COMING OUT IN CHINA
Woman spying on two men By one estimate there are 70 million LGBTQ in China but only 5 percent have come out. In many fields, coming out would be the end of your career. Even though more and more gays are coming out in China they still risk persecution by authorities and many cases their own families. Gays in China are more concerned about getting fired, humiliated or blackmailed once their true identity is known than they are about AIDS.
"A few years ago coming out among people I know was news, but not now," says Hui Jin, a veterinarian and the executive director of Beijing's LGBT center, who wears her hair short and spiky and at an interview was sporting a T-shirt showing a monkey juggling a skull, and who admitted sheepishly that she is still not out to people at the veterinary hospital. Though there are probably more than a hundred gay bars throughout China and more than a dozen gay support organizations in Beijing, other people "are just not aware of it," Hui said, partially because Chinese media and popular culture lack openly gay characters. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2011]
Huang Jiankun told the Washington Post it was very painful when he revaled he was gay to his parents. His father, a retired army officer, wept uncontrollably. His mother made him promise that he would stay away from men. Visits home during the Chinese New Year have become unbearable, especially when relatives pepper him with questions about why he is still unmarried at 30. I can handle the pressure, but I can’t stand to see the pain on my parents’ faces, said Huang, who works in public relations. To assuage his parents, he orchestrated a fake wedding to a lesbian friend, but eventually the truth came out. The problem is when you lie, it becomes connected to another lie and you can’t keep it up, he said
See Separate Articles: LGBT AND HOMOSEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; HISTORY OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND BISEXUALITY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; GAY AND LESBIAN LIFE IN CHINA, GAY BARS AND GAY DATING APPS factsanddetails.com SUFFERING OF LGBT IN CHINA: DISCRIMINATION, PERSECUTION AND "CURING" CLINICS factsanddetails.com ; TRANSGENDER PEOPLE AND TRANSSEXUALS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SEX IN CHINA: SURVEYS, VIRGINITY AND DRASTIC CHANGES factsanddetails.com SEX AND HISTORY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; EUNUCHS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com
Websites and Sources: USA Today piece usatoday.com ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: “Sexual Life of Ancient China”, written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; “The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History” by Professor Liu Dalin and “Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture” by Fang-ju Juan, The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall
Growing Up With and Coming Out on the Gay Internet in China
Yi-Ling Liu wrote in the New York Times: “Like many gay Chinese growing up at the turn of the millennium, Duan Shuai began his long, deliberate process of coming out online. After school, he would visit the newly opened internet cafe in his hometown, Xinzhou, a small city in Shanxi Province bounded by a veil of mountains. He would pick a desktop facing away from the wall so that nobody could look over his shoulder. Then he’d go to QQ, the new instant-messaging service and online forum, and type in the Chinese word for “homosexual” — tongzhi, or comrade. [Source:Yi-Ling Liu, New York Times, March 5, 2020]
“Offline, Duan had known for a long time that he was different — and he knew no one else like him. Even in grade school, while his male classmates talked about girls, he nursed a secret crush on a boy, a gregarious, basketball-playing class monitor. Online, he stumbled into a world where he finally felt he belonged, a place where gay people like himself sought kinship and connection. When he was 17, he watched “Lan Yu, ” a 2001 Chinese film about a love affair between a male college student from northern China and a businessman in Beijing, based on a novel published online by an author known only as Beijing Comrade. Duan was moved by one scene in particular, in which the businessman brings his lover home for the Chinese New Year to share a customary hotpot meal with his family. He caught a glimpse into a future he never knew existed — a future that was perhaps within his reach too.
“A diligent student, Duan aced his gaokao — China’s national entrance exam — and moved from his secluded hometown to the city of Tianjin, studying literature at a top university. To familiarize himself with China’s burgeoning gay culture, he listened to the talks by the gender-studies scholar Li Yinhe on the popular television channel Hunan TV; read “Crystal Boys, ” a novel about gay youth in Taipei by the Taiwanese writer Bai Xinyong; and frequented online chat rooms for gay men like Boy Air, BF99, Don’t Cry My Friends and the local Tianjin Cool, where he met his first boyfriend, a graduate student five years his senior.
