Written by JhuCin Rita Jhang.
The year 2022 marked the 20th anniversary of the pride parade in Taiwan. It is a feat worth celebrating, and its theme, “An Unlimited Future,” adumbrates directions we are, or ought to be, heading toward.
The host of the pride parade, Taiwan Rainbow Civil Action Association, explained, “this year’s theme, An Unlimited Future, heralds our long-term goal—to liberate all oppressions against sex and all stereotypes, allowing endless possibilities for everyone’s identity. The ultimate goal is that one day, no one needs to announce their identity in any way but can be anyone they want without judgment.” However, to arrive at the future depicted in this statement, we need first to understand what were, are, and may remain the limits, who put these limits and on whom, what are the consequences of the limits, and more importantly, the results of removal of these limits.
One place to seek answers is how the LGBT+ community is presented and seen. For a long time, pride parades were equated with flamboyant and scantly clad gay men being outrageously provocative in broad daylight since that was the only thing mainstream media showed. People who knew the pride parade and LGBT+ community only via this lens were understandably disgusted and angered. Year after year, they asked: “Why do you homosexuals love to display your bodies so obscenely?” Meanwhile, some LGBT+ people also asked: “why do some of you love to display your bodies so obscenely?” They’d bemoan: “you give us a bad name.” There seemed to be forces trying to unite the front and prove we were “good enough.” Yet, it was an arduous task, if not impossible, to decide at what cost, with what justification, and for whom we are proving ourselves since we could not even define this “community.”
Many have lamented the uneven media representation, which often steered the conversation away from issues desperately needing attention, including reproductive rights, transgender health issues, and gender equality education. However, the over-focus on almost naked gay men in pride parades is not so much a misrepresentation—falsely presenting something to mislead, but rather a disrepresentation—disproportionally presenting one part, so it is mistaken as the whole.
And yet, the 2017 supreme court ruling that the unrecognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the passing of the Act for Implementation of J.Y. Interpretation No. 748 (commonly known as the same-sex marriage law) in 2019 propelled the media representation to take a discernible turn: from the sensational display of lust to the soft light depiction of love, couples, family, weddings, friendships, fun, and allyship (e.g., China Times, The Reporter, Mirror Media, Yahoo News). This was a much-needed and long-overdue change. As a result, LGBT+ now has some new looks: we are lustful, we love commitment, some are both or neither, and more often than not, we are always somewhere in between or entirely in a different dimension.
The inherent heterogeneity and multiplicity make demarcating the community a complex undertaking in the pursuit of an “unlimited future.” Some may even argue that defining community is immaterial because, after all, communities become obsolete if we are celebrating individual differences. However, from Iris Marion Young’s politics of difference perspective, ignoring group differences would lead to more profound injustice, as the reality is that we belong to groups, and our group memberships put us in different social positionings. We also yearn for a sense of belonging, to be one of us, and to be a part of something bigger. Heterogeneity and multiplicity of identities and experiences are thus an inherent condition of humanity.
One potent way to understand the meaning and consequences of the inherent heterogeneity and multiplicity between and within groups is intersectionality. Intersectionality is a theoretical and analytical framework proposed by US Black feminists such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins in the 1980s to shed light on the particular predicament of being “black women”—a predicament rendered invisible when someone is only seen as black, OR as a woman. Extending this perspective, we can examine different implications of different intersectionalities, such as lesbian and poor, bisexual and indigenous, gay and disabled, and transgender and rural. This is why only seeing LGBT+ as one thing is misleading, no matter what that one thing is, but taking any individual out of the loosely defined community is just equally perilous.
The problem of failing to see LGBT+ individuals and the community from an intersectional perspective is how easily we fall for the fallacy of progress. This fallacy stems from the erroneous belief that if some group members are doing well (thus, things are progressing), then all members of this social group are doing well. Examples include believing the US has entered a post-racial era because Barack Obama, a non-white American, was elected president; all Taiwanese women enjoy equal rights because Tsai Ying Wen is president and women make up more than 1/3 of parliament; all Taiwanese LGBT+ people are doing well now that same-sex marriage has been legalized; or people living with disabilities no longer face obstacles now that some compete and win gold medals in Paralympics. However, these claims do not withstand scrutiny, and any closer look would find individuals in each aforementioned social category suffering. Still, skewed media attention solidified the survivorship bias, muffling the voices of those suffering and invalidating their stories.
Lack of intersectional understanding also fuels the good gay narrative, in which people argue that LGBT+ people also deserve equal rights because they are upstanding, contributing members of society. This brings us back to the first problem identified in this article: the excessive coverage of only the salacious, nearly nude bodies of gay men in the pride parades. Some argue this purposeful coverage is an attempt to counter the good gay narrative by showing how deviant these people actually are and thus arguing they do not deserve equal human rights if they choose to act like animals. This is the flip side of the assimilation argument, namely, only if the minority act like the majority do they deserve equal rights. The majority sets the laws, and lawbreakers are punishable.
However, the assimilation argument and the vision of an unlimited future are incompatible, and the lack of intersectional understanding reveals that progress is often uneven and nonlinear, with unequal accesses, divergent realities, and discordant needs. A real unlimited future is one where all these intersectional differences are seen, recognized, and considered. What are the lived experiences and needs of someone lesbian and poor, bisexual and indigenous, gay and disabled, transgender and rural, and just any other possible intersections? Could we finally move from “we deserve equal rights because we’re all the same” to “we deserve equal rights though we are different” and finally to “We deserve equal rights because we are different”?
JhuCin Rita Jhang, Ph.D. is a Project Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health, Global Health Program at National Taiwan University.
This article was published as part of a special issue on ‘Farewell 2022 and Welcome 2023’.