Taiwan: the most gay-friendly place in Asia?

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Layout from the March, 2010, edition of Outlooks.

Layout from the March, 2010, edition of Outlooks.

  Taiwan has an image problem: many gay Canadians have changed planes there enroute to another country with a similar-sounding name, Thailand. Instead of getting laid in Taiwan, they’ve just  laid-over.  Travel Editor Randall Shirley says, If you’re one of them—thinking Taiwan is an industrial wasteland—think again. ______ “Welcome to the Red House,” my gay local friend says, “welcome to Taipei’s gay area.” My jaw practically hits the pavement as we enter a lovely public plaza, surrounded on three sides by gay bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops—with names like Body Formula: Athletics of Sexy, and Justin Male Beauty Center. The plaza covers about an acre, with al fresco tables filling much of the space. On the fourth side, the plaza is bordered by the historic Red House itself, a western-style, brick building built in 1908, partly shaped like an octagon. My friend explains that when several gay Taiwanese people approached Taipei’s city government about creating a cluster of businesses to rejuvenate the area, the Red House gay zone got a decidedly green light. Today, rainbow banners, in English, remind patrons to “kNOw AIDS.” On a Friday night, hundreds of gay Taiwanese, mostly men, fill the tables and wander around the plaza. My friend suggests a drink at a bar called Alley Cats (we could have chosen Bear Bar, Café Dalida, G-Mixi, or others) and we snag a table. I order my signature tequila and cranberry, in English, and the waiter doesn’t bat an eye. Lots of guys stop by our table to say hi and meet the unfamiliar foreigner, and conversation is about the same as it is with gay men anywhere. We discuss relationships, love, broken hearts, and pop culture. The Red House gay zone is easy to find—it’s just steps from the Ximen subway stop. Gays and the younger generation of Taiwanese straights know the gay zone; but conversations with older Taiwanese reveal they have no clue about it, nor do they seem to care. That attitude is the reason why the gay zone exists. Although Taiwanese parents are likely visit one of the island’s thousands of exotically-coloured Taoist temples to say a quick prayer to the god of matchmaking: please, Yue Lao, don’t let my oldest son be gay! The desire for an oldest son to care for aging parents remains (if you’re interested in Chinese folk religions, Taiwan’s lovely city of Tainan has the some of the world’s most-historic Taoist temples). Gay travellers need a place to sleep, and Taipei delivers with Qstay, a gay hotel (they refer straight guests elsewhere). Qstay is situated about a five minutes’ walk from the Red House, and is close to many eateries for sampling amazing Taiwanese foods. Snacks are included at the hotel—although I prefer going out for a true Taiwanese breakfast of hot soybean milk, donut sticks, and green onion and egg pancakes.