“As Duan came of age, so did the Chinese internet. In 2000, when he was still in grade school, there were about 23 million Chinese internet users; the nation’s first internet cafes had only recently opened in Shanghai. Today that number has swelled to more than 900 million, and a vast majority of them are using mobile devices. Whereas Duan once sought out gay communities in small groups and quiet bars, today, as a 33-year-old working in publishing in Beijing, he can join gay meet-ups on WeChat; follow blogs and coming-out stories on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform; and, perhaps most crucial, he can connect and find partners on Blued, a gay social networking app. There are other options — Grindr operates in China — but Blued is the most popular by far. When Duan opens up the app anywhere in the country, be it in Beijing’s bustling commercial district Sanlitun or back in Xinzhou, he’ll find an endless scroll of users: cosmopolitan yuppies dressed in drag, rural blue-collar workers with faceless profiles. The company’s slogan, “He’s Right Next Door, ” embodies its ethos: to bring together gay men from all segments of Chinese society into one digital ecosystem.
“Duan Shuai came out to his parents in 2018 at 30. It was Chinese New Year, and his mother was asking, once again, when he would bring a wife home. When he told her the truth, she cried, asking him to leave and never come back. He felt both sad and free — devastated to have disappointed his family but relieved to have finally spoken the words. “For many Chinese, coming out is long and drawn out, ” Duan says. “Most people don’t just stride out of the closet like in American movies and announce that they are gay in this sudden, dramatic way. They’ll often agonize over it for years, gather a lot of information and place it by their parents’ bedside table, hoping that one day they’ll begin to understand.”
Video on Coming Out at Lunar New Year Goes Viral in China
Colum Murphy of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The Lunar New Year holiday can be stressful for single young Chinese men and women as family, relatives and friends ask the inevitable question: When will you get married? For gay men and women the pressure can be even more intense. To help more Chinese gay men and women as well as their families get through what can be an emotionally charged holiday, PFLAG China has made a close to seven-minute video that recounts–movie-style—the story of one gay man’s coming out against the backdrop of the Lunar New Year holiday. [Source: Colum Murphy, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015 ^*^]
“The short video shows how the man is rejected by his mother and father after he tells them he is gay. Years later, the parents relent and the mother calls her son and asks him to come home; the title of the film “Huijia” means “coming home.” “Son, come back. No matter who you are, you’re always our son,” the mother says. The video received more than 108 million clicks on the website qq.com within a few days after its release in China. PFLAG China cofounder, Hu Zhijun, told China Real Time that he hopes the video will help young people deal with pressure especially from parents. ^*^
“People like Frank, a Shanghai resident in his early thirties who is originally from Jiangsu province and who asked to be identified only by his English name. Frank told his parents about his sexual orientation more than a decade ago. But, Frank said, that didn’t stop his father from giving him an ultimatum: get married within a year or don’t visit home ever again. Frank did return to his hometown. He has allayed his parents’ fears by telling them his wedding is imminent. He didn’t tell them he plans to marry a lesbian in a marriage of convenience. In a message to CRT via social media, Frank said he was happy to be back home, spending time with his family. “Besides marriage, I can speak to them about anything,” he wrote. ^*^
“PFLAG’s Mr. Hu said the video, which cost around $1,600 to make and was funded from donations solicited online, is also aimed at increasing awareness of homosexuality in the broader Chinese society. “Some people are still against it,” he said. Some Chinese, he said, think lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “people are not normal and should seek treatment. They think it’s just a lifestyle that people can choose to change.” ^*^
Impact of Anderson Cooper’s Coming Out on China’s Closet Society
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “When Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor, recently announced that he was gay, he apparently inspired a Chinese microblogger using the name Sun Yelin-Xiao Hei., Mr. Sun posted a call on Sina’s Weibo, or microblogging, site for Chinese homosexuals to come out en masse on December 12, 2012 — a day apparently picked for its neat number. If you read Chinese, you can read his exhortation here Mr. Cooper is fairly well-known among China’s more Westernized, educated elite, with Sina’s microblog site, the country’s biggest, recording over 38,000 posts mentioning him. Comments since his coming out have been overwhelmingly positive, if occasionally a little nonplussed. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
“In China, very few homosexuals are “out,” or “chugui” (this translates as “come out closet.”) Familial and cultural pressures to be heterosexual, marry and produce an heir are simply too great. So Mr. Sun seemed to be inviting the world to dream: “If on 2012.12.12 all the homosexuals in China “chugui,” he wrote enthusiastically, “what would life be like?” There’s little chance of finding out. If anything, the recent wave of casual, “I’m gay, so what? announcements by prominent Americans is underscoring a fast-widening gap in social attitudes between the United States and many other countries, including China.
