She has no regrets, but for Qing Feng divorcing her husband, a gay man, and losing her son and money, was not an easy process.
Qing, from southwest China’s Guizhou Province, ended her sexless, loveless marriage months ago, after an arduous negotiation with the man who had constantly belittled her throughout their 13-year relationship.
“He said I wouldn’t get a penny or the custody of my son because I asked for a divorce without evidence to show he was wrong,” said Qing who is in her forties.
“He was well prepared for the day of the divorce. He had transferred all our assets to his parents.”
Qing is one of many unlucky women in China known as the “gay wives,” or Tongqi, who unwittingly marry closeted gay men. For these women, the road to a successful divorce is often a rocky one due to obstruction from their husbands and a lack of clear legal support.
In a country where gay marriage is illegal, the majority of gay men chose to marry women and have children because of the pressure from their parents and society. Many Chinese believe continuing the family bloodline is an inescapable male duty and not having children constitutes a failure.
NO EASY WAY OUT
At a seminar on the protection of Tongqi, held in the central Chinese city of Changsha, Hunan Province, late July, Qing shared her story and encouraged other women in her situation to pursue their happiness with courage.
Two years ago, a TV program focusing on the tragedy of “gay-straight” marriages helped Qing overcome the doubts she had about divorcing her husband who recoiled from all physical contact from the moment their son was born and seldom showed her any care.
“He repeatedly told me ‘don’t laugh. You look ugly when you do that.’ He liked nothing about me, so I kept trying to change myself to please him,” she said.
When she finally questioned her husband about his sexual orientation, he confessed but refused to divorce as he feared it would ruin his reputation.
For attending last year’s Tongqi seminar, Qing was insulted by her husband and his family. She finally had enough and made up her mind to insist on divorce, despite hesitating for the sake of her son.
A lawyer told Qing that even if she filed a divorce lawsuit it might not go in her favor.
Most Chinese gay men conceal their homosexuality, which makes it difficult for women to collect evidence of their husband’s sexual habits and orientation, said Yang Shaogang, a Shanghai-based lawyer who is experienced in “gay-straight” divorce cases. As a result, judges often do not grant the divorce, and the women need to file again at a later date, Yang said.
In addition, Chinese law does not define the gay man as culpable in the marriage breakdwon, meaning no compensation is given to the women, and the law offers no privileges for these women to obtain custody of their children.
Yang has called for legal changes regarding the distribution of property and child custody in such divorce cases to encourage Tongqi to break free.
Three of the 15 Tongqi who attended the first seminar held last year are now divorced.
“It shows huge progress that these Tongqi were able to stand up to protect their rights,” said renowned sexologist Zhang Beichuan.
Dr. Li Xianhong, of Central South University, Changsha, who initiated the Tongqi seminars, said a report will be formulated to help create legislation to protect Tongqi in the future.
DISEASE, VIOLENCE, SILENCE
A 2013 survey, conducted by Zhang and her team, of nearly 150 women who had either married or divorced gay or bisexual men, or who were dating such men, showed that 70 percent of the respondents suffered long-term emotional abuse from the men, often characterized by sexual apathy.
In addition, 90 percent of the women developed symptoms of depression and 20 percent of them endured repeated beatings.
Nearly 40 of those surveyed reported symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases. Among the 30 who were tested for HIV, two found themselves infected.
Su Yun, 60, who became deaf in one ear after she was beaten by her homosexual husband, recently divorced. A day after the divorce, her ex-husband and his boyfriend barged into Su’s home.
“I didn’t dare to call the police. I thought he might strangle me. He tried once and I almost died,” said Su, in eastern China’s Shandong Province.
Divorced women are often discriminated against in China, and not everyone trapped in an unhappy marriage wants to get out, said Dr. Li.
Lin Yan is in her fifties and decided to stay in her marriage, even though her husband confessed to being gay more than 10 years ago.
“We live in a very small place. People like my husband. If I say he’s gay, no one would believe me. They might think I was having an affair and just wanted a divorce,” Lin said. Adding that without a job she financially relies on her husband.
In general, the Tongqi are an invisible group, A large number have not even realized that their husbands are gay, due to conservative attitudes towards sex, said Dr. Li
“Many never even wonder why they have no sex life in their marriage.”
So far, Qing Feng has not been able to explicitly tell her parents why she divorced.
“It was really shameful,” she said.