Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sexuality and Gender Roles in Modern Vietnam

This week in class we talked about family and the individual. Our two readings focused on an abusive mother-daughter relationship and men who have sex with men (MSM) relationships. Both readings talked about the commodification of sex. In the first reading the mother would exploit her daughter by forcing her to sleep with various men for money and items while the second article talked of men having sex with other men for money. Later in the week we met with a man from the gay community, Quang, who spoke to us of the commodification of sex. He said that the use of sex for money did happen in Vietnam and that it was a pretty well known fact for both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. Homosexuality is becoming more accepted in Vietnam, especially in Saigon. However, homosexual couples are rarely open in public, they cannot get married, and they cannot adopt as a couple. Vietnam in general is a country with little PDA. For the three weeks I have lived here I have never seen a couple kiss. So I can understand why it would be scandalous for two men to be holding hands in public. Apparently lesbian couples are more accepted. I think this is because of the extreme differences in gender roles here. Men are expected to be manly and marry in order to continue the family line. Females can be more physical with their female friends, although they are expected to marry as well. The secrecy of MSM relationships has caused a spike in HIV/AIDS due to lack of safe sex information and loose lifestyle. Some men seek sexual pleasure from other men outside of marriage, because they have been pressured to marry by their parents. The multiple sexual partners, limited information on safe sex, current culture of the gay community, and recent spike in Methamphetamine use have all contributed to the 33% statistic of men with HIV/AIDS in the gay community.

The same day we met Quang we also met a fortune teller. Vietnamese people, especially the older generation, meet with fortune tellers about twice a year. Couples go to fortune tellers to learn when it is a good time for them to get married in case there is a conflicting period during the Lunar calendar. Our friend Quang had never been to a fortune teller and did not have the intention of ever going to one. As a thirty year old man, he has extreme pressure from his parents to get married and start a family. I think family is the biggest factor that shapes gender in Vietnamese society. From birth, boys and girls are put into categories. I know this is also true for the United States, but there seems to be more acceptance in the US when a child deviates from the norm compared to Vietnam. Boys are given much more freedom to go out and date than girls. Girls must be delicate and boys must be manly. I have been told over and over that the most important thing in Vietnamese culture is the family and the continuation of the family line. Because of this, it is very hard for Vietnamese to adapt to the idea of homosexual relationships. For traditional thinkers, accepting homosexuality would mean changing their view of relationships, family, and sexuality. I see this same struggle in the United States. Being from California, almost all of my friends believe in gay rights and equality. It seems to be my parent's generation that still has difficulty accepting that gay rights are human rights and that gay people are human people. From talking with Quang and hearing about what it is like to be gay in Vietnam I was reminded of what it was like to be gay in the US in the 1980s. I took a LGBT studies class in San Francisco where we learned about the beginning of the gay rights movement and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By comparing the two, I would say that Vietnam is at the beginning of its gay rights movement. And I'm really happy about it.

“Be careful, you are not in Wonderland. I’ve heard the strange madness long growing in your soul. But you are fortunate in your ignorance, in your isolation. You who have suffered, find where love hides. Give, share, lose—lest we die, unbloomed.”-From the film Kill Your Darlings


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  2. Week 3 comment
    Hi Kaitlan, I really like your interpretation on what shapes the gender role in Vietnam. Maintaining family line is so important that it is expected of people to get married and start a family. That is why a lot of people are being pressured to get married once they reached the age. There are times when a couple becomes husband and wife without emotional bonds. My grandparents, for example, married each other simply because they needed a partner. If someone stays single for so long, people can assume that there is something wrong with that person. Quang mentioned that his mom is suspecting that he is gay because he always avoids the question when talked about marriage and he never brings his significant others home. People from older generation emphasize family honor more than anything, so homosexual relationship would halt a family line, which would bring an embarrassment to the family. I do agree with you that things are changing with future generation having lenient perspectives perhaps from abundance of education they receive and understanding they get from Western influence.