May 08, 2020
Taiwan’s Wonder Bar: Claiming Space for Asia's Queer Women

This women-focused bar provides a rare haven for queer women in Taipei.

by Antonia Timmerman
English
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Taiwan is a safe haven for queer Asians and is long celebrated for having one of the most vibrant LGBTQ scenes in the continent. But, as with other well-known LGBTQ-friendly countries like Thailand, the Philippines, or Japan, Taiwan’s most visible queer spaces are often those centering on gay men.

If one walked along the large outdoor complex of Taipei’s Red House district, where giant rainbow flags hang on the walls of shops and restaurants, then they would be walking among dozens and dozens of (mostly cis) male customers sitting in groups or with their partners.

While both gay men and lesbian women - and everyone in between or outside the brackets - fight together against discrimination and prejudice, it’s still a little more difficult for travelling queer women to find a space that specifically caters to them.

That is why discovering women-focused Wonder Bar & Lounge, which was opened to public in September 2018, was especially exciting.

Wonder Bar is located on a quieter side of the road of Xinyi District. There are no rainbow flags visible from the outside. Only a “W” logo-sign on the wall above the head. When one passes through the glass front door, they are suddenly inside a living room-like lobby. It takes a few seconds for people to realize they must push the frame-decorated “wall” to get inside.

It feels like stepping into a secret queer world. Now you can see rainbows everywhere. There’s a shelf of information brochures about all the gay and lesbian venues and events in Taiwan. On the wall, a series of post-it-note forms some kind of a rainbow shrine, adorned with instant photos of women kissing.

Once guests take these in, Wonder Bar’s all-female bartenders and crew will greet and lead them to their seats.

Although owned, operated and maintained by women, and with a reputation as “the” lesbian lounge in Taipei, Wonder Bar tries to keep itself as inclusive as possible.

“It’s for LGBTQs, so it’s for everyone,” Mo Yang, 29, co-owner of Wonder Bar said.

Still, most of the crowd are women. It is visibly a women-friendly space.

The drink prices are a little expensive, but no more than a regular cocktail bar. Wonder Bar’s cocktails selection covers the classics like Old Fashioned and Sex on the Beach. But you can also order your own by choosing a base and telling the bartender your favorite flavor so she can mix a special drink for you.

After getting me a cold beer (Leffe), Yang described how Wonder Bar came to life. She had just returned to Taiwan from her study in the United States when she noticed how limited lesbian spaces were. There was only one other venue at the time, Taboo, which is a lesbian night club. Taboo is perhaps the longest-standing lesbian venue in Taiwan so far. Going dancing is always fun, but sometimes people also want to have a relaxed conversation over some drinks.

Yang then found a partner, Tina Wu, to start the Wonder Bar business together. Once it’s up and running, Yang then became the main person-in-charge and face of the bar.

Running a bar is hard, Yang said. And a lesbian bar, too!

“I think most lesbians, when they are in a relationship, they just don’t go outside. They just drink at home,” Yang said. We laughed because it’s true. Gay men love partying, while lesbians go out once a year for the Pride Parade, we joked. 

Last year, Wonder Bar partnered with lesbian lifestyle brand Lez’s Meeting to organize a parade after-party. It was an especially festive occasion to celebrate Taiwan’s finally legalizing same-sex marriage. 

Looking around Wonder Bar, one could get a glimpse of Taiwan’s lesbian culture. Short-haired T’s, Taiwanese code for ‘tomboys’, and long-haired P’s, or feminine lesbians, often pair up and sit together. This had been the norm in Taiwan – and perhaps in much of Asia too – for a long time.

But now, things are changing. More and more younger queers realize they don’t always have to appear either masculine or feminine, they can be none or both in whatever order, and they can pair up with anyone with whatever gender expression. Yang identifies herself as the new generation of H’s, people who are neither too feminine or too masculine.

Eighteen months after it started operation, Wonder Bar is still the only lesbian lounge in Taipei. Yang said she would love to see more lesbian-friendly spaces in Taiwan.

“I think we need more competition. Good competition, that is. Also, it would be good if people travelling to Taiwan could find more of this kind of bars,” she said.

Queer spaces - both online and offline - indeed play an important role in establishing an international network of LGBTQ people. To stand in solidarity together, it’s important to understand each other’s culture and plights.

Find Wonder Bar on Instagram.

Antonia Timmerman is a financial reporter based in Taipei. She is originally from Indonesia. When she is not writing about finance, she likes to watch Netflix, learn Mandarin, riding bicycle, and writing anything that she can think of about gender and politics.