“Just a dozen people have so far responded to Sun Yelin-Xiao Hei’s online call for a mass coming out. “Very cool! There’s strength in numbers!” posted one person using the name Yuecai Diancai wo dou ai.
Social Forces That Keep Gay Chinese from Coming Out
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “Zhang Beichuan, a leading researcher on homosexuality and a medical professor at Qingdao University, says China faces an epidemic of problems related to the nonacceptance of homosexuality, including AIDS transmission from gay men to their wives and unhappy marriages in which one partner is secretly gay. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
“I really want to say something,” he told the New York Times. “China really needs help and encouragement from the progressive sectors of international society to solve these problems.” One particular area of concern, Mr. Zhang said, is the large number of Chinese women unwittingly married to gay men. (Due to traditional patriarchal attitudes that value a son’s offspring more than a daughter’s, it is somewhat easier for a woman to dodge marriage and reproduction. A gay woman may be less likely to marry against her will.)
Giving men the freedom to come out of the closet would solve the problem, said Mr. Zhang. In fact, the topic is widely debated here, but in unofficial media and in private. Sina’s Weibo records more than 4.5 million posts for “chugui.” Yet, in his role as counselor as well as researcher, Mr. Zhang said, “We don’t lightly recommend to people that they come out. It can have a tremendously damaging impact on their lives.” He cited examples in which parents threatened suicide or fell seriously ill, or the children were forced to flee home.
Double Life of Chinese Gays
Many gay men are married and have children and live a double life, pretended they are straight in public and with their families, engaging in gay life when they can and having sex with both men and women. One such man told the New York Times, “In China there is a very strong tradition that to be a man you must get married and have a child, so I did. We also respect and obey our parents’ wishes, so I did it for them too.”
One survey of 400 gay men found that 85 percent were married. Another survey of gay men found that 28 percent have sex with both men and women. Among urban gays about half get married and maintain multiple sex partners. They ideal situation for many gays is to live in the city without their family and enjoy gay life there and return to their hometowns from time to time to be with their family. There is a long tradition of men going to the city to work and leaving their family behind in their hometowns. This is the way many of the estimated 150,000 gay men in Shenzhen live.
Many gays who live under these circumstances admit they are living a lie and say their sex life with their wife is less than passionate but they enjoy having children. One man told the New York Times, “How does it feel to be married? I’m fooling my wife. I’m fooling my child. I’m fooling my parents. Some people avoid it by going overseas. But if you stay in China, there’s no choice really.”
Gay Married Man in China
Zeng Anquan, a 45-year-old architect, told the China Daily, he realized he was gay when he was about 20. “What could I do at the time? I felt embarrassed to think of that tendency.” Even so he married a dance instructor in 1983 and they had a daughter three years later. Despite this he said he never felt any attraction towards his wife. “I felt I was embracing a lifeless tree while holding a woman,” he said.
Zeng said he deliberately took a job far from his home after his marriage and came back just once or twice a month. He told the China Daily he felt sorry for his wife who he described as “dedicated and loyal.” When his daughter grew up and got a job he revealed his sexual orientation to his wife, ‘she was shocked and cried for several days,” he said. “Finally, she agreed to set me free.” They were divorced in 2009.
A few months after the divorce Zheng met a demobilized soldier. He said they fell in love at first sight. “His bright and enchanting smile almost blinded me. And I’m so addicted to his gentle and soft voice.” A month after their first date, the soldier, a man named Pan Wenjie, broke up with his girlfriend and the two men decided to move in with each other and were unofficially married a short time after that. See Gay Marriage Below.
Some men go through their entire lives without revealing their sexual preference to their wives. Men in their 50s and 60s fill the Lai Lai, a gritty ballroom in an one of Shanghai’s little known neighborhoods. Jacobs wrote: “Three nights a week, the men slip away from their wives to dance with one another to the music of a warble-voiced singer. As he led his clumsy partner across the dance floor, Zhou Aiwen, a 73-year-old retired cadre, spoke of a lifetime of unrequited desire but also of his commitment to Chinese tradition. “My son has a kid now, so I don’t have to worry about anything,” he said with satisfaction.
