He was a con man.
He felt like a cotton-bound paper lantern, panicking that he would be seen through at any moment, giving off, as he was, a glow of affability and affection from every pore, both tantalizing and haughty. After he’d finished a con, he gave his arrogance even freer reign, but he wasn’t normally able to trust his feelings to others. They were his private hoard, a secret love affair, delectable, but not to be shared out loud. Sometimes he felt so stifled that it was as if his insides would rip open in a roar, but then he would use a soothing motherly tone to subdue his organs, bursting as they were with pride-fed excitement, saying, Be good now, I know… but you can’t tell anyone! You can’t tell anyone! You should all be quite aware of that now, shouldn’t you!
The jubilation was like an infant wailing for its mother’s breast, making him feel like a helpless new mother cradling it closer to his chest, rocking it and saying, Don’t cry, don’t cry, come on! Let’s go for a walk to the riverside and see the rainbow. On the street he would be even more cautious, not allowing his arms to fall from his body for even an instant, for fear that the infant inside him would start to wail. Try though he might to contain himself, he wasn’t able to disguise an appearance of self-satisfied mirth and haughtiness, in the drab blur of the crowds, especially with his lantern-like translucent splendor.
His organs would be soothed by the sight of the rainbow and enter into the heavy slumber of sated beasts. However, sometimes the joy he felt was so strong, it would wake him up at night and he would break his taboo by spilling all to his beloved stuffed goose. Like tonight… he couldn’t get images of A out of his head, flowing like restless spirits struggling to emerge from within him, scattered over the countless past months, like colored flags which circle happily in the wind over time, illuminating the lantern case which shrouded him to such an extent that it was as if he would burst into flame any minute.
On nights like this he was left with no other option but to tell the story of A at length to the attentive-looking stuffed goose.
I Lie Because I Love You
He believed that A loved him. But this was the premise on which his con had been based, it was his fervent faith in love that made the con so successful. And it was love’s glamour that added mastery to the con. He was always saying: Any con that doesn’t involve love is going to be undercooked at best! He met A on a beautiful Sunday morning. That day he was walking along the outer bank of the riverside park in Sanchung close to his home as he normally did. He was very familiar with the park, it was like his own personal hunting grounds; He knew the foxholes and pheasant roosts like the back of his hand. If he stood on the river bank like a king surveying his land, no movements within his territory were able to escape his eagle-eyed gaze.
It was just in this manner that he came across A.
A was sitting on a bench by a path, wearing dark clothes and black leather shoes, making him quite conspicuous among the Sunday morning jogging crowd. His legs were crossed and he was pretending to read a magazine, but his gaze actually flitted back and forth from behind his sunglasses between the muscular bodies that passed by.
“Such easy prey is almost an insult, it can be today’s appetizer! And I don’t have any interest in gays, but… even people who love meat have to eat a vegetable or two now and then to survive,” he told himself.
After fixing his hair and unbuttoning another two buttons on his shirt, he walked towards A. He slowly swaggered past, looking him up and down casually before looking away, and he felt A’s gaze still glued to his ass, then he suddenly turned and approached him, first asking him the time, then after thanking him, asking him where the toilet was, then… “You want to show me the way?”
With such a simple maneuver, as easy as solving a third-grade mathematics problem, he managed to get A into the cubicle with him. He undid A’s fly with a practiced touch, then turned A round so his stomach was pressed against the wall. Then he pulled his trousers down the rest of the way so that his pale buttocks were exposed. He reached out to feel his ass and with his other hand he quickly swiped the money from the wallet in the trousers that had already fallen to the ground. The gesture was fluid and elegant. After doing this he said, “Sorry, I can only do it with women, next time!” A turned around and said, “Really? What the fuck? Asshole!” Then, “You already took my trousers off, so can’t I just feel you up a little?” so he let him feel his chest and his ass for a while before leaving.
He got a thrill when he found that there was more money than he’d expected, but he’d also dropped his own wallet at some point. Just as he was sulking over this the doorbell rang and he opened the door to see A standing there.
He gave a effeminate bashful grin, “Eh… After you left and I was putting my clothes on, I found your wallet on the ground. Sorry man, I must have knocked it out when I was feeling you up.”
He was stumped and didn’t know what to say. A continued,
“I tried to catch up with you, but you were walking pretty fast, I did a few loops of the path by the river, but couldn’t find you anywhere, so I had a look to see if your address was in your wallet, I didn’t touch anything else, don’t worry, have a look!”
