Johannes Nugroho 「The Hidden Histories of Homosexuality in Asia」

Posted on July 29, 2016 commentaires
Despite the commonplace homophobia in Asian societies today, no nation can deny a presence of LGBT practices in its history.

A few years ago, most Indonesians probably didn’t know what the acronym LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – stood for. And yet for the past few months, it has become one of the most debated topics in the country. Predictably, for a nation that fancies itself religious, a great proportion of the public professes to disapprove of homosexuality.

The LGBT community is now seen as a national threat by at least one government ministry. At a recent training session of Bela Negara, a new militia group sponsored by the Ministry of Defense to restore nationalism in ordinary Indonesians, Reuters reported that the instructor had exhorted the participants to guard against “evil foreign influences” such as communism, drugs and homosexuality.

At odds with history
The explicit claim that homosexuality is somehow alien to Indonesian culture, however, may be at great odds with historical records. Widely regarded as the Javanese『Kama Sutra, Serat Centhini』– commissioned and partially written in the early 1800s by the crown prince of the Mataram Surakarta Kingdom, who would later become Solo’s sovereign Pakubuwana V – details sex between men (gemblak) in Ponorogo, and the existence of warok (butch gay men) and jathil (effeminate gay men) in the East Javanese town.

『Serat Centhini』was an official royal court publication, a 12-volume compendium on sexuality compiled by members of the royal family and court poets. Though homosexuality was by no means described as a widespread practice, it was neither seen as an offence nor a threat to society.

Other ethnic groups inhabiting the Indonesian archipelago in the past also dealt with sexuality in surprisingly tolerant ways. The Bugis people of South Sulawesi, for instance, recognize five genders: makkunrai (cisgender female), oroané (cisgender male), bissu (androgynous), calabai (transgender male) and calalai (transgender female). The bissu, now almost extinct, were seen to both encompass and transcend all other gender types and were therefore highly respected. For the old Bugis, the bissu acted as wise beings or shamans, to be consulted on cultural and societal matters.

Conversely, however, homophobia in Indonesia is a recent phenomenon. Sutjipto’s account clearly shows that even in 1920s homosexuality was not seen as a serious social aberration by the natives. By contrast, in countries like Great Britain, sodomy had already been criminalized.

During the Dutch colonial era, indigenous gay scenes also existed alongside their Dutch counterparts. An important manuscript written in 1928 and published in 1992 as『My Life: an Autobiography of a Javanese Gay Aristocrat in the Early 20th Century』tells the story of Sutjipto, a gay Javanese man of noble birth. In the book, the author candidly describes his gay sexual experiences. He met his first lover – a 20-year-old student – in Situbondo, when he was 13. In turn, he learned that his lover’s first lover was a native (pribumi) doctor in Kediri.

Although Sutjipto would later have relationships with Dutch men, his testimonies confirmed the fact that homosexuality among native Indonesians existed irrespective of Dutch cultural influences. Sutjipto’s stories about various gay relationships he encountered in the 1920s also gave the impression that homosexuality was, at this juncture in Indonesian history, not seen as a great taboo at all. Within the Madurese community in Situbondo, he relates, gay relationships among the folk theatre performers of Saronen were quite common.

A recent phenomenon
Evidently, against such historical accounts, to claim that homosexuality is somehow a recent foreign import is flawed. Conversely, however, homophobia in Indonesia is a recent phenomenon. Sutjipto’s account clearly shows that even in 1920s homosexuality was not seen as a serious social aberration by the natives. By contrast, in countries like Great Britain, sodomy had already been criminalized.

Homophobia in Indonesia became more pronounced alongside the rise of political Islam just before and after the fall of President Suharto in 1998. Sensing a growing loss of support from his old political ally – the military – Suharto openly courted political Islam in 1990s, spurring the calls for more conformity to Sharia law among Indonesia’s Muslims.

The rise of Islam as a social and political force in post-Suharto Indonesia also owed a great deal to the many religious scholars sent to study Islam at various academies in the Middle East. While some came back with a vision of Islam as a force of peace – notably Indonesia’s fourth President Abdurrahman Wahid, who studied at Egypt’s religious Al-Azhar University – many returned to Indonesia determined to “purify” Islam according to Arabic tenets, including the intolerance against homosexuality.

