Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gay Marriage With Chinese Characteristics by Nicola Davison

A visit to a Shanghai fake-marriage market, where lesbians and gay men meet to find a husband or wife.

SHANGHAI, China—"I'm here to find a lesbian, to be with me and to build a home," No. 11 says to the crowd clustered on floor cushions at a sunlit yoga studio in Shanghai. No. 11 is a muscular man in a flannel shirt and cargo pants, and he easily commands the attention of the crowd of 40 or so young men and women who are gingerly sipping glasses of wine and whispering to their neighbors.
"In my view, a 30-year-old man should start thinking about having a family, but two men can't hold each other's hands in the street. We're not allowed to be a family," he says. The crowd nods.

I'm at a fake-marriage market, where Chinese lesbians and gay men meet to find a potential husband or wife. In China, the pressure to form a heterosexual marriage is so acute that 80 percent of China's gay population marries straight people, according to sexologist Li Yinhe, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. To avoid such unions, six months ago, Shanghai's biggest gay Web site,, started to hold marriage markets once a month.

Thirty minutes earlier, I triple-checked the address scrawled in my notebook. The studio—located in a high-rise apartment complex—seems an unlikely spot for a fake-marriage market. "The boss of the yoga studio is very kind to us," says Fen Ye, my guide. Slipping off my shoes at the doorway, I pad up stairs lined with Buddhas in the red plastic flip-flops provided. When Fen slides open a door to reveal men and women chatting quietly, conversation falters. "They weren't expecting a foreigner," he whispers, adding, "and don't tell anyone you're a reporter. I'll just say you're my lesbian friend." He bustles me to a cushion on the floor and hands me a glass of Chinese red wine.

Precautions are necessary for an event like this. Though there are an estimated 30 million to 40 million gay people in China—there has been no official count—even simple actions such as trying to access Wikipedia's "LGBT" page often result in a "This webpage is not available" message. Chinese society has adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. A 2007 survey by Li Yinhe found that 70 percent of Chinese people think homosexuality is either "a little" or "completely" wrong, and only 7.5 percent of respondents said they knew a gay person.

While past generations buried their sexuality in straight marriages, the people gathered at the yoga studio are trying a new approach. No. 8 (the men sport numbered buttons in a pleasing shade of blue, the women's are pink), a pretty 22-year-old woman with curly dyed chestnut hair, skinny jeans, and Snoopy slippers wants a fake marriage to ease parental pressure, but she doesn't want a baby. No. 15, a strikingly tall man with side-swept bangs, says: "I want to get married for my parents, but I think lying to them will make me feel terrible. So I want to have a fake marriage with a lesbian girl, but just for one or two years, and then I want a divorce to show my parents that I am not a marriage type." There's one constant: All the participants talk about pleasing their parents.

Influential Zhou Dynasty Confucian scholar Mencius said that the "most serious" way to be unfilial is to not produce an heir. It's an idea that still reverberates through China's family-centric culture. In contemporary slang, single women over the age of 27 are known as sheng nu or "leftovers."
"I could absolutely not come out to my parents. If I could tell them I was gay, I wouldn't have needed to get married," says my guide, 30-year-old Fen, as we sit in a converted Shanghainese shikumen lane house near the popular tourist spot People's Park. We're talking about his lesbian wife, whom he met on

"I had a big, traditional Chinese wedding. It lasted for three days, and there were maybe 500 people there. My parents were so happy," says Fen, who knew his wife for seven months before they married. "In your job, in your social life, and for family gatherings, you need to bring a partner. It's hard to do these things alone in China. My grandfather and grandmother … everyone was waiting for me to get married. The wedding felt like a task I needed to accomplish, something I needed to get through step-by-step, a bit like doing homework."

