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Will the Banana Fever Usher in an Era of Full Equality? Nymphia Wind’s Victory and Taiwan’s Human Rights Record

What is happening?

Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind made global headlines when she was crowned the winner of Season 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a long-running, Emmy-award-winning US reality show. A significant pop culture event, the victory of Nymphia Wind—whose rise in popularity has been tagged as “Banana Fever”—has also bolstered Taiwan’s reputation as one of the most progressive countries in Asia. The coronated drag queen dedicated her victory to Taiwan (proclaiming: “Taiwan, this is for you!”) and won praise from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the incoming Vice-President Bi-Khim Hsiao (蕭美琴). Taiwan has long sought to project “pink soft power,” or reputationally capitalize on its strong record of LGBTQI+ inclusion and status as the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. At the same time, full LGBTQI+ equality in Taiwan remains an unfinished business, so Nymphia Wind’s success provides an opportunity to interrogate outstanding human rights issues that the island nation has yet to resolve.

 

What is the broader picture?

From their representation in Zero Chou’s (周美玲) films through gender-inclusive beauty pageants for migrant workers to well-attended performances at venues near Taipei’s renowned Red House, Taiwan’s drag scene has gradually cemented its position as a cornerstone of contemporary Taiwanese culture. This is a testament to the tremendous social transformation that occurred in Taiwan in parallel to the country’s democratization. While the queer community experienced profound suppression during the White Terror era, Taiwan evolved into one of the most inclusive countries in Asia, with the majority of the population supporting same-sex marriage and some family rights of LGBTQI+ people. At the same time, there are outstanding challenges to full equality of the LGBTQI+ community, including transgender rights.

Non-binary and transgender individuals continue to face obstacles in legal gender recognition. According to administrative order No. 0970066240 issued by the Ministry of Interior in 2008, individuals applying to change their legal gender marker are required to undergo mental evaluation by two psychiatrists and present medical documentation confirming the completion of reproductive organ removal surgery. These requirements pose considerable barriers to obtaining legal gender recognition. Additionally, Taiwan does not currently recognize non-binary gender markers like X.

LGBTQI+ inclusion is not merely a domestic issue, as it remains an important area of cooperation between Taiwan and the European Union. Between 2019 and 2023, both sides implemented the EU-Taiwan Gender Equality Cooperation and Training Framework (GECTF), which facilitated intersectoral cooperation between European and Asian stakeholders working together to promote LGBTQI+ rights, advocate for marriage equality policy, foster multi-gender and anti-discrimination strategies, address obstacles and future development of transgender and intersex rights as well as interrogate emerging challenges to LGBTQI+ anti-discrimination policy. Individual member states also actively support LGBTQI+ advocacy in Taiwan – for example, the Netherlands Office Taipei invited Miss International Queen Solange Dekker to participate in the 2023 annual Taiwan Trans March to express the Netherlands’ solidarity with the global transgender community.

 

Why does it matter?

Despite its “absurd” international status, Taiwan has been able to foster substantial albeit informal ties with global partners through normative appeals. For example, the European Union recognizes Taiwan as a like-minded partner that “shares the value of human rights.” It is thus imperative that the nation does not rest on its laurels when it comes to improving its human rights situation. Addressing the outstanding issues of concern, including those related to LGBTQI+ inclusion, should be driven not only by normative appeals but also pragmatic considerations related to Taiwan’s quest to broaden its international space.