Interestingly, by way of cultural diffusion, homophobia has also become ingrained within Indonesian ethnic groups traditionally associated with tolerance for sexual minority groups like the Balinese. In 2015 a furor erupted when photos of a wedding between two men presided by a Balinese Hindu priest made rounds on the internet. No less than Governor I Made Mangku Pastika and eminent religious elders such as Jro Gede Suwena spoke out against it. The latter suggested that all Hindu temples on the island hold cleansing rituals in the aftermath of the incident.

Everyone else toed the line, too: The police diligently started an investigation into the matter, charging the event organizer with “denigration of religion,” while the local association of wedding planners dutifully echoed another condemnation against what was seen as an aberrant act against the natural order.

Hindu Tolerance
The whole palaver was surprising, given the fact there were countless other gay weddings performed in Bali. Moreover, the scriptures of Hinduism, the religion of most Balinese, don’t contain condemnation of LGBT people as the Bible or the Islamic Hadiths do. Hindu sacred texts never hold LGBT people to be inferior to their heterosexual counterparts. Hindu mythology itself contains allusions to LGBT figures playing crucial parts in time-honored sacred narratives. To name one, Shikhandi, who was key to ensuring the victory of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War of the『Mahabharata』was, succinctly put, a man trapped in a woman’s body. Despite this, Shri Krishna, the protector god Vishnu incarnate, didn’t mind sharing a chariot with the transgender warrior.

One of the ultimate forms of the divine in Hinduism is Ardhanarishvara, considered the apex of masculine and feminine balance, portrayed as a half-man-and-half-woman deity. Other Hindu deities were never known to shirk from sex changes, either: Shiva once turned into a milkmaid after bathing in the Yamuna River, Vishnu assumed his female form Mohini to marry Arjun’s son Aravan and in this form even bore Shiva a son, the god Maha-sastha. In another famous Hindu epic,『Ramayana』, we also read about the two women who make love to procreate without the aid of men.

Indian historian Manu Bhagavan argues that India’s current rigid sexual mores were inherited from the British who outlawed homosexual acts throughout their empire. Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik agrees with this analysis: “The British reinforced this view by creating the ‘sodomy’ law, referring to the biblical city of Sodom that was destroyed by God as it was rife with sexual deviations. Subjects of the British empire, Hindus included, were keen to distance themselves from all such things vile; they were determined to prove themselves pure, even if it meant wiping out or denying their own legacy.”

The specter of national humiliation and being thought as primitive were so great that in 1950s the local governor of Bali banned foreign tourists from photographing the unwary topless women.

However, this model of colonial transference can hardly apply to Bali or Indonesia since the Dutch never criminalized homosexual acts as the British did. Bali was also known to play host to various avant-garde Europeans in the 1930s, establishing itself as an idyllic Bohemian paradise that attracted even Hollywood stars.

The Dutch rulers of Indonesia, known as the Dutch East Indies then, were mostly interested in trade and consolidating their power, leaving cultural and indigenous affairs to the local rulers. Balinese women in those days walked about their business bare-breasted, unhindered.

Ironically, it was after Indonesia’s independence that cultural changes in the name of post-colonial nationalism came about. Both Indonesia’s first and second presidents, Sukarno and Suharto, were scandalized by the topless Balinese woman. Sukarno’s government thought it inconsistent with the dignity of a modern state. Despite being an art lover who collected depictions of these very women, Sukarno feared that a great nation like Indonesia would be seen as primitive because of such traditions. His mode of thinking was colored by European moral values, which became obvious as the changes in his attitude occurred once he came to power.

The specter of national humiliation and being thought as primitive were so great that in 1950s the local governor of Bali banned foreign tourists from photographing the unwary topless women. Over time, Balinese women were systematically shamed into covering up their bodies, in deference to the prevalent dress code elsewhere in Indonesia.

