In compiling material for his book, Gaysia, journalist Benjamin Law travelled through 10 Asian countries to learn more about being gay in Asia. Throughout his year long expedition he journeyed through Japan, Malaysia, China and India. However it was Myanmar that had a lasting impression on Benjamin.
“Hopping on a motorcycle and climbing the hills of Mandalay was a memorable experience. Myanmar was probably the only country I travelled to where I experienced a level of culture shock. That’s when you know you’re travelling properly,” said Benjamin.
“The most beautiful place I visited and I know it’s a cliché, but it was Bali. I’d always avoided the island because of all the Australian tourist connotations, but if you avoid the tourist traps, the entire island is a goddamn beautiful delight.”
The inspiration for Benjamin’s second book came from his research into international queer rights.
“I was reading a whole lot of queer news stories about what was happening overseas, and saw that a lot of the stories I was interested in were coming out of Asia: the Indian queer rights movement (they’re still the latest country in the world to have decriminalised homosexual acts); transsexual beauty pageants in India; religious ex-gay reparative therapy in Malaysia and Singapore. And whenever I read news stories, I’m always super-curious – maybe overly so – about the human lives behind those stories,” he said.
On his travels, Benjamin discovered an incredible diversity that makes up the queer community throughout Asia.
“The most inspirational people I met overseas were the LGBT and straight activists in India who banded together to overhaul Section 377, effectively dismantling a long-standing ban on homosexual acts. The Indian legal system is complicated enough, so the fact they overturned Section 377 is almost a miracle.”
Notable experiences also include going nude in a Balinese sex resort, sitting backstage with Thai lady boys during a beauty pageant and meeting Tokyo’s celebrity drag queens.
When not consciously compiling material for a novel, Benjamin says that Japan is his favourite holiday destination.
“I did go to Japan for this book, but I’ve visited once before, and it’s the only country where I’ve seriously thought, ‘I could live here.’ Tokyo’s my favourite city in the world,” he said.
“My dream holiday destination is New York City. I still haven’t been, though my boyfriend has spent months there. We’re planning to head over together. He’ll show me NYC, and I’ll show him Tokyo.”