2020 is the first anniversary for Taiwan's marriage equality but also the 20 years memorial for the death of Yong-Zhi Ye (葉永鋕) who was bullied in school for being who he was. We got to meet uncle Wang (Tien-Ming Wang) and uncle Ho (Hsiang Ho) who were activists for Taiwan’s marriage equality, through them we found hope and love for the future. They both lived through the 80s, many cultural revolutions and student movements in Taiwan, but they are still fighting for the next generation.
Even there are laws try to protect the LGBTQ+ communities but without the proper education and communities’ voices, there is still a dark cloud overshadowing it. Like the referendum of same-sex marriage created the damages, those traumas are left for the communities to face alone even years after. For LGBTQ+ communities, equality is not the only thing we have to face, but the pressure from family and society.
LGBTQ+ becomes a commercial product
Under an accidental opportunity, Uncle Wang and uncle Ho got a television commercial in Taiwan. At first, they didn't know it was going to use their real name and the final script turned out to be different from the original. But after the advertisement, they become the spotlight for LGBTQ+ communities. It’s extremely hard to find elderly couples from the LGBTQ+ communities in Taiwan that are willing to come out and be vocal about their relationship. Not only they are not afraid about the world's judgement, with the families and friends' support, they came out to the whole world. Uncle Ho shared with us that he almost lost his friend because the friend didn't know how to tell the wife that uncle Ho is gay. To face the pressure of being abandoned, are something LGBTQ+ communities often have to face alone after being used by the media.
During the marriage equality campaign, ironically that LGBTQ+ communities are being treated as a commercial product for many businesses especially in Taiwan. Using the images of typical mainstream media representation or heart-warming story to track the viewer's attention, so they can profit more to sell their products. By doing that, the real voices from LGBTQ+ communities are being silenced and manipulated. Uncle Wang said during the public option research in 2012 that more than 50% agree on same-sex marriage, but the number completely shifted in two years.
This shows the misinformation is being shown loudly by the people who don't want to see same-sex marriage happen, but also how we don't get to see the real voices of LGBTQ+ communities anymore especially in films. Perhaps to change this culture, the first step to take is we don't need more high school romance of two people coming out with the structured narrative. But real stories and real voices from the LGBTQ+ communities and the new generation.
How to stay healthy
Uncle Wang and uncle Ho had exceptional work experiences when they were younger. Uncle Ho worked in a garment factory and then to be a dealer in Las Vegas. Uncle Wang went from publication editor to working at a sauna. But because of the ages, their body started to slow down. In 2016, uncle Ho got diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In 2019, uncle Wang went into the hospital because of a heart problem. Many western medications are not helping him much but had side effects that damage his body. In 2017, they got in touch with Dr Ying-Chieh Tsai from National Yang Ming University in Taiwan. Dr Tsai gave them PS128 Probiotics and according to the research paper it says, "daily intake of the L. Plantarum strain PS128 could improve anxiety-like behaviours and may be helpful in ameliorating neuropsychiatric disorders".
Surprisingly, Uncle Ho has a dramatically improved after taking this for just one week. After 6 months, the doctor told them they can stop taking western medications because of the recovery of Ho's situation. We don't know if this will work for everyone or if it has enough scientific proof. But the fact is from 2017 to 2020, Uncle Ho hasn't been taking any western medication and he is much healthier than before. They also mention to stay healthy, the other key factors are staying young at heart, exercise and staying social.
The future for uncle Wang and uncle Ho
We don't know how uncle Wang and uncle Ho's health will be in the next 10 or 20 years. There might come a time that they need a fulltime carer to look after themselves. This carer is likely to be coming from overseas because of the low birth rate that creates less youth and lack of carers in Taiwan.
For many years, Taiwan is still facing the problem of not enough beds for the elderly in the age care facility or people can't afford to pay the facility. To have a foreign carer, there is another layer of problems such as cultural differences and language barrier. For LGBTQ+ communities, we also face the problem if we can be accepted as who we are in the age care facility. All those questions and social issues seem to be still circling unanswered nor with a solution. Even uncle Wang and uncle Ho have planned out their afterlife and how their body will be donated for medical and scientific purpose, but there are going to be many unresolved social issues they have to face in 20 years.
The beauty is uncle Wang and uncle Ho can be free from the materialism society, for them to be able to stay with each other and live happily are the most important thing in life now. Life can be complicated but at the same time, we can make it simple too. In their life, we see hope and compassion that touches everyone around them.
During this one and half hour interview with them, it's sad we have so little time to get to know more of them. If possible, their lives are worth to be documented in a book or film.
You can watch uncle Wang and uncle Ho's stories that featured in documentary Taiwan Equals Love. Now available on GagaooLala streaming platform.
This interview and article are not sponsored by any company, nor to promote any particular product.
Biochem.ym.edu.tw. 2020.蔡英傑 - 國立陽明大學生化暨分子生物研究所. [online] Available at: <https://biochem.ym.edu.tw/files/15-1256-15940,c22-1.php> [Accessed 8 June 2020].
Liu, W., Chuang, H., Huang, Y., Wu, C., Chou, G., Wang, S. and Tsai, Y., 2015. Alteration of behavior and monoamine levels attributable to Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 in germ-free mice.Behavioural Brain Research, 298, pp.202-209. [online] Available at: <https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0166432815302588?token=8A70E8F3E4222BDCBC192BCD84B7E3D00AD9B1CB9A5E4679D815933A20806803C4162AE40E879393D6249E35FE28EADE> [Accessed 8 June 2020].
Photographer and Organiser: Kai-Tung Tam 譚棨茼
Interviewers: Kai Lin, Fiona Kuo, Lucie Wang and Benson Wu
Interviewees: Hsiang Ho and Tien-Ming Wang
Writer: Benson Wu