Adventures in the Queer East sounds exciting, mystical and fun, but note to selves: Benjamin Law’s latest creation is much, much more.
Law takes you on a thought-provoking journey through Gay Asia; not only does he shine a light on issues in the queer east, he gives insight into an unspoken world. Not that it’s taboo, but it’s not common knowledge. Law answers questions you want to know the answer to, or to be frank, have never cared to ask. If you weren’t already sold on the title’s fitting coinage, Law himself, or his first book, The Family Law, then let me tell you why Gaysia is one of the most entertaining and truly wonderful nonfiction books I’ve ever read.
You set off together in Indonesia, getting a glimpse into the scandalous lives of the gay elite. While a lot of the book deals with sensitive matters, Law never preaches and always manages a perfect balance of wit and empathy. Even when face to face with foreign genitalia, Law doesn’t beat around bushes and tells it how it is (warning: descriptive). One page you’re giggling out loud wanting to visit Bali to party, the next you’re shamefully nodding along to Thailand’s ladyboy stigma, and then letting out a gasp of horror when reading the down low on sex reassignment surgery.
Whilst engrossed in the world of Gaysia (and it really hits home when Law pays China a visit) you can’t help but think of the west. How our homeland is far from perfect when it comes to LGBT rights and our current idle government, but all the same – we’re far better off. My friends don’t have to go to extreme lengths or have sham-beard-marriages or lie to please their families, but others aren’t so lucky.
At times, when I’m muttering ‘crazy fucker’ throughout the Malaysian chapter, I truly don’t know how Law manages to remain a passive investigative journalist. He endures what seems reminiscent of war propaganda and brainwashing when he encounters Pastor Edmund Smith – a raging homo turned hetero hubby with kids to boot – along with Mr Hasbullah, an Islamic traditionalist, who’s tackling homosexuality like it’s the world’s biggest problem. Law experiences severely conservative and devout views; this craziness would’ve been hella difficult to swallow – a credit to him.
By Japan, you’ve experienced a lot of emotions, rollercoaster-style, but Law brings you to a standstill in Myanmar. You won’t believe how juvenile the Burmese sex workers are or how common HIV is – all of which warrants action, but you feel useless. Don’t worry; Gaysia doesn’t end on heartbreak. The mind-boggling makes a swift return in time for India – the latest country in the world to legalise homosexuality. There’s more Malaysian-esque worldliness when a beloved yoga god character takes the stage – breathing and stretching your core to straightness.
Despite all the craziness and disbelief, as the journey comes to a close, Law leaves you feeling hopeful about what lies ahead. He brilliantly welcomes you with his honesty and warmth, almost like you were in his pocket the entire time. Gaysia is a complete joy – an eye-opening page-turner.