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Homosexuality in China

(2008-03-26 11:09:01)
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Tong xing lian : In China, word spreads on the love that dare not speak its name

Washington Blade

September 18, 1998

by Kai Wright

Liang Zhang, 34, remembers the first time he heard the phrase tong xing lia’n, or "same-sex love" in Chinese. He was in his early 20s and read it in a magazine advice column in which columnist counseled a young man on how to suppress his feelings. Shortly thereafter, Zhang saw a second reference to same-sex attraction. Walking down the street in his hometown of Beijing, he glanced at one of the large white public notices bearing a list of names crossed out in red. The names were those of criminals, captured and prosecuted for crimes against the state. Zhang noticed with fright that one man’s transgression was having anal sex with another man.

It was the mid 1980s, and, even in an urban center such as Beijing, the idea of a Gay community - a Gay anything - in China was ludicrous.

"There was absolutely nothing that we could read that we could get to know about Gay life. Everything was underground. People - they went to parks," reflects Zhang, now living with his partner in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. "I knew nothing. There was no bar. No publication. No education."

There were bathhouses, though not the sort popularized in late 1970s American Gay metropolises, but rather those used by the families around China who lack showering facilities in their homes. It was there that Zhang had his first sexual experience with a man. But after seeing the public notice of the man apparently erased from society for such behavior, Zhang became frightened that he would meet the same fate if he continued meeting men at the bathhouses.

So, after a few years of dodging questions from family and friends about why he - a tall, lean, attractive man who made a conspicuous bachelor - had not paired off, Zhang met a young woman he thought he could marry. And, amid the emotional uncertainty born from the 1989 Tiananmen Square police crackdown on democracy advocates, the two wedded. The marriage went well, and Zhang says he was in love.

In 1991, he moved to New Zealand to study international trade. He was to set up a life there and then move his wife down to live with him. But there was a catch: Jeffrey, a man whom Zhang met and fell in love with shortly after arriving in New Zealand. This presented a problem when Zhang finally moved his wife to live with him in 1994. So Jeffrey moved to Paris and told Zhang that if he wanted them to be together, Zhang should look for him in Paris.

"After he left, I just couldn’t, you know, I couldn’t have a normal life," Zhang says. "My body was in New Zealand, but my mind, my heart, had already gone with him."

Eventually, Zhang told his wife everything.

"I told her, and it was a very hard time. The word came out of my mouth, ‘I’m Gay.’" In the end, it all worked out. Miraculously, Zhang’s wife and both of their families understood.

"It was really amazing," Zhang says. "I jumped on the plane and went to Paris."

Jeffrey and Zhang later moved to the United States, where Zhang now awaits a work visa to restart his garment-making business here.

A quiet storm of activism

The latest such gathering, or "Tongzhi" (Chinese for "Comrades") conference, was in San Francisco in June, during the city’s Gay Pride festival. Over 200 Tongzhi activists from 17 countries participated. Another Tongzhi gathering held in Hong Kong in February also drew around 200 participants.

"There seems to be more of a formal, organized activism around these issues. Especially trying to get involvement from people who are from the mainland, or live there now," said Dao-Liang Chou, an American woman who just returned from a year’s study in Beijing and worked with the women’s community in fostering Lesbian support networks while there. The difficulty in building community, she noted, is "there’s no really public notice of anything. You can’t put an ad in the paper, or say something on the radio, or anything like that."

Two of China’s Gay human rights pioneers can testify to the dangers of being too public in organizing Gay events.

Gary Wu, one of the more high-profile Chinese Gay activists who coordinated the June Tongzhi conference, is planning what may be a milestone conference of Gay human rights advocates in China in the coming months. He declined to give the Blade details on the event, however, for fear of doing anything to tip off local authorities. His lack of candor seems well advised. The last large event he organized in China, a gathering of Gays and other human rights advocates from around the world during the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference, landed him in jail for 13 days, through the end of the conference, and led to his departure from the country during the summer of 1996. He said he was forced to sign a statement then swearing never to attempt to organize a Gay event in China again.

