Benjamin Law is a pomo-homo smartarse who gives good quip, and the photo that adorns the cover of his second book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East fittingly captures him somewhere between perplexed and zinger.
Gaysia is a mongrel hybrid of investigative journalism and vision quest that is at least as much about its author as its subject. Law acknowledges the relative privilege of his birthright as an ethnically Asian gay Australian by literally leaping outside this comfort zone and stepping through several Asian nations to consider how identity manifests and is impacted by these different climates.
Law’s magazine writing and first book The Family Law have granted him near ubiquity as a Gen (Ga)Y talking head who comes across as equal parts Q&A and T&A; someone notes that ‘the good jokes come when you’re talking about sex’ about half way through his journey, and this could well be Law’s mission statement.
His travels actually begin in a clothing-optional gay resort on Bali, and Law throws himself into things with the zeal of a missionary. His gift is a conversational tone that feels both conspiratorial and true, and there is a real sense that the boundaries of his own experience are being tested here; he certainly can’t help but register that he is essentially a tourist in a demi-monde best characterized as sex tourism, and you can almost feel his lips pursing at moments. His observations and reactions as pleasure is commodifed and often explicitly consummated all around him are honest, apt and occasionally charmingly prudish.
This chapter also has a lightness that is notably – and sensibly – absent from much of what follows. Law gravitates to folk who speak with confidence and wrestle with the dominant paradigm, but there’s nonetheless a cumulative sense that pre-Stonewall ignorance and fear is endemic in most of the places he visits and that access to civil and legal rights and HIV medication and education hover somewhere around a generation behind our own.
Law ultimately races across India from a guru who claims yoga is a gay cure to meetings with the key players in the (shockingly recent) repeal of the ban on homosexuality and then on to his first gay pride march on what feels like a wave of evolving consciousness. The burgeoning queer movement seems to almost compel him to wade in and renegotiate notions of identity and belonging on a deeply personal level, even pondering whether he’s “one of those self-hating gays who avoid all public demonstrations of gayness.”
It’s not entirely clear whether Law’s odyssey actually ended in India but he describes his time there last and with real gay abandon, and it delivers a fantastic money shot.