His name means bravery, and that’s what it took for Nguyen Van Dung to talk about life in “the third world” — a reference in Vietnam not to poverty but to the gay and lesbian community.
At age 41, he has decided to lay bare almost everything in a tell-all diary called Bong, a slang term for homosexuals, written by two local journalists after more than 300 hours of taped interviews with him.
Dung is sure many people here won’t like his memoir, which has triggered both praise and criticism for its often explicit recollections of sexual adventures and relationships with other men. But Dung says it was high time to try to change attitudes in Vietnam.
“I don’t want to be famous,” he told reporters. “Being famous means being notorious, and the price you pay is high. But to achieve my goal, I had to sacrifice my privacy. It wasn’t easy. It was a fierce struggle for me.”
Very few gay people publicly come out in Vietnam. Homosexuality is still a largely taboo subject in the communist, traditionally patriarchal country, long ruled by Confucian mores and Buddhist beliefs.
The book had a modest first print run of 2,000 copies. But the fact that it was published at all is considered by many here a sign of changing attitudes and greater tolerance.
Many gay men, Dung says in the book, have struggled with deep shame for not meeting societal expectations — marrying, building a family, taking over the house, caring for their ageing parents and producing male offspring.
“If you were born gay,” he writes, “no matter whether you are a man or a woman, you were born at a bad time, on a bad day, in a bad month, in a bad year, under a very bad star.”
“If there is the so-called next life, I beg God to let me be an ordinary man or an ordinary woman, whatever gender it may be, but to be as normal as other people. It seems a very simple dream, but for me and my friends being normal is impossible,” he writes.
The word “bong” can mean shadow or silhouette and is sometimes used as a derogatory term for homosexual males because it suggests they are mere “shadows of normal men.”
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