Chinese Gays, Marriage and Their Parents
The biggest fear that many gays have is being found out by their parents or revealing themselves to them. One gay man told the Washington Post, “Now the most difficult people to deal with are not the police, as long as you don’t break the law. It’s our parents. I finished my master’s degree at 26 and was urged to get married. At first, I wanted to escape by going abroad, but I didn’t have so much money...I considered marrying a lesbian, and dated some. But the more we talked about the house and our finances, the more complicated it got.”
Parents expect their sons and daughters to produce heirs, an obligation that has become even more intense in a society where single-child families are the standard. A 24-year-old lesbian student told The Guardian, is such an important concept here; people aren't supportive of homosexuality because they basically believe same-sex couples can't form a family. If we have stable families, society will see we are safe, that we are mainstream.”
Huang Jiankun’s mood darkened when he recalled the pain his coming out brought to his parents. His father, a retired army officer, wept uncontrollably. His mother made him promise that he would stay away from men. Visits home during the Chinese New Year have become unbearable, especially when relatives pepper him with questions about why he is still unmarried at 30. I can handle the pressure, but I can’t stand to see the pain on my parents’ faces, said Huang, who works in public relations. To assuage his parents, he orchestrated a fake wedding to a lesbian friend, but eventually the truth came out. The problem is when you lie, it becomes connected to another lie and you can’t keep it up, he said
Not all parents are like this. The mother of gay man told the New York Times she was a bit startled when he came, but she was not entirely surprised. “I’m his mother, so I had my suspicions,” she said. “If he’s happy, I’m happy.
Even parents who know their children are gay want them to get married. One gay woman told the The Guardian she thinks her parents know she is a lesbian. “But my mum told me I must have experience of marriage, no matter how long it lasts. I don't think she hopes to change my sexuality, she just thinks my life will be more stable,” said the media professional.
Some parents start out intolerant and come around as accept their children with time. The Guardian wrote a story mentioning a farmer who plotted to blow up his son's gay bar because he was so appalled by his homosexuality, but who now runs a hotline for the parents of gay children. “I believed he had been led astray by bad people or we would have a daughter-in-law and the happiness we deserved. I felt my whole life depended on him and I didn't want to live any more. I was so angry I wanted to kill him and myself,” he said. But when his son fled the city with his boyfriend, both fearing for their lives, the farmer began to think again. Now he has bought a house for the couple and hopes that one day they can wed. “These people want marriage and it's their right. We must learn to accept them,” he said. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 25 2009]
Often the problem is not so much the parents themselves but what their friends will think. A 37-year-old gay software engineer told the Washington Post, “The key point is the people around them. They live in the countryside. If you’re a man who they think has problems they will think I’m not doing what a man does. It’s just the way it is, from the time of our ancestors.” Some parents are so worried about the shame they face they have threatened suicide. A 32-year-old gay woman who had come out of the closet with here girlfriend a year earlier told the China Daily that parents of gays are the ones that need help most: “In modern society we’ve almost been accepted by the public except for the approval of our parents’ who are “in a helpless situation because they can’t go to friends or relatives and they refuse help from us, but they psychological support.”
Marco told Radio 86: “After I had been dating that guy for a year, he slept over at the house. My mother just thought he's a friend of mine, but, after a while, I felt really guilty about it, so I woke up one morning, went to her room and I said, “Look, Mum, I like this guy. I don't know what it is, but I like him. I want to be with him.” I was about 18 when I came out and she was really cool. She kind of accepted it in a different way, she said, “You're still young, you don't know what you're doing. Just don't hurt yourself.”... From my family, I don't really have any pressure to get married and have a baby. I can probably adopt a child, which is what I will probably do.
Gay Marriages of Convenience
It is becoming increasingly common for gay men and lesbians to marry one another for appearance. A gay employee at an airline company told the China Daily, “For most gay men and lesbians in China, one of their biggest obstacles is parental pressure to get married...We’ll appear to be husband and wife to the outside world. In fact we are close friends. It’s just a white lie to comfort our parents and other social groups. We don’t want to show our true identities.”
Li Yinhe, one of China's premier sexologists, estimates that 16 million Chinese men marry in order to please their family; she calls their spouses homowives. In a survey of 300 homosexuals by the popular Chinese website douban.com, 86 percent said they were considering fake marriages. Explaining why the figure was so high, the airline employee said, “I think it has something to do with Chinese men’s traditional duty to have descendants. I know my parents’ limits, especially my father’s. If they can’t accept my brother divorcing his wife, they definitely can’t understand why my partner is a man.”
