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HOMOSEXUALITY: Internet, handsets liberate more gays (The Nation [Thailand])
10 Jul, 2005

PCs, cell phones help same-sex groups to overcome taboos and bring them out of the closet to discover themselves

For many gays and lesbians in Asian countries, coming out of the closet and coming to terms with their identities has been helped by technology, namely the Internet and mobile phones.

Stuart Keo, who runs Singapore-based Fridae.com, a website for gays, said the technologies have freed the way gays live and given them access to crucial information.

As Asian cultures generally discourage transgender discussions in public, the Internet has opened avenues for those seeking to come out of the closet, said Keo, who attended an international conference on sexualities, genders and rights here from July 7 to July 9.

Eight years ago, many Singaporean gays were uncomfortable about revealing their preferences, he said. Now the majority accept they are gay and feel more comfortable about their appearance.

Speaking at the event, Chun Ping-yen of the Institute for Tongzhi Studies in Taiwan said both she and her brother found difficulty in obtaining information on the subject.

In the past, most of the materials came from the West. Now she finds a wider scope of materials on the issue.

Hisashi Kubo, a graduate student of cultural studies and human science at Kobe University, said main problems for Japanese gays include delayed awareness and insecurity.

“Although Japanese gays gradually became more visible after 1990, many are compelled to hide and deny their condition, especially those who are aged 40 and above,” he said.

Physical contact between men in Japan is usually avoided, he said. Besides, Japanese are very concerned about cleanliness and a gay connection can tarnish one’s image.

“Japanese gay men cannot hold hands in public,” said Hitoshi Ishida, a lecturer at Meijigakuin University. Kubo said it was only during the night that most gays went out and felt free to explore their sexuality.

It’s difficult to be openly gay in daily life, he said. “Older gay people don’t know how to deal with this because they don’t have role models to help them deal with it.”

Ishida said Japanese materials like gay magazines do not provide enough information to help people learn about their condition.

Many magazines contain only pornographic materials. Many young gays come out by accident and selectively reveal their disposition to friends, siblings and mothers.

“It’s almost impossible for them to tell their fathers,” Ishida said.

Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones, young gay men can now communicate with other gays, he said. They spend their time chatting on the Internet and hanging out at gay cafes.

Raymond Aquino Macapagal, an instructor at University of Philippines (UP), said negative attitudes about gays and lesbians are common and widespread in his country and little has been done to educate students, especially those in high schools.

Eric Julian Manalastas, another UP instructor, said the topic was generally avoided. Students in some Catholic schools are taught that homosexuality is a sin, making gays feel alienated. Gays and lesbians are also not hired as teachers by schools that fear they make poor role models.

But at higher learning institutes such as UP, he said, gay and lesbian issues are considered important matters.

UP formed a gay student group in 1992 and later founded two other bodies for gays and lesbians. “Next academic year, UP will offer a new courses in gender and sexuality,” Manalastas said, suggesting that schools need to develop a more balanced curriculum on the issue.

Macapagal said young Filipino gays were coming out more in secondary school, as society is now more tolerant thanks to the influence of US media. Gays usually hang out in chat rooms and at some NGO offices.

Like Thai transgender people, Laotian ones are also called katoeys.

Serge Doussantousse, a French researcher, conducted a study in Laos to understand how katoeys cope with a changing society. As katoeys embody feminine traits, they stand out in public, he said.

Most of them work in women’s jobs such as hairdressers, beauticians, hospitality workers and entertainers. “They seem well integrated in the Laotian community. Being influenced more by women since young, they consider themselves girls. They like to wear make-up and dress up,” he said.

Doussantousse said from his interviews, the katoeys do not recall being stigmatised or subjected to parental constraints.

However, they say some teachers and friends made fun of them in a friendly way. Gay discrimination seem minimal among Lao families and society. The subjects are able to start living as katoeys once they leave school.

“They also use female toilets without objections from women. They are confident and seem popular with male and female friends,” he added.

He said a growing number of katoeys take up prostitution. Many use contraceptive pills as well as surgery. Currently the use of hormones is the most common way they are modifying their bodies.

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