In Taiwan, some men are casting their wishes for the perfect partner at a temple dedicated to the Rabbit God.
A young man sporting a rainbow pendant stands before the altar of the Wei-ming temple on the outskirts of Taipei, holding aloft a box full of prayers written on pieces of paper.
A priest sets the box ablaze, reciting Taoist chants as it burns to ashes. Flames leap up in quick bursts, an apparent sign that the Rabbit God has received his adherent’s petitions.
Wei-ming temple is a house of Taoist worship with a twist – almost all of its congregants are gay. The shrine, down a narrow alleyway in a bustling district of New Taipei City, is dedicated to a deity who has watched over homosexuals for four centuries.
“In Chinese history, ‘rabbit’ was a derogatory term for homosexuals,” says Lu Wei-ming, who founded the temple in 2006, at a time gays were excluded from most religious ceremonies.
Lu, who has taken a vow of celibacy and declined to answer questions about his sexuality, says he wants to create a welcoming environment for a flock that has long been ostracised.
“This was a group with no one to look after them, and I wanted to fill that void,” says the 28-year-old priest, adding that Wei-ming is the world’s only shrine for homosexuals.
Initiation over, Lu pours a small cup of rice wine on the smouldering ashes of the devotee’s prayers. “Rabbit God loves this kind of liquor,” he says.
Pleasing the deity may lead to a match made in heaven. The nearly 9,000 people who seek Lu’s counsel each year have one common goal – to find a suitable partner. An expert on Taiwanese culture says it’s a Taoist precept to beseech the gods for a lover, but not usually of the same sex.
“What’s interesting about this temple is that sexuality is particularly marked,” says DJ Hatfield, a visiting scholar at Taiwan’s National Taitung University. “It signifies that there’s an emerging public space for queer people in Taiwan.”
Liberal attitudes have led to wider acceptance in the island nation, with Taiwan’s parliament debating a bill that could make it Asia’s first country to legalise same-sex marriage. – Reuters