Disoriented by the constant tug-of-war in China over homosexuality, gay Chinese Americans are looking for support in the United States, where same-sex marriage is legal.
What they are facing is the conflict between their gender identity and the traditional values their parents hold, but with family lying at at the core of their culture, abandoning their parents is rarely an option. A tug-of-war in the family can easily turn personal and painful.
While an online survey conducted by Hong Kong-based television broadcaster Phoenix shows that only 29 percent of the Chinese population supports same-sex marriage, China recently took another huge stride towards embracing homosexuality – after its decriminalization in 1997 and its removal from a list of psychiatric disorder in 2001 – by accepting its first same-sex marriage case, according to a Jan. 6 story in The Telegraph.
This past year, media outlets like CCTV and Yangzhou Evening News, bombarded stories – backed by psychiatrists – claiming that homosexuality is preventable, but with that came a flurry of criticism on social media from angry gay rights advocates asserting that homosexuality is not a disease.
In an interview with Medill Reports, Yichi Zhang, of The Beijing LGBT Center, a non-profit organization that strives to promote gay rights and stamp out discrimination against the LGBT community in China, said, “Pathologization of homosexuality still occurs among many Chinese people. In China, there are many mental counselors and psychological clinics that provide conversion therapy, which aims to change homosexuals’ sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Stan Fong, who was born into a traditional Chinese immigrant family in Tennessee, articulated that the difficulty of being both gay and Chinese is that it is perceived as a rejection of the whole idea of family.
“They cause friction,” said Fong, executive member of National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), a non-profit organization across the U.S. that seeks to challenge homophobia, racism and anti-immigrant bias. “You see many white people bringing partners to their parents but you’re not seeing a lot of Chinese people bringing their boyfriends back home to their families. It’s a problem.”
Fong, 35, faced several confrontations with his mom, who pulled him out of college in Miami after she found out her son was gay. Fong stayed in Atlanta under the strict supervision of his mom for nine months and ended up leaving home for Chicago.
“My mom nearly said if your dad were alive today, he would hire somebody to cut your legs off,” said Fong, who still evades gay topics when talking with his mother. “My mom still does not say it out loud. She calls it a rainbow thing.”
Like Fong, many Chinese homosexuals are leaving home in search of freedom to express themselves. Kim Yu, a 27-year-old Chinese national who was born in Qingdao and now works in Chicago, was one of them.
Yu criticized the dearth of public discourse on LGBT issues, which are considered almost taboo in Chinese society.
“There is this lack of knowledge [about sexual and gender diversity in China], so most people, especially older generations, aren’t even aware of the possibility of someone being gay,” said Yu, who mostly remained closeted in China. “But in the U.S., I rarely have to reveal myself as being gay.”
Fong, Yu and Zhang all agreed that there is a long way to go for Chinese LGBT people to acquire equal rights and that family acceptance through a broader public discourse and education on LGBT issues is an essential step for change.
One of the initiatives carried out by NQAPIA is to create videos that depict Chinese parents saying in Cantonese or Mandarin, “I love and accept my lesbian, gay kid.” [Click here to watch the video -“Family Is Still Family (Mandarin with English subtitles”]
“I need people to tell me that it’s okay to be me,” Fong said. “It’s ok. It’s normal. It’s ok to be gay and want a family, raise your kids, make them go to Chinese school and do all of these things.”