Part One – A Preview of Asia’s Biggest Fun Filled Gay Pride Parade
Mention gay Asia and what image immediately comes to mind? Bangkok’s go-go bars? Pattaya’s multitude of host bars? The beautiful guys you see just cruising along Singapore’s Orchard Road, Manila’s Roxas Boulevard and Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang? Off the radar – at least until relatively recently – has been Taipei. Yet Taiwan’s capital city has almost imperceptibly leapfrogged many of the more usual gay destinations to become one of the gayest and cruisiest cities on the continent.
Taiwan? Wasn’t that a pawn in the Cold War where martial law ruled until less than 30 years ago? The same Taiwan where the dictator Chiang Kai-Shek fled after being beaten by Mao Tse-Tung’s forces in 1949? Two million mainlanders joined him for what Chiang promised would be just a temporary stay until they could regroup and triumphantly engage Mao in battle again. Those faint hopes were dashed in 1972 when President Nixon made his historic visit to Beijing and soon established diplomatic relations between the USA and China.
Chiang died in 1975 along with his vision of ruling China. His son and heir Chiang Ching-Kuo was more pragmatic. He relaxed the grip of the military, introduced democracy and set the island on a path to prosperity and social development. Soon Taiwan became one of the Four Asian Tigers joining Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea as the most dynamic economies in the region. Although a traditionally conservative Chinese society, social development followed suit. Who would have thought that as of March 14 this year, all six of Taiwan’s Provinces would recognise same-sex unions?
Taiwan’s new President wrote on her Facebook page prior to the election: “I support Marriage Equality. Every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice held a major on-line poll last year to find out the public’s view on same-sex marriage. Of over 200,000 respondents, 71% opted for full marriage equality – up from 68% in 2014. A bill to legalise same-sex marriage has been before parliament for some time but faces strong opposition from Christian activists and their allies in the opposition party. Many still believe, though, that Taiwan will become the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage. Vietnam’s government lifted a ban on same-sex marriage last year, but it is a watered down version and does not provide legal protection to spouses.
Taipei’s Gay Scene in General
Not surprisingly, a thriving gay scene has rapidly developed in Taiwan. Many may have heard of “Crystal Boys”, a novel first published in Taiwan in 1983. This detailed the exploits of a group of gay guys who could only meet fellow gays at New Park (now 228 Park) behind the Hilton Hotel (now renamed Caesar Park Hotel). For many years, this was one of the few places for gays to hook up in the city. Soon, though, gay saunas started to appear along with a handful of gay bars. Taipei does not have many western residents and the local Taiwan boys would be reluctant to socialise with others in the bars. Most would go in groups and stay within the group. Almost 20 years ago I went with two western friends to one of the early bars, Funky, on a Saturday night. We stood having drinks at the bar looking at dozens of beautiful Chinese guys. Occasionally there would be a look in our direction, but no movement. We left quite disappointed.
While the group mentality is still to be seen in some bars, this is less true in some of the other entertainment offerings. At weekends the saunas are very active. Whilst some of the clientele at those geared to younger Taiwanese may show a degree of attitude to older foreigners, in most you will usually find someone attracted to you, no matter your age or physical condition – although obviously the younger and more in-shape you are the more popular you will become. The Red House at Ximen is now at the centre of the gay scene with many bars, cafes, restaurants, boutiques with the latest swimwear, toys, gels and other gay paraphernalia. And as elsewhere, the gay hook-up apps are especially active with more than a few young Taiwanese anxious to meet older westerners.
Just outside Taipei there is the gay Sha Lun beach not far from Tamshui at the end of the red subway line. Before Tamshui, get off at Shipai, take a bus or a taxi up the hill (taxi approx $140 NTD – bus $15 NTD) and luxuriate in Huang Ding. This is one of many thermal hot springs in the area, but Huang Ding attracts mostly gay guys. It’s not for hook-ups and there’s little action. Rather it is a delightful place to spend a few hours wallowing in the sight of some of the most gorgeous mostly young bodies in Asia, all perfectly comfortable in their total nakedness. None of the inhibitions here that you find in many other Asian countries.
Nowhere is Taiwan’s development in LGBT rights more evident than in the annual Gay Pride Parade. Started in 2003 with an attendance barely more than 500, this quickly became by far the largest and most fun Parade in the whole of Asia. Last year’s attendance was estimated at just short of 80,000. Most participants come from Taipei and other parts of Taiwan, but there is always a large contingent from Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere.
In 2014 The New York Times featured an article about the developing gay scene in Taiwan. Of the annual Pride Parade it quoted a Japanese attending the Parade for the 8th time: “For gay Japanese, this is the event of the year with 80,000!” By comparison, Tokyo’s Pride Parade earlier this year attracted just 5,000 and Hong Kong’s 9,000.
The Parade is so large the route has to be split into two, with everyone converging at the end for a concert featuring openly gay Asian artistes. Each Parade carries a social message. In the past these have included Equal Rights in 2012 and Act Who You Are, Not Your Age in 2015. Having attended four Parades, I can say it is without doubt one of the best days you will experience as a gay guy in Asia – and not only because there is always a group of 100 or so boys in the skimpiest of Speedo and Aqux swimwear!
2016 Pride Parade – Saturday 29 October
Mark the date in your diary – this year’s Parade will be held on Saturday 29 October (it is always the last Saturday in October). But the Pride weekend is not confined to the Parade. Over the three weekend days there will be special Circuit parties at local discos each with many hundreds of hunky shirtless guys dancing and drinking the night away. Details of these will be posted as soon as they become available, because they are always sold out with long queues outside hoping there will be lots of early leavers. Naturally, with so many gay visitors in town, the bars, saunas and the hot spring are heaving with bodies. Always make sure you turn up early to avoid lengthy queues.
Most international carriers fly into Taipei. In the last couple of years, regional flights have become much more affordable with the advent of low cost carriers. Non-stop flights include Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur, Scoot, Jetstar and Tigerair from Singapore, V Air and Tiger Air Taiwan from Bangkok, Hong Kong Airlines from Hong Kong (not really a low cost carrier but just US$96 return if you book early enough). Peach Air and Tiger Air from Japan
As for hotels, you will be spoiled for choice. Smaller, inexpensive boutique hotels have mushroomed all over Taipei. The excellent subway system is cheap, covers most of the city and getting around is easy. After hours, taxis are plentiful and generally inexpensive. But much more about the gay scene, where to stay and getting around in Part 2 of this series.
Exchange rate: $1 USD = approx $32 NTD
Been to Taiwan or have a Taiwanese boyfriend? Please post your comments below
By Guest Writer Callum McLeod