The recent hearing of a lawsuit brought against a bookstore owner for selling erotic gay magazines two years ago has put the issue of pornography and homosexuality on the table.
Lai Jeng-jer (賴正哲), proprietor of Gin Gin's, a Taipei store specializing in gay and lesbian literature, was charged in 2003 with violating Article 235 of the Criminal Code, which states, "A person who distributes, sells, publicly displays, or by other means shows to another person in an indecent writing, drawing, or other [work] shall be punished."
Keelung Customs officers confiscated more than 200 magazines imported by the bookstore in 2003. Later the same year, the Keelung District prosecutors went to the bookstore and took away more than 500 magazines, including some that are legally published in Hong Kong as well as His, a local publication.
The matter proceeded to a second hearing on March 15. The judge and Lai, accompanied by his lawyer, had a fierce debate on the issue of indecency over the photos in 101 magazines that contain what the Publication Appraisal Foundation defined as indecent pictures and content, Lai told the Taipei Times during a telephone interview yesterday.
"The judge and the foundation said that the erect penises shown in the magazines are unnatural, and words like sperm are indecent, which I found ridiculous," Lai said.
"According to health education textbooks, an erect penis is a natural response any normal man has. It is wrong to demonize human body parts with terms such as indecency," he said.
Unable to reach any conclusion, the Keelung District decided to continue the hearing and reach a verdict in April.
Gay-rights advocates and gender issues experts have questioned the judgment of both the Keelung District judge and the Publication Appraisal Foundation for defining the photos as indecent and an offense against morality.
They call the case an example of the demonization and dehumanization of gay and lesbian groups.
It also reveals issues of homophobia and the myth of the male body under patriarchal ideology, they said.
"Prosecutors determined that the photos of nude male bodies in the gay magazines are indecent and abnormal, which is an judgment made under heterosexual values," said Wang Ping (王蘋), secretary general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association Taiwan (
"In a patriarchal and heterosexual society, a male body, especially the penis, is a symbol of power. Exposing the male body to the public uncovers the myth about men and in some ways weakens their powers," she said.
Josephine Ho (何春蕤), an advisor to the Gender Sexuality Rights Association and dean of National Central University's English Department, said that the reviews of the magazines by the Publication Appraisal Foundation and also the Measure Governing the Rating Systems of Publications and Pre-recorded Video Programs are both based on heterosexual ideology.
"The reviews suggested that normal people would feel ashamed or annoyed seeing those photos. However, gay people may have different reactions to male nudity than heterosexual people," Ho said.
According to Ho, the interpretation of pornography varies and depends on the development of gender culture in the society. It is only subjective and groundless speculation to claim those photos have a negative influence on normal people.
Ho said that the legal battle Lai faces, as well as the lawsuit brought against her by conservative groups over the link to a "Beast Love" Web site on her academic research web page, show the limited room for open-minded and rational discussion and display of sexual issues in society.
The suit against Ho was filed in 2003 by a group of activists, lawyers, teachers and parents objecting to Ho's having posted a link to a site detailing intercourse between humans and animals, on the Web page of National Central University's Center for the Study of Sexuality, where Ho has served as director for four years.
Prosecutors at the Taipei District Court later declared Ho not guilty of offenses against morality last year.
"I urge the public to reconsider the terms `pornography' and `obscenity' in our criminal code, as they are outdated, and also to get to know sexual images and culture from a modern-day perspective," Ho said.
Wu Ming-hsuan (吳銘軒), spokesperson for the Coalition Against Pseudo-Rating Regulations, agreed.
"The need for sexual information will never stop, and the definition of pornography remains a debatable issue. However, the government and conservative groups should stop playing the role of regulator and banning pornography," said Wu.
"It is important for a democratic society to respect the freedom to read, and accept the existence of exotic and different voices or ideologies," he added.
Lai said the recent release of the original cut of noted director Tsai Ming-liang's (
"If the government and the public recognized the film's artistry, they should be able to accept the photo display or written words of human body parts or sexual behaviors, such as penis, oral sex, or sperm, which are natural and nothing to be ashamed of," said Lai.