Wu, who now lives and works in San Francisco, founded the U.S.-based International Chinese Comrades Organization in July 1997 shortly after arriving here from Europe. He has been working to develop a Gay community in China since 1994, when he joined with a journalist from Taiwan to conduct a 15-city study of Gay life in China. The study turned into a book, published in Taiwan but not in mainland China, and marked the start of Wu’s activism. He also produced a film, titled Comrades, which has been shown in Gay film festivals from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

Around the same time of Wu’s study, Wan Yan Hai, who is now living and working in Beijing, was dismissed from his job with the Chinese government’s National Health Education Institute as police shuttered the Gay men’s social group he founded in 1992. The group, "Men’s World," is believed to have been the first Gay organization in the nation’s history. Hai developed the group as part of his work as the head of an AIDS information hotline for the government.

"They aren’t too comfortable with my activity in China," he said in an interview with the Blade last year, while in the United States studying at the University of Southern California and lobbying the American Psychiatric Association to help convince the Chinese Psychiatric Association to depathologize homosexuality. While here, he helped found an organization of Gay Chinese ex-patriots, mainly academics, named the Chinese Society for the Study of Sexual Minorities.

The group began publishing a newsletter on the Internet (at www.csssm.org) in September 1997, which organizers primarily direct at Gays living on the Chinese mainland. Reflecting the academic background of its founders, Hai included, the group’s main focus is to present scientific studies, primarily psychiatric, that support the notion that homosexuality is a normal part of the human experience.

Hai said in the interview last fall that around 500 hard copies of varied issues of the newsletter had been distributed around China. He now coordinates the AIZHI Action Project in China. It’s an AIDS awareness and education project that he originally founded in 1994 with funding from the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and its target audience is Gay men. The group doesn’t get government funding, but neither has the government interfered with its running. According to Hai, that’s mainly due to a rising awareness among Chinese politicos that the nation must begin fighting AIDS.

Wu and Hai have been leaders, but others have broken just as much ground with smaller-scale projects. Chou and another American woman, Lisa Chun, coordinated one such project last spring. Chou was still in Beijing, and Chun was planning a visit of several Asian cities. They decided to coordinate screenings of the famous Ellen "coming out episode" for Lesbians in and around Beijing. With the help of a British woman living in China, they managed to pull together two such screenings, reaching around 30 women in total.

Chou said that she feels the Lesbian community is not nearly as developed as the Gay men’s, and communication about Gay events is still very much word of mouth between Lesbians. Even that, she said, can be complicated by the fact that people usually live with their extended families and don’t necessarily enjoy a great deal of space for a private life.

Zhang has been back to Beijing a couple of times since leaving and attended the Tongzhi conference in Hong Kong this February. In visiting, he said he was completely surprised to find that there now exists at least one predominantly Gay bar and two more clubs where Gays are able to socialize openly. Asked if he is ever going to return to live in Beijing, Zhang hesitates.

"I am," he ultimately resolves. "Because, I want to, first, set up my business. But also because it is my hometown. I feel as though I want to be there for a while."

Source: THE INTERNATIONAL LESBIAN AND GAY ASSOCIATION

http://www.ilga.info/Information/Legal_survey/Asia_Pacific/supporting%20files/in_china_word_spreads_on_the_lov.htm

 

 

 

 

Shelfmark:V000.846 Material:Moving Image Title:Vortrag von Gary Wu zur Situation der Homosexuellen in China / Gary Wu [lecture] Published:Sinologisches Seminar der Universität Heidelberg, 1996 Description:Lecture, Germany 1996. - In Chinese

1 videotape (VHS) (35 min) : color Summary:Talk held by Gary Wu at the Institute of Chinese Studie in Heidelberg, 30 October 1996. Introduction by Natascha Vittinghoff. Language:chi. Related names:
Wu, Gary [lecture]
Vittinghoff, Natascha [introduction]
Corp. body:Sinologisches Seminar der Universität Heidelberg Parallel Title:Speech by Gary Wu concerning the situation of homosexuals in China

 

Source: http://www.sino.uni-heidelberg.de/cgi-bin/acwww25/regsrch.pl?wert=wu,+gary&recnums=54415&index=1:&db=kat

 

 

 

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