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Chinese Gays Emerge from the Shadows

By staff reporter LU RUCAI

    The 10th Asia-Oceania Conference on Sexology concluded in mid-October 2008 in Beijing. Although homosexuality was not the main topic of the conference, it is a topic of great interest to society in general. In contrast to just a few years ago, an increasing number of ordinary Chinese are now able to better understand and accept gay people.

    WU Youjian stirred up a storm of controversy in 2005, when she publicly supported her son Zheng Yuantao's decision to come out and reveal his homosexuality. Zheng had told his mother he was gay a decade or so ago, while still in high school. When he chose to go public, Wu used her voice within the media, in her capacity as editor of a literary journal, to express her support.

    Wu did not settle for half measures, setting up a blog specifically to share her views and invite comments on homosexuality. She did so in the belief that ordinary people within Chinese society should accept and understand, rather than ignore, the existence of the gay community. She has since been regarded as the patroness of a "gay sanctuary."

A Mother's Quandary

    "It's extremely difficult for Chinese, particularly parents, to accept homosexuality, mainly because it precludes the continuance of the family line, which is paramount to traditional Chinese values," Wu explains.

    Wu and her husband were shocked when their son came out to them. Wu admits, "It wasn't that I was ignorant of homosexuality, it just never occurred to me that my son could be gay." Her attitude reflected that of many who claim to understand and accept gays, on the complacent assumption that the gay phenomenon will not impinge on their own lives. But the prevailing approach to homosexuality in a nation where it is seldom mentioned, other than in connection with AIDS or the entertainment industry, is to ignore it.

    Wu and her son told their story on Phoenix TV in 2005, on talk show Homosexual Connections, using their real names. Zheng Yuantao's public coming out enabled Chinese society to face that it, along with every other nation in the world, has a gay community.

Brave mother Wu Youjian and her son Zheng Yuantao.

    To Zheng's surprise and relief, he received more commendation than condemnation, mainly for his courage in taking his momentous leap of faith. As Wu says, "The aspect of coming out that gays most dread is the reaction from the people closest to them — their relatives, friends and colleagues — which is often devastating."

    Ironically enough, her public support for Zheng evoked a greater public reaction than his revelation. Wu believes it her duty to be open in her support for her son, rather than keep silent as do the majority of Chinese parents in a similar situation. Their reticence is attributable to wanting to uphold the family name and status. She points out, "As the residents of many regions of China are looked down upon merely for 'failing' to produce male heirs, the potential disgrace of having gay offspring is unthinkable."

    Wu speaks from personal experience. Soon after she went public in her support for Zheng Yuantao, her sister-in-law called, reproaching her for telling the whole world what should be strictly family business. "No one in her position could be expected to appreciate my public approbation of Zheng's coming out, but by the same token, no one else was going to speak up in his defense. It was something I felt compelled to do," Wu explains.

    Zheng Yuantao resigned from his job at a publishing house after coming out, and has since worked as a freelance translator. His life, unlike his mother's, has otherwise changed little.

    Wu's blog has received over a million hits since it was founded at the end of 2007. There are expressions of both derision and condemnation among the flood of comments, but the majority express understanding, support and appreciation. Gays regard Wu's blog as a "soul asylum" where they can speak freely without fear of rejection or censure.

To Come Out or Not — a Family Matter

    Media reports about Wu's story have aroused widespread attention in China. Recently, conducted a survey of more than 60,000 people. Among them, over 70 percent said they would not mind if their children were gay, while 85 percent admitted they had gay friends.

    "I am quite skeptical of these percentages," says Wu. She updates her blog three times a day, and sorts out the many messages left by homosexuals. She then works up relevant statistics based on the messages, including the opinions expressed by parents.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us