by Xinhua writers Wang Ruoyao, Zhou Yan and Ma Xiaocheng
BEIJING, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Li Chen vividly remembers the surreal phone call that brought his little angel to his doorstep in October 2008.
"There's a newborn girl abandoned at the hospital. Do you want her?" asked Li's mother from his hometown in southwest China.
Li, 30 at the time and gay, was at a Halloween party in downtown Beijing, but said "yes" without hesitation.
Li and his partner Jack are among the lucky few same-sex couples who have fulfilled their dream of parenthood in China, where neither gay marriage nor adoptions are allowed.
Li completed the adoption process in the name of his parents. He registered himself as the girl's father on her permanent residence permit.
"We reached a deal with the local civil affairs bureau," Li says, without detailing how it was done. He runs a design company and lives in Beijing with Jack from the UK, his partner for 11 years.
There are always problems as children grow up and an unconventional family like his is sure to face more, Li says.
"However, we'll give her enough love to make her feel safe and confident."
Despite rising tolerance towards the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, the issue remains off the public agenda. In June, worldwide "Pride Month", the rainbow flag is rarely seen even in Beijing and Shanghai.
After the earthquake in Li's home province of Sichuan in May 2008, he told his mother he wanted to adopt a quake orphan.
His mother consulted the local civil affairs bureau and was told that "1,000 candidates are vying for each orphan".
Months later, the bureau told her about an unwanted girl, allegedly the fifth daughter of biological parents who yearned for a boy, a common gender prejudice in China.
"If I hadn't adopted her, she would have been left at the local welfare center, already crammed with unwanted baby girls," says Li. The baby was taken to Beijing when she was six months old.
Li recalls his first meeting with her at Beijing airport: "I saw the little girl, very thin, with dark skin and short hair. She was looking around curiously... Everything about her seemed terrific to me. At that moment, I knew that I'd love her with all my heart, forever."
Li says Jack, 13 years older than him, is a meticulous dad who has invested more time and energy in the child.
"She is on his mind wherever he goes," says Li of Jack. "I'm proud to say he has done a better job than many mothers. He enjoys providing day-to-day care and is really good at it."
Nevertheless, Jack insists on being called "uncle", rather than "dad", by Becky to shield her from prejudice and hostility in a society where gay parenting is virtually unheard of.
The couple have identified themselves as gay to family, friends and some workmates, but are more cautious about coming out as parents.
Even if she goes to an international school, Jack believes such caution is still essential. On Becky's first day at kindergarten, Li wrote a letter to her teacher, talking about the unusual family structure and asked for the teacher's help in case Becky got any trouble from other kids or their parents.
"I did that because I really care about what's on her mind and how she feels," Li says. His generation rarely got so much attention from their parents.
Yang Xiaobian, roughly the same age as Becky, has lesbian parents. Yu Peiheng and Nan Fan reside in a small city in east China's Shandong Province.
"The girl has brought us unparalleled happiness, and thanks to her, we've become stronger and feel closer to each other," says Yu, a grassroots government employee.
Yang calls Yu mommy and Nan mom. The couple met and fell in love at high school 20 years ago and have been together ever since.
Nan became pregnant through artificial insemination and ended her sham marriage to a gay man months after Yang was born. Then, the pair moved out of the apartment they shared with Nan's ex-husband and bought their own in a nearby city.
Some Chinese LGBT marry to appease their conservative parents, but such marriages are often mere camouflage and they still live with their partners.
Although Nan's ex-husband did not provide his sperm, he agreed to be listed as Yang's father on her birth certificate and therefore helped her secure a hukou.
In the beginning, like many novice parents, Yu and Nan dedicated themselves entirely to their new home. Yu pushed herself very hard to pay off the heavy home loan and save for Yang's future, while Nan got stuck into household chores and childcare.
Stress led to conflict. They began yelling at each other, emphasizing their own sacrifice for the family and criticizing the other's indifference.
It was their daughter who stopped the squabbling and prodded the couple to introspect, Yu says. "Once I was crying after a fight with Nan. She came to hug me and said, "Mommy, don't be sad. I love you, and mom loves you too."
Sometimes the girl simply says, "You both did wrong," Yu says. "She made us feel ashamed."
No matter how much love they get from their same-sex parents, the children pose a big question: "Why don't I have mom/dad?" or "Why do I have two moms/dads?"
The questions can be thornier for Chinese homosexual couples, as many remain in the closet or only have revealed their sexuality to their parents. Yu and Nan belong to the latter.
Yu believes there is no hurry to broach the subject with Yang, who is told her dad and mom have divorced.
A false alarm came once, however. "At a restaurant, she suddenly asked 'Why are we all women?' probably after noticing our difference from other tables," Yu recalls.
Caught off guard, the couple were speechless. More surprisingly, the girl did not ask for an answer and concentrated on her food right away.
"When and how to tell her the truth would depend on when she becomes old enough to understand the situation," Yu says, adding that a family with two mothers does not really feel out of place at Yang's kindergarten, which features Western education ideas and stresses equality and freedom.
Although they have not come out as lesbian parents to the teachers and other parents, "they may have figured it all out" in an Internet era, Yu says.
However, Yu fears the family's difference may eventually hurt Yang as she grows, as it is difficult for most Chinese schools to accept different values -- let alone homosexuality -- or provide sex education for children.
"So parents must fill the void. We'll teach her to live with dignity and accept whatever she has, and as parents, we should set good examples for her," she says.
For another lesbian couple, Mo Zhu and Xin Lan, justifying their family structure to their son requires careful planning and heavy spending.
Living in south China's Guangdong Province, Mo works at a bank and Xin teaches at a university. They both married gay men. Mo is divorced and Xin is separated.
Through artificial insemination Xin gave birth to a boy, but her husband is not the child's biological father.
Mo and Xin have worked out a plan. When the boy, now 14 months old, learns to speak, he is to call Xin mom, Mo auntie, and Xin's husband dad.
"This year we plan to buy two neighboring apartments, close but separate," says Xin, in order to make more sense of her presence to the boy. Besides the gay men, only one common friend knows about their relationship.
In the future, they will tell the boy about the breakup of his mom and dad, and probably send him abroad for a more open-minded education.
These unconventional families can hardly dodge the pressure of being different, but how parents handle it has a huge impact on their children, said Yanhong Wheeler, a parenting specialist and best-selling author in China.
They should teach their children about diverse family patterns, including those with two dads and two moms, and encourage them to be proud of being unique, she said.
She said it is tolerable for Chinese gay parents to tell white lies to their children since discrimination and stigma still prevail.
"I believe children will understand their parents when they grow up. They will realize that they were protected by the untold truth, but they will feel resentment and pain for a period of time," she said.
Li dreads that total honesty may entail lifelong pain. "We haven't come up with a plan, but we really don't want to say she was abandoned, it'll ruin her self-esteem," Li says.
The couple named their daughter in Chinese after a legendary heroine in ancient China. "We hope Becky can be strong, brave and confident, just like her," he says.
In addition, he has tried to instill a broader notion of mother in the girl. "I think she can call other important women in her life mom, besides her biological mother."