The New Face(book) of Vietnam

Tony (left) and Trung bring gay Saigon the monthly "Bitch Party."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Everyone knows that social networking is reshaping the planet. And there are countless stories about how social networks like Facebook, Twitter and others are creating social change, communities where none previously existed and even sparking revolutions.

This is an emerging story that has not made headlines but is a special one for me.

For some time, Vietnamese whose families fled their native land in the diaspora following the 1975 fall of Saigon, have been connecting on Facebook. In fact, a group called the One Vietnam Network started on Facebook as a group and then grew into a Ford Foundation-funded organization at onevietnam.org. The group allows Vietnamese expats to connect to help build their homeland.

And now, another group of Vietnamese are connecting: The country’s heretofore closeted gays and lesbians.

Quietly, their network has grown more and more connected, as one-by-one they have “friended” one another. And the network has grown beyond the homeland, as young gays are connecting with other Vietnamese gays in the United States and Europe. Through these connections, as well as other media, gays in Vietnam are exposed to the advances and developments of communities in other countries.

Now enter Huynh Trung and Ho Ngoc Thach (Tony).

These two young men are writing some gay history in their country — and taking some risks. They are the sponsors of Saigon’s monthly “Bitch Party,” a cabaret-style evening of drag shows, music and a bit of dancing. I met Trung and Tony on a recent weekday evening for coffee to ask if I might photograph the party that was to be held on Friday.

Trung started Bitch Party a little over a year ago and then asked Tony to be his business partner. In addition to providing gays and lesbians with a place to socialize and build on their sense of community, the two men say Bitch Party has a social mission: They want to raise the profile of gay people in their society.

“We want people to see that gay people are normal,” said Tony. So far, the police have not shown up to harass party goers as they did at other similar events in years past. And there are other signs officials are becoming more tolerant. The government recently allowed an exhibition of photographs called “Gay Life” to tour the major universities. And Vietnam not long ago recognized its first same-sex domestic partner of a diplomat with an official diplomatic visa.

Indeed, Trung and Tony are on the cutting edge of social change. Many Vietnamese still view gays as being comical and blackmail is not uncommon. Young gays remain reluctant to come out to their families and it is even more difficult to be open about their sexual orientation in the workplace.

I hit it off with Trung and Tony, and they promise me VIP treatment at the party. And they deliver on their promise as warm and generous hosts.

The party is held at a downtown club called The Factory, which lives up to its name with exposed ceilings and metal work. Attendees buy tickets and reserve standing cocktail tables. The club brings trays of cut-up fruit to the tables, as well as beer, Orangina, vodka and ice. And hey, Orangina and vodka is pretty tasty!

As it turns out, Trung is one of the performers. And when he emerges on stage in full, flaming red drag the crowd roars with approval, an outpouring of affection that is clear in any language. He has earned status as a local hero. And when Trung launches into a lip-synch of a popular Vietnamese tune about a Chinese princess, his fans shake the building.

One of those fans at the edge of the stage is a Vietnamese man who goes by the English name Ricky. He invited a female friend for the evening who brought her straight boyfriend. Ricky seems pleased that his straight friends are attending: “I want them to see that we’re normal. We come here, have drinks, listen to music and dance, just like everyone else.”

I spend some of the evening shooting photos, including some of Trung and Tony together for my Vietnam Unexpected project. After the photos are done, I kick back and enjoy some of the Organia and vodka and watch the dancing and celebrating as the show ends and the club music begins.

Tonight I have met some new friends and have seen some brave souls taking some risks and creating a better life for themselves and for their country. It’s a great photographic and personal experience. Thanks, Trung and Tony!

Trung, in full performance drag, belts out a popular tune…

…and his fans go a bit crazy.

Tony and Trung after the performance.

Trung mixes it up with his fans after his on-stage appearance.

Trung has some competition from the lady in white.

OK, we get it, you guys workout.

There are lots of smiles at the "Bitch Party."

Party time means good times with friends. Orangina and vodka? Yeah! It's great.

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One Response to The New Face(book) of Vietnam

  1. Trung says:

    Thank you so much. It s such a pleasure to have you here at my BITCH party. A Wonderful opportunity to have our fabulous picture taken by you. We are always welcome you back here anytime.

    For the BITCH team. thank you again . Hope you had a wonderful experience and nice trip in Saigon !

    Trung
    BITCH
    bitchpartysaigon.com

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