China’s Bizarre Fake Marriage Phenomenon Reveals the Tragic State of LGBT Rights
Three years ago, when I brought my “girlfriend” to our graduation party, all my classmates admired my courage in coming out. They were dreaming of my lesbian wedding one day and all the girls in my class volunteered to be the bridesmaids.
Gay or lesbian marriage isn’t new in China nowadays. Although the couple can’t legally register their union, some still hold wedding ceremonies. Unfortunately, only a minority get a happy ending.
After three years with the same woman, I’m at a crossroads now. Almost 27 years old but “single,”. I receive several calls from my parents every week to urge me to find a man and get married. I never considered coming out to them, as I am the only child of a traditional Chinese family.
My father is the headmaster of a local school and my mother is a doctor. If I told them I’m a lesbian, my father would faint and my mother would threaten suicide unless I “changed.” Even if my parents could finally accept my choice, unbearable rumors from neighbors and relatives will overwhelm them. In my hometown, people are not tolerant enough to accept homosexuals.
In order to deal with the pressure from my parents and not to shame my family, I tried looking for a gay man to form a fake marriage with. I expected to find a gay “husband” to put on a show for each other’s families. And then we can live separate lives. But the realities turn out to be more complicated.
Making a fake marriage deals
So far I have met five guys. We met in couples with my girlfriend and their boyfriends and negotiated marriage details.
The most controversial thing is the baby issue. Four of them firmly demanded babies. There is one guy who is almost 40 years old and even said he could accept all my conditions. The only thing he insisted on was that I must have a baby for him. Either through sex or artificial insemination.
I felt uncomfortable being treated like a baby machine, but I did understand the situation he was in. He was the eldest grandson of a big family, who fled his hometown 20 years ago and discovered his sexuality in Beijing. His nearly century-old grandmother still awaited his marriage and a future great-grandchild back in their hometown.
Chinese homosexuals don’t have it easy in a country where family is everything. Fake marriages are one solution, but do they only bring more problems?
The law recognizes the marriages as real, causing property and other legal issues. And will children of such marriages be able to grasp the situation, or will they be confused by two sets of daddies and mommies?
Chinese society is certainly becoming more and more tolerant toward homosexuals. In big cities, people are accustomed to seeing two boys or girls hand in hand, hugging or kissing.
An online video of a man proposing marriage to his boyfriend at a mini-concert circulated rapidly on Douban.com in June, and the video attracted thousands of supportive comments. But I heard privately that the openness of their relationship came at the cost of their relationships with their families.
Traditional family constrains
Some Westerners think Chinese homosexuals have it comparatively easy because there are no religious prohibitions on sexuality.
But our families can be just as restrictive and oppressive as any church or religious text. My parents keep calling me to ask when I will get married. At least we are in an era of shengnan and shengnü (over-aged leftover men and women) now, which could act as a shield to deal with my parents for the moment. But how long will it last?
Gay people are marrying in droves in China — but not the way you think
“Xinghun,” or cooperative marriages between gay men and lesbians, are an increasing phenomenon in China. This isn’t happening because homosexuality is technically illegal. It was decriminalized in China in 1997 and declassified as a mental illness in 2001. Instead, the situation reflects a deeply traditional culture. It demands young people get married and have children to continue the family line, as a sign of one’s filial duty.
For Chinese youth, these cooperative marriages, also known as “fake marriages,” are the only way they can negotiate their lives and traditions while trying to avoid societal stigma.
The open closet
Gays marrying to hide their orientation is nothing new in China. Zhang Beichuan, a professor at Qingdao University’s medical school, told the Atlantic that these types of marriages have always existed. The difference is that in past decades, closeted gay men would marry “unsuspecting straight women to hide their homosexuality.” According to Zhang’s research, “there are 20 million gay and bisexual men in China, of whom around 80% have married straight women. This means that around 16 million heterosexual women in China today are married to gay men.”
It is only in recent years, however, with the facilitation provided by technology, that gays and lesbians are actively seeking each other out for marriage. A number of websites and apps exist in order to make these marriages happen. Even providing contract models for gays and lesbians to work out a perfect arrangement regarding housing, the potential for children and public appearances. Chinagayles.com is the country’s largest xinghun dating website.They have “nearly 380,000 registered users.” The new app Queers had over 10,000 gay and lesbian users “in less than two weeks after the launch”
Society has not caught up to the law
Only 21% of China’s population believe “society should accept homosexuality.” Chinese gay and lesbian population no longer needs to fear criminal punishment or legal retribution. Now they are still terrified of being sent to therapy or being forced to undergo “conversion” shock treatment.
The heterosexual nature of marriage is non-negotiable. Gay and lesbian people are thus expected to marry someone of the opposite sex. It is to give themselves ‘family and social cover.
Increased visibility is the key to changing public acceptance of gays and lesbians
Pride parades along with other forms of activism are aiding this drive to visibility and acceptance. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of LGBT rights. China, with its “don’t support, don’t ban, don’t promote” policy, has yet to pass any anti-discrimination legislation protecting LGBT people. This, in conjunction with low public approval, suggests that xinghun is a contemporary phenomenon with no clear end in sight.