Fluid sexuality
It’s no exaggeration to say that, despite the commonplace homophobia in Asian societies of today, no Asian nation can boast the absence of LGBT communities in their respective histories. In ancient China, for example, one of the Eight Immortals in the Taoist pantheon, Lan Caihe, is depicted as a sexually ambiguous being. During the Qing Dynasty in 17th century, a cult of the Rabbit Lord, or Tu’er Shen, was born.

Tu’er Shen was worshipped as the deity responsible for regulating the sexual relationships between men. It became popular enough that the Confucian scholars at the Qing court tried to suppress it. Even so, the cult had generated enough appeal that whole villages still erected secret shrines to the Rabbit Lord despite an imperial ban on it.

If anything, history has taught us that LGBT people have always existed as minority groups throughout human history. It is ironic that Indonesia, priding itself as the third largest democracy, should treat the rights of these minority groups such cavalierly. Meanwhile, in mostly autocratic China, the government signals a less rigid stance on the issue. While Beijing neither encourages nor disapproves of LGBT rights, it was flexible enough to grant former prime minister of Iceland Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s wife, Jónína Leósdótti, the same deference as any spouse of a visiting foreign dignitary during the former’s official visit in 2013.

Although the Chinese state media “airbrushed” the spouse from news reports, the very fact that the couple was allowed to appear together at all is something that is difficult to imagine taking place in Indonesia. In light of the documented existence of sexual minorities throughout Indonesian history, it is sad that LGBTs today face state-sanctioned discrimination, all in the name of nationalism and nation building.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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Julie Baret 「Revoyez vos clichés sur les asiatiques」

Posted on July 27, 2016 commentaires
Un jeune Taiwanais a photographié des amis pour promouvoir sa marque de prêt-à-porter et le shooting est très vite devenu viral... On devine pourquoi !

Il y a quelques jours, John Cho exprimait ses réserves concernant l’orientation sexuelle de son personnage dans 「Star Trek」 : dans le prochain opus de la saga, le public apprendra que Sulu est en couple avec un homme, et que les deux compagnons sont les heureux papas d’une petite fille.

Or l’acteur de 44 ans craignait que « les asiatiques et les Américains d’origine asiatique y voit une nouvelle forme de féminisation de l’homme asiatique » telle qu’on peut généralement l’observer dans le cinéma et la télévision américaine.

Ne peut-on pas être asiatique et sex symbol viril ? Les corps moirés photographiés par Teddy Tzeng nous apportent mille fois la preuve que si, et pas qu’un peu !

Ce designer taïwanais vient en effet de faire le buzz grâce à son dernier shooting partagé des milliers de fois depuis sa page Facebook.

Au début c’était complètement pour le fun. J’ai juste fait quelques shooting photo avec mes amis en pensant à ce que j’allais écrire et poster sur Facebook. Quand soudain il m’est venu l’idée d’utiliser ces clichés pour promouvoir ma marque de prêt-à-porter, explique le jeune homme.

Je ne m’attendais pas du tout à recevoir un tel retour de mes amis et des fans. Du coup j’ai décidé d’en faire un calendrier parce que c’était une manière sympa de réunir la série.

Un coup de comm’ réussi qui devrait booster les ventes de sa marque de prêt-à-porter, The Badroom Dance, mais qui ne nous aide pas à nous rafraichir en ces temps de canicule...

Crédit photo couverture Teddy Tzeng/Facebook

Author: Julie Baret/Date: July 27, 2016/Source:

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Nigel Tan 「Need a new perspective on Asian men? Just take a look at this photo series」

Posted on July 26, 2016 commentaires
Here are 20 hot Asian men to prove stereotypes wrong

Let’s be real: Asian men aren’t always thought to be hot or sexy.

The stereotypes surrounding Asian men today limit how people view them, or rank them on the scale of attractiveness.

It’s easy to think of Asian men as more feminine, or more book-smart/nerdy, and less hunky/athletic. Why is this so?

Well, in a recent interview, John Cho, who plays Sulu in the latest 「Star Trek」 movie, points out that the issue has to do with Hollywood as a whole.

In the new movie, Sulu is revealed as a married gay man who has a daughter with his partner, and John Cho has some valid concerns.

‘I was concerned that Asians and Asian Americans might see [Sulu being gay] as a sort of continuing feminisation of Asian men,’ Cho told AV Club. ‘Asian American men, Asian men have been basically eunuchs in American cinema and television, and I thought maybe it would be seen as a continuation of that.’

