A conversation with Robin on Taiwan

This interview is part of our international voices series.  If you’d be interested in contributing, check out our call for submissions and interviews.

I was pleased to get an interview with Robin, who runs a Chinese-language asexual community, and lives in Taiwan. They are also part of the AVEN Project Team.

Siggy: Tell us about the Chinese asexual community you run. What kind of community is it?

Robin: It’s a place where people who speak Chinese can get together, organize meetups, discuss the concept of asexuality in relation to Chinese culture, and figure out the terminology. It’s still a relatively new community (started in February), and not many people have joined.

The situation was, there were two online groups in China, and none in Taiwan. I wished to create a new community. First I wanted it to be only for Taiwan, since there was none before, but then I wanted it to be Chinese-speaking people in general.  The structure is modeled a bit after the English AVEN.

Siggy: So far we’ve found that many non-English communities simply take the English information and directly translate it. To what extent do you do this?

Robin: I use the English information as a base, and edit it according to local culture. Like, the part about being shamed for being a virgin is removed, since that doesn’t exist here.

Siggy: How many members understand English?

Robin: Not many, as far as I know.

Siggy: So members of the community primarily understand asexuality through the main page information, or are there other sources?

Robin: There is an article on Wikipedia, and a bunch of badly-written media articles that are obviously copied, or plain wrong.

Siggy: You said that there isn’t any virgin-shaming. What sort of problems do you or others encounter then?

Robin: There are traditional family values. A lot of asexual people are also aromantic, and/or don’t want children. But people are always expected to have a “normal” family, as to pass down the family line. Also, I have heard from other members who got married, not knowing that people are actually sexual, and get surprised when asked for sex.

Siggy: I’ve heard that Chinese-speaking cultures generally put romantic relationships lower down than family relationships. Is this true to your experience in Taiwan?

Robin: Hmmm… That may be true in the older generation, but now, romantic relationships are also important. The concept of romantic love seems to be popular among the younger population. Valentines Day, romantic tourist destinations, and other stuff.

Siggy: How do people in Taiwan see LGBT people?

Robin: They think that gays are just seeking attention. They also think people decide to become homosexual. And bisexuality is almost invisible.

LGBT has been included in the curriculum, including homo, bi, and the gender spectrum, so the younger generation is more accepting of queers. So basically, the younger generation is more accepting, and more leaning towards western culture.

Siggy: How do asexuals see themselves in relation to LGBT then?

Robin: We see ourselves as part of the LGBT. My group is pretty close to a bi group, because we’re both invisible identities here. The bi group actually had a speech at the pride parade last year that included asexuality. We weren’t that organized back then, but we plan to march in the parade this year. As a new group, we have a major problem of inactivity, so I’m trying to bring involvement up. Hopefully the pride parade can do that, and also get us some new members.

Siggy: Do you know how LGBT got into the curriculum? What age group is it taught to?

Robin: We have sex ed three times, one time in the higher elementary grades, in junior high, and in high school. LGBT was mentioned every time, and the concept of the gender spectrum appeared in social studies. Asexuality was never mentioned, although Storms’ Model was mentioned in high school. In 10th grade, we had a group talk to us about abstinence, and traditional family values. The flip-side of “traditional family values” is anti-LGBT.

Siggy: It sounds like there is a big generational gap. How does this impact asexuals?

Robin: LGBT people are comfortable coming out to their peers, but not to their parents. Parents always think that “my child could never be gay”, and may also bring that up, causing the LGBT child to fear coming out. And as mentioned above, parents expect their children to be married and have children, but asexuals might not want that. I believe that the US is also like this, but it’s more strict here.

So the younger generation believes in free love, which includes not loving (romantically).

Siggy: You’ve mentioned (privately) that some of the English terms are missing from the Chinese language. How do you feel about that?

Robin: I feel that this causes a big problem in both self-identification and visibility. For example, there is no word for “romantic relationship”, or “romantic orientation”. The word for “sexual orientation” sounds a lot like “romantic orientation”, so a lot of members think they must also be aromantic to be asexual. The Chinese culture doesn’t like to talk about sex, so a lot of related terms are replaced so they sound like love or romance related. Also, the Chinese culture considers everyone to be demisexual, so it is supposed to be normal not to have sexual desires outside of marriage. Which is, of course, not true.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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10 Responses to A conversation with Robin on Taiwan

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Thanks so much for the interview. I really appreciate being able to learn a bit more about what asexuals deal with in a Chinese-language community.

  2. Aqua says:

    This was very interesting, and congrats on contributing to asexual visibility in Chinese, and creating Taiwan’s first asexual community! What you said about relationships shows that the concept of “compulsory sexuality” isn’t universal, and that even when and where it isn’t applicable, there are still obstacles to asexual visibility.

