A Marriage of Convenience: Why China’s Gays are Marrying Straight

A Marriage of Convenience: Why China’s Gays are Marrying Straight
Mar 16, 2012 By Susie Gordon , eChinacities.com

At the Lai Lai dancehall in Shanghai's Hongkou district, older gay men gather to socialise and practice ballroom dancing. Most – if not all – are married to women, and their secret gatherings make a poignant sight. Moving gracefully around the dance floor in their partners' arms, the men are an embodiment of a phenomenon that has recently come to public discussion.

A Marriage of Convenience: Why China’s Gays are Marrying Straight
Photo: 1314xt.com

At the start of February 2012, China Daily published an article in which a renowned academic claimed that as many as 16 million women on the Chinese mainland are married to gay men. Professor Zhang Beichuan is an expert on HIV and AIDS research at Qingdao University, and claims that 90% of homosexual men in China get married to women. To anyone familiar with Chinese society, these figures will come as no surprise. While homosexuality does not carry the same moral dilemma as in the monotheistic West, age-old traditions still hold sway over relationships.

A Social, Not Moral Sin

Xiao Yao, aged 29 from Xi'an, divorced her gay husband in 2008 and set up a blog called "Homeland of Gay's Wives". With thousands of readers, it has become a manual for women who feel jilted by the deception of their gay husbands. Activists for gay rights fear that Xiao and others in her position will foment ill-feeling towards gay men trapped in loveless marriages with straight women, while the blame lies with societal pressure.

The ancient tenets of Confucianism still play heavily on modern Chinese society – something that journalist Martin Weber noted in a Huffington Post article on 30th January. He cites the "social straitjacket" of Confucian ideals, claiming that adherence to the father/child and husband/wife model is the true enemy of gay people. In China, homosexuality is not a moral sin, but a social one. The decision to remove oneself from the accepted family structure is hugely shameful, subverting the natural order and causing loss of face.

A Marriage of Convenience: Why China’s Gays are Marrying Straight
Photo: lihpao.com

While Professor Zhang's research focused on gay men, it stands to reason that there are countless lesbians who are likewise married to men. In 2010, the AFP estimated that of the 30 million gay people in China, one third are female. Following Zhang's figures, this would mean that there are around nine million gay women married to men, hypothetically speaking. One way of getting around the issue of marriage and children is to find a partner of the opposite sex who is also gay. On the face of it, the couple gets to preserve the all-important family structure while continuing their homosexual lifestyle either in secret or in a city far from their parents. Shanghai's "fake marriage market" came to worldwide attention on the internet earlier this year, with several websites reporting the phenomenon. For some gay people, it is the perfect set up, but others wish that they didn't have to go to such lengths to be accepted. Mark, 28, told me: "I'm coming up to the age when most guys are married. I know guys who have found lesbian women to marry so they can have a family to appease their parents, but I'm just not interested in that sort of dishonesty."

Mark moved to Shanghai from Jiangxi several years ago to escape disapproval from his parents regarding his sexuality. This is the case for countless gay people, who gravitate to Tier 1 cities where they can live more freely. However, the pull of family is often too strong. Expatriate Maria started a relationship with a Chinese girl last year, and things were going well until her girlfriend went back to her hometown to celebrate Spring Festival. On her return to Shanghai, she broke ties with Maria, explaining that her parents were forcing her to marry a man, and she was afraid of defying them. "To have a relationship end like that is pretty hurtful," Maria said, "but I understand that traditions run deep in China. It's easy to claim that I would act differently if I were in that situation, but when families only have one child, the pressure is on for them to marry and procreate. It's just sad that gay people have to live a lie."

Changing parents' attitudes

It isn't only the younger generation who yearn to do away with prejudice. A well-known and much-loved figure in China's gay community is Wu Youjian – also known as Mama Wu – whose son Zheng Yuantao came out in 1999. Instead of disowning him or forcing him into an unhappy straight marriage, Wu celebrated her son's sexuality, creating a blog (三色堇 - http://blog.sina.com.cn/3sj) that has received 2.2 million hits. She speaks publicly about gay acceptance, and urges other parents of homosexual children to acknowledge the fact instead of trying to change it. Given that an estimated 30% of gay youths attempt suicide, changing parents' attitudes is an important step.

While Shanghai's Lai Lai dancehall is a great resource for the city's clandestine gay population, perhaps one day the men who go there will be able to dance with their husbands, not their secret lovers. As with many of China's social issues, change will be a slow process, but one that will be worth the fight.

