One of the pressing issues for a Chinese gay person is facing their family. There’s so much emphasis in current society placed on having children, and specifically a male child who will double as your retirement plan (there’s not much in the way of state provision as yet for the elderly) that homosexuals find themselves tied up in knots.
Firstly, it’s not normal to discuss things sexual with your parents in China, and secondly there’s the issue that the current generation of gay people grew up in the one period of Chinese history where being gay was not only a bad thing (from a societal point of view) but also a criminal act.
Then there’s the pervading belief in Chinese society that being gay is some form of mental illness, in fact a recent survey in Hong Kong showed that nearly 80% of homosexuals believe that there’s a cure out there for their sexuality.
So many gay people choose not to tell their parents; the reasoning is that it would only upset them. And those who have turned to their mum and dad often find they expect them to keep their sexuality a secret anyway, so as not to embarrass the family.
But this leads to another problem, how do you stop your parents from being disappointed with you for not having children? Sadly the quick fix for many of China’s gay men has been to get married, often without their partner’s knowledge of their own sexuality. These men freely acknowledge that their lives are basically non-sexual with their wives after a child has been produced from the union, and often choose to work far away from home in bigger cities where they can indulge their true sexuality without infringing on their wives happiness.
A survey found that 85% of gay men in China are married, though there was no examination of how many of these marriages were “deceitful” ones. In fact Shenzhen, is estimated to have a gay population of nearly 150,000 men doing exactly this.
The good news is that this is changing, because on the other side of the coin lesbian women have also been pressured into marriage with the decriminalization of homosexuality – gay men and lesbian women are forming “fake marriages” with the expectation still of having a child together but accepting that their union is more for show than for real.
The biggest problem for homosexuals in today’s China is not from the police (though there have been incidents of homophobic bullying, even now that being gay is legal) or from colleagues and co-workers (again this is not to say that these people necessarily make it easy on gays either) but from the family unit. This issue may largely be placed at the door of the “one child policy” for many, in that if families were larger there would be less pressure on the children as a group to provide a son to act as their carer in old age.