What was for decades a secret practice has now gone public in China. It’s an ‘age-old’ universal way to hide sexuality. Years ago, Chinese men in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), who want to appear straight to the public, have coined the term ‘homowives’ to describe a marriage of camouflage. Known throughout China as ‘tongqi’, the word describes acts of marriage that work to keep a gay man’s genuine interests and love a secret.
But ‘sexuality transparency’ may be the ultimate modern reward as part of a growing LGBTI community in China is starting to turn the tide in coming out publicly to family, friends and work associates through the use of events, film and video. Even as the PRC goes hot and cold on the issue of homosexuals in the country, a scattered approach to censorship still exists for LGBTI activists who want to change the score for civil rights in the country.
Tongqi has long been the standard for young professional gay men in China who want to move ahead in business, and in life. As they publicly live heterosexual lives most hope to be able to reach a personal level of success in their careers. But their lives are not what they appear to be.
Guilt and the shadows of remorse can haunt those involved for years. Hiding comfortably, or often ‘uncomfortably,’ under the facade of traditional Chinese marriage has a cost. The suffering inside the family can be pronounced as straight wives of gay men sort through their own private relationship boundaries and confusion.
Many of the marriages often come with one child – as per the formal policy that may be starting to subside inside the People’s Republic of China.
Regardless of government or civil policies, pervasive practice of hiding LGBTI sexuality by publicly marrying someone of the opposite sex has been common among women in China as well as men inside the region.
“A lot of Chinese gay people marry the opposite sex, compared with a fraction in the Western countries,” says acclaimed Chinese Professor of Sociology and sexologist Ms. Li Yinhe. “Husbands cannot be blamed.”
The percentage of ‘fake’ marriages in the region has been documented at up to 77 percent of men who identify themselves as gay, outlines Li, who is currently working to get a marriage equality bill approved through this year’s March session at China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing.
In spite of the common cases of ‘fake marriage,’ it is considered illegal in China. It persists today for many as a base of necessity against discrimination.
“The case reveals that a 56-year-old unemployed local woman, surnamed Ao, and a 39-year-old man from the mainland, surnamed Zhang, registered for marriage in Mainland China on December 2006,” says a police report filed by the government of the City of Macau, known as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In addition to Beijing, Macau is also considered one of the top administrative centers in China, 37 miles southwest of the urban sprawl of Hong Kong.
“The prosecutor in charge of the case analyzed the evidence and decided there was strong indication that the two suspects had committed forgery of document. Appropriate mandatory measures were taken against them,” continued the Macau government report.
Reveling Sexuality in Public
Being gay in China is not considered a crime, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy. It wasn’t until 1997 that homosexuality, known in China as tongzhi, was de-criminalized in the region. In 2001 it was officially taken off the list of mental disorders, but those who still feel it has ‘psychological’ overtones continue.
For many men, discrimination at the corporate level where job opportunity, raises in pay, equal treatment with other co-workers, and training opportunities for advancement are greatly compromised for those who expose themselves to their companies, the issues are critical. While tolerance is improving, Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered individuals, and intersex people within the work force are equally discriminated against.
LGBTI discrimination against teens in high schools also plagues a growing number of youth.
Students in Chinese high schools, like many at schools inside the United States and other western countries, continue to suffer from bullying and cruelty spurred by exclusion and discrimination. It’s documented that the suffering that comes from this type of bullying comes strictly from children who are perceived as ‘sexually different.’
Even in regions where Asian family ‘values’ collide with post Mao communism and centuries old Chinese traditions, the problems of sexual difference can bring years of self-hatred to youth who have been pushed to the side because they are considered to be LGBTI. Even in urban areas where LGBTI acceptance is growing among a new and younger generation of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai ‘chic,’ the ultimate public acceptance of marriage equality has what many advocates call “a long tail.”
“Our laws can’t possibly be encouraging homosexuals to marry heterosexuals, can they?” said almost 200 parents and friends who make up a concerned consortium of members for PFLAG in Guangzhou, China and who recently took on the Chinese government. The statement came candidly in the form of a letter directed to China’s National People’s Congress in a formal plea asking that marriage equality law be brought to the floor of China’s parliament.
LGBTIs and China’s Media
When one thousand onlookers gathered on October 2, 2012 in the city of Ningde in Fujian Province to see the marriage of two young handsome Chinese men in their 20s, Lu Zhong and his partner Liu Wangqiang, in a public matrimonial ceremony, their act of courage was celebrated as an act of equality and heroism. Family members who were present in the audience, as well as civil rights advocates and the curious alike, surrounded the matrimonial ritual in what appeared to be a rush of celebratory glee.
In spite of this progress, China continues to have a history of media censorship and police intimidation for those who are perceived as ‘troublemakers’ who are challenging the system in China. But the dictates of media in China are a dichotomy. Clear progress is being made for some LGBTIs through their use of film, video, photo and social media in the region.
On October 27, 2012 the Golden Eagle Summit Hotel in Wuhu, China became the first hotel in China to host a fancy wedding for two Chinese lesbians from prominent families. Known affectionately as ‘Tom and Yoki,’ they captured their own wedding ceremony on film and posted it to the video site Youku, the equivalent of Youtube in China, with the production help of Han Tang Studio, in a landmark video [use this link Joey for this important landmark wedding video: depicting Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman media-style glamour.
Young filmmaker Mr. Popo Fan from the LGBT Center in Beijing is also stepping out to organize public film festivals throughout the Chinese region.
“Media is afraid of LGBTs because it might be censored,” said Popo in a January 2013 interview with the UNDP – United Nations Population Fund in China. “Film festivals are a very good way to raise the visibility of LGBTs in China. Now we’ll make more people see our image and hear our voice through film, newspapers, magazines – all the ways we can do.”
In spite of the yo-yo in sanctions against LGBTIs who speak out, use of high quality film/video media to bring the message that marriage equality and acceptance of sexual transparency is now on the rise. A growing number of people are now beginning to see that yes – it is ok in China – especially in the case for Tom and Yoki who have used the aura of Hollywood to bring their message to the public that gay and lesbian people can be an inspiration.
We have to fight against discrimination, says Popo.
So far Tom and Yoki’s wedding video has not been censored by the government.