He opened it up to see that all his ID cards and cash were still inside. A continued,
“I’m the real idiot though, I didn’t forget my wallet but I forgot to put any money in it, isn’t that a laugh! I have to go straight to work, but I guess we were fated to be friends, eh? I’m a hairdresser, this is my card, come to my salon tonight and I’ll cut your hair for free, call it a gift for a new friend.” After he finished speaking he left hurriedly, halfway down the stairwell, he turned to say, “You should come! Don’t flake on me, now!”
Despite just having met him that morning, something about the effeminate A continued to puzzle him. A didn’t belong on the riverbank, he was different from all the other souls that generally haunted it. It was like he’d surfaced from the depths or dropped out of the sky, a curious species, hard to read and definitely not one of “us”.
But what of it? He threw away the card A had given him, thinking he’d never see the womanly man ever again.
He got ready to go out, until he was looking his normal stunning self again and went to the business district near the cinema on Chunghsin Road. As he was a con man, he naturally looked down on pickpockets and muggers, as if this kind of petty crime was lacking in artistry and wasn’t suited to the cocky exterior he had forged for himself. He thought of the other petty criminals as stains on the reputation of his natural gifts. But that’s not to say he didn’t indulge in them from time to time, “… A man has got to eat, after all!” he would tell himself, to console his guilty conscience afterwards.
Except for the encounter with A, the rest of his day was unremarkable. He was almost caught outside the department store, but by a stroke of luck he hadn’t actually managed to steal anything. He was like a gambling addict, fervent in his belief that he could turn his luck around somehow, so he went to the area in front of the cinema to see if there was anything worth watching. This was the temple at which he prayed for a turnaround in his fortunes. This was also to do with the sublime reverence he had for the cinema, so he didn’t engage in any petty thievery there, no matter how hungry or thirsty he got, as if this were where the gods and Buddha interacted with man.
He bought his ticket and went to a street stall in the neighboring alley to get a snack, when his phone rang.
“Who is this?”
“It’s me, A! Why didn’t you come to get a haircut?”
He was a little taken aback that A had his phone number, had he taken it down from somewhere in his wallet?
“I’m closing my shop now, you really don’t want to let me cut your hair?”
“I just got my hair cut.”
“What are you up to now then? You want me to treat you to supper?”
“I’m just eating now actually, I’m about to go to see a film.”
“Really? I want to see a film too! What cinema are you at?”
He was a little irritated, so he hung up after telling him.
The film hadn’t started long, when A turned up and found a seat beside him. He usually watched films alone, but here was A taking the seat next to him and he’d even bought some snacks. He waved away A’s friendly offer of food in exasperation and decided to ignore A, as if the seat next to him was occupied by a stranger. When the film ended he would spell it out for him that he didn’t want to be involved with him, except that he didn’t want to cause a scene here, he wanted to maintain his dignity and grace in his temple.
The film was a recent blockbuster horror flick about a legendary monster. He did his best to ignore A and continue watching, when the film was at the halfway point, he noticed that the bag of fried food A had brought with him had dropped to the ground and that A had made no effort to pick it back up. Out of curiosity he cast a sideways glance at him, A’s whole body seemed like it had collapsed into the seat. His face looked green by the light of the silver screen and his eyes were shut tight. He didn’t understand why, but he decided to continue to ignore him and returned his eyes to the screen, only to hear A’s hushed tones calling to him: Let’s not watch, let’s leave the cinema, OK?
He didn’t make any reply.
After the film ended and people stood up and made their way out, A was still paralyzed in an odd looking heap. He became a little concerned and leaned forward to take a closer look. he saw that something that could have been tears were at the corners of his tightly shut eyes. As he stood there puzzled, A suddenly closed his mouth and stood up. He looked around a little shocked and said, “Everyone’s gone, I’m sorry, so sorry.” He stumbled past the cleaning ladies who had already come in to clean up outside.
There weren’t many people left outside the theatre, the lights facing the street gradually flicked off and the stalls that hadn’t yet left, began to shut up shop for the night. He saw that A was still supporting himself with his hand on a pillar, with his head hung like a drunkard, so he asked him if he was feeling ill. He replied that he wasn’t, that he was completely fine.
