Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Benjamin Law on writing Gaysia: Part 1

Photo credit: Paul Harris
Benjamin Law discusses the experience of writing his second book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East . Here, in the first of three parts, he reveals how he came up with the idea for the book.

In some ways, Gaysia started out as a joke. Because I’m a double-barrelled minority (gay; Asian), my friends have been calling me a Gaysian for a long time. It’s just easier. (“This is my friend Benjamin; he’s Gaysian.”)

But there were some serious reasons why I wrote this book too. The first was something similar to restlessness, or maybe itchiness. My first book, The Family Law, was a memoir, and a whole lot of memoir-writing involves staring at the wall, recalling things that happened years ago, and trying to write about them as you slowly and gradually go insane. Let’s just say it’s pretty solitary and insular. Whenever I’m working on a big-ish project, I’m always distracted by what else I’d rather be doing, and what I would’ve rather been doing while writing The Family Law was travelling the world.

Around that time, I also noticed a lot of the news stories I was reading were queer stories set in Asia: transsexual beauty pageants in Thailand; ex-gay religious conversion organisations in Malaysia; an the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Delhi’s High Court in India. Every time I read one of these news stories, I became super-curious about the human stories behind them. Half the time I read any story in a newspaper, I’m wondering what people’s lives are like.

And finally, as a the child of migrants, I tend to think a lot about what-if scenarios. When you’re the child of migrants, your parents’ lives are so removed from yours: not only are they a generation older than you, but they also were raised in another culture and country altogether. So what would it have been like if I’d grown up in Malaysia, where my mother was born? Or China, where my father was born?

Because I’m an overenthusiastic moron, I originally envisioned Gaysia to be this epic tome where I’d trek through 10 countries in just over a year, looking at What It Means To Be Gay in Asia. But various illnesses and digressions later, let’s just say that the book I’ve ended up writing has been a slightly different beast altogether.

– Benjamin Law

Read Part 2 and Part 3.

Gaysia is out now in print and ebook. You can find out more about Benjamin Law at his website.

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