Coming Out in China

Worldcrunch carries an account, translated from the Economic Observer, of a Tianjin husband and father’s difficult escape from the closet:

After graduating from university, family and friends were enthusiastic to fix him up with a girl. He didn’t know how to refuse and finally yielded to the pressure, marrying a girl his parents liked. He was hounded by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. “But if I can’t possibly love her, I can at least try my best to be a good husband,” he says he told himself. So as not to disappoint his parents, Zhang and his wife had a son right after being married ….

After New Year’s Day this year, Zhang invited his wife, his parents and his parents-in-law to dinner. He announced the truth near the end of the meal. The fathers didn’t quite believe him, and everybody at the table was startled. Then his mother, who has a hypertension problem, fainted. His wife smacked his face and left. He later cried and knelt in front of his father beside the hospital bed of his mother, asking for forgiveness.

“It was really like a second-rate TV drama,” he says. “The whole family was crying. I had never imagined that it would ever happen to me.”

Zhang’s wife divorced him without hesitation and won full custody of their son. Relatives scolded him, saying he was irresponsible. He tries to compensate everybody with money. He gave his house to his ex-wife and pays to support his parents, the cost of coming out. Zhang’s parents are still in a cold war with him: his mother won’t speak to him. He worries that his son will suffer from being laughed at when his friends find out that his father is gay.

Some aspects of the story are far from uniquely Chinese. Family pressure to form a “conventional”, child-bearing marriage is particularly intense in China, however, especially for the generation born under the One Child Policy: see (or hear) a report on the issue from The World earlier this year. In February, Slate explored Shanghai’s secret world of gay-on-lesbian marriages, which attempt to fulfil parental expectations without involving an unsuspecting straight partner.

Cause for optimism regarding public acceptance of homesexuality came from an unexpected quarter recently, when CCTV anchor Qiu Qiming responded on air to homophobic microblog re-posts by actress Lü Liping:

“We respect the faith of individual celebrities, and we allow them to have their own point of view on issues. But, that does not mean that we agree that a person of such influence should have the power to openly discriminate against certain communities in China … Gay people, like us, have the right to exist and develop themselves in society, and this right should not be overtaken by any other concept.”

But acceptance by society in general, necessary though it is, will not provide grandchildren for impatient parents.


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