Loving Gay Couples in Vietnam
Three months ago, about a 100 bike-riding homosexuals pedaled through Hanoi in what would come to be seen as the Vietnamese capital’s first ever gay pride parade. Not too many eyebrows were raised by that, at least in our little Western corner of the world; I guess we all thought it was about time those guys on the other side finally celebrated the wonders of crossing swords. What should cause a stir is that only one day after the parade, rumors began to circulate that the Vietnamese government was considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. Considering that Vietnam is still operating under a communist regime, this is sort of newsworthy, don’t you think?
I thought so, which is why I got in touch with photographer Maika Elan, who spent last year photographing Vietnam’s gay couples in their most intimate moments for her photo series The Pink Choice. She sort of stood me up on the day of the interview, but that’s OK because she’s the sweetest Vietnamese with a mushroom haircut I’ve ever met.
VICE: Hey Maika, why did you stand me up?
Maika Elan: Hi, I’m really sorry. I got up this morning to go to the UK Embassy and sort out a visa—I’m visiting in a few days to prepare for an exhibition—and ended up spending the whole day there. Which I should have expected but anyway…
OK, I hate bureaucracy too, so I forgive you. Tell me about your project involving gay people in Vietnam. Why is that an important enough subject to photograph so extensively?
In Vietnam, there is talk of legalizing gay marriage. This would make Vietnam the first Asian country to do so, so it’s a big deal, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. People like to say they are open-minded, but they don’t act like it. For example, every time a story about a gay couple is in the press or on TV, either their faces are blurred or they pose with their backs to the camera. And those stories almost always have to do with drugs, AIDS, or some sort of sexual scandal. When it comes to movies, homosexuals are either idealized or, again, presented as sexual deviants. You never see the actual people. You don’t see that they are real people. I thought it’d be nice to change that.