He hailed a taxi and left, but as the taxi sped off, he found himself unable to stop thinking about A, so he told the car to go back; A was still alone under the eaves of the buildings alone, but he was leaning over now, looking as if he was vomiting into the gutter. He helped A into the car and asked him where he lived. It wasn’t far, so he took A home, asking the driver to wait until A’s light went off until he left. Thinking back on this uncharacteristically kind-hearted behaviour he was a little puzzled. He thought it might have to do with the sanctified status he accorded the theatre! A was like a beggar outside a church or a temple to boost their chances of getting a handout.
“But it’s not something I do everyday. No mother fucker has ever been as nice to me in my life!” he said to himself, as a sort of epilogue to the affair.
Like being given a gift, they had no way to avoid embarking upon a life both sacred and profane
From that day onward, every con he tried to run failed to land and he couldn’t help wondering if it all had to do with A. He even started to nurse a grudge against A.
One night he was returning empty handed back home on foot, after a long time without any earnings to speak of, money for the cinema and take-away noodles had gradually run out. He never liked to take taxis due to the expense and hated the idea of riding a scooter. He felt that only tasteless scum like pickpockets or thieves would ride that kind of thing, so he’d rather walk.
That night he was walking alone along the river bank with the moon shining down on the flowing river and was reminded of a scene from his childhood. To the far right was the Taipei bridge, which hadn’t budged despite his constant unshaking gaze upon it from when he was a child. Sometimes he stared at this bridge as it aged and his heart was pained as he saw the old bridge shamed by the erection of new bridges of unknown quality, but he thought to himself that the notion of out with the old, in with the new, was characteristic of the era, true of both bridges and people, so there was no point complaining about who was to blame.
Then he gradually approached the familiar kingdom that was the riverside park, stopping to stand amid the silence of the night, breathing the icy cold air deep into his lungs, sweeping his warm motherly gaze over the park, which was sleeping sweetly like an infant… Ah! Have all the foxes and pheasants gone to their dreams?
He left the riverside park and returned to the streets and alleys in the direction of his place. From far away he could see someone standing outside his porch in the darkness. As he approached he realized it was A. It had been quite a while since they’d seen each other. When he saw him coming, A’s face lit up, and he said:
“Shit, I’ve been waiting for you long enough!”
He stopped cautiously in his tracks, With a suspicious expression on his face, as if to say “What are you at? ”
“It’s like this, you were so good to me that one time and I didn’t quite know how to repay you, so when I closed up tonight I thought to myself, I must come to see you, And I thought I may as well bring you some supper.”
His mind was spinning, trying to work out why A kept on coming back time after time, stunned at the way this fish fell for the same lure over and over; but he was hungry for some supper tonight, and A, the fish that came back for the same bait, might even have been heaven sent, rain clouds over a parched plain!
After going inside, A poked through the pots and pans to find something to warm up the food he’d brought, making himself at home, complaining:
“I waited so long that the food went cold and my feet almost went numb”
Without taking any notice he took off his clothes, took one of the beers that A had brought with him and sat on the sofa looking on coldly as A busied himself in the kitchen, and he couldn’t help but wonder why A had come back on his own initiative.
Later he asked A, who replied:
“There was no reason, I just wanted to, even if you cheated me to my death, I’d still be willing to come back.”
The whole story behind this he was never able to understand.
It was quiet while they were eating. A would glance left and right from time to time saying:
“I never thought a guy like you would live in an apartment like this, cleaner and tidier than your average woman could get it!”
After they’d finished the food and the beer, A suddenly fished in his trouser pocket in a fluster, muttering:
“Bugger, bugger, I’ve forgotten my key again, looks like I’ll have to stay at a hostel again.” Then he fished out his wallet, patting his chest saying: Lucky I brought enough money out with me.
He instinctively took this all in, believing that after the bad luck the heavens had cursed him with for so many days, he was at last being given some good luck, so he said:
“You don’t need to go to a hostel, you can just sleep with me.” He turned off all the lights before bed.
The next day, while A went to the bathroom to shower, He counted all the money in A’s wallet, dividing it into two, putting half back and keeping the other half.
They continued this life of both intimacy and distance.
A normally came with supper after closing his shop several nights a week, and would always stay the night. He was a little perplexed that he slipped into this habit so easily, but then he would tell himself: A isn’t actually a man, he is a woman; I’m a con artist and he is my mark. We are two vital characters playing our roles on the stage, which was even more important than who was the man and who was the woman.
