With What Difficulty Indigenous LGBTQ Groups Struggles in Taiwan

Written by Remaljiz Mavaliv. Translated by Yi-Yu Lai.

Image credit: 2010高雄同志大遊行-190 by Sunline Liu/ Flickr, License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Taiwan is a beautiful country with diverse cultures, the Indigenous peoples of which are often viewed as significant worldwide highlights. Currently, sixteenth Indigenous groups are officially recognised in Taiwan. However, this does not protect them from discrimination and unfair resource distribution. After successive colonial regimes arrived in Taiwan one after another, colonialism and imperialism profoundly influenced the Indigenous population, and the political repercussions have persisted to the present day.  

On 24 May 2017, the Judicial Yuan of Taiwan issued Interpretation No. 748, which made Taiwan the first country in Asia to allow same-sex marriage, a significant milestone for Taiwan’s gender movement. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal, and same-sex marriage was legalised on 24 May 2019. Before this success, Taiwan has witnessed several gender movements, and it is through the efforts of these movements that such outcomes are achievable. However, this has placed Indigenous LGBTQ individuals in an awkward position, given the evidence that a large portion of the backlash against the LGBTQ movement has been linked to Christianity.

Eighty per cent or more of Taiwan’s Indigenous population believe in Christianity, and Christianity is inseparable from daily lives in many Indigenous communities. Initially, many communities did not talk about gender diversity; nevertheless, due to the LGBTQ movement and the discussion of gender diversity in Taiwanese society, these communities were forced to confront these disputes. After the passage of the same-sex marriage legislation, the attitudes of Indigenous communities toward gender diversity have significantly changed. Some individuals may begin to use speakers to publicly criticise same-sex marriage in the Indigenous communities or would directly inform churchgoers that they should support a referendum against same-sex marriage. In addition, some people would hang banners against gender-friendly propaganda across the communities, putting great pressure on Indigenous LGBTQ individuals. 

Double Discrimination that Indigenous LGBTQ Individuals Face

The challenges faced by Indigenous LGBTQ members are not restricted to the communities alone. It is worth noting that, although they can display their gender temperament with a little more ease after leaving the communities for the bustling cities, there are still numerous issues with gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, stereotypes, and stigma. 

For instance, some Indigenous people often assume that biological males should have particular gender temperaments. Consequently, biological men with a feminine temperament would be easily ridiculed, bullied, or even deemed “insufficiently masculine.” In contrast, macho women are less likely to experience similar circumstances. In addition, some Indigenous people in the communities may believe these people are feminine because the mainstream cultures influence them in the city. However, in urban areas, where Indigenous peoples are frequently associated with negative terms such as drinking and laziness, even in groups that embrace gender diversity, it is commonly assumed that Indigenous males should be wild and macho.

As a result of the intertwining of gender and ethnic identities, life for many Indigenous LGBTQ peoples is a continual negotiation process with society. In such a process, they are frequently wounded. What makes it even more challenging for them is that the potential solutions to these traumas appear to have no place in their ethnic and gender identities where they may feel secure. 

In Taiwan, people may readily notice discrimination and stigma towards Indigenous peoples in the media and associated studies. Also prevalent are studies on homosexuality and gender diversity, especially after progressive voices have become normal. However, discussion on the intersection of gender and Indigenous identities is relatively scarce in Taiwanese society, and the related research is so few that it can probably be counted on one hand. In addition, since the identities of Taiwan’s Indigenous LGBTQ individuals are often intertwined with those of Christians, it is difficult to find relevant discussions about this sensitive but serious issue. Under such complicated and interconnected identities, it becomes increasingly difficult for Indigenous LGBTQ folks to find an alternative space for their ways of living. 

It is worth noting that an increasing number of Indigenous-gender-specific terms are gradually spreading over the Internet as social media usage increases in Taiwan. Adju is an excellent example of Indigenous gender diversity. 

Adju: A Possible Alternative?

In the northern Paiwan communities, Adju was originally a term used by female friends to address each other. However, it was gradually adopted by biological men whose gender disposition did not conform to mainstream community expectations. Today, the word Adju has become synonymous with gender diversity in the Paiwan ethnic group. Due to the influence of social media, the term has appeared across various Indigenous groups and has even become a new identity in the making. For some people, such an identity does not belong to the “LGBTQ” groupings since many Adjus describe themselves not as homosexuals but as other independent identities with deep ties to their own ethnic diversity. 

Similar ideas exist in various Austronesian-speaking countries, including Mahu in Hawai’i, fakaleiti in Tonga, and fa’afafine in Samoa. These notions, unlike Adju, may still be practised in their respective societies’ traditional contexts. However, Adju has been an idea derived from its initial usage. Currently, it assists many Indigenous peoples in discovering their unique identities, which may be difficult to find and even be defined in Taiwanese society. 

Perhaps eventually, many multisexual proper terms belonging to many different ethnic groups can serve as new indicators of Indigenous multi-gender identification. As a result, Indigenous and multisexual individuals who have been subjected to numerous forms of discrimination would be able to open up new spaces for them to live. 

Remaljiz Mavaliv is a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of Gender Education, National Kaohsiung Normal University.

This article was published as part of a special issue on “Invisible Discrimination in Taiwan.”

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