526, a photographer who lives in Taipei, didn’t come out to his parents until he was practically an adult. “When I was in middle school, I tried to ask my mother tentatively, if I was gay what would she think,” he tells Out. “She screamed ‘Absolutely not! If you are, then you will cut off our relationship!;” And though he didn’t blame his mother for the response, as it was quite a traditional response, he kept his secret through middle school, high school, university, graduate school, and through mandatory military service. And then, randomly, his mother changed.
“I was eating with my mother [one weekend] and she told me that she had recently heard a speech from a gay organization,” 526 says. “After listening, she found that she had so many misunderstands: LGBTQ+ people are also people and they suffer because of their family’s incomprehension and the misfortune caused by social pressure.” The conversation led to the image maker’s own coming out, to his mother, the rest of his family, and his friends. It led to a new chapter of his life.
Now, 526 helps others tell their stories. Through his writing and photography featured in publications like Vogue Taiwan, he helps other queer and trans folks be seen. In his series “Rainbow in the Room,” he shows them, mostly in their own bedrooms.
“I really hope to inspire people around the world, to evoke empathy!” he says. “I actually created this project for homophobic and straight people as I hope they can understand LGBTQ+ people are humans too. We have joy, sorrow and dreams — no different from anyone else.”
Before I started doing photography, I had another English pen name "kowei" for my illustrations but it's a little bit hard to pronounce correctly in Asia. I wanted something easy for anyone. The pronunciation of "526 (five two six)" in English is the same as "five to six", which has the meaning of evolution and change. That fits the concept that I’m addressing in my work: to break boundaries, to awaken the community and show it's okay to be different! 526 is also my birthday, May 26th.
Very few of them are people I know — most are strangers who I found via social media.I would come across people that I would like, message them, and then travel to wherever they were.
There’s a boy who wears cosmetics, a young lesbian actress, a beautiful trans person, a New Zealand teacher came to Taiwan and became a cool drag queen, a shy girl who plays guitar and sings but has aphasia and more. I'm thankful for their trust and I think their stories are encouraging to other people.
In Taipei, you can see same-sex couples holding hands on the street which is a good sign. We also just had the first East Asian transgender parade here, organized by Taiwan Tongzhi ( LGBTQ) Hotline Association. There’s also a gay parade and clubs, art/underground events. Taipei is definitely a fast-growing city in Asia!
I believe Taipei and Bangkok are the most gay-friendly Asia cities nowadays, and Taiwan has just legalized gay-marriage in 2019 before anyone else in Asia.. But just like other places, there's always homophobic people. An elementary young boy named Yeh Yong-zi even died from bullying in 2000. This year, the Taiwanese pop singer Jolin Tsai released "Womxnly" which was inspired by the boy. The song won "The Song of The Year" at the Golden Melody Award.
I’ve found that people easily fall into stereotypes or misunderstanding when they don’t know things.
I assume elder people here are still unfamiliar with transgender community and drag queens — I was not so clear about the differences of transgender and drag queens before I started this project.. Each time I shoot something it’s fun and educational for me and my readers.