When A was off work, they would go to eat at the street market, then watch a movie together. A would occasionally stretch out his hand to hold him in the street, and he would allow A to walk hand-in-hand with him in front of others, but would quickly find an excuse to let go. After watching a film, A would normally be determined to go home with him, and to cook him a nice meal, as if he was hinting at this being evidence that this was their home together, Insisting too on doing his laundry for him, as well as ironing it and polishing his shoes, because he was keenly aware that his handsome and charming appearance was the source of his pride and evidence of his ability to survive in society. He, on the other hand, was a little indifferent in his acceptance of all this good luck, and didn’t make any special effort to change his way of life, still going every day to the business district around Chonghsin Road to search for marks. He felt he resembled a fire eater, that fire eating was his real raison d’être, the cheering and gifts from the audience were just something that inevitably came along with it. With or without an audience, however, he would still feel compelled to perform his fire eating act with the normal grace. Whenever he had periods when he couldn’t make ends meet, he would take money directly from A’s wallet and this became more and more frequent, although he knew this wouldn’t last for ever, that perhaps it was time to plan a bigger con for A, as they couldn’t just go on like this with no endpoint in mind!
A would ask him what it was he actually did for a living.
He would say: “To tell you the truth, I’m in a gang, you should keep your distance from me, so you are not caught up in things you might just deserve, should anything happen.”
He thought A would be frightened, but A just continue to interrogate him, asking:
“Really? How fucked up, and how do you gang members earn money anyway?”
“Didn’t you hear me say you should keep your distance and stop interfering? What’s it got to do with you how I earn my money? I don’t care how you go about cutting hair, do I? Can’t you just stop sticking your nose in and back off!”
I am leaving you because I don’t want to continue hoarding up our happiness
There was an old photograph of a singer stuck in A’s wallet. He had seen it before, but he had never asked before about it. One time he asked:
“Who is she?”
“Jan Hsiao-ling. I became a fan of hers when I saw her perform on TV when I was five. I decided then that she was the love of my life.”
“So you love woman too then?”
A stared at him, seemingly unsure of what he was trying to say:
“It’s not the same, it’s completely different. Jan Hsiao-ling is not — a woman, she is such a beautiful, beautiful person.”
On hearing A say this, a strange feeling of jealousy arose in him, and he said, “She doesn’t look so pretty, and such a dated style!”
As he’d predicted, A didn’t talk to him for half a day out of anger.
His career as a con artist was becoming less and less profitable, so he decided to take his chances by leaving Sanchung to try and break the big city, with the wild ambition of a singer or a musician. But, at the same time, he had a vague awareness that all this was due to his fading looks and failing charm, Terror surged within him whenever he inspected himself in the mirror by himself, and saw the crows feet gradually wearing on the skin around his eyes. In private, he considered just sticking with A for life, growing old together with him. But he knew deep down that he’d been born a fire eater and would always feel most at home in the streets and alleys around temples, with a flood of strangers passing by! Despite the sweetness of each day spent together with A, he always felt a creeping uneasiness which made him want to leave, “… It’s my fate to steer my own course in life alone to the end,” he always concluded.
Sometimes he would go out for a few days, and when A asked, he would tell him that he’d gone down with the head of his gang to sort out some business in South and Central Taiwan and that, of course, he couldn’t go into the details. This air of mystery and sense of displacement in time and space, gradually hooked A’s concerns. This mood peaked on his return from a trip to Tounan temple which had gone wrong and resulted in him being badly beaten. A patched his bruises, crying in silence, then suddenly he threw the entire first-aid kit at the wall, howling in broken tones:
“Do you have to do this to me? Can’t you just stop doing dangerous things? What’s the point in me taking such care to look after you? Just for it to go to waste in one beating?”
Maybe it was because he was moved, but he almost spat out everything to A from start to finish. He wanted A to know that conning people could be a high art. To perfect this beauty, going through a bit of trouble and being hit by wave after wave of torture was worth it. But, in the end, he kept it in, given that he knew in his heart the reality that they would end up going their separate ways, so he just promised again and again that it wouldn’t happen again. But after that day he deliberately increased the frequency and length of his time away and was well aware of the resulting fall in A’s mood. He told himself that the game would inevitably have to get going sooner or later.
One time he left for almost a week without giving any word and deliberately turned off his phone so he could not be contacted. He then hid in the dark to spy on A several times while he was leaving his store, watching his wan figure as he rode his motorcycle into the dark of the night. In the end he called A to tell him he was in the South and had gotten into big trouble. He said he wanted to get out of the business; that he was getting older and wanted to settle down, but that they wouldn’t let him go; that they’d cultivated him for so long, and that it wasn’t as easy as quitting whenever he wanted to. They wouldn’t let him go without 1 million.
