Surprisingly, the biggest wig reveal of 2018 did not come from the 10th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In fact, it occurred on an Asian television show, and made waves online when an episode trailer was released last Friday.
In a stunning turn of events on “The Bachelor Vietnam,” 20-year-old contestant Minh Thu confessed her love — not for the actual bachelor, but for fellow competitor Truc Nhu during a rose ceremony. Both women left the set after Truc Nhu’s tearful confrontation with bachelor Quoc Trung.
“I went into this competition to find love, but I’ve found that love for myself,” Minh Thu, who had just been eliminated, proclaimed. “It’s not you.It’s someone else.”
While Truc Nhu decided to remain on the show after an off-screen meeting with Quoc Trung, the tender moment between the two female contestants went viral and led to hundreds of media headlines, with commenters praising showrunners for putting the moment on air.
As an American viewer, it was astonishing to think that a Vietnamese reality show would even dare to air such an event on national television. After all, social media users still go crazy when American celebrities publicly come out. I spent the entire week trying to formulate an opinion on the whole ordeal. Was that moment a sign of progress for LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam? Or was it merely a publicity stunt?
According to Vietnamese news outlet Zing, The New York Times and some of my Vietnamese cousins (just to triple-check), the narrative surrounding the iconic television moment was quite different; in fact, most outlets in Vietnam were reporting more about global reactions to the video than about the video itself.
While this initially surprised me, I realized that maybe there is a reason why the Vietnamese media reacted so differently compared to American outlets like NextShark, Buzzfeed and CNN, which catapulted the clip into a global viral sensation. After doing some personal reflection, I came to understand that Minh Thu’s confession of love wasn’t so much of a shock to Vietnamese viewers as it was to the rest of the world.
It may be as simple as this: Vietnamese people’s perception of the LGBTQ+ community and same-sex relationships is not as conservative as the Western world believes it to be.
As with so many other queer people, I spent most of my teenage years seeking self-acceptance and self-love, and one of the ways I did so was by watching TV shows and movies with queer narratives.
I recall spending many late evenings as a 16-year-old, hunched over my computer screen watching movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk” — my guilty pleasures. I would make sure to lock the door so my parents wouldn’t walk in on me crying (or watching a scene of two men having sex). And while I thoroughly enjoyed watching every work I scoured the internet for, it was the Asian movies I consumed that allowed me to truly connect my sexuality with my Asian identity.
One of them is “Love of Siam,” a film that I have seen at least 10 times since I first watched it as a shy, inexperienced twink. The Thai feature, which came out in 2007, is a poignant love story between two high school-aged boys who reconnect after being separated as childhood friends. As with the endings of many gay films, Mew and Tong’s romance was tragic, but not in the same way as that of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain.” The most tear-inducing moment in “Love of Siam” comes at the very end when Tong says to Mew: “I can’t be your boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
Another film is the 2011 Vietnamese drama “Lost in Paradise,” which recounts the experiences of three gay men: Khoi, Lam and Dong. Set in Ho Chi Minh City, “Lost in Paradise” explores various facets of homosexuality in the face of cultural conservatism and other societal issues, such as prostitution and gang violence.
These two groundbreaking Southeast Asian films allowed me to understand my identity as a young, queer Asian person through a different lens. Both of them were much more about coming of age than they were about tragic endings — the most problematic aspect of American works featuring LGBTQ+ characters. In the same vein, I would argue that Asian media in the late 2000s and early 2010s was much more nuanced than Western media at the time.
Going back to the iconic moment on this week’s episode of “The Bachelor Vietnam,” maybe watching Minh Thu proclaim her love for Truc Nhu wasn’t all so earth-shattering for Vietnamese audiences because same-sex relationships aren’t as stigmatized in Vietnam as the Western world often thinks they are.
It isn’t so surprising either when you look at legislation passed in the last couple years. In 2014, the Southeast Asian country abolished laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. And in 2015, Vietnamese lawmakers finally allowed people with gender reassignment surgery to reclassify as their new gender on legal documents. While social stigmas against the LGBTQ+ community still exist, Vietnam’s government is making healthy strides toward equality through legislative reform.
This week’s episode of “The Bachelor Vietnam” shattered long-held stereotypes about the “supposedly backwards” Eastern world, and educated me as a Vietnamese American, about the contextual analysis necessary to buy into commonly held narratives about queer people.
It’s time we stop placing shock value on queer relationships, and arbitrarily labeling queerness as a binary between Eastern and Western perspectives.
Allen Pham is a senior majoring in public relations. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Writing Rainbow,” runs every other Friday.