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A gay pride parade in Hanoi in 2012
A gay love story

in VIET NAM, 28/02/2014

Once upon a very recent time, there was a fiftyish woman who lived in the highlands of central Vietnam. Our heroine had never been married and, to anyone’s knowledge, had never felt the yearning of romance. In another time, in another country, she might have been called “an old maid.”

Then through the miracle of the Internet she formed an unlikely friendship across the ocean with a Viet Kieu who, like her, was middle aged and never married. Their contact – by email, by phone – grew more intense, evolving into courtship. The pull was so strong that the Viet Kieu traveled across the ocean and the bond only grew stronger. They moved into together and lived happily ever – well, for a few weeks longer, until our heroine’s brother threw a fit. Two women, he figured, just aren’t supposed to fall in love with each other.

A few months ago, a US newspaper asked me to write a commentary about how Vietnamese authorities were considering the question of same-sex union. Nobody expected a quick change but the debate itself was considered a bold step forward. But a visit from one of my wife’s old friends – call him Tam – reminded me that progress is slow.

Tam told us about the star-crossed lovers in the highlands. He knows the story well because his sister is the Viet Kieu who came so far to find love and instead became the pivotal figure in a family drama. Why, I wondered, would the middle-aged woman’s brother decide that his sense of morality trump his sister’s freedom and happiness? (I was fleetingly reminded of the brother in a famous Vietnamese novel who ruins his sister’s life, and thus his niece’s, because he hated her husband as a matter of political doctrine. And yet the sister and niece remain loyal as a matter of family duty.)

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