Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chinese Gays Take to the Streets

Seeing that Xi'an is not one of China's more liberal cities, I didn't see any of these demonstrations yesterday.

From Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese gays and lesbians took to the streets on Saturday hoping Saint Valentine's Day would help them attract support for same-sex marriage in the conservative society.

Thirty people gathered on a street in the Chinese capital, close to Tiananmen Square and its stern portrait of Mao Zedong, to hold mock wedding photo sessions. They drew gasps, smiles and an occasional scowl from passers-by. Organisers said similar events took place in three other cities.

Their goal was to win more acceptance in a nation that has long frowned upon open displays of sexuality. Campaigners gave out roses and a slip of pink paper urging support for same-sex marriage.

Police did not interfere. Same-sex marriage is forbidden in China, where for many homosexuality is abhorrent or unknown.

"A lot of people around me don't see the gay community, they don't even know there are any of us around. They think we are very seductive and strange," said one participant, a student who used the name Dana.

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I don't have any openly gay friends here in Xi'an. I have a friend or two who I think might be gay, but I'm not sure that these friends in question have admitted this to themselves yet. So I'm not really much of an authority when it comes to knowing what an openly gay person goes through living in China. But I have to imagine that it's a pretty difficult experience.

Coming from middle-America, I'm used to very religious and not-so-tolerant people. My home state is Kansas for god's sake. While I don't consider Kansas to be part of the bible-belt (which is more in America's Southeast), Kansas is the state that put teaching the theory of evolution in public schools on trial and concluded that "science that does not preclude supernatural explanations." So in a way, central China and Kansas aren't that far apart when it comes to their conservative social attitudes, they just come to these same conclusions via different routes.

Saying this though, it has to be easier being a homosexual in Kansas City than it is in Xi'an.

The pressure on young men and women in China to couple-up and marry is unbelievable. Even in big cities, which are more progressive than the countryside, this is the case. There are no ifs ands or buts when it comes to getting married in China. To your typical city-dwelling Chinese family, a Chinese woman by the age of twenty-seven or so and a Chinese man by his early thirties, simply, must be married. The social consequences for not tying the knot here are huge. It just doesn't seem to happen too often at all.

This might be different in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and other more liberal and open places. I'm just speaking from what I've seen and heard here in Xi'an over the past three years. Even if things are different, I imagine that there aren't as many single thirty-somethings running around Shanghai as there are New York City, London, or Paris.

This pressure to marry surely forces people in the gay and lesbian community to mask themselves and hide their true feelings. For these reasons, I reckon it is a very traumatic and difficult experience being gay in China.

I hope that the younger generation of Chinese, like the younger generations of Americans, can be more open and accepting of gay and lesbian people. I, personally, have no problem with what other people do with their lives. And it's not like gay people chose to be gay. It is just the way they are.


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