THE MIXER | EDITORIAL
On October 31 of 2020, over 130,000 people took to the streets of Taipei to celebrate Pride, making it the world’s largest in-person Pride celebration that year. Taiwan has been extremely successful at curbing its COVID-19 infections and on October 30, 2020, just one day before the 18th annual Taipei Pride, the island hit a milestone of 200 days without any locally transmitted cases of the disease.
A local photographer Kuan-Lun Chang set out to capture this year’s festivities.
“The theme for this year is ‘Beauty, My Own Way (成人之美)’, and it has a double meaning,“
“‘成’ means ‘adult.’ On the other hand, ‘成’ could be ‘成全,’ which means ‘consent’ or ‘help.’ Therefore it symbolizes helping others to accomplish their own beauty. This is very important. Everyone is different in their gestures, personalities, feelings, humility, and this is why we are similar but different. We have to find our own beauty and respect ourselves and others who might be different from us.”
In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Kuan-Lun shares that he saw many families taking part in this year’s parade,
“It’s a great chance to tell their children that there are many people in the world, everyone is different, but unique and beautiful in their own way. After last year’s legalization of same-sex marriage, conservative members who oppose it always say they have no idea how to teach their kids about it; the parents who took their kids to the parade provide a perfect example of how to do this.”
Life in the Bubble:
in a COVID Free Country
My name is Nick, but I also go by my drag name Taipei Popcorn. I’m originally from New Zealand but I’ve been living in Taipei, the bustling capital of Taiwan, for three years now. I live here with my New Zealand-Taiwanese husband Henry, and I teach English and do a lot of drag. It has been an absolutely surreal experience to experience living here during this time of global turmoil. Taiwan’s COVID response has without a doubt been the best in the world. Despite this exemplary response, it is still barred from participating in the WHO due to pressure from China.
Due to rigorous preemptive measures, Taiwan has experienced no lockdown, just over 600 coronavirus cases and seven deaths, and zero community spread for over 230 days. This is all the more impressive when you consider Taiwan’s population of 23 million (more than Florida) concentrated in several dense cities on an island the size of Maryland. Additionally, it is only a hundred miles from China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Over a million Taiwanese live and work there, flying back and forth from cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Owing to their complicated historic relationship, Taiwan has a deep distrust of China and their government. This meant they began doing medical checks on flights from Wuhan in late December 2019 already, and were one of the first countries to ban flights from China altogether. Mask wearing was quickly introduced, and is still compulsory in most indoor spaces. Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang (who is from a hacker background and also happens to be trans) rolled out a highly efficient digital mask rationing system in a matter of days, while domestic mask production was ramped up over several weeks through government support of factories. The government also instituted a system of phone geo-tracking for incoming travellers undergoing compulsory two week hotel or home quarantine, ensuring they don’t break quarantine. This tracking automatically ends after two weeks and is subject to strict data privacy laws.
Giant rainbow flag unfurled in front of Taipei City Hall
It is important to mention that these are not the draconian measures of an authoritarian nation. Taiwan is a multi-party democracy with a vigorous culture of protest, open internet, highly active human rights movements, healthy criticism of government, and a thriving queer scene. It is these very qualities that are the reason my husband and I chose to live here and get married here.This openness and transparency has been vital in Taiwan’s decisive and well coordinated national COVID response, and has allowed its citizens to enjoy freedoms which are presently unimaginable in other places. The same can be said of New Zealand and some Nordic states, while the opposite applies to countries under populist, anti-science leadership like the UK, the US and Brazil, which have seen confused public communication, internal political division, soaring death rates and economies in freefall. In Taiwan, restaurants, bars, schools and workplaces are operating at full capacity, people feel safe, and the economy is forecast to grow at a slower but still healthy 2.5% this year. The sense of dread and pity we get from reading the international news feels like something far removed from our daily reality.
It is with this backdrop that we celebrated Pride in October. It was a month of packed nightclubs, sold out circuit parties, extravagant drag shows, in person LGBT rights conferences and passionate political rallies. Taipei held its second annual Trans Rights March, which was attended by politicians and celebrities, and major companies like Tinder, Gap and Google sponsored floats in the main Pride event. The huge parade culminated in a city wide party which went on all weekend. Taipei was jammed with ubers, taxis and scooters as partygoers, drag performers, DJs and gogo boys hopped from one event to the next, temperature checkers worked overtime at nightclubs doors, outdoors stages blared music to roaring crowds, and countless Taiwanese dollars flowed. Not many people are aware that Taipei is secretly one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the business elite and local government were surely rubbing their hands at the surge of consumer activity this injection of pink dollars provided. Taipei’s city council promoted Pride heavily, and major magazines like Vogue and Marie Claire invited queer celebrities and drag performers (including me!) to feature in special Pride month editions.
The reason I recount the month through such a capitalist lens, is that I am increasingly aware of a growing disconnect between this COVID free haven and the rest of the world. The unprecedented and wrenching impact of mass death and economic depression that so many countries are currently experiencing have coincided with massive social movements and calls for radical change. There is a growing awareness that the system was fundamentally broken, and the huge cultural, economic and political shifts that COVID has unleashed will change the world forever. From the Black Lives Matter movement, to calls for a Universal Basic Income, taxes on the wealthy, and expansion of welfare and access to affordable healthcare, the world seems to be questioning the exploitative capitalist systems which are the root of so many of the social ills that COVID merely exacerbated.
It is this radical political component which I feel was missing from our Pride. As they say, the first Pride was a riot. I believe it should be a fundamentally radical event which embraces protest and anticapitalist values. I am guilty of flouting these myself this year, as I was paid by a major brand to ride on their float and promote them on social media, which led me down this train of thought. Of course, we are extremely privileged and blessed to be living in our bubble of safety and prosperity. We are privileged to be able to gather with our local queer community and party while our queer family abroad remain isolated at home, afraid to go outside and not knowing where their next paycheck will come from.
I can’t help but feel that among the circuit parties and the corporate sponsorship, safe in our island paradise, we are oblivious to the extent of the rapid changes occurring in the outside world. We will never truly understand what the rest of the world is going through, and I fear we will always lack a certain empathy for the anxieties they faced. I hope that lessons can be shared both ways as the world reopens, that the deep social shifts occurring overseas reach Taiwan’s shores. I would also like Taiwan to share its advanced medical expertise and exemplary pandemic response with the rest of the world, even if that means going outside of the WHO system.
This pandemic has resulted in unprecedented international isolation, and as we gradually begin to open up to one another again, I feel we will be surprised how much we have all diverged and changed forever. How we bridge these new differences will be crucial for our shared futures.