Tolerance for Minority Groups in a Time of Revolution

If civil society is to help build a new imagined community for Taiwan, its architects will need to avoid language that discriminates against minorities

The Sunflower Movement appears to have come to an end for the time being. No matter how we judge its accomplishments, the movement has arguably succeeded in making social issues a subject of interest among a majority that had hitherto been silent on the subject.

In every phase of the movement, from the March 18 occupation of the Legislative Yuan to the media campaign that was launched to connect the movement with the world, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community were deeply involved. Gender and sexual issues were mentioned and discussed during the movement, and voices showing respect toward different genders and the LGBT community were often heard. Generally speaking, the movement was attuned to gender issues and the rights of sexual minorities. Its principal leaders, Wei Yang (魏楊), Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) and Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) — all three from the Black Island Youth Alliance (黑色島國青年陣線) — have openly supported gay rights, legislation supporting diverse family formation, and LGBT-related movements in Taiwan.

But that isn’t to say that there were no incidents, such as the removal of the LGBT flag inside the chambers of the legislature. Unfortunately, this action, ostensibly taken to ensure an image of unity and focus attention on issues relating to the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), ended up forcing the LGBT community to blend in with heterosexuals. Many participants from the LGBT community left the Legislative Yuan disappointed with such act. Others stayed behind to complete their tasks, begrudgingly accepting to put their identity aside and to wait for the right moment to stand up for their rights again.

There were other incidents, such as the more radical “Large-Intestine Flower Forum” (大腸花論壇) organized by the underground musician Indietaiwan (音地大帝) outside the legislature, where the uncouth language used by the participants was in stark contrast with the cultivated image of the Sunflowers. The forum, which invited plebeians to shed the nobility and purity of the movement and to freely vent their anger at society, was no doubt a milestone in the history of social movements.

However, comments that denigrated women, such as “f**ck your mother,” or that satirized the suspected homosexual relationship between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and National Security Council Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), were often heard and were a staple of independent Taipei City mayor candidate Neil Peng’s (馮光遠) diatribes. On several occasions, gender stereotype phrases like “sissy boy” and “has no balls” were used to criticize the inability of the government.

Needless to say, such language put the LGBT community in a very complicated position. Sadly, when they sought to draw attention to the inappropriateness of such language, they were accused of elitism or of trying to split the grassroots movement.

From this point of view, respect for sexual minorities is nothing more than political correctness, a performance. The nascent radical grass-roots discourse, which excluded and often made mockery of traditional party-state ideology, gave rise to a mix of verbal violence and male chauvinism. While this helped consolidate a new identity of opposition, it also excluded the possibility of any non-male, non-heterosexual person joining the new imagined community.

Although Fan Yun (范雲), an associate professor of sociology at National Taiwan University, and other LGBT organizations sought to raise awareness about the implicit discrimination against sexual minorities during the movement, their efforts were in vain.

There is no small amount of irony in the fact that the discriminatory language used by those individuals had elements of the exclusionary ideology of the re-emerging Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-state defined by the “Han race.” Even if they were not aware of it, those who used language such as “f**k your mother” and “sissy boy” were being just as cruel as their enemy and precluded the creation of a multiethnic and plural society. Whether they knew it or not, their methods were the same as those of the government they were fighting, divisive rather than inclusive.

As a gay man who is unwilling to repeat any language that involves humiliating women, I cannot help but ask those who asked minority groups throughout the movement to tolerate offensive language for the good of the country: Does this country that they mention have a place for women, members of the LGBT community, Aborigines, and immigrant spouses? Is such a country, if it is based on exclusion, worth tolerating? It’s about time we asked such questions.

Ariel Ling-chun Liu, an active advocate for gay rights, has a M.A. in Japanese literature from National Taiwan University and is a former part-time Japanese lecturer at Chinese Culture University. He is currently studying Taiwanese LGBT literature at Kobe University, Japan. This article was translated form the Chinese by Liu’s partner, Andy Lee, a research assistant at Academia Sinica in Taipei.

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