When I first started dating Jenni, I was embarrassed to admit that I did not know anything at all about Taiwan where her parents grew up. I couldn’t tell you the history of Taiwan’s struggles with China, how to say a single word in Mandarin or Taiwanese, or even how to use chopsticks properly.
After so much on-the-go travel, we decided to slow down the Amazing Race and rent an apartment in Taipei for two weeks. Looking at our pictures, you can see that we ate our way through Taiwan. Thrilled to have high speed internet, hot showers, a kitchen, and washer/dryer, I ended up spending a considerable amount of time at home. Jenni had made a compromise with her mother that she would stay with me in Taipei instead of with her grandparents while respecting her mother’s wishes to not bring me to any family functions.
While we knew this arrangement was hardly ideal, it seemed the best way to keep the peace with Jenni’s parents. I thought I would appreciate some down time on my own anyways. After my first couple of afternoons solo however, I discovered how hard it can be to navigate through the city without a Mandarin speaker. When I missed a train ride and spent two hours in circles on public transportation, I felt completely homesick and frustrated not to be included in my fiance’s family gatherings.
VIDEO: What was it like to visit Jenni’s family in Taipei? What Supergays did we find in Taiwan?
Ironically, we saw lesbian couples everywhere on the streets of Taipei and felt the presence of a strong equality movement (see our photos of Taiwan). Jenni met several “Supergays” last year in Taiwan and this trip we revisited her favorite places. We first stopped at Love Boat Shop, a lesbian dream store. Love Boat shop specializes in male-styled clothing designed to fit women’s bodies.
I hate shopping for clothes. The clothes I want to wear don’t ever fit my body and when I walk into a men’s clothing department, I usually have to deal with a few odd stares. I’m always jealous of people who can shop for clothes online. As a butch woman with a curvy bottom and a petite upper body, I scour stores for odd sizes of men’s size XS shirts and forgiving wide low-rise jeans that fit nobody else. If I find something that works, I then turn into a hoarder and purchase three to ensure clothing for future years.
“Do you want to try on a blazer?” store manager Olivia asked me. She read my mind. “I love helping women to try on suits because I know how hard it is to find the right fit,” she said. If it weren’t for the fact that I live out of my backpack and am unemployed, I could have easily spent a large sum of money on a new wardrobe. I tried on clothes and allowed myself to buy one shirt. Trying them on, I actually enjoyed shopping. Not only did the clothes fit well, but they are also fashionable (an area that most of us lesbians could use help in).
Typically lesbian, Love Boat Shop focuses on holistic health and offers traditional Taiwanese knife massages as well as queer Tarot readings. We felt as if we had left a retreat house after buying a new shirt, getting our surprisingly relaxing knife massages that included about 1000 chops, and seeing our future within the Tarot readings.
Around the corner, we then visited Gin Gin’s bookstore, Asia’s largest LGBT bookstore. The freedom of print and press are one of the many differences between China and Taiwan, and Gin Gin’s bookstore receives travelers from around the world to buy LGBT topic books in Chinese. One of the owners, James, discussed how the goal of Gin Gin’s is to make a positive impact on Taiwanese culture. Ten years ago he described witnessing a group of gay men arrested for gathering in a public park. Today, the bookstore and adjoining coffee shop serve as a visible safe place for the gay community to gather.
While meeting all the queers, we kept hearing about the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, a non-profit organization that provides peer counseling, support networks, and a community resource center. We dropped by one night to meet their staff and bumped into an English speaking volunteer, Anne, who believes in the organization so much that she stops by to volunteer daily. Anne touched a cord with us when she discussed working with the weekly support group for parents with gay and lesbian children. Once she kidnapped her mom by lying to say that they were going shopping and dropping her off at the support group instead.
Of course, I would love to kidnap my future in-laws and take them to a PFLAG meeting. Actually, at this point I would appreciate just having a meal together. While these changes are out of my control, Jenni was relieved when two of her aunts extended their support after learning about our lives through our website and Facebook updates. We’re thrilled to know that some representatives of the Chang family have already committed to attend our wedding. We know that Taiwan will always be an important place for us to visit to maintain family ties and we look forward to more small steps with each visit.