Related links
The Gay Debate: Tolerance with a Voice
Mr. Gay China Pageant Cancelled Abruptly
Out and Proud: Shanghai's LGBT Scene

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Keywords: gay marriage in China marriage of convenience China homosexuals in China importance of culture in Chinese family Chinese gays marrying straight


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god have given the choice to people,

Mar 23, 2012 17:42 Report Abuse



It's great to read the comments, they are so diverse and amazing passion on both sides...
I just want to add a small thing..
I know that in China it is more forced that a man should marry a woman and carry on the legacy and I understand that factor.. However it's not prevalent in all cultures. In Canada which I'd like to think it pretty open about gayness; I saw a man (close to me) married to a woman for several years, and had 3 beautiful kids, a house and a life together. It was his idea to have all this and I believe when they got married he was actually quite straight and really loved his wife. After some years he cheated on his wife with a man and left her to become gay with his lover. So, yes, it was a choice in this case. He didn't leave his fatherly obligations alone but it did make me sad to see his wife crushed and unaware. He forced a bit of his new gay(the world is all rainbows) unto her and made her accept it within a few weeks. It clearly crushed her world and she was not healed (went through a lot of self-hatred for a time)..
I guess my point is.. it really is a choice, just like divorce from anyone is and it deeply hurts some people... It takes time and sensitivity for acceptance and forgiveness on all sides. It shouldn't be forced on someone to accept a choice they made in life. But we SHOULD respect individual people and their choices in life, right or wrong.
That's my two cents. Cheers.

Mar 19, 2012 03:52 Report Abuse



Ah an intelligent and rational person. Yes, thank you! Well put.
I want to ask you, what kind of research does one need to do in order to have a valid opinion whether or not homosexuality is morally right or wrong? Religion, although might not be scientifically based, is a huge factor in every society, including the absence of religion.

I want to draw a comparison between homosexuality and alcoholism, because I think the two closely resemble each other. Alcoholism is not a choice. It is still being researched but has been genetically linked. However, the choice to drink alcohol IS a choice. Homosexuality is not a choice. The choice to have sex with a man IS a choice. Alcoholics are looked down upon by the rest of society, they are. Alcoholics commit suicide more than non-alcoholics. An alcoholic's choice to drink in the privacy of their own home, still affects society. It affects marriages, loved ones, children, etc. Alcoholic's that stop the act of drinking vastly improve their chances of not only survival, but also success and community achievements and appraisals. The act of drinking is a deadly gamble with life.

Now, if you replace alcoholism with homosexuality in the above mentioned paragraph. Is it still true? Yes. The act of homosexuality does affect other people around you. Homosexuals commit suicide more than non-homosexuals. The act of having sex with other men is a deadly gamble with life. If you stop having sex with other men, then you vastly improve your chances of survival. Homosexuals are looked down upon by society.

My question, and it may derail my entire argument, is are you ready to give alcoholics the same amnesty and social approval as homosexuals? More specifically, are you willing to give heavy drinkers, "winos" and "drunks" the same social approval as men who have sex with other men? If so, then I accept your argument and I concede all of my previously stated arguments.

Mar 18, 2012 17:45 Report Abuse



Haha! I love it. irrelevant? Haha! that is how most, philosophers, clergy, etc derive their thinking. They base LAWS off of this thinking, they base moral behavior off of this way of thinking. What do you think the supreme court thinks about when making a rational decision? Do you think they only consider utilitarianism? Or how about Kant. Maybe they only follow the Holy Bible, or the Koran.

Mr. Rational,

The point is, sir, that you have no idea what I am talking about, do you? Hmm, my intellect is that far beyond yours? Wow, the world really is stupid.
Allow me to explain my previous analysis. You know what, forget it! Just be retarded. Retards, retards! Don't know why they believe the way they do. No moral basis, Just blindly following the crowd. OOOOOOOh. Just retarded people. How does the Bible say it? "God, forgive them, for they know not what they do." I love these words regardless of what religion you are.

Mar 18, 2012 23:16 Report Abuse



yes I am well aware of the context which Jesus said those sacred words. I come to tears every time I hear them. My grandmother was a biblical scholar and missionary for life. She did not believe in any one sanction. She was a truly great person.

Mar 19, 2012 00:30 Report Abuse



@ Rain, First and foremost, philosophy and religion do not have to butt-heads, rather come to an agreement. We as a society have segregated the two. However, we forget that one gave birth to the other. There are many well known philosophers that believe in god. I’m asking you what is your point? Why do you mention it? What the hell do you mean by “conventional thought” and how do you distinguish the difference between what is a “clergy” matter and what is a “philosopher’s” matter? I’m curious. Please clarify what you mean.

Mar 19, 2012 01:23 Report Abuse



fine then, let me give you a rebuttal. rape and pedophiea is forced upon a person without their consent, therefore you take away their rights of choice, dignity, and liberty. homosexual sex between two adults that is consentual does not take away anyone rights and force is not used upon another person. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but to take those opinions and force others to live the lifestyle you deem moral is wrong. You take away a homosexual's right to happiness. You may think that one can not be happy as a homosexual, but you are not gay so obviously you have a different opinion. Different strokes for different folks.. Gays aren't forcing you to hide your sexuality. And I believe the animal kingdom comments were directed at the pervious false argument that it is not natural, and that there aren't gays in the animal kingdom, rather than saying we are animals.

Mar 17, 2012 23:48 Report Abuse



No one is taking away your right at all, we are just saying keep out of the marriage debate. Just stop your stupid ideals, otherwise it will backfire!

