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Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East Paperback – May 13, 2014
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"Law has unusual adventures here, but in between the funny asides and sharp perceptions, he offers serious observations to show that Asia may be halfway around the world, but it’s closer than we think. This book is explicit and profanity-laden, but it’s also funny and charming and worthy of being tucked in your carryon this summer. Take Gaysia with you on vacation, and you certainly won’t be bored."
"Surprising, sometimes funny, and often poignant."
NonFiction Reads Book Reviews
"Law blends an accessible journalistic style familiar to fans of travel writing with solid research and investigation into various queer cultures in the countries he visits."
Queer and Now
"Benjamin Law spent nearly a year skipping between seven Asian countries, sitting backstage with Bangkok ladyboys before their beauty pageants, talking to Tokyo’s superstar drag queens, marching in the heat with Mumbai’s fierce queer rights activists, listening to Melaka preachers who claim they can heal homosexuality and hanging out with Bali’s moneyboys and the foreigners who hire them."
Creative Loafing Tampa
"Some may be tempted to skip over the underbelly of issues that Law presents and just go for the romp, as the book is highly entertaining. But as the author demonstrates, the complexity is there for the seeing if people care to look. Gaysia is worth the look."
Click Heels Traveler
"Why I picked it up: The title. Why I finished it: Each country deals with the reality of gay citizens differently."
Unshelved Book Club
"An old Tibetan proverb says that on every journey, you must die once. The person who returns should not be the same person who left. I invite you to travel to Indonesia, Thailand and China, to Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar and India with an observant and sensitive explorer as your guide. It will be an adventurous trip in which you meet the moneyboys of Bali, the ladyboys of Thailand, the hidden gay Internet of China, the Chinese gay ghosts and their homowives and the grand gay celebrities of Japanese television in a country that pretends to have no other kind of LGBT person. You will be befriended and taken around with Christian and Muslim fundamentalists who claim to cure homosexuality. And yes, they have been named after and trained by American fundamentalists and the folk at the Christian ex-Gay organization called NARTH. The extreme poverty and rampant AIDS in Myanmar will open your heart in sadness. And you will get to know the inspiring activists of India, gay and straight, along with a gay swamiji who thinks that being gay is sick and must be cured. There is a theme of fear and self-hatred herethat runs throughout the worldbut it is balanced out by the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride Parade, the biggest queer event in the world’s most populous democracy.
There are a lot of ingredients here, but they are blended together with a rare skill: over-the-top beauty pageants, sacred in their depth of feeling for lives lived truthfully, no matter how difficult it can be; religious institutions and persons, profane in their betrayal of that which is best in us; dangers and gay celebrations; an exotic itinerary through seven of Asia’s (and the world’s) most interesting countries; a fast, fabulous, funny, sad read of life, love and the great gay happening world of Asia. Cheers to the future! And to your guide and friend through Gaysia, Benjamin Law." Aaron Allbright, author of The Land Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand
"Benjamin Law has put together a book that at first glance starts as a sexy romp through Asia, bringing him to the gay hotspots coming into consciousness, in what he calls the gayest continent on earth. It’s the truth of course, based on census figures in this most populous area of the world. Law digs deeper though, bringing us far under the surface, giving us keen observations on emerging gay rights issues in these regions, along with the poignant contrasts and issues that tourism of all kinds brings, destroying paradise, even while lifting countries and destinations out of poverty. Of Asian extraction, Law also straddles two worlds he is a part of the cultures he is seeing, and yet not, as a native born Australian. Law has achieved what seems the impossible in the Gaysia collection: a sensual enjoyable read, full of titillation, at once part of the gay travel circuit, yet deep with sociological observations, along with a clear understanding of Asian history. Whether you’re planning a trip to Asia, an armchair tourist, or merely curious, Gaysia is a book you should add to your collection." Michael Luongo, editor, Gay Travels in the Muslim World (Routledge)
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I was struck most by the plight of male-to-female transsexuals and everyone in Myanmar with HIV or AIDS. The book starts out with a sort of wild romp through the Indonesian gay tourism scene and ends up in India where a yogi was not the first person ever to claim he could "cure" homosexuality, but perhaps the most bizarre.
Then, toward the end, we find ourselves in Myanmar, where it seems everyone has HIV and no one has access to medicine. At one point, the author asks a doctor what will happen to the 15,000-25,000 people a year who are dying from a lack of medicine for HIV/AIDS, and the man resorts to gallows humor:
"Looking back now, I see the answer was obvious. Kyaw Myint stifled a laugh and leaned in close, like a dad sharing a consipiratorial joke with his kid.
'They die,' he whispered. 'They're going to die!'"
There is this, and the woman with no hands who shrugged with her stumps (what're you going to do?) and the losing contestants in Miss Tiffany's beauty contest for ladyboys, and myriad other LGBT Asians (okay, I don't know if the handless woman was LGBT, but I can't not mention her because I was so struck by that image) that have stayed with me in the days since I finished GAYSIA. Sometimes I wish I didn't know about them, because their lives seem so hard, and I, spoiled Westerner, don't like to think about real people facing hard things. But that's why the book is good and important. The author is funny at odd times, very aware of his good fortune to be Australian, and a good writer. I did find myself skipping through the last two countries, because the same thing just kept happening over and over again, and while that's important to the message, it bogs down the book a bit. I'd read more by this author. -- Rita Arens, author of contemporary young adult novel THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013) The Obvious Game
Law, an ethnically Chinese Australian, begins his peregrinations in Bali at an all gay resort that seems to be setting up the book as a somewhat leering view of gay foreigners and Asian sex workers. But that's the trick of this book. It does indeed deal a lot with sex workers, and gay folks (and lesbians and transgendered folks) - but the leering tone rapidly turns to one of thoughtful observation. In what I'm sure was a calculated move, Law gradually moves his readers from the fun side of being gay in Asia to the side of oppression and marginalization. He explores aspects of gay truth in Asia that are as alien and disturbing to us as they are to him (him being a happily out 20-something Australian). And yet, unfailingly, Law approaches everyone he meets on his travels with respect, from transgender beauty queens to anti-gay yoga gurus. Sure, there are plenty of snarky asides - intended only for our eyes - but I gained enormous respect for Law, as I followed his journey along sometimes harrowing and often unnerving paths, meeting people and going places that are hard for me to imagine.
For someone known as a comedian, and someone so young (young enough to be my child), Law evinces a deep maturity and sensitivity in this book, and the one of the penultimate moments, when he attends his first gay pride march - in Mumbai - was as moving for me as it was for him. This book is not all fun and games; but there is much here of great interest and value.
And the adventure continues in Japan in what was one of the more sad chapters. Though Japanese people don't see gay people as sinful, they do seem them as shameful. And then pretend that the non campy gay men ones do not exist. Lesbians are completely ignored.
After Japan, the adventures continue in Malaysia, Myanmar, and India.
For all the people that may emphasize cultural relativism, at the end of the day if you are reading this book in the US, Australia, or Western Europe, then be happy that your culture is much more open and welcoming. Still, the path to openness is one that all countries take and there are hopeful signs that gay rights and visibility are getting stronger in the region. I only wish that the author had visited Taiwan where gay rights are strongest so we could see what that kind of Asian acceptance looks like.