Skip to main content

Different Countries, Different Closets

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

Before I came to Asia, I believed the stereotype that it is a predominantly conservative place where being gay is not accepted. After being in Asia for almost six months and visiting quite a few countries, I have realized that the situation across every border is quite different.


After spending two months in China, I have grown to understand the situation of the gay community. I was pleasantly surprised that anyone under the age of 30 had no problem with my sexuality. Furthermore, the young gay people I met there rarely had a personal problem with their sexuality.  The issue most of them face is the strong sense of filial piety in Chinese culture. Their parents believe they should find a wife, settle down, and have a family, so they feel immense pressure to do so.  They may come out to close friends, but when it comes to their family, they are stuck in the closet.

Me and two good friends in Chengdu, Sichuan

Thailand and the Philippines

These two countries are a different story. I was only in each of them for a short time, but I gained some knowledge of gay life there.

After being in Thailand for only a short time, I saw that when it comes to gender and sexuality it is a very open-minded place. From lady-boy shows to prostitutes lining the streets, Thai people are used to this environment. When it comes to your sexuality (or gender identity), they really don’t care.

Despite being a Catholic country, the Philippines is similar. The first bar my friend and I walked into had more than a few prostitutes and lady-boys were everywhere. The general population seems not to care whether you are gay or straight or anything in-between, but the Catholic nation is far from legalizing gay marriage.

Me with a lady-boy in Puerto Galera, Philippines


I remember telling a Taiwanese friend I thought Thailand would be the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. He disagreed, believing it would be Taiwan. He had a good point: while Thai people don’t care about your sexuality, they also don’t care enough to challenge the government and fight for gay rights. In Taiwan, on the other hand, while the older generation holds on to traditional Chinese values of family, the younger generation is not afraid to stand up and fight for what they believe in. I would not be surprised if Taiwan did legalize gay marriage first, as the youths there are open-minded and courageous.

Two Northwestern students and two locals, in Taipei


A little bubble I have spent the last four months of my life in.  I was talking to my Chinese professor in Beijing before I came here, and he said Singapore is even more conservative than China. He was right. In this small island country sodomy laws, while not enforced, are still in place, reminding gays that they are not welcome.  While there is a gay community it remains largely underground, and people are pressured to be “straight-acting.” But even here, the younger generation is open-minded and accepting.

Night view of Singapore from Marina Bay

In all my travels, it has been inspiring to meet so many open-minded people. I hope more and more will gain the courage to push for change.  I plan to return and help them in every way I can.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *