Benjamin Law’s first book, The Family Law, went into detail about his large eccentric family. This debut novel was shortlisted soon after its release in 2010 for Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs). Add an L to the start of that acronym and you’ve got the crude name of a group of activists featured in the India chapter of Gaysia, his second and most recent book to hit shelves.
We follow Benjamin Law as he travels through Bali, Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar and India revealing the struggles and accomplishments of gay, trans and ex-gay communities in adverse settings.
Australian comedian and gay rights commentator, Josh Thomas, commented on the new book, “Benjamin Law is funny and honest – and handsome – Gaysia is a delightful, occasionally confronting adventure.”
Although it is a fantastic read, many may agree with Josh in finding Gaysia to be confronting and often difficult to read. Law spent two years traveling through these countries and all accounts are entirely non-fiction. Sometimes he makes you chuckle very hard. Some of his other accounts pull you back to realizing the desperate reality of LGTB people living in developing countries.
One woman he interviews is a young sex worker suffering from HIV in Myanmar. He describes how her uncle died a horrible, graphic HIV related death. He describes the girl, who is only 23, as looking older than his 60 year old mother back in Australia. At the end of the interview he asks if she has any further comments or any questions to ask, to which she simply says, “How can you help me?”
The book dives into such deep, personal stories that drag you along by the heart strings, burdening the feeling that you can’t help these people and their governments choose not to.
The challenging nature of Gaysia’s topic is tackled through the comparison between countries. Each chapter brings different adversities for different gay communities. Benjamin Law manages to be very descriptive and detailed without overloading you with statistics and desensitizing you from the reality of the issue. Another reality check for Australian readers is that our beloved, endearing Benjamin Law could have had a very different life, a life of self doubt and deception, had his parents not moved to Australia.
Law definitely writes from an interesting perspective; a very ‘real’ place. Although he is legally free to hold his boyfriend’s hand in public, he lives in a state where you would still not feel completely comfortable doing so. He pointed out at a TEDx youth conference in Brisbane that one in three Queenslanders think homosexuality is immoral, making it the most homophobic state of Australia. He is the child of Chinese migrants and has often described how he was a nerdy but popular little kid, who played instruments and loved school, but being gay and Asian isn’t without it’s challenges even in Australia.
Interviewed in Gaysia are pastors who think they can de-gay people through god, a yoga instructor who offers the same thing through deep breathing, and individuals so uncomfortable with their sexuality that they’ve taken life-risking drugs or undergone painful, unsafe surgery to alter themselves forever.
Benjamin Law’s ability to let people tell their own stories, rather than try to change their opinions or point out their sometimes unsavory attributes is a tribute to his character and his journalistic integrity. He has transcribed controversial events and relayed complex situations in an extremely engaging, personal tone. Somehow he even manages to be funny and witty despite the intensity of the content.
Follow him through a nude hotel in Bali and a night of explosive diarrhea in Mumbai in this hilarious and poignant book about the hard hitting reality of what it’s like to be gay in Asia.