True enough, the portrayal of Asian men in Hollywood has had an effect of how people view them in real life.

If you need a crash course on how Asian sex stereotypes have been shaped across time, see this:

MTV News 「Decoded: The Weird History of Asian Sex Stereotypes」 - posted on May 25, 2016.

On the other side of the world, Taiwanese photographer Teddy Tzeng captured a photo series of steaming hot Asian men which went viral online.

It’s not difficult to figure out why people are so crazy over them:

Tzeng said that he was simply taking some photographs of his friends when he thought that he could use the gorgeous images to promote his men’s clothing line, The Badroom Dance.

‘It was totally for fun at the beginning. I was just doing some shootings with my friends and thinking what to write and post on Facebook,’ Tzeng told The Gay Passport. ‘Then suddenly this idea came to my mind that I could use these “fun shots” to promote my fashion label which was doing some clearance promotions for the last 10 days of the Sale!’

Tzeng added that he’s surprised by the response.

‘It was totally unexpected to receive such a good response from my friends and fans. That’s why I decided to make a calendar which was a nice way to keep this series together.’

Who still thinks that Asian guys can only do well in school but can’t be sexy and hot?

Author: Nigel Tan/Date: July 26, 2016/Source:

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f(x) 에프엑스 「All Mine」

Posted on July 22, 2016 commentaires

f(x) 「All Mine」 - released on July 22, 2016.

Visuel toujours cool, une grande force de f(x)

Les titres solos très réussis d'AMBER et LUNA, ainsi que leur collab' explosive avec R3hab, profitent à f(x), qui revient avec un morceau EDM assumé et honorable. C'est festif et parfait en cette période estivale et on est toujours ravi de retrouver les filles en forme (mention spéciale à AMBER et Krystal ^^) et "ensemble", enfin, virtuellement ensemble, puisqu'elle n'apparaissent jamais physiquement ensemble dans ce clip au concept selfie stick 😢

f(x) 에프엑스
Official Website (South Korea):
Official Website (Japan):

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Kevin Nguyen 「How John Cho Defeated the Asian-American Actor Stereotypes」

In seven mostly minor roles.

Last year, I read a book by Alex Tizon called『Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self』, which I picked up even though the title too nearly resembled the Tobias Funke’s memoir from『Arrested Development, The Man Inside Me』. In the book, Tizon laments the representation of Asian men in popular media – or really, the lack thereof. He writes of 「Sex and the City」: “Something like 2 million Asians live in the New York metropolitan area, but Asians hardly appear in the show at all – symbolic annihilation at its best.” Symbolic annihilation: the under-representation of a group of people, usually in media. Asian men rarely show up in TV or film. And when they do, they often are at best sexless nerds, and at worst offensive stereotypes.

Strangely, John Cho is an Asian-American man in Hollywood that has been able to avoid these stereotypes. It is why I love John Cho. It is why the internet loves John Cho enough to Photoshop his face into movie posters as a reaction to Hollywood’s whitewashing problem. With 「Star Trek Beyond」 out today, this seemed like a good time to look at John Cho’s most important roles.


The indie film 「Better Luck Tomorrow」 follows four Asian-American high school students who are obsessed with studying for the SATs. They are treated like nerds by their peers until they start selling drugs. John Cho plays the cool guy, as evidenced by this cool motorcycle is he riding like a very cool guy.

The Asian men in this movie are smart, industrious, hard working. They perform well in school and in the workplace. And yet, these stereotypes have insidious foundations as to what they imply: the Asian work ethic exists to compensate for a lack of creativity. Often this notion gets taken a step further, insinuating that Asians also lack compassion and ambition and leadership skills, that they are really best suited to take orders.

Still, while 「Better Luck Tomorrow」 is by no means a great film, it was the first time I’d seen any piece of popular media that was specifically about the Asian-American experience. In 2002, it felt mind-blowing that a movie starring people who looked like me could even exist.

Bonus: it would launch the career of director Justin Lin, who would go on to helm the 「Fast and the Furious」 franchise, the most diverse action franchise. Unless you count Transformers as people of color.


