Time for a hand in marriage

Author calls for more people to join fight for vows made by same-sex couple's not to be rendered meaningless by bureaucracy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 6:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 8:27am

If Taiwan's experience in fighting for same-sex rights is anything to go by, Hong Kong still has a long way to go towards legalisation of same-sex marriages, according to Chen Xue, the Taiwanese writer whose work offers a radical discourse on lesbianism.

Chen is married to her female partner even though same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Taiwan. "Our only regret is that the marriage is not recognised by law," the 44-year-old told the South China Morning Post.

She recalled her outrage when she was required to call up her younger brother for help when a hospital refused to let her wife countersign a consent form ahead of surgery.

"I was thinking, what if I needed the operation in an emergency and my brothers and sisters were in another city? No matter how much I consider her a family member, in law she's just an acquaintance."

Chen and the woman she calls her wife wed in 2009 after deciding they wanted to pledge an oath of love to one another. Many of her Facebook followers post tales of how their own marriage oaths are rendered meaningless in the face of bureaucracy. Chen added that the "widowed' partner of a friend had been left fighting to keep her home after the dead woman's relatives staked a claim.

"It's like a home you build with your love is deprived by something very cold," Chen said. "Sometimes, love alone is not enough. That's why I decided to join the gay rights movement."

The movement in Taiwan has been facing the same increasingly outspoken opposition as in Hong Kong, said Chen. In November last year, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Taipei to protest against a gay marriage bill currently being considered by Taiwan's legislature. One participant was dressed in a Nazi uniform.

"That was the first time in so many years that I'd seen opposition forces really come out onto the streets, and you really felt that they were at an advantage in various aspects." says Chen. "They are rich and organised, and they are influential because of their religions. They can speak in very loud voices."

She says more people supporting gay rights should engage the opposition, just like Canto-pop stars Anthony Wong Yiu-ming and Denise Ho Wan-see, who have both come out as gay. "Most people stand up for other people's rights. How can some people campaign to remove from others the rights that they themselves enjoy?"

From July 17 in Hong Kong, transsexual people who have undergone a full sex-change operation can marry in their chosen sex. Chen says this should help change the conventional view of marriage as the domain of biological men and women but it was still a big step from legalising same-sex marriage.

Chen's writing career took off in 1995 and her fame in Taiwan has been built upon her early novels about lesbian relationships. One of her most famous novels is The Mark of Butterfly, which was published in 1996 and was later made into a film in 2004.

The film, Butterfly, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards in 2004 and was chosen to open the Venice Film Festival Critics' Week the following year.

Her books now encompass a broader arrange of social issues, and Chen said she did not decide to write about lesbians because of her own sexual orientation.

Chen was born in a small village. Her family were forced to move a lot after her father's investment business failed. They scraped a living selling clothes to pay off debts. It took eight years. Chen describes that time as a gypsy life.

She started writing her first book when she was fresh out of university. Young and tired of hardship, she wanted to write something romantic, something from her imagination and something that challenged society's taboos.

Success came later though, when she was able to face her painful past and write about the society she knew and the people and stories with which she was familiar.

Chen was in Hong Kong in July for the Book Fair, and also to do some research for her upcoming book, due to be published next year.

It will also reflect her life, she said, before quoting Milan Kundera's words in The Art of the Novel: "The novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to build the house of his novel."