Ever since I’d heard about Benjamin Law’s Gaysia, I’d wanted to read it. The book came highly recommended from a lot of people and after reading it I could understand why. Right from page 1 till the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down. The insights, observations and anecdotes shared by the author with a tinge of wit almost throughout the book had me gripped and there were times when I was laughing like a retard while reading it.
I tweeted to Benjamin telling him how much I loved reading the book and asked him if I could interview him for my blog and he readily agreed for it. So, here it is, Benjamin Law unplugged about Gaysia.
Ans. The idea popped in my head while I was writing my first book The Family Law. In Australia, I was becoming known as “the gay Asian writer”, and my friends had started referring to me as a Gaysian. I always thought that would make a good book title. Around that time, I also noticed a lot of the news stories I was reading were queer stories set in Asia: transsexual beauty pageants in Thailand; ex-gay religious conversion organisations in Malaysia; an the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Delhi’s High Court in India. Every time I read one of these news stories, I became super-curious about the human stories behind them.
2. You had to travel extensively in Asia in order to put together a book like this. How many months of travel, research and writing did it take for you to put it all together?
Ans. All up, I spent the equivalent of nearly a year in Asian countries, travelling between Australia and Asian counties over two years. And then it took another year to stitch it all together. But a lot of the book was written in airports, hostels, train stations and in the living rooms of couchsurfing hosts.
3. Were there times when you felt that this project is not turning out to be the way you wanted and felt like scrapping it?
Ans. Oh yes, completely. There’s a great quote by the late gay writer David Rakoff, who said: “There is a question that frequently runs through the reporter’s mind when he is sent on assignment and the story as initially envisioned is failing to bear fruit, and that question is this: Am I fucked?” You think that all the time. Especially when interviewees aren’t what you expected, or you’ve gotten ill from whooping cough or food poisoning and can’t make a key interview …
4. Who got to read the first draft of the book and what was the person’s reaction?
Ans. Several people: my boyfriend, my editor, my agent and my best friend, the writer Anna Krien. They all thought it was a hoot, and then started giving me brutal feedback, which is exactly what I needed.
5. As I’m from India, I am more curious about my country. Were there things that you wanted to include that you observed here but refrained doing so? May I ask, why? Also, I would like to tell you that your observations and analysis about Babaji are just so hilarious.
Ans. It was my first time in India, and I was wary of writing a book chapter that tried to sum it up wholly. I would’ve loved to focus more on the homo-social aspects of India (eg. how men of all stripes hold hands publicly as a sign of affection and respect), and on hijra communities, but it was important to stay focused on one issue at a time. For India, that issue was Section 377.
5. Are you working on your next book? What is it going to be about?
Ans. It’s early days yet, but my next book will focus on people who teach sex education. Feel free to send me leads if you know of any good stories or interesting people I should chase!
6. What are your views on homophobes? If there is one thing that you’re allowed to hammer into their headspace, what would it be and why?
Ans. It’s pretty simple: “Why is this any of your concern?” When you point out a homophobe’s weird obsession with homosexuality, they tend to shut up pretty quickly.
7. According to you, why should one read “Gaysia”?
Ans. It’s about gays! In Asia! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT.
I highly recommend Gaysia. All of you should read this book without any pre-conceived notions. More than anything else, the book is about fellow human beings and their lives.
I want to thank Benjamin for taking time out for this short interview. You can get in touch with him on twitter @MrBenjaminLaw. Gaysia has been published by Random House India is available on all the leading online portals. Do read the book.