Unconventional love

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-24 19:03:01

Taiwan writer sparks discussion on same-sex relationships

Covers for Lovers in the Maze Photos: Courtesy of Guangxi Normal University Press


Covers for Lessons in Love  

Author Chen Xue


An eternal theme in human society, love has been the subject of numerous literature works and never fails to find fans. This seems particularly true when the subject turns to love among minority groups like the LGBT community. 

This partially explains the recent popular seminars held for Taiwan writer Chen Xue's two books just published in the Chinese mainland that delve into her experiences in same-sex relationships. Each seminar has been so packed that many people have been forced to crowd outside the entrances to try and listen in on these talks that start off discussing her books and love in general, but eventually turn to the topic of same-sex relationships.

"Actually, I didn't stress sexual orientation in the books. They are about lovers in general that are fooled by fate. I want to share with mainland friends the idea that true love can overcome the challenges of time and arrive after a long time of waiting," Chen told the Global Times.

An encyclopedia for love

The newly released books by Chen include one novel and a collection of essays titled Lessons in Love.

The novel, Lovers in the Maze, is an autobiographical novel based on her romantic experiences. Presenting a woman struggling with herself, the novel illustrates in detail how she betrays her same-sex lover, indulges herself in a world of pleasure and then finds herself trapped by a serious disease.

A story focusing on love and disease, Lovers in the Maze describes various forms of love and people struggling through love's different stages. However, the author goes far beyond this by also discussing life and death, fate and belief, and a deep exploration of human nature and society, touching readers with her sincerity and straightforwardness in recording her experiences, both good and bad, that helped her grow as a person.

"I wanted to push my evil side to the extreme, to publish myself and partly to find my true self," Chen said at a seminar in Beijing Saturday, adding that her experiences delving into her "evil" side helped her understand the complexity of human nature. "I want to show that love can be delivered. I hope my readers can read about the complexity of human beings and life, so we can better bear the turbulence of this world."

Lessons in Love, a book originating from questions about love that netizens asked Chen on Facebook boasts 50 essays full of advice stemming from Chen's life experiences. Reprinted seven times in its first week on shelves when it was published in Taiwan last year, the book remains a best-seller recommended by many celebrities.

"The author put her own pain and experiences with love into the books and answers many people's questions about relationships. Love is the same at its core, regardless of sexual orientation," the book's editor, Yang Xiaoyan from the Guangxi Normal University Press, told the Global Times.

Baring it all

Born in 1970, Chen is a huge star in Taiwan, with each press conference for her books as festive as a concert. Chen rose to fame in 1995 with her first book E'nü Shu (Lit: book of evil women), in which she describes lesbian relationships and desires, while also revealing the pain and misery of a group oppressed by mainstream values. The book won her the title of "Lesbian Goddess" by fans.

Constantly widening the scope of her writing, Chen has managed to flexibly transition between avant-garde and traditional styles. A woman who experienced a bitter childhood and a number of hardships in life and relationships, Chen makes her own experiences the foundation of many of her works. Writer and host Leung Man-tao described her "naked" writing as "so sincere that you feel like she's baring herself entirely."

Chen is also well-known in Taiwan for coming out of the closet in a high-profile reveal that saw a picture of her and her partner Zaocanren kissing on the cover of LEZS magazine. Chen and her life partner continue to record their lives on Facebook winning support from millions of netizens.

Despite her title of "Lesbian Goddess," Chen confessed during a seminar last week that she's actually bisexual. She has had male partners and originally thought she was heterosexual until one night she found herself in an intimate situation with a female friend. 

"At first I simply wanted to study her body. After I understood my sexual orientation better I realized that I like a particular type of person no matter if they are male or female."

Internal struggle 

When she published her first book in 1995, there were already many publicly known same-sex couples in Taiwan, but still her book encountered several roadblocks and was almost canceled. However, compared to the mainland, Chen said Taiwan is growing increasingly open to same-sex relationships nowadays. According to her, cultural, art and literature circles, including non-government forces, have been making effort in this direction, although she acknowledged that people still need a lot of courage to go public.

Li Yinhe, a sociologist that attended the seminar, pointed out that she is optimistic that the future will be brighter. "In the past their existence was totally ignored. The situation has grown better over the past 20 years. Now there are social groups making an effort and people can talk about it openly, although some activities like same-sex film festivals still face hurdles."

"I don't see the difference between homosexual or heterosexual love. Love is the same. It's just that society has this norm that says men should love women. I've never regarded myself as abnormal," Chen said at the seminar.

"I suffered big prices for my honesty. Being honest might make you appear abnormal, a weirdo, but this process will help you hold onto those important traits that make you different from others. Now having gone through it all, I think it is okay to be treated as abnormal, as long as you keep your uniqueness and refine it into a diamond to protect you," Chen gave advice for those struggling with the decision to come out themselves.

"If you don't have courage to go public, you can just wait and meanwhile make yourself stronger. The world is changing and I'm sure there will be a way."

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