“1 million! Shit! How are you going to get that much money together?”
“You have to help me think of something, it is because of you but I decided to quit this business, no?”
Then he hung up.
The next time he called he asked A directly what was going on. A just sighed without saying anything.
“Can’t you get money from that rotating saving association you are in? Take out the money now, and after I’ll find a proper job, then we can save up money to pay it off, then we can keep saving money to buy a house and live together forever.”
“Even if I did take out all the money I could, it would still not be enough!”
“Then take out 500,000 first, I will tell them that I’ll give them the other 500,000 later!”
And just like that, they slipped back into the rhythm of their previous peaceful life together after weathering a big storm. He had an inkling that there had been some subtle change in A, because although he himself had gradually gotten used to spending time together with A as if they were in love, he had to keep reminding himself that every con must come to an end.
“However beautifully formed a con might be, like a great film, the audience need an ending” he thought, a little wistfully. The following day he went out to buy a pair of gold Dragon Phoenix rings, taking them out before they went to sleep and putting one on A’s finger and one on his own. A started crying, and suddenly, for the first time, he felt like crying with him, so he hurriedly turned off the lights and went to sleep.
A few days later he told A that he had to go on a trip to Taichung, as the boss needed to clarify something with him. A grief stricken expression revealed itself on A’s face, but he just raised his hand to rub the finger on which he wore the ring, telling him to remember to always wear the ring:
“No matter what happens, neither of us can take them off.”
Two days later he called A, pretending to be somebody else. He quickly explained that because he hadn’t been able to return the money to the boss, he would have to compensate:
“Whether it’s with his body, property or his life, compensation must be given.” Adding:
“Clear out everything you have, if you don’t clear everything, you have no one left to blame. You should pretend he’s already dead, it would be better if you pretend that you never met him.”
A just said quietly on the other end of the phone:
“Tell him that I consider him dead, completely dead to me.”
This stunned him, and he suddenly recalled a conversation they had had about who would die first, wherein he had thought to scare A for a laugh, saying:
“If I die before you, I’ll come back to take you with me.”
“Creepy, no thanks! No thanks!”
“If you don’t come with me, you’ll just spend the rest of your life heartbroken?”
“Who says I’ll be heartbroken? If you want to die, I’ll forget you just like that, and then I’ll go and be your boss’ bitch. I don’t need to take his name, but being with the boss is always better than being with a two-bit gangster with no prospects like you any day!”
He had just laughed, ha ha.
Flowers in a vase do not know the pain of leaving the branch (Goodbye! Goodbye!)
That night, while the goose listened to him with the intense loyalty of a lover, he related the story of he and A from start to finish, as if relishing a glorious victory. The goose seemed to tilt his head, as if asking:
“So you don’t miss him at all?”
After that day he made a disappearing act, wiping out all trace of his life there, and never saw A again. However, it was not quite true to say that, just like that, A disappeared from his mind. A was a ghostly presence that could resurface at anytime, forcing him to try his best to contain it, like some sort of curse, as if letting his guard down for a moment would render him helpless in preventing A from taking form.
Tonight, however, in the face of the question posed by the goose, his fortified defenses instantly collapsed in. Images of A swarmed through his room unbridled and persistent; some mocking his weakness; some attempting to seduce him; some ignoring him in petulant anger; he twisted and turned amid the images of A, failing to get a wink of sleep all night. Seeking atonement, he swore that on the morning of the next day he would go back to the salon to find A and tell A honestly that he was a con man!
At nine the next morning he had already made his way to the salon, in which he’d never set foot before. The shop-girl cleaning up raised her head inquisitively as he entered. He asked if A was there.
“You’re still looking for him now, eh? He’s long gone, probably to Hawaii or somewhere like that. Did you lose money to him as well? There have been so many of you that I’ve never seen before coming up and asking for him, but it’s a little late! Who would’ve thought it… A few million wasn’t it! It’s scary to think. Luckily I only lost just over 60,000 to him. You’d never have thought he was so cunning, he was normally so nice, you’d never have realized that he was such a natural con artist!”
He didn’t say a word, and walked towards the wall where there was a half-length poster of Jan Hsiao-ling. The shop-girl said:
“That poster used to be his pride and joy. The day before everyone found out that the salon had been secretly going under, he came in here like nothing was wrong with a black American friend to get some stuff. I’m almost sure that he just taken it up with the black guy. They must have run off together with the money. That day he stood where you are standing now looking at the poster, as if considering whether or not to take it with him. If you like it you can take it, the new boss thinks the post is really dated and makes us look out of touch.”
