In a country where homosexuality is legal but same-sex marriage is not, the Chinese society is seeing a trend where more gay men and lesbian women are marrying each other so as to make their parents happy.
And the biggest reason they are doing this – to create the illusion to loved ones around that they are in a conventional relationship, especially given the deep rooted traditions of Chinese family culture where the only definition of a couple is that of a man and a woman.
Italian filmmaker Sophia Luvarà is one passionate soul who is very interested in studying this issue in detail. In her documentary ‘Inside the Chinese Closet’, she talked about how a gay man (Andy) and a lesbian woman (Cherry) journey to each find a gay partner of the opposite sex, for marriage.
‘Although you can’t go to prison for homosexuality, on a social level, it is problematic,’ said Luvarà, who conducted two years of research prior to filming.
She added: ‘There is still a lot of discrimination, that might mean it is unlikely you get a promotion, for example, if you are openly gay.’
Luvarà also documented how gay men and lesbian women find partners for these sham marriages – through matchmaking events, which she describes as ‘business deals’.
‘You have to go and say openly what you’re looking for—money, baby, marriage terms. It’s very pragmatic,’ said Luvarà.
She added: ‘It was like a market where you can sell vegetables or eggs; it’s so unemotional.’
One may ask why the need to do so, especially since homosexuality has been made legal in China since 1997. To better understand this trend, one will probably also need to have a good understanding of how the Chinese society functions and the country’s way of governance.
On a broad stroke, gay relationships are largely frowned upon by the Chinese government. Earlier in March this year, the Chinese government passed a law to ban portrayals of same-sex relationships from television, having previously removed videos that featured LGBT couples from the internet. The effect of such a move can be wide-reaching, especially with this official government stance that only serves to pervade the social stigmatization of LGBT people in China that has already been present for decades.
China’s political history, too, does not make it any easier for LGBT people. Many of us will remember China’s one-child policy – a population control policy introduced between 1978 and 1980 where every family, back then, was subjected to a strict one-child restriction. An additional 53% of the population were allowed to have a second child, but only if the first child was a girl. The emphasis on the masculinity of the child’s gender back then implies that it is very likely that the young men today in China are the only ones in their families that can carry on their respective lineages. Particularly for the Chinese society, the importance of carrying on the family name is clearly articulated via the content in mainstream media as well as in family conversations – even up till today.
And for gay men in China, this could only mean something – they have to shoulder the burden of being fathers, even though this perceived responsibility may well be against their wishes.
No wonder many young gay men and lesbian women in China are having to find innovative ways to conceal their sexuality and maintain their families’ social reputations.
Oh yes, social reputation plays a big part in the Chinese society as well – where the definition of success for children means securing good jobs, being leaders in the corporate workplace as well as having a family to call their own. It is thus almost more feasible for fake gay and lesbian couples to make arrangements to live with each other and even produce a child for their parents, than suffer the social consequences being involved in a same-sex relationship.
But the story does not end here. How are gay men and lesbian women going to produce children? And how are they going to lead the rest of their lives?
For many of them, they may hope to have a baby via in-vitro fertilization and negotiate on how the rest of their lives together will be managed.
In her journey of discovery, Luvarà also detailed one instance of a relationship including four people.
‘I had one particular case where four people lived together, a male couple and a female couple, and one of the boys was married to one of the girls,’ She explained.
‘They are all having a baby together. It’s like a commune.’