I’ve been struggling to write about Benjamin Law’s Gaysia since I finished it over two months ago. It’s not that I disliked it – quite the opposite, in fact – just that, as a work of nonfiction that deals with difficult truths, I found it difficult to read.
I’ll happily admit that I live in a veritable gilded cage. I’m white, cis, female, and middle-class, and I’ve never not been any of those things. I was talking about this with my sister at lunch yesterday, and she pointed out that the only way she (we) could be more privileged would be if we were male. Which brings it’s own set of problems, because sometimes (oh, poor little rich girl!) it’s hard to check your privilege when you can’t see around it.
Gaysia made me confront some truths that my middle-class, white, Australian upbringing would have me gloss over. That lgbt+ equality is about more than marriage rights – it’s about the right to survive, and to thrive. The fact that there were sweet and funny and charming anecdotes slotted in with the sad, hard truths doesn’t mean that when I think about Gaysia, I think about the utter invisibility of Japanese lesbians or the handful of slang terms Myanmar gays have for contracting HIV.
The book itself was funny, and charming, and utterly truthful. Sitting down to read it was like sitting down with a friend and hearing them tell you about their adventures overseas, mysterious illnesses and exhaustion included. Law works hard to demonstrate that gay communities are thriving throughout Southeast Asia, often in spite of what we in Australia would consider draconian laws and crippling social stigma. If you’re at all interested in queer culture, Southeast Asia, or nonfiction that opens your eyes and doesn’t let you forget how the world really works, I’d strongly recommend it.