Amid family pressures, gays in China turn to marriages of convenience
In China, where homosexuality remains taboo, many gays enter marriages of convenience to satisfy family pressure to wed and have children. While they act like a couple in front of their families, many don't live together.
(Page 2 of 2)
But, as Xiaojian has found, finding a partner is not so easy. Even without the need to click emotionally, let alone fall in love, meeting the resume requirements of a spouse can be just as difficult. Dates become a series of business negotiations, often hard-nosed.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“It is so hard,” says Xiaojian, who has been trying to find the right partner over the past two years.
Gay men often find they have weaker bargaining power. Because in China, men are responsible for carrying on the family line, they are pushed harder by parents to marry and have children. As a result, there are many more gay men seeking a marriage of convenience than there are potential female partners.
The women, being in a buyer’s market, can set high standards.
Even though many of the couples won’t live together after marrying, women still require that their gay "husbands" be good-looking and have a stable job, sufficient savings, and – in real estate-crazed China – their own apartment.
Xiaojian’s last blind date, who prefers to be called her by her English name, Zoe, only checked him out for three seconds before deciding his height was a deal-breaker.
“I am doing a marriage of convenience for my parents,” says Zoe, who is gay. “They definitely won’t be happy with his height. Since I am doing it, I want to make them satisfied.”
Oftentimes, property is the “biggest concern” for most of the “couples,” says Liu Wei, a legal consultant for Aizhixing.
They also have to negotiate over whether to have children and how to take care of each other’s parents in the future, she says.
Prenuptial agreements can protect either party’s wealth, but “something like whether the couple is going to have children is not something that can be legally contracted,” she explains.
A better solution?
Despite the complications, Professor Zhang, at Qingdao University, believes that such unions have merits – as long as both sides know the terms of the deal.
According to him, China has at least 16 million tongqi, or the straight wives of gay men – many of whom get married without the awareness of their husbands’ sexual orientation. In more than 20 years of research, Zhang has heard many tragic stories from tongqi: how they were ashamed of their husband's behavior and grew depressed in their loveless marriage. Men in these relationships would expose their spouses to the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, he says.
Many activists oppose xingshi marriages, even when both parties understand the terms. Instead of conforming, they say, gay people should work to transform Chinese views of homosexuality.
“Marriage of convenience is a compromise and a retreat,” says Aqiang, the online name of a well-known gay rights activist based in Guangdong. “If each gay doesn’t even have the courage to communicate with their parents, their closest family, and tell the truth, how can we expect the society to change their attitude?”
A growing number of activists and organizations are fighting for gay rights. Li Yinhe, a prominent sociologist who studies sexual practices in China, has submitted a proposal to the government to legalize gay marriage. Some in the gay community say they would settle for laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.
Psychological and physical support is increasingly available for gay people, especially in cities. About 300 NGOs in China work on homosexual issues, providing information on AIDS prevention and legal consultation. Online forums for gay people give them a space to communicate. Hotlines offer psychological consultation.
Aqiang argues that when gay rights are respected and when the public – including parents – better understands homosexuality, then the pressure to marry will dissipate.
For the time being, though, Xiaojian feels he has no other choice. He says he will keep going on dates.
Marriage of convenience is a lie,” he sighs. “But I will spend my entire life to make this lie work.”