Asexuality and LGBTQ+ Activism in Taiwan 

Written by Daniel Yo-Ling 

Image credit: MangakaMaiden Photography, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As Taiwan enters its third year of same-sex marriage legalisation, the perennial question of what issues and communities will be centred in Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement continues to loom large. In this article, I consider the landscape of contemporary LGBTQ+ activism in Taiwan from the perspective of Taiwan’s asexual community by drawing on recent findings from the 2021 Taiwan Asexual Community Survey. Despite a general disinterest in marriage and traditional family formation practices, Taiwan’s asexual community is nevertheless supportive of and an important constituent in current LGBTQ+ advocacy efforts.  

Asexuality in Taiwan 

The term ‘asexuality’ encompasses a spectrum of sexual orientations that describe people who experience little to no sexual attraction. The three most common sexual orientations on the asexual spectrum are: asexual people, who do not experience sexual attraction; graysexual people, who share limited amounts of sexual attraction in terms of frequency and/or intensity; and demisexual people, who do not experience sexual attraction towards another person unless or until they have formed an emotional connection with them. In addition, people in the asexual community distinguish between sexual orientation and romantic orientation, or the desire to form a romantic partnership, to further specify the kinds of attraction they feel towards others. For instance, someone identifying as an aromantic asexual does not experience sexual or romantic attraction. In contrast, someone identifying as an alloromantic demisexual experiences romantic attraction but can only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional connection.  

The spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism were largely developed through online communities that formed in the late 1990s, with the largest online community, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), being founded in 2001. Taiwan’s asexual community was first organised in 2013 through AVEN’s forums. A Taiwan asexuals Facebook group was started shortly thereafter, with in-person meetings starting in 2014. Taiwan’s asexual community also participated in Taiwan LGBT Pride for the first time in 2014. Since 2014, Taiwan’s asexual community has steadily organised on various social media platforms (PTT, Facebook, Line, YouTube, DCard, etc.), with the largest and most active being 台灣無性戀小組 Taiwan Asexual Group. Taiwan Asexual Group has been hosting regular community gatherings, advocating for asexual visibility, and providing an online hub for people in Taiwan on or exploring the asexual and aromantic spectrum since 2014.  

In 2021, the Taiwan Asexual Group conducted a Taiwan Asexual Community Survey to increase asexual visibility and provide a resource for aspec (an abbreviation for asexual/aromantic spectrum) people in Taiwan. The 2021 Taiwan Asexual Community Survey consisted of 70 questions covering basic demographics, gender identity, sexual and romantic orientation, sexual behaviour and attitudes, ideal living situation, and views on legal initiatives. It received a total of 397 valid responses, making it the largest dedicated dataset on Taiwan’s asexual community to date.  

In what follows, I draw from the 2021 survey results to discuss Taiwan’s asexual community’s involvement in the broader LGBTQ+ movement. Since the legalisation of same-sex marriage on May 24, 2019, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement has largely focused on three initiatives: transnational marriage equality, adoption and reproductive rights, and transgender rights.  

Marriage and Family Formation:  

According to Article 46 of the Act Governing the Choice of Law in Civil Matters Involving Foreign Elements, “The formation of a marriage is governed by the national law of each party.” This means that transnational same-sex marriages in Taiwan can only be pursued with people from countries that have already legalised same-sex marriage. As a result, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups such as the Taiwan Equality Campaign (TEC) and the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) have urged amendments to lift restrictions on transnational same-sex marriage.  

Taiwan’s asexual community wholeheartedly supports transnational marriage equality, as evidenced by the Taiwan Asexual Group’s signing of a recent petition by various LGBTQ+ advocacy groups urging action after three years of waiting on transnational marriage equality. However, despite clear solidarity on this issue, most of Taiwan’s asexual community has little interest in marriage. For example, only about one-fourth of participants in the 2021 survey responded that they wanted to or most wanted to get married; this figure is even lower for asexual respondents (~18%) and aromantic respondents (~11%). In contrast, many respondents indicated that they instead wanted to or most wanted to remain single (~43%). Moreover, a majority of ~54% of respondents stated that they wanted to or most wanted to enter into an intimate platonic relationship.  

