“No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so.” – Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
Last month, on the eve of the LGBT pride parade in Kaohsiung, the city government announced that same-sex couples would be recognized and their partnerships made legitimate through public registration starting May 20th. In response, the Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan (護家盟) issued yet another press release against same-sex couples, as they usually do, characterizing them as perverted and abnormal.
The outspoken group is not the only one in Taiwan railing against the practice of homosexuality. Many others employ similar arguments in opposition to sexual diversity. However, it would be unfair to blame individuals for their bigotry, because this bigotry is a collective outcome resulting from a society that has failed to nurture public dialogue regarding sexuality itself.
When Lu Wei-ming (盧威明), a Taoist priest, established in his practice in 2009, he had the similar thoughts in mind. He is the head priest of a shrine for the Rabbit God (兔兒神), a Taoist deity for homosexuality.
Locally known as the Rabbit Temple (兔兒神廟), the small chamber, located in a narrow alleyway in New Taipei’s Yonghe District (永和), is in fact the only religious institution in Taiwan where same-sex Taoist adherents can find a spiritual figure that specifically governs the realm of gay love. The tale of the Rabbit Deity was documented in Zibuyu (子不語) – a collection of supernatural stories – in which a Qing Dynasty Chinese official, Hu Tianbao (胡天保), was beaten to death after he was caught peeping on an imperial inspector through a bathroom hole. He was later appointed as the Rabbit God in charge of same-sex love, as his desire for another man was a natural reaction out of his affection for another person.
Priest Lu explained to me how the existence of the deity reflects traditional Taoist philosophy in regards to same-sex union. Surprisingly, he used the same Yin-Yang schema that many conservatives deploy when arguing against same-sex love.
The Yin-Yang totem – a circle formed by two complementary halves (yi), each black and white (yin and yang) – lays out the Taoist cosmology of nature and life. They represent the interdependent but opposite elements, such as the sun and the moon, or the light and the dark, which form a harmonious balance. Many have tapped into that and seen the two intertwined dualities- male and female – as the fundamental units for a marriage.
But not only does this view forces the concept of gender onto the meaning of the symbol, it overlooks the fact that within each division, there is a circle in the opposite color – that Taoism proposes an androgynous integration of feminine and masculine traits in harmonious balance.
Not only is the homo-hetero duality ambivalent in the ancient Chinese world, terms such as “gender” or “sexuality” are also words coined in the modern biomedical context, which were then imported from Western culture. There aren’t compatible words in Mandarin that implies roles or behaviors resulting from social power dynamics.
Same-sex and straight sexual orientations are not understood in dichotomous terms but with a more fluid approach.
Quoting from the Taoist classic, 太上老君說常清靜妙經 (The Qingjing Jing):
天輕地濁。天動地靜。男輕女濁。男動女靜。降本流木。而生萬物。(Heaven is pure, earth is turbid; Heaven is moving, earth is tranquil. The male is moving, the female is tranquil. Descending from the origin, Flowing toward the end, The myriad beings are being born.) (tr. Kohn 1993:25)
Priest Lu argued that desires of any kind is part of the greater universe. The Rabbit God Temple serves to provide spiritual sanctuary for those whose expressions of their sexual desires are marginalized.
Two LGBT and sex rights activists, known as Owen Chen and elek, took that idea up another notch, and opened their own sex toy company, 異物 (Exotica), literally meaning “abject” in Mandarin. They are best known for their first dildo product series, Budding Leaders: Feifan’s Boner & Weiting’s Bulge, named after the two Sunflower Movement student leaders, Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷).
In addition to dismissing the stigma projected on the matter of sex and sexuality, the young entrepreneurs are also seeking to renegotiate the fixity between the private sphere and government intervention within the politics of sex.
During the Sunflower Movement, one of the criticisms directed at the organizing group was that they voluntarily took down the rainbow flag and denied all signs of eroticism in order to keep the protest “civil” and “pure,” as if the showing of sexual desire would somehow “pollute” the movement. But by doing so, they not only did pandered to the bloodsucking media which would dig into their last breath just to find any fault with the movement, they aligned themselves with the phallocentric conception in dealing with all kinds of sexualities – especially rejects and cast-asides.
This is problematic because it exactly proves how the activist group is incapable of resolving internal ideological differences, the core question all social peripheral groups face as they defy the powerful state.
Exotica’s products are made to “agitate” the status quo, forcing the nation to address the elephants in the room. For their last campaign, they casted the popular gay model, Ah Kong (阿空), to be the rollover prototype for their sex toy products. The entire moulding procedure was displayed as a live show for participants to interact with Ah Kong (to help and engage in his erection process).
The event was not touted as an art show. In fact, the company refuses to disseminate their vision with art as the medium. “What is wrong with exposing our body? (肉體是又怎麼?)”, said elek, as many would be taken aback if they were directly shown such intimacy right to their face.
The two dedicated themselves to promote more public, civic discourse on sex, and to evoke ways for open dialogue so that sex is not simply a private, voyeuristic taboo, but rather an integral part of social well-being. Sex is not just what happens inside tabloid weeklies and on certain internet message boards, but sex is also inside our laws, such as those that define sexual harassment or same-sex marriage.
Exotica is working with various activist groups to make the connection between the sexual rights agenda with other social issues. Their next big thing is to collaborate with members of the police and firefighters demanding for rights to organize labor unions. When asked if the two’s cooperation would steer the attention away from their original intentions, I was told that it would be interesting to see how it all plays out.
A portion of the profit from each of the items sold is donated to minority groups fighting for sexual rights and sex workers’ rights, such as the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (日日春關懷互助協會, COSWAS) and Hand Job TW (手天使).
Priest Lu and Exotica both set out to reveal, or even uncover, different perspectives of what love, sex and social well-being and fairness means. Even though one comes from the world of ancient folk traditions and the other from the world of merchandise and commerce, both try to add to a growing national conversation about just how the Taiwanese people see and think about sex.
Even more fundamentally, they are challenging us to simply ask, “just what are we as human beings?” They are challenging us to constantly confront the image of what we believe the world to be, and should be, that is so deeply rooted in all of our minds. But one thing is for sure: no one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so.
(Feature photo of Sunflower Movement leaders Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, from Yiwu’s website)
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- 兔兒神廟與假陽具：談談（同性的）愛愛吧 - August 27, 2015
- Rabbit Temple and Dildos: Let’s Talk About (Same) Sex - June 28, 2015