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Funny and poignant in turns, Benjamin Law’s Gaysia gives us a very insightful look into the lives of LGBT people across Asia.
Review by Vishnu Ramakrishnan
Benjamin Law’s Gaysia: Adventures In The Queer East is a fantastic read. The book gives you the impression of listening to a friendly co-passenger on a flight narrating his compelling experiences. It only adds to your delight to find that he is also intelligent, well travelled and a good story teller. The book is quite funny and insightful without desperately trying to be so.
The subject, LGBT folk in Asia and their lives, has been long ignored as we are a self obsessed society happy to live in ignorance and denial. There are works of fiction and scholarly essays (by people like Ruth Vanitha) on the topic; however, I think this is the first non-fiction book that depicts the current reality. For that alone, Law deserves rich praise and a big thank you from the Asian LGBT community.
How do the Chinese handle marriage pressure? Do gays in Beijing cruise like Bangaloreans do in Cubbon Park? How do the call boys in Bali feel? While the Internet and the English language have brought LGBT stories from the far West closer, we have little information about our neighbourhood. Law presents first-hand stories to introduce our neighbourhood to us. His Asian origin and Western sensibilities give him the perfect perception and he approaches various aspects of LGBT lifestyle with enthusiasm and compassion. His non-judgmental tone helps immensely to let people, be it a closeted gay in India or a Japanese gay television celebrity, open up and allow a peek into their lives without pretense.
Not only LGBT folk but anyone interested in sociology or just a good read would enjoy this book. It would also be the perfect gift to shock the conservative! Law’s wit and sense of humor is palpable across the book. I can hardly resist sharing a peek into the book:
“‘He stayed with me that night’, Steve said. ‘I woke up in the morning and he was still there, and I thought, Wow, Okay: he didn’t steal my money.’
‘Your organs hadn’t been removed’, I joked.
‘No!’ Steve raised his eyebrows and chuckled. ‘Well, almost …’ “
There are many poignant moments and quirky comments. For instance, the 2009 Delhi high court judgment and the events leading up to the verdict, already a part of the Indian LGBT movement’s folklore, is presented by Law much more vividly than most sources I have read from. (It was ironic and cruel that I happened to read this very chapter on the same day the apex court refused to even hear us again on overturning the 2009 verdict).
This book neither claims to be nor is a tell-all or a thorough 360 degree analysis of LGBT issues. However, Nepal is a glaring omission for that country is going through an interesting transformation by becoming the first in the region to decriminalize homosexuality and aspires to be a gay friendly tourism destination. (There is a pause now thanks to political instability). In the future, when all is well and LGBT folk have equal rights in this part of the world, this book will be even more important for it would be one of the very few authentic documentations we would have about the transitional period in this region.
It would be hard to improve on the precision of The Australian’s comment: “… (Gaysia) is a book of powerful, enlightening stories on a fraught topic, told with care, empathy, grace and good humour”.
If the flight landed before he finished the story, and if you were like me, you’d cajole him to join you for a drink or dinner and when he was done, you’d want more.
Publishers: Random House
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