BEIJING, Dec. 26 -- Being gay in China is beginning to lose its stigma, but
it's still not easy coming out for them.
Little over four years ago, homosexuality was still officially classified
as a mental disorder in China. On December 16, 2005, China's gays and lesbians
celebrated their first national festival.
It's a huge leap forward in a
country long associated with closed attitudes toward alternative lifestyles.
|BEING MYSELF: Conan Liu, like many gays in
big cities, doesn't conceal his sexual
Despite the stigma and public admonishments, China's gay community is
taking its first tentative steps out of a closet that was, until recently,
In 1997, the word "hooligan" was deleted from China's criminal code in
reference to gays arrested for soliciting in public places.
The move is considered by many as the de facto decriminalization of
homosexual acts and was followed in April 2001 by the deletion of homosexuality
from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders.
Now, marking gay-awareness month June 12 by flying kites in Beijing,
Shenyang and Fuzhou, and turning out in numbers for the country;s first national
gay and lesbian festival December 16 in Beijing, organized by Cui Zi' en, a gay
associate professor at the Beijing Film Academy, are acts that illustrate
changing attitudes toward the pink revolution.
The word tongzhi, literally meaning comrade (people with the same ideals),
is now widely accepted by gays and lesbians as a self-reference in this country.
Googling the Chinese character for tongzhi produces some astonishing results.
There are many gay activities taking place on the mainland. Gay bars, spas,
meetings, bathhouses and a thriving online community are allowing open venues
for gatherings that not long ago were restricted to public toilets and parks.
Sociologist and gay novelist Tong Ge¡¯s impassioned call for "comrades to
melt the frozen land with our body heat" galvanized Chinese professionals into
lobbying the government for the approval of same-sex marriage, regardless of the
very real obstacles lying ahead.
Zhang Beichuan, China's leading scholar in the field of homosexual study
and winner of 2000 Barry & Martin Prize awarded to individuals making
outstanding contributions to the AIDS awareness campaign, estimates there are 40
million homosexuals on the Chinese mainland, far more than the official figure
of between 5 and 10 million released by the Ministry of Health in December 2004.
This huge number, equal to the population of Spain, can no longer be ignored by
"I Like the Way I Am"
Conan Liu, 24, a tax consultant with one of the Big Four accounting firms,
told Beijing Review that he has never tried to conceal his sexual orientation
since finding out he is gay.
Unlike the older
generation, Conan's age group is more willing to talk about their lives and love
experiences. Fashionably dressed and charming, Conan is proud of who he is. "My
friends usually say that I need to be protected," he smiled, saying that he
seldom has difficulties either at work or in his life.
|Zhang Beichuan, China's leading expert in
"Most people around me understand and accept my homosexual orientation,"
Conan said. As for those who don't like men behaving in a feminine manner, he's
defiant. "I like the way I am and I will stay away from those who dislike me.
It's no big deal."
In spite of his carefree attitude, Conan has not been able to admit his
sexual orientation to his parents. It's a common situation throughout the
Chinese gay community.
In interviews conducted with gay people, Beijing Review found that family
members were always the last to know and the most difficult to tell. A Confucius
saying may best explain the Chinese difficulty in accepting homosexuality: There
are three things that are unfilial--disobeying one's parents, not supporting
one's parents and, the most important, not continuing the family line.
Hao Ting, a 17-year-old sophomore at Peking University, said that most of
his friends know he is gay. But he still felt uneasy telling his parents.
Chinese homosexuals do not want to disappoint their families by not being able
to produce heirs.
As Zhang Beichuan noted, homosexuals in China mostly feel guilty and sorry for their family. Homosexuality can be tolerated as long as they still give birth to the next generation, as the Chinese have a strong sense of family ties, said Zhang Beichuan. "But it is too painful to marry a person that you don't really love."