Cho had a small recurring role in the original 「American Pie」 trilogy. In the first one, he famously explains the definition of a MILF, then proceeds to chant “MILF” at a framed picture for several minutes. He is credited as “John (MILF Guy #2).”

In the second 「American Pie」, Cho pees off a balcony into Sean William Scott’s mouth, who confuses the urine with warm champagne.

In the third 「American Pie, American Wedding」, Cho’s only line is telling Jason Biggs, “Don’t be such a pussy.”

As far as I know, this is the first mainstream appearance of the Asian male as a horrible bro. In a strange way, as crude and misogynistic as Cho’s character is in these crude and misogynistic films, they at least show that Asian men are not just quiet nerds. They too can be awful, just like white men. If this isn’t symbolic inclusion, I’m not sure what is.


Cho continued to have minor parts in largely terrible films. In 「Big Fat Liar」, he played Dusty Wong, a hip movie director. 「Big Fat Liar」 starred Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes as they sought revenge on a vindictive movie producer played by Paul Giamatti.

When cast, Cho was asked to do the role with an accent. He turned down the part, saying he didn’t want young people thinking it was okay to laugh at someone’s accent. I imagine it must’ve been difficult for Cho to turn down a part, seeing as how he struggled to find even minor roles as an Asian man. In fact, in Cho’s entire career, he has not once played a character with a fake accent.

The director agreed to let Cho do the part without an accent, and as we all know, 「Big Fat Liar」 went onto win forty Oscars that year.


「Harold and Kumar」 is John Cho’s first major leading role. You could also consider these three movies “teen sex comedies” in the vein of 「American Pie」, with the added wrinkle that its leads are grown-up Asian men.

Even while the films are interesting in their constant awareness of race, the three 「Harold and Kumar」 movies suffer from the same common problems with “stoner comedy romps”: they’re extremely male-centered and mostly unfunny. [Ed. note: WOW, OBJECTION. I will defend the first and third installments to my death.]


JJ Abrams’s 「Star Trek」 reboot marks a turning point in Cho’s career where he goes from little-known bit actor to a household name, at least among my parents.

John Cho, of course, plays Sulu – a role originally played by George Takei, the first Asian-American to have a very popular, very mediocre Twitter account.

Usually, Asians are cast as weird sidekicks who are relegated to “hacking the mainframe” while the white protagonists do all the impressive punching and kicking. In this 「Star Trek」 reboot, Sulu is the muscle. He’s the only one on the Enterprise crew with any fighting skills. When asked what kind of combat training he has, Sulu replies, “fencing” – an answer that would also satisfy my parents.


The 2012 「Total Recall」 is a version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger action classic remade to appeal to people with no taste. In it, Cho has a small part playing a character improbably named McClane. No Asian has ever been named McClane. No Asian in the future – even on Mars – will be named McClane.

Anyway, there’s nothing notable about Cho’s role here. I just wanted to show a picture of him with blonde hair.


From an article in the『Washington Post』: “If his new ABC show 「Selfie」 stays on the air long enough, John Cho may make history as television’s first Asian romantic lead.”

「Selfie」 was cancelled after 13 episodes. As far as I can tell, this is before Cho and the “quirky girl” ever hook up. This is what I gathered from Wikipedia, because I couldn’t make it through more than a couple episodes.

In some ways, though, the spirit of 「Selfie」 lives on in Tina Fey’s Netflix-produced comedy 「The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt」, which stars Ellie Kemper, another redhead who becomes romantically involved with an Asian-American named Dong Nguyen. Never mind that Dong – who is supposed to be Vietnamese – is played by a Korean-American actor and speaks Korean. We are witnessing the birth of a strange new trope: redheads dating Asian men.

Is this a good thing? I don’t know. But considering that Asian men are so rarely depicted in any kind of relationship in popular media, I’ll take it.

John Cho has yet to step into a big, leading role. But at least we’re taking steps toward a Hollywood that could make that possible. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. But in the meantime, we can rely on people’s clever use of Photoshop to imagine that it can.

Author: Kevin Nguyen/Date: July 22, 2016/Source:

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