Taiwan surprised us in several ways. One of those was how easy it was to travel there as a gay couple. While we have rarely ever experienced overt homophobia on our travels, in Taiwan we felt very much like being a same sex couple was nothing that would draw unwanted attention. Here are some things to consider about travelling in Taiwan as a gay couple.
Disclaimer: Of course, this is all based only on our experience of travelling in the country for two and a half weeks; yours may differ. We acknowledge that as two thin, white, cisgendered men we are allowed certain privileges, which certainly inform how we experience things and how others relate to us.
The legal situation in Taiwan for same sex couples has some highs and lows. While consensual same sex sexual activity is legal, and the age of consent is the same for everyone, there aren’t actually any anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, except for in the field of employment and education. That means that in theory, someone directing hate speech at an LGBT person would not legally suffer any recourse for their actions.
The issue of marriage equality has been discussed in parliament since 2003, but has not yet gone through. However, various cities around the country are implementing schemes to register same sex couples for purposes of reference, and the debate is ongoing about whether to equalise marriage laws. It is entirely possible that Taiwan will soon be the first country in Asia to have marriage equality, but don’t get your hopes up just yet!
We found the attitude towards same sex couples to be very accepting from our short time in Taiwan. As tourists certainly we never had any problems with asking for a double bed in a hotel, for example. While we never saw any gay male couples overtly displaying affection for each other in public, it seemed relatively common to see lesbian couples holding hands in the streets without that drawing any kind of attention at all.
Some polls have shown that around 75% of the adult population of Taiwan consider homosexual relationships ‘acceptable’, which might not sound great, but in the grand scheme is actually pretty good. Overall, we definitely felt that there is a live and let live approach to these kinds of things from the average person on the street: Taiwanese people may judge you silently, but they won’t get up in your face about it!
Hook up apps
In Europe the most popular apps for meeting other gay guys are no doubt Grindr and Gay Romeo, and while these are both also used in Taiwan, there is another app on the scene that may be even more common: Blued. It works in a similar way to Grindr in that it displays users in order by distance, but it allows much more personalisation of the profile than Grindr does.
Remember that these apps are not only for finding quick hook ups: you can also use them to meet local people and find out things about the place you’re visiting that you wouldn’t read in a guidebook. We’ve met some really interesting people on our travels with these apps and made some good friends who we are still in touch with because of them. Zab often uses them to find the best place to get his hair cut, for example!
Nightlife and cruising
We did not experience much of the gay nightlife in Taiwan on our trip, but the scene in Taipei is certainly alive and kicking, much of it centred around The Red House in Ximen. The range of hangouts is quite impressive with everything from cafés to relax in by day, gay karaoke bars to sing your heart out at by night and leather fetish and kink clubs to get freaky in later on.
There are also several men-only saunas, some popular as cruising, others simply for relaxing and many for both. Interestingly, the 24 hour Eslite bookstore in Da’an, worth a visit in its own right, is also a popular cruising spot for gay guys! For more about what it’s like being a gay man in Taipei, read Tom’s account here.
Taipei is actually host to the largest pride event in Asia, which takes place in late October every year. Taipei Pride started in 2003 and last year had almost 80,000 participants. It is unusual in that the event is mainly a social movement, rather than a platform for businesses targeting a gay clientele on which to advertise.
The week leading up to pride is also Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, which puts on showings of films submitted from all around the world in the country’s three largest cities: Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. It also includes panel discussions with some of the film makers, workshops and award ceremonies.
All in all, by Asian standards, Taiwan is a very gay friendly country and travelling there as a gay couple was very easy and comfortable for us. We never felt out of place or uncomfortable because of being a same sex couple, and would encourage other gay couples to visit too!
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