Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Some of Taiwan's best short story writers reveal their true colors

Ten stories with themes of homosexuality written by local authors during the 1990s describe a society in transition

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Angelwings: Contemporary Queer Fiction From Taiwan
Translated by Fran Martin
247 pages
University of Hawaii Press

As human beings, we've modified and adapted virtually everything that nature has presented us with. We've draped our nakedness in clothes, cut and shaved our hair, and transformed our food over fires, long ago walked on the moon, and can now send messages in micro-seconds between China and Brazil. Virtually nothing "natural" remains. What is all this talk, then, about "unnatural" sexual behavior?

This book contains 10 short stories with gay themes written by Taiwanese authors during the 1990s. The best of them are outstanding, and all of them, as translator Fran Martin asserts, testify to a society that has changed out of all recognition over the last 15 years.

The strongest story is Stones on the Shore by Hsu Yoshen (許佑生), the gay writer who staged a high-profile wedding to his Uruguayan partner in Taipei in 1996. It's strong on account of its varied concerns, presenting a love affair between a Taiwanese and a Chinese person, and then developing this by making the mainlander a father surrogate to the Taiwanese.

What underlies this story is its treatment of the vexed question of the relationship between gay Chinese and their families, a theme that marks several of the best items in this book. It's a particular problem in East Asia because the family link is so much stronger than it is in the West, and the pressure on sons to marry is so unrelenting.

Hsu Yoshen shows a group of Chinese gay men living in New York, and therefore far from their families' reach. Yet these men appear to need family relationships almost as powerfully as their families need them, and as a result they are presented as unwittingly forming quasi-familial links among themselves.

That the "father" in the story's central relationship is from the mainland, and the "son" from Taiwan proposes a novel angle on political cross-strait relations, already present in the familiar "fatherland"/"motherland" phraseology. As the mainlander says to the Taiwanese as they emerge from their "postejaculatory trance," "Comrade, how's it feel to go to bed with a compatriot from the fatherland?"

In addition, the tale manages to portray several different kinds of foreigner/Chinese gay relationships -- all of them exploitative, albeit in different ways. It also makes use of the frequently commented-on phenomenon that an alarming number of Taiwanese can't swim. All in all, Stones on the Shore has a confidence and a scope that none of the other stories quite manages to match.

The connection between family and sex in Taiwanese gay life doesn't stop here, however. Strangely parallel to Hsu Yoshen's narrative is Searching for the Lost Wings of the Angel by Chen Xue (陳雪) , a writer famous for her explicit lesbian fictions. Here the narrator, a Taichung high-school girl, has a no-holds-barred affair with an older woman while enduring a troubled relationship with her own widowed mother. Both these older women live by having commercial sex with men. There are other parallels too, until at the end the women's two identities merge. The young girl's eroticism, in other words, has been aroused by the attentions of her own parent. Sex and family can't get much closer than that.

Another story, Poem from the Glass Womb by Hong Ling (洪凌), is similarly mother-obsessed. Its gothic fantasy style enthusiastically combines heavy metal music, menstruation, Wagner's operas, the Chinese ghost month and lesbian orgasms. But mama's never far away. When your whole emotional world is that of a warm swamp from which other people, like alien life-forms, briefly emerge, how could she possibly not be?

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