Some younger gays feel that marriages of convenience are a set back for gay rights. One 23-year-old recent college graduate told the China Daily, “The whole idea of a fake marriage delays the protection of Chinese gay and lesbian rights for at least 10 years...Marrying a lesbian might make a gay feel better, ethically, compared with marrying a straight woman, but in essence it’s all the same. Why should gays always have to compromise. We have to create a bigger environment that accepts homosexuals and fake marriages are certainly not the solution.”
Online personal ads for both gays and non-gays are filled with appeals for “fake marriage” for gays who want to pretend they are married in front of their parents. One listing by a 30-year-old gay man quoted by the Washington Post read: “Here is my basic plan: acting as husband and wife outside, and being close friends with each other. The New Year is approaching. The pressure of facing parents in your home town is growing.”
A lesbian who got married to a gay man told the Washington Post she began by searching on line for a husband of convenience. She received three or four responses and contacted one gay man. “We e-mailed each other, then met, just like a normal meeting of a boy and girl,” she said. They registered to got married and had a ceremony in the groom’s home town. More than 500 people showed up for the wedding party. “His parents and relatives prepared everything for us,” she said. “We were just like two puppets on strings manipulated by others.”
Marco told Radio 86: Some gay guys marry some lesbian girl and they have some fake marriage, start having a family together because in China they don't want to lose face. I don't think that has been very successful for most people because, even though it's marriage, it's fake, it doesn't mean anything. I know people who have babies already, like this lesbian girl and gay guy. They just leave the baby at his mum's home, so she's happy and can tell people, “My son is married, he's normal!”
Qingdao University Professor Estimates 90 Percent of Gay Chinese Are Married
Zhang Beichuan, a leading researcher on homosexuality and a medical professor at Qingdao University, estimates that more than 90 percent of China’s gay men bow to pressure and marry women — without revealing their homosexuality. “There are over 10 million women married to homosexual men, perhaps 16 million,” he told the New York Times. “We have so many women in unhappy, loveless marriages in China. Inside this story, there are so many tears, so much pain.” [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Zhang’s estimate is based on the number of Chinese marriages, surveys of gay men’s life plans and a gay male population of 3.5 percent. There is no universally accepted statistic for gay populations, of course, but the most common global estimates are 2 to 5 percent.
“Many Chinese women married to homosexual men never realize their spouses are gay due to ignorance about homosexuality, Mr. Zhang told the New York Times. “The level of information available to Chinese and to American women is very different,” he said. Chinese women married to gay men “blame themselves,” he said. “They think it’s because they aren’t good enough.”
“I blame the government because it is so powerful but the information it offers is totally inadequate,” he said. “Education has got to include homosexuality. What we need is not traditional education that ignores the issue, but a much more humane education that addresses it.”
Self-Help Group for Women Married to Gay Men
Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “Until recently, women married to gay men had a champion: Yao Lifen, a woman in the western city of Xian, who ran a Web site offering emotional, practical and legal support for women married to homosexuals, China Daily reported “Tongqi jiayuan,” the Chinese name of her Web site, roughly translates as “A Home for the Wives of Homosexuals.” [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, July 5, 2012]
“Married for years to a gay man who, she told China Daily, beat her Ms. Yao set out to help other women. (Mr. Zhang says domestic violence is common in these marriages, the result of deep frustrations and poor communication),
Yet her Web site, www.tongqijiayuan.com, is currently shut down, after complaints to the police from clients that they were charged money for services that never materialized, according to a report in Nanfang Daily. In an email to Rendezvous, Ms. Yao said she was innocent of the charges and that she had been deceived by her boyfriend, who worked on the project with her.
‘she said she learned only in May that her boyfriend “went behind my back to collect money from some women married to gay men. I am extremely angry and hurt.” She said he changed information on the Web site without her knowledge to cheat people. Her boyfriend’s whereabouts were unclear and he could not be reached for comment. Mr. Zhang called the shuttering of Ms. Yao’s Web site “a disaster” for these wives, for many of whom it was the only source of support.
Image Sources: 1)Sex products, Alibaba.com; 2) Sexy poster, University of Washington; 3) ox peninses, BBC; 4) Old sex art All Posters.com, Chinese Art .
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021