Wednesday, February 1, 2012
"David's" Story: Gays and Modern China
"Coming out publicly would be a disaster for an ordinary person - he would be fired and ostracised," said David, who was willing to speak on condition that his Chinese name not be used. "Most just care about their own lives, they just want to try to be happy."
"This is hard enough. Many Chinese gays - burdened with ignorance, discrimination and fear - are unable to comprehend their homosexual yearnings and close themselves off from society, tormented by self-hate," said Wu Chunsheng, one of China's few campaigners.
"It's very common for Chinese gays not to have a single homosexual lover in their life," said Wu, noting that finding a steady partner was hard even for the minority who dared to venture out to tolerated gay meeting spots like Beijing's Dongdan Park and the five-star Kuniun Hotel's discotheque.
On certain nights, more than a third of the disco's crowd are gays at their most relaxed.
But, even here, intimacy is limited to furtive glances, whispers over a can of Coca Cola or, for the daring, a brief touch on the packed dance floor. Holding hands or any openly camp behaviour is out and, to the untrained eye, the club's gay crowd remain all but impossible to distinguish.
The disco is also expensive, putting it off-limits to ordinary Chinese like David, who complains it is full of "money gays" looking only for sex. He, like many others, is also uncomfortable picking partners up in parks.
"I've been to Dongdan to look for a lover but I was disgusted. I don't think Dogdan's a good place, I don't like the atmosphere," he said.
"I'd prefer to meet someone during my normal life - but that's very, very difficult," said the student, who, since recognising his homosexuality in January, has managed to overcome his initial disgust thanks to privileged access to objective material in his university library.
Most gays are not so lucky, which their ignorance and guilt instead reinforced by scant information in the media that tends to connect homosexuals with either AIDS or crime.
While long-term jail sentences for homosexuals on "hooliganism" charges have become rare in recent years, police continues to promote fear in the cowed community by occasionally rounding gays up and fining them or detaining them for several days.
With so many negative factors preventing gays from nurturing a stable relationship, many instead resort to sordid, "unsafe" encounters in public toilets. Afterwards, they return home to their wives and resume pretence of a heterosexual life.
"After the age of 30, more than 90 percent of gays get married - because social pressure makes them believe they have no choice. But they continue to find gay partners on the street and have unprotected sex," said campaigner Wan Yanhai.
Wan, Wu and other activists are seeking to tackle massive ignorance about AIDS and homosexuality, in part to help prevent an explosion in sexual transmission of the deadly disease.
In their most ambitious initiative yet, they gathered some 40 nationwide specialists in Beijing for a two-day conference aimed at drawing up policy recommendations to be forwarded to the government.
Wu is meanwhile conducting a nationwide survey of homosexuals, while Wan recently resurrected a salon and hotline shut down by the government last year.
"I want to bring homosexuals out from underground and improve interpersonal relations by promoting daylight gatherings and encouraging people to discuss their problems," said Wan.
But the activist's efforts to change social attitudes are frustrated, in part by the lack of cohesion within the gay community as well as by the absence of government support.
"Change won't happen fast. We can't yet start talking about gay rights - if you push for this too fast in China then you'll just get the opposite," said Wu.
"We have to take it step by step - first by convincing the government of the need to tackle the gay issue in order to deal with urgent practical matters like AIDS," he said.