    • Aster says:

      Hello, Taiwanese here 🙂

      It’s great to see discussions about asexual people in Taiwan here, though I wouldn’t say that compulsory sexuality doesn’t apply to Taiwanese society. Taiwanese people generally don’t like to talk about sex, but the assumption that everyone should want/have sex is still there, just manifested in a different way.

      For example, if a man is not interested in sex or is not sexually attracted to anyone, people would usually think there is something wrong with him, either physically or mentally. Choosing not to have a relationship or to marry may be accepted, but not feeling any sexual attraction? Wow, there must be something wrong with him, since everyone knows that men are sexual by nature.

      As for women, there is social policing of female sexuality, so on the one hand, not having sex before marriage is OK; on the other hand, there is slut-shaming and fetishization of virginity. What’s more, sex is expected in marriage. And women are under some social pressure to get married. There is also some stigmatization of unmarried women and women who are uninterested in sex. I remember a middle-aged female politician being called “frigid” and a lesbian due to being unmarried.

      So I think compulsory sexuality still exists in Taiwanese society, just in a different form.

      Also, I would like to specify that I am talking from the viewpoint of a Taiwanese in her late twenties. Taiwanese society has undergone some not insignificant social changes in recent years. For example, there was no discussion of LGBT in sex ed classes when I was a student. So I would not presume to speak for the younger generation.

      • Sara K. says:

        I knew a Taiwanese woman who was very ashamed of the fact that her younger sister was getting married … and she had not gotten married yet herself. After talking to her about her about this a little, it became clear that she does not actually want to get married, but her family think there is something wrong about her not getting married before her younger sister. So, yeah, stigmatization of unmarried women.

        Even I got some unpleasant attention due to my lack of a boyfriend/husband, but I generally got excused because 1) I am a foreigner and 2) I am still in my twenties and 3) I am not their relative.

        And even though it is generally unspoken, I have also felt something like compulsory sexuality in Taiwan. I remember the first time I tried to talk about asexuality in Taiwan (in English, because I had no clue how to discuss the topic in Chinese, and the Taiwanese people I was talking to spoke good English). Their reaction was ‘that is so weird, how could someone not experience sexual attraction? Is it true?’

      • Aqua says:

        Thanks for clarification. It wasn’t accurate for me to say that compulsory sexuality isn’t applicable; I should’ve said that the form that it takes isn’t universal.

  3. Sara K. says:

    Taiwanese aces! 歡迎光臨! (Welcome!)

    If I were still in Taiwan, I would have loved to meet you in person.

    Yeah, I am the person who made the comment about family relationships relative to romantic relationships in Taiwan. Since I am not Taiwanese, I am most certainly in an outsider position.

    However, I am pretty sure that Taiwanese culture, even the young people, do not value romantic relationships over family relationships to the same degree that Californians do. I have heard a number of young Taiwanese say things like ‘I would never date/marry someone who my parents did not approve of’. Perhaps they are not being honest, but young Californians would not even say something like that.

    I have also talked to some Americans who are in less-than-totally-happy dating/marriage relationships with Taiwanese, and they seem to think that they are less valued than they should be as romantic partners, and that they are less valued than their romantic partner’s biological kin.

    Yeah, I observe a lot of the emphasis on romance in Taiwanese pop culture and I have heard many young Taiwanese people talk about The Magic of Romantic Love, but it always seemed to me when things were serious/difficult, the impulse is to lean on family, not romantic partners. By contrast, in California, leaning on biological kin in difficult times is often interpreted as a sign of desperation.

  4. iamvincentliu says:

    Hi, I am the Robin in the interview. Thank you, Siggy, for giving me the opportunity, and thanks to everyone who read the article.

    I do agree on the comments on compulsory sexuality, but 1) I think it’s more of compulsory marriage, and for most people, sex follows marriage. Therefore it’s still somewhat compulsory sexuality, but indirectly, so I wouldn’t exactly call it that. And 2) no one ever talks about it, so no one knows if you’re a virgin or not, therefore culturally less important.

    And on family vs romantic relationships. This still varies a lot by age and upbringing, but overall, romantic relationships are becoming more important.

    As experiences go, everyone may feel different about Chinese culture, so my viewpoint may differ from yours.

  5. Isaac says:

    As far as I can remember, the Spanish-language asexual community was in the same situation in 2008 as you describe the Chinese-language one, though virgin-shaming still applies to us.

  6. Pingback: Guo Jing as Demisexual | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  7. Pingback: Paper: Asexuality in China’s Sexual Revolution | The Asexual Agenda

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