Benjamin Law
Benjamin Law Contributed

Reality bites with arrival of Laws

IN an alternative universe Benjamin Law's parents might never have decided to migrate from Hong Kong to Australia in the 1970s.

And what then? What possible life would Law have lived growing up as a gay man in Hong Kong?

This sense of what-if underpins the prolific writer's sophomore book, Gaysia, due out in September.

In a Gonzo-adventure-journalism kind of style, the work explores gay and lesbian culture in Asia.

Law travelled for 18 months through seven Asian countries - Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, India, Myanmar and Malaysia - researching a particular gay issue in each.

He went backstage at the world's largest transsexual beauty pageant in Thailand, studied HIV in Burma and hung out with fundamentalists in Malaysia who believed you "could pray the gay away".

You may not have met 29-year-old Law but chances are if you have read his first book, The Family Law, which intimately painted a portrait of Law and his family and his experience of growing up gay and Asian on the Sunshine Coast, you know him.

Maybe you've read his articles in newspapers and magazines.

With his dry and self-depreciating irreverent humour there is a real sense of personality injected into every piece, so much so you would not be alone in thinking you already know Law.

When we chat he is in the middle of penning a piece for Good Weekend about Gen Y adults living at home with their parents.

You can tell he is a born journalist with a keen sense of curiosity and a desire to connect over shared stories.

He can't help himself sneaking in a few questions of his own before we get into the swing of things.

It was this earnest and honest desire to understand people and share their stories that helped him while travelling through Asia and interviewing people about often quite personal and sensitive subjects.

"I found most people were willing to talk, especially if they felt their stories weren't being told. But it comes down to a trust issue," he said.

"It probably helped that I am ethnically Chinese and at least in the other countries I did look Asian."

He found China particularly interesting investigating and exploring the way young gay people connect over the internet. He explained they had it pretty well wired so it all went under the strict censorship.

"They organise a lot of hook-ups, but not in the way you think," he said.

"It's often gay couples seeking out lesbian couples for fake marriages to please their parents."

The couples would stage elaborate ceremonies in their home villages before heading back to the city to continue living their life with the person they truly love.

"It is quite common, which blew my mind," Law said.

A challenge for Law was tackling writing about the time he spent trekking through the third world towns of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where saw a first hand the devastating lack of the HIV/AIDS anti-viral treatment.

Known for his humour and entertaining style, how would he cover something so hard-hitting without losing his trademark personality?

"It's such a depressing topic," he said.

"I'm always very aware as a writer that I need to be entertaining, but you want to make sure the gravity of the situation is conveyed.

"Those young men living in Burma have a much higher chance of contracting the virus than their peers in any other Asian country.

"But saying that, the people there laughed at odd things. There was this weird unexpected black humour.

"The guys were joking about it.

"They have nicknames for HIV and they say 'so-and-so won the Academy Award', which means somebody contracted HIV.

"They are quite brazen about it and make jokes about the horrible situation."

In Malaysia he visited two Christian and one Islamic organisations that boasted programs claiming through Christ or Allah they could pray the gay away and send people back on a righteous path of heterosexuality.

He spoke to guys in the program who after electroshock therapy, medication for depression and extensive prayer felt they had been "cured".

What he found hard to reconcile was they seemed happy despite describing their urges to be with the same sex as something they had to now be extremely disciplined about, almost like an alcoholic abstaining from drinking.

"There was a real sadness there. They seemed happy, which was really hard to get my head around, but who am I to say they are not?"

Throughout the whole experience two strong themes emerged for Law: a renewed gratitude for his family's acceptance and support, and an admiration and sadness for those who aren't so lucky.

"I really appreciate my life, living with my boyfriend, being able to walk down the street and hold his hand and live a jolly gay life," he said.

"I'm really sad for people that don't have that or aren't quite there."


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