On a Thursday night at Mango nightclub, groups of young women drink and sway to a pounding techno beat while a chic hostess invites members of the all-female crowd onto the dance floor to French kiss for a free drink. This no-man's land is the second installment of the first weekly lesbian party night organized by the bar Lez's Meeting. Since June last year, the same organizers have been running popular lesbian parties held every three to four months.
"I've been to lesbian parties in Hong Kong and the US and wondered why Taiwan didn't have quality entertainment venues where gay women could have fun and make friends easily. I think the time is ripe for such spaces as the younger generation of gay women is more open and confident," said Hsiao An (小安), the brains behind the night.
A silent community
Compared to the thriving gay male-oriented businesses in Ximending and the East District, or the flourishing party culture that is simultaneously demonized and celebrated by mainstream media, the lesbian community has kept a relatively low profile.
Wang Ping (王蘋), secretary-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association in Taiwan (GSRAT, 台灣性別人權協會), believes the socialization of gender roles and economic disparity - the average female worker's salary is less than 70 percent of the average male's - account for the community's inconspicuousness.
"To some extent, media coverage reflects a group's economic power and its level of consumption. Gay-related news is often related to consumerism, that is to say, you shop and you gain visibility. It is, therefore, not surprising to note the absence of the lesbian community in the media. And on a cultural level, gay women's invisibility is also part of the gender socialization process that tells women not to express themselves in a conspicuous way," Wang said.
A similar view is shared by Hsiao An, who notes that even though the fashion lez (時尚拉) [jargon for members of the community's urban-hipster group] dresses, dines and entertains in the style of glossy magazines, their purchasing power is below that of gay men with a similar lifestyle.
"Take Ts [T for tomboy, a term for butch lesbians] for example. They are expected to take up the traditional male role and take care of their partners, but most of them don't make as much money as men do," said Hsiao An.
During their heyday from 1990 to 2000, lesbian bars, also known as T-bars, provided a much-needed social space for the community. The growth of lesbian-focused Web sites cut into T-bars' client base as members of younger generations went online to make friends rather than frequent the old-school, karaoke-type bars on Linsen North Road that were popular with older generations.
"Every year you see two or three T-bars open and close down in a matter of months ... . Lesbians nowadays don't just go to gay-specific places. They spend their disposable income on nightclubs, movie theaters, Cash Box KTV and other forms of entertainment just like straight people do. And if they want to make new friends, they can just go online," said Sharon Hsu, owner of Taipei's oldest T-bar, Jail House (搖滾看守所), which is located near National Taiwan University (國立台灣大學) and opened 10 years ago.
Besides Jail House and Taipei's longest-running lesbian dance club, Esha, many gay women don't stay in contact with the community through nightlife. Online groups offer different types of services including counseling, relationship advice and travel information.