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Gay love, life and hope in urban China

Lingxiao Song interviews two generations of gay men living in Changchun, a city of 7.5 million in north-eastern China
Zhi De lives a gay life in Changchun.

Living a gay life in Shanghai or Beijing isn’t too bad these days, with dozens of gay bars and clubs. But what if you are gay in one of China’s rapidly industrializing and hugely populated ‘third tier’ cities? Gay Star News talks to Zhi De and Shao about finding love in in Changchun in north-eastern China.

‘It’s not as difficult as it used to be,’ says Zhi, a 22-year-old college student from Changchun who came out in high school. 'Being a gay is pretty much the same as being a heterosexual person, we have our own way of dating.'

Zhi loves his city and his life there. He says Changchun has everything a gay man needs to have fun and socialize. ‘Gay bars like Woodhouse and Mbar are really popular,’ he says. ‘Even though they are small. There are some gay massage spas.’

Twenty years ago, even 1o years ago, gay men in Changchun didn’t have any of this. ‘Some older gays told me they could only go to the darkest place in parks to meet people and have sex,’ says Zhi. ‘And there was no way for them to get together, because they always had to go back to their marriage and family.’

Most of the older generation of gay men in China married women due to family and societal pressures. Shao, a gay man in his 30s who is married with a child, says he hasn’t touched his wife since his son was born. His wife knows he’s gay, but stays with him anyway because she’s worried what her friends and family would think if they knew the truth. If she got divorce, it would be financially difficult to raise up her child as a single mother. From her perspective, getting divorce for marrying a homosexual man is too much disgrace to bear.

‘It’s a major situation with us gay people in China,’ says Shao. ‘Wives of gay men are pretty much like widows. Nobody can change the situation for us. It could only cause trouble (like losing my job) and hurt the ones I love (like my parents) if I came out.’

For Zhi the situation is different. ‘I came out to my parents when I was 18,’ he says. ‘For four years, they freaked out, got angry, and swore they would never talk to me again. They speak to me now.’

Zhi says he definitely won’t end up marrying a woman, and strongly condemns the gay men that do. 'I’ve fought this far, it would be stupid to stop now. I’m not like those marriage fakers. They make everybody miserable just because they can’t be honest with people including themselves.’

Like Zhi, more and more young gay men who were born in the 90s, are starting to lead different lives from older generations. They are braver and more optimistic. Knowing the barriers are there, they still desire the real happiness, and pursue it.

‘Being gay is not easy anywhere in world,’ Zhi says. ‘Fifty years ago, American gays were miserable. Look at them now! It’s all because they fought for themselves before. China is developing well on everything. It would be silly to believe gay people are doomed.’ 

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