GagaOOLala, Asia’s first LGBT-focused streaming platform, has launched worldwide. We spoke to founder Jay Lin about queer representation in Asia.
Launched in 2017, GagaOOLala is a Taiwan-based streaming service that offers exclusively LGBT+ themed content. Dubbed the ‘gay Netflix’, its name combines the Chinese slang words for gay (gaga) and lesbian (lala), and stands for the spirit of the platform: a service for gays, lesbians – and everything in between.
The first of its kind in Asia, GagaOOLala has recently extended its services around the globe, encompassing over 190 countries worldwide. With over 1000 titles and a mission to elevate LGBT+ visibility and accelerate acceptance, GagaOOLala aims to “bring LGBTQ+ premium content and original productions to every screen around the world”. We sat down with Jay to discuss the story behind the platform and how it is helping promote queer visibility and acceptance in Asia.
Can you share your coming out story with us?
I first came out to a fellow resident assistant when I was a freshman in college. I became good friends with one of the older RAs from Australia who taught me some of the more intimate things about being gay. I came out with stronger force when I was on exchange in Germany during my third year. I wanted that to be a new slate where I could break away from the half-hidden status that I’d had and just start afresh by coming out to the other exchange students and my dorm-mates.
For me, it’s a constant coming out, depending on whether I am in contact with a person for the first time and whether it’s suitable for me to disclose my identity. Generally, I don’t try to hide it – if the conversation leads to a discussion about my partner or my private life, and it’s not something too private to share, then it just comes out in conversation.
Did you face significant struggles when confronted with your sexuality?
I think some of the significant struggles definitely came when I was younger because I felt more uncertain and less confident about who I was as a person. The older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin, and the fewer difficulties I have with people who are questioning my sexual orientation or my worth as an individual. Sometimes that type of questioning can be quite vitriolic and quite caustic, especially if it’s coming from the anti-gay opposition, or from people who are morally opposed to homosexuality, but I treat that with a level of calm. Maybe it comes with age, but it also comes from not wanting to emotionally exhaust myself in futile shouting matches or emotionally-draining exchanges because I have much better things to do with my time and my energy – but I think if this were to have happened to me when I was much younger, like in my teens or my early 20s, it could have really caused a lot of trauma and made it a lot harder to be who I am.
What fuelled your interest in sharing LGBT-focused content?
Back in 2014, I started the first Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. Being a gay media professional living in Taiwan, I realised that there were a lot of stories and characters that were not being told or distributed on traditional media platforms. I wanted to use my privilege and access to bring some of those stories to Taiwan as a way to contribute to my community and to my society, and as a way to test whether this type of content could have viability in the Taiwanese market.
At the age of 40, I was also hoping that I could be a bit bolder in coming out. I have been coming out ever since I was in college, but the people who I care about the most – my parents – were the ones that I hadn’t really come out to until I was about to launch the film festival. I wanted to use the launch as a way to fully come out to my parents and have them be proud of who I am, and also to accept me and the work that I do.
How did you eventually launch GagaOOLala?
I ran the film festival for 3 years from 2014 to 2016, and I realised that although the film festival is very significant in terms of bringing visibility, it was actually not the most effective way to distribute content as a lot of people were unable to physically attend the film festival. After the second year and when I was entering into the third year, I thought about a way to enact the mission of the film festival – to bring diverse LGBT characters and storylines into people’s hearts and minds – but to do it digitally so that it’s available 24/7 regionally and, as of 15 May, globally.
What inspired you to extend GagaOOLala’s services worldwide?
The more I focused on LGBT-related content, the more I realised that we are studying from a relatively privileged position in Taiwan. Even though I mentioned earlier that I wish there were more diverse characters and storylines in traditional media, we’re actually already quite blessed in Taiwan. Many countries in other parts of Asia face much stricter censorship and even legal repercussions for being gay, so I felt personally inspired to work even harder to licence the rights to create the best platform possible and find ways to reach people who may feel alone and isolated in their lives, unable to come out, and unable to access LGBT content.
How has the reception been so far?
The reception has been fantastic. In our first week of launch, we had people register from 120 different countries. It was mind-blowing to have people from remote places like Trinidad and Tobago and from big countries like the US, Germany, France, Australia, and Canada, as well as from some of the more repressed countries such as Russia, Moldova, and Poland. I think it’s really amazing that we’re providing a service that, even without a lot of marketing push behind it, people are somehow finding, resonating with, and subscribing to.
Ultimately, what is your goal for GagaOOLala?
When I launched the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, I set a goal to make LGBT storylines and characters so mainstream that one day, the LGBT narrative would be interwoven into all parts of the entertainment world and into society in general. I see GagaOOLala as more than just a project – GagaOOLala gives me more meaning behind what I was doing, and to a certain extent, it feels like my calling.
I’m working very hard to create more media representation, whether it’s documentaries or narrative stories that feature LGBT characters and LGBT storylines – not stereotypical storylines or characters, but characters and storylines with heart and soul that anybody, whether straight or gay, can relate to.
What do you think needs to be changed within the LGBT community?
The world needs more people who can come out, whether it’s in politics, the corporate world, the scientific world, the athletic world, or the everyday world. If we are able to have these people stand out and be more visible in their line of work and be counted in their industry, it will send a very strong message to society that first of all, gays are everywhere; second of all, gays contribute to society just like everybody else; and third of all, that you really can’t say you don’t know anyone who’s gay, because there are a lot of gay people in your life – maybe even your neighbours, colleagues, or classmates.
GagaOOLala provides unlimited access to its LGBT+ content for USD 6.99 per month. Find out more here.