When I decided I was going to spend a year teaching English abroad in 2012, I had two minimum requirements for where I’d consider going: I needed a city that was both vegetarian-friendly and queer-friendly. After a bit of research, I packed my bags and headed to Taipei, despite the fact that I’d never been, didn’t speak Mandarin, and didn’t know a soul there.
It was the right choice.
Within a few months of my move, I’d found a girlfriend, befriended the tarot card reader at the lesbian bookstore, discovered a whole network of Taiwanese queers and other queer expats who were eager to show me everything they loved most about gay Taipei, and completely fallen in love with the city.
I’m not the only visitor to figure out that Taipei is a treasure trove of queer delights. Condé Nast Traveler recently referred to Taipei as “Asia’s most LGBT-friendly city” with good reason. In addition to hosting the biggest pride celebration in all of Asia every October (with queers from just about every other major city in South East Asia converging for the celebration), there’s a vibrant LGBT community that’s incredibly welcoming to visitors year-round—not to mention mountains, beaches, hot springs, world-class museums, and mind-blowing views from the top of Taipei 101, all within city limits.
via SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
Some Notes on LGBT Culture in Taiwan
Though Taiwanese people are generally accepting of LGBT folks nowadays, same-sex marriage isn’t yet legal in Taiwan. Activists have been hard at work to change that for the last decade, sometimes using delightful tactics like mass gay wedding ceremonies),and in January, the nation elected its first-ever female president (who herself has been rumored to be a friend of Sappho, though that’s mostly just because she prefers to remain single) Tsai Ing-wen, a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.
A large-scale cultural shift regarding same-sex marriage seems to be underway, too—in late 2014, popular Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai put out a pro-same-sex marriage anthem called “不一樣又怎樣,” which translates roughly to “We’re all different yet the same.” Both the song and the music video, which features two famous Taiwanese actresses, tell the heartbreaking story of an elderly lesbian couple’s harrowing hospital visit, which ultimately results in one of the women dying because her lifelong partner isn’t able to consent to the life-saving surgery she needs and her next-of-kin doesn’t arrive at the hospital on time. (The video totally made me cry even though I understand virtually none of the lyrics, but a rough lyrical translation is also available here). The song and the video both remain wildly popular in Taiwan.
Speaking of music videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Taiwan has an amazingly fabulous all-lesbian boi band that will make you feel like a tween fangirl in the best possible way. The members of the group Misster are what’s referred to in the Taiwan queer lady scene as “Tomboys” or “Ts,” and they’re part of a butch/femme culture that remains very much alive and well in Taiwan. Femmes are referred to as “Paos,” (which is taken from the Mandarin word for “wives”) or “Ps.” Although there are increasingly more androgynous folks and rule-breakers around, T’s and P’s tend to date each other and take on their corresponding gender roles to some extent. It’s not uncommon for people in a bar or club to make assumptions about you and who you’ll date based on your appearance, or even to ask whether you’re a T or a P in an attempt to figure out who you’re interested in hooking up with.
Also good to know: non-Taiwanese femmes are kind of a rarity in Taipei, and because I didn’t adhere to the high-femme dress code of most Paos, people assumed I was straight a lot. I was regularly asked questions like “Um, do you know this bar is for lesbians?” in hushed, slightly-panicked tones by concerned, well-meaning queers. Once I’d outed myself, though, everyone was always incredibly warm and welcoming.