Editor’s Note: Valentine Vu, a Vietnamese Canadian, argues why Vietnam is now not ready for the legalization of same sex marriage. Vu told Tuoitrenews that he himself is gay. The writer is a fashion design lecturer and program manager at a design and art center in Ho Chi Minh City.
The idea of gay marriage in Vietnam has been hotly debated over the last few months across the country, polarizing people on both sides of the issue. On one hand if it is legalized, Vietnam will be the first Asian nation to pass such a law, placing the country in the forefront as a leader; however, this would not make Vietnam “cool” when it has failed to acknowledge other gay rights issues but uses the proposed legislation to promote the new face of modernity. On the other hand, the nation’s conservative base still recognizes homosexuality as a taboo act and not as a personal identity, more disparities between the people would happen resulting in further isolation of gay families if gay marriage is recognized without any foundation to properly support it.
Even though this law affects me directly, Vietnamese people are not ready for it because the majority of the population still holds prejudice against homosexuality being a disease, in fear of it being contagious, and afraid of losing face value if a friend/family member is gay. Some have argued that people who are against gay marriage are uneducated, uncultured, and unsympathetic. It is not fair to make such an assumption when the government, educational system, culture, and even gays don’t take the time to teach and to represent a positive image of homosexuality. Gay marriage is a battle that requires time, it is built upon the acceptance, tolerance, and understanding of the “straight” society. While this is a sad truth, the majority rule still prevails, and it appears Vietnam is jumping too far ahead without paving the way in which gay marriage can be celebrated.
It took many Western countries over 40 years since the 70’s to fight for gay rights leading to the current situation of equality of marriage in some of their more progressive nations. What has Vietnam done for gays for the last 40 years? More importantly, what have gays done for themselves in the last 40 years? Gay marriage should not be the first stance against introducing gay acceptance into a more or less homophobic culture. What this country needs is the new face of homosexuality, the courage for gays to come out, the celebration of a positive gay culture, and the introduction of gay acknowledgement in the educational system. All of these must happen across the country and not just in progressive cities like Ho Chi Minh City, then when there is enough positive gay presence, gay marriage will be automatically accepted with or without legal consensus.
I have lived in Vietnam for the last 5 years, and to be a positive gay image is a daily struggle and sometimes, a discouragement. In public, due to the way I dress, it automatically points out my sexual orientation and that will raise looks, pointed fingers, snickering, and sometimes even vocalized opinions. Yet I am lucky to be a teacher because I may present and influence a positive representation of homosexuality in front of my college-age students. This is powerful exposure to gay education beyond textbooks and the media by providing a more respectable and personal human to human interaction. I have many experiences such as when a student came up to me and said that I had changed their perspective on homosexuality in a more tolerable or positive light. In addition, there were also times when young closeted students came out to me and asked for advice. They all look up to me as a role model and especially for the young gays, they see me as guidance because in normal society there are very little willing to offer a standard of how they should behave. What I am trying to say is that all of us live in a social circle of our own with friends, coworkers, relationships, and family members; to come out is not an easy thing to do because it encompasses and depends on the fear of rejection, different levels of trust, the exposure to positive messages, and self-acceptance. Yet, the coming out story is a very important step to embrace a proper gay culture and build strong fellowship within society. Of course, there will always be disappointment and hurt, but the price of being truthful to oneself and have the burden of “living a lie” lifted from one’s heart should be encouraged to be the better trade. In addition, when a successful “coming out” is achieved, it will strengthen the positive image of gays starting at the most normal and common level of the population, a person’s social circle.
In progressive countries like Canada where I am from, there are support groups supported by the federal, provincial, and municipal community for LGBT (the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community) across different social levels such as in high schools, colleges/universities, churches, and workplaces. These places aid the LGBT community in various aspects from equal employment opportunities to delivering a gay pride parade. The one thing that all of these places have to offer are the instilment of pride, and the celebration of the personal identity through education, empowerment, motivation, and help. However, don’t assume that all of this will make homosexuality an easier choice or lifestyle; as a matter of fact, gays regardless of where we are in the world still feel vulnerable, alone, orphaned, and abandoned by the “straight” community, so we should band together to belong and support each other through companionship. Yet, we strive each day to be acknowledged, to meet more than the average expectation, and to fit in for our loved ones may it be friends or family. We are the 10% of the world’s population society tends to neglect because we’re “abnormal,” “weird,” or “queer.” Yet to me, while the majority of people may be “normal,” we are “extraordinary” for our perseverance, and the word “extraordinary” alone could encompass the pride of self-acceptance.
Lucky for me, I worked in the fashion industry, and amongst the arts, fashion is the most avant-garde in accepting sexual differences and elevating the gay designers as an expectation to creativity and savoir faire. But this is only one side of gay exposure the Vietnamese audience perchance stumbles on. This society needs more exposure to non-conventional sexual identities in all areas of life and occupational industries to break the stereotypes of gays being flamboyant and wanting to have a sex change to fulfill their desire. Personally, I don’t want my gay students to get forced into marrying the opposite sex because their family threatens to cut off all financial support and disown them. Or married husbands cheat on their wives with another man and blame it on society or family for not accepting them in the first place. I don’t want to see young gays committing suicide or killing their partner due to jealousy, shame, and not being able to publicize their affair. In addition, I definitely don’t want to witness young gays being promiscuous in their sex life or having uneducated, unprotected sexual choices. Furthermore, I don’t want to witness how the media portray the LGBT community based on stereotypes or dramatize on the sexual orientation of a person when he or she commits a serious crime. I also don’t want to see local gay celebrities to have to lie to their fans about their sexuality or deny their gay sex scandal.
All of the mentioned above may seem irrelevant to whether gay marriage should be granted in Vietnam. Vietnamese should not just accept any readily available foreign thinking ideas and gobble it up like the next American fast food chain without knowing the consequences or understanding the true privilege of such an ideal like marriage equality. In the near future regardless of whether Vietnam passes the law of gay marriage or not, gays should still celebrate their identity, accept themselves, and respect the lifestyle choices they have made. This is what Vietnam needs at the moment, as we are all humans first and foremost before our gender and sexuality dictate our differences.