For many gay men, the chance to experience parenthood—and to provide a grandchild for longing parents—is a distinct advantage of these unions. At the yoga studio marriage market, almost every man says he wants a baby, Fen included. "[On the Web site] I said that I didn't want to have a sex life with my wife—absolutely none." Although he says he and his wife are not "very good friends," they have discussed having a child. "For a baby we will maybe use artificial insemination," he says.
Past generations did things differently. The Lai Lai dancehall, in a rundown corner of Shanghai's Hongkou district, is a refuge for gay but married men. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, about 200 men crowd the dance floor in their mismatched suits, twirling together in the green light and cigarette smoke. When they're not dancing, they sit in groups around the edge, nursing flasks of tea, though beer is available for 75 cents a glass.

Zhang, who is 55 and married with children, goes every week. "You can find gay bars in every city, but a dancehall like this only in Shanghai," he says. While tinny speakers rattle out familiar patriotic songs, the dancing stays elegant and refined. Flirting is discreet, barely noticeable. "Older gay men feel comfortable in this place," Zhang tells me. "Because the dancehall starts early, they can go home to their families and keep it secret. Though sometimes the wives come to look for their husbands, and then other people have to persuade them that their husband is just dancing."

But 30-year-old Mu Mu knew that her husband was not "just dancing." Just after she became pregnant, Mu Mu's husband started openly dating men. "I knew he was gay before we got married," says the Shanghai resident over the phone to protect her anonymity. "But the word gay was really strange to me. I read that being gay is something you're born as, but other people said it's like a disease that can be healed. Because I loved him a lot, I hoped that maybe he would change." It wasn't until a year after the birth of their daughter, and after her husband brought home another man to live with them, that Mu Mu left him.

Mu Mu is one of China's estimated 16 million to 25 million "homowives"—or tongqi in pinyin (the word is an amalgamation of the Mandarin for gay and wife)—women who are married to gay men.
"The happiest time of our marriage was when I gave birth to our daughter," says Mu Mu. "That one week when I was in the hospital, he took care of me and the baby. Much of the rest of the time I felt abandoned."

reposted from Slate
For many women, speaking out about their gay husbands is more difficult than staying in loveless marriages, but in the last few years Web-based support groups have started to form. Li, 33, is a volunteer on a homowife support forum on QQ, a Chinese social networking site. Her job involves giving advice and answering questions, and she is often the only person the homowives confide in. "The women are desperate," she explains over iced tea on a busy shopping street in central Shanghai. "At first they feel shock, and they don't know what to do, because people don't know much about gay people. They think their husband is a disturbed person."

While it's relatively easy to get divorced in China, Li says, many women stick with the marriages for complicated reasons. "Some stay because they still love their husband. He's a good person, and a good father, and they want their children to have a father," she says. Another reason is social stigma. "Most of the women can't go to their friends, they don't think they will be able to accept it or understand. Which is true. I think in China people make a moral judgment about it. [The women] think people will think, 'Wow, your husband would prefer to be with a man than with you—what a loser.' "

But there are tentative signs of change. Pink Space, a Beijing-based sexuality research center, started a support group for homowives earlier this year—the first of its kind in China. Zhang Beichan, a director at the China Sexology Association, thinks the homowife "problem" is shrinking. "In 2005, a TV station put out a program about gay issues, and I introduced a homowife who talked about her problems. This was one of the first times this issue was introduced to the public. It had a very big impact—some gay men still share that program with their families when they are pressured into getting married. Also, there are more and more gay men coming out of the closet, and more awareness of gay issues."

Back at the fake-marriage market, Fen Yu and his friends see themselves as the "transitional" generation. While they can't come out to their parents, they can, at least, be open about their sexuality among friends, go to gay bars, and date. "For the generation after ours, it might be easier," he says, "Our parents have no idea what homosexuality is. It's very difficult, because it's just opening up."

