity-laden, but it’s also funny and charming, worthy of being tucked into your carry-on this summer. Take “Gaysia” with you on vacation, and you certainly won’t be bored.


Greg Kabel

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