Mar 18, 2012 03:39 Report Abuse



the flaw in your argument is that you neglect the idea of consent. If two adults both consent to have sex because they want to, that is their choice and their morality reflexes that, if someone rapes another person or a child, there is no consent. it is forced unwilling upon another person and takes away their rights as a human. to equate homosexuality, which is biological, to forced rape just doesn't make any sense.

Mar 17, 2012 23:38 Report Abuse



Sensible, considered words, Kyle. Consent is they key word, here.

Mar 18, 2012 00:07 Report Abuse



why do you care do much to about judging gay people as being immoral. Do you have any family or friends that are gay? Its not just about proving that you are right by making comparisons to incest, its not incest. its not rape.. its homosexuality.. they are different....
You and others who share this kind of opinion are why so many gay teenagers commit suicide, go through depression, or end up living an unhappy life that is a lie. Is that morally wrong? To force a group of people into hiding who they are, to put so much pressure on a young man who is gay that he kills himself... in my opinion, what you and others who condemn homosexuals as immoral people not fit for society are the real immoral people... just think about how many gay peoples lives have been ended or destroyed... gay people are people... they deserve the same rights as all people.. you have rights because you are in individual, a human, not because you are gay or straight, or black or white...
so whatever, stay up on your holy throne and cast others you disagree with to hell, if thats what makes you feel good... id prefer you keep it to yourself though rather than hurting others...

Mar 18, 2012 03:15 Report Abuse



Ah, I fear the lady doth protest too much!

If it helps you come to terms with anything Bill, you may be glad to hear that dogs and cats can actually be homosexual and it's even quite common. In fact, homosexuality is rife in the entire animal kingdom from gay lions to lesbian hyenas, and our closest genetic relative, the chimpanzee, lives in an entirely bisexual society. Homosexuality is one of the most natural things in the world, homophobia on the other hand is only found in humans...

Mar 21, 2012 07:19 Report Abuse



Actually homosexuality has appeared in nature time and time again.

Mar 30, 2012 00:02 Report Abuse



What is with the Queers? I can not understand why people can't make a comment against them. If society accepts things people do, well I think that's okay, if society shuns something, so be it. What reall gets to me is when the law is changed to make society accept and if anyone makes a criticism, well low and be tide to them!! So you marry your queer partner and you have your test tube child and no one has an aunt or uncle, so your child marries and has incest because you idiots stuffed up with you beliefs. Society will come around again!

Mar 17, 2012 01:55 Report Abuse



Rain , you just reinforced my argument

Mar 17, 2012 04:52 Report Abuse



Rain what has this statement of yours got to do with my argument:
"In Apartheid Africa, black people were reviled. Do you think there was any basis for changing the laws? Or did reform unfairly stop people from expressing their hatred?"
I was saying queers can only have laws changed to be accepted, socially they won't be accepted, you know why? because they force their agenda on society and yet society is still at odds with it even after 30 years (Australia) of the law being changed from it being an offence to commit buggery with another male person regardless.
I remember when I was doing my teachers practicum (at a high school) the NSW labor party reduced the age of consent for boys to 16, the year 11 students I was teaching really couldn't understand it at all and yet this age group grew up with the ammended laws from the early eighties.
So tell me this, how come they felt this way? when you and others say it is a natural thing? (to be a queer)
I will say it again society will not accept queers regardless of what you or anyone says, so don't pull the race issue into fighting your pathetic battles.
Have a nice day

Mar 17, 2012 20:16 Report Abuse



Here in Chengdu, everyday I see lesbian and gay couples on the street. Society here is rather accepting of homosexuality in general, parents just don't want their children to be gay because they want to continue their family lineage and have grandchildren. This is where the one child policy comes into play. I have heard that Chengdu and Chongqing are the most open cities towards homosexuality in China. I have various lesbian friends, whose friends all accept them. One gay friend of mine's family, who is from Sichuan near Chongqing, have a sort of don't ask, don't tell policy, but accept him and don't badger him about getting a wife or girlfriend, but his boyfriend's family, who is from Dongbei, is being pushed into marriage witha woman. I find it disturbing how society and family can be unfair to gays, but also disturbing that a gay man would marry then play around with other men. It is especially not fair to the wife. I think attitudes are changing though.

Mar 17, 2012 00:12 Report Abuse



Yeah, what could be wrong with a model where 30% of the gays attempt suicide. Clearly, that might just be the best model to go with...

Mar 29, 2012 23:58 Report Abuse



gays and chinese wow ! this is what we call development.
gayism is promoted just because we do not consider the marriage as an institue developed on mutual respect, understanding, compromises and self esteem. if the woman consider the male as the leader in family respect his authority in it, everything will be fine. men and women have obligations and rights to one another. i hope this world understand the meaning of marriage. this homosexuality, gayism and lesbians will be decreased to some extent. its completely a moral, society sin.
No hard feeling to anyone but i think its wrong, opinion varies to people, no offense to anyone.....thanks

Mar 16, 2012 17:45 Report Abuse