While single-parent adoption was implemented in 2012, joint adoption by same-sex couples remains limited to the biological children of one party. Furthermore, according to Article 11 of the Assisted Reproduction Act, access to assisted reproduction is currently limited to heterosexual couples for whom one party suffers from infertility. In other words, LGBTQ+ adoption and reproductive rights remain highly restricted in Taiwan.  

Only ~12% of survey respondents indicated that they want to or extremely want to give birth to or adopt children. Despite low interest in birthing or adopting children themselves, 60.7% of respondents indicated that they disapprove of same-sex couple adoption being limited to the biological children of one party. Regarding assisted reproduction, 52.4% of respondents expressed that assisted reproduction access should be extended to same-sex couples, with 50.4% further stating that assisted reproduction access should include both married same-sex couples and same-sex couples in a civil partnership. Much like their view of transnational marriage equality, while the majority of Taiwan’s asexual community shows little interest in participating in conventional marriage and family formation practices that are a focal point of the broader LGBTQ+ movement, they nevertheless support these efforts.  

Despite having their own distinct set of intimate and family relation preferences, Taiwan’s asexual community generally supports broader LGBTQ+ movement initiatives. This ethic of solidarity can, in part, be explained by the fact that only 18.4% of survey respondents identify as heterosexual and 20.8% as heteroromantic, meaning that Taiwan’s aspec community overlaps significantly with other sexual minority groups.  

Gender Diversity and Transgender Rights:  

Another demographic characteristic of Taiwan’s asexual community worth noting is its gender diversity. For example, 40.8% of respondents identify exclusively as ciswomen, and only 7.1% identify exclusively as cismen, which refers to those with a gender identity that matches the one they were assigned at birth. This means that most of Taiwan’s asexual community are either currently questioning/exploring their gender identity (14.6%) or have gender identities that exceed exclusively male and female. For instance, 23.4% of respondents identify as agender, 19.4% as non-binary, and 12.1% as genderfluid.  

While LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have been trying to support transgender people and push for gender minority rights long before the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2019, there has nevertheless been a marked shift in attention and resources towards transgender issues in recent years. For instance, Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association hosted the first annual Transgender March in October of 2019, and TAPCPR first making contact with openly transgender plaintiffs (Xiao Wen and Lisbeth Wu) in 2018. TAPCPR, in particular, has been spearheading transgender rights advocacy, with their plaintiff Xiao E receiving a favourable ruling by the Taipei High Administrative Court on September 23, 2021, which deemed the requirement to provide proof of having surgically removed specified reproductive organs to change one’s legal gender unconstitutional. Later in November, due to this ruling not being appealed, Xiao E became the first transwoman to change her legal gender in Taiwan without providing proof of surgery.  

Given the gender diversity of Taiwan’s asexual community, there is clear potential for coalition building between the aspec and transgender communities in Taiwan. Repealing the surgery requirement for legal gender change, fighting gender minority discrimination (i.e. bathroom use, student housing, workplace discrimination), and establishing a third legal gender option are all issues in which Taiwan’s asexual community has a vested interest in, as the majority of aspec community members have gender identities that are directly affected by these initiatives.  

Aspec Solidarity and LGBTQ+ Advocacy 

While the aspec community’s general disinterest in marriage and traditional family formation practices may suggest that asexual and aromantic spectrum people exist in awkward tension to Taiwan’s broader LGBTQ+ movement, a more adequate understanding of Taiwan’s asexual community’s relationship with other gender and sexual minorities reveals that their fates are intertwined. Taiwan’s asexual community is extremely heterogeneous, with a considerable proportion of constituents spanning every corner of the LGBTQ+ umbrella. As aspec visibility continues to grow in Taiwan, the author hopes that an ethic of solidarity can continue developing between Taiwan’s asexual community and the broader LGBTQ+ movement.

Daniel Yo-Ling (he/they) is an independent scholar based in Taipei writing at the intersections of gender/sexuality, race, ethics, and politics. They also convene the Race, Asexuality, Colonialism, and Empire (R/ACE) Working Group and can be reached at danielyoling@gmail.com

This article was published as part of a special issue on “Queer Taiwan”

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