If Fen becomes a father, his will be a different approach: "I might not be able to tell my parents," he says, "but when my child grows up, I will tell them the real story about why it happened and who I am."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Black Death and the Seeds of Bigotry

Bigotry, at least to me, can be divided into two distinct groups, those whose hatred of the GLBT is bone deep and unwavering, and those who can only be called "learned ignorant". While I hold out no hope for the hatred group, I do feel that the learned ignorant group holds the key to GLBT civil rights. Much of their "knowledge" about the GLBT comes from the tainted well source for the bdh's(bone deep haters) . How can we expect the L.L.(learned ignorance) to vote for our rights, to accept us as we are, unless we teach them the truth?

Let's go to the root of the hatred tree, that gay men are out there, waiting for their chance to molest their children. Where did this idea spring from? No, believe it or not it didn't spring from the overheated minds of the B.D.H.'s, it came from our distant past, but through the intervening centuries, things became a bit garbled to say the least. In ancient Greece, and later in the Roman Empire, it was common practice for adult men to have sex with teens, both male and female. The highest, purest love, in those ancient times, was between men, not between men and women. For the most part in those days, women were really only there for procreation purposes. They had no civil rights, and were property of their husbands. Men bonded with each other, emotionally and physically, and while I'm sure some men did the same with their wives, this bond was seen as being on a separate plain.

While sex between men was socially acceptable, there was unacceptable and in some instances unforgivable actions between men. The active partner was called the "lover" the passive one was termed the "beloved". It was unacceptable for adult men to be the "beloved". Any adult man who was known to be a "beloved" lost social standing, could be fined, or in extreme cases, put to death. It was the male teens who became the adults "beloved", because of their youth this was acceptable. These teen boys were taken under the wing of their "lover" learning about business, the world at large, and often completing their education under their "lover's" fond eye. Fathers would take their sons to places where they could catch the eye of a well placed man, hoping to place their sons with someone that could allow them to reach a higher status, or wealth.

Sex with children was considered as abhorrent then as it is now. Once a child of either sex started puberty, they were seen as possible sex partners. Around 12-13 a child of either sex was seen as a sexual being, and if you think back to yourself about this time, isn't this when you really started to think about sex? I think in some ways the society was much more honest about sex than it is now. There was a firm line where sexual interest was acceptable or very unacceptable. And through the long years from then to now, this socially understood line was lost, only leaving the memory of men having sex with children.

The Roman Catholic church believed that all sexual contact was immoral, yes all. There was only one thing that made sex acceptable at all in the eyes of the church was for procreation purposes. Any sex act that couldn't result in a child being conceived was considered a sin. Spilling seed without a womb to absorb it was sinful, no matter what sex the partner was. In trying to demonstrate to their congregation the chaos of unrestrained sex could cause a person to do, sex with children was drug out into the light of day. And if a man would rather spill his seed in such a sinful manner, what's to stop him from doing this with children, or animals, or even to himself? During this time period, men were having sex with each other and for the most part society left them alone. Then came the Black Plague, and life in Europe changed forever.

The plague came in waves over a hundred year period, with a fresh wave about every 20 years or so. Because no one understood what was going on, it was laid at the church's doorstep to explain matters. The church's answer was this was a plague from God cleaning out the sinners, obviously God didn't care about innocent victims in his rush to "cleanse" the earth of sin. This is where the first seeds of antisemitism came from, as the Jews were harried from country to country. City run brothels were closed down, as were tanners, butchers and men having sex with men. By the time they had gotten to the bottom of the sinner pile, the plague had passed and life slowly resumed in as normal a manner as possible. Until the next wave hit, and the carousel of hate would wind up again. This is where today's belief came from that God hates gays, and that gay men desire sex with children.

Oh? The other unforgivable item in ancient times? Yeah, you're going to just love this. In the gay world what is one of the biggest sins a guy can commit? You guessed it, being a feminine man. Being feminine in Rome could get one fined, flogged and banished from the city, or in extreme cases the ultimate punishment, death. So that hatred of feminine gay guys is unfortunately historical, isn't it about time we let that one go?