He walked closer, and saw that on the bottom left corner of the poster, someone had scrawled a few lines of messy characters with a pencil, reading: I told you long ago, I would have been willing for you to cheat me to death, but you are just a two-bit gangster, you didn’t have the skill to cheat me to death. Unless you’ve become a boss, you may as well be dead, so don’t come and find me. On the far right side of the poster there were more words that he was unsure were related: Goodbye! Goodbye!
He tore down the poster, scrunched it up in a ball, and threw it away as he left the salon. Then he wandered aimlessly into the vast waste ground beside the riverside path that served as his back garden. It had been so long since he’d come up here. He surveyed the turbid waves rising on the yellow water of the river, while in the distance traffic and pedestrians on Taipei bridge bustled onward as busy as ever. After his long absence, he tentatively peered about to see if the foxes and the pheasants too had quietly moved their burrows and nests just like he and A.
He continued onward towards the river bank, thinking of A telling him that he was just a two-bit gangster with no prospects, thinking that if he’d really started from the bottom in a gang, would he ever really have been able to become a boss? And if he’d really become a boss, would A have been like a fish, swimming back upstream towards him from the open ocean?
He took off the gold Phoenix and Dragon ring that was locked around the ring finger of his left hand, thinking back to that night when the two of them had nearly shed tears together and he was suddenly unable to hold his tears back. The sound was drowned out by the endless torrent of the river’s current; He was worried that someone would see his pathetic tear-stained face, so he lowered his body and skimmed the ring across the surface of the water, pretending it was a piece of rock. The ring glimmered with flashes of gold prettily over the surface of the water. As if by appointment, a bright rainbow towered in the clear blue sky over Taipei, on the opposite bank of the Tamsui river. The stealthy pheasants and the foxes, normally hidden from each other’s view, as if in celebration, suddenly scurried and flew out of their hiding places, scattering his flickering white lantern body to the wind, floating above the narrow channel of the river. One of the pheasants that soared away from him, endlessly called out, “Con man! Con man! Con man! Con man!” in a resonant and mournful bird call!
(Artwork by Arvid Torres; Translation by Conor Stuart; Original Story by Roan Ching-yue)
Roan Ching-yue is an architecture professor in Taiwan and has written several stories featuring gay themes, including his debut full-length novel Revisiting the White Bridge (《重見白橋》(2002)), which I’ve recently finished reading and will be publishing a review on in the near future. Roan also translated Jean Genet’s Notre Dame des Fleurs/Our Lady of Flowers into Chinese, and Genet’s focus on the marginalized and shame is clearly an influence on Roan’s work.
The original Chinese version of this story was published in the short story collection City of Tears (《哭泣哭泣城》(2002)) from which ‘Pretty Boy from Hanoi’ was also taken. This story was also collected in A Selection of Gay Short Stories from Taiwan (《臺灣同志小說選》) edited by Chu Wei-cheng (朱偉誠). Chu has praised Roan’s work due to its effort to focus on stories of non-elite men who have sex with men, in contrast to middle and upper middle class elites generally identifying as gay men, who dominate in more mainstream gay literature and film. Not everyone is so eager to praise Roan, however, as Chengchi University professor Chi Da-wei (紀大偉）hints in his brief review:
(My translation) The con man of the title can be interpreted as referring to the author himself, as the story all comes from his attempt to con us. Perhaps every glimpse we get of the marginalized in society in the story is just a con artist’s sleight of hand at work.
Chi appears to be hinting at the disingenuousness of an (unapologetically) upper-middle class gay writer like Roan Ching-yue writing about a socially marginalized, sexually ambiguous man like the protagonist of this short story, suggesting a form of cultural appropriation. I didn’t find anything disingenuous about Roan’s writing, however, and it is one of the few pieces of gay literature from Taiwan that has really engaged me (with the notable exceptions of Chu Tien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man《荒人手記》- which is focused almost exclusively on the upper middle class experience of homosexuality and Pai Hsien-yung’s Crystal Boys (《孽子》). Chi points to the fate of the protagonist and how he’s portrayed as a “raving fantasist” (夢囈妄想者), but he doesn’t address the treatment of A, who also seems to be from a similar class as the protagonist. Roan has also pointed out in his defense, however, that you don’t need to be marginalized to write about the marginalized – as his voice seems to be one of the few voices addressing these men’s experiences.