Coming out is tough almost all around the world, but in China, it can constitute a major tragedy. When one man in northeast China told his parents he was gay, his father pulled a knife on him; one lesbian committed suicide after her parents locked her in the house, banning her from going outside. Although these are extreme cases, the pressure for Chinese LGBT individuals to conform is absolutely debilitating. Thirty-five percent of 1,259 gay men surveyed in 2008 said they had contemplated suicide, but they aren’t to blame if the esteem of the family is essentially projected unto the one child every family is allowed to have.
Last month a free booklet was distributed in Hangzhou, a wealthy city in China, and it described homosexuality as a ‘sexual deviance’. It urges parents to keep their children away from such transgressions by providing a “good social environment.” It isn’t surprising that such beliefs would be abound in the countryside, home to around half of China’s 1.34 billion people, most of which don’t even have access to education, but this booklet was distributed in Hangzhou, one of China’s wealthiest cities. This just reinforces the idea that homosexuality is an abnormal, curable condition and for Chinese parents to admit that their child is gay is like admitting complete parental failure. A board member of Beijing’s LGBT center said that his mother refuses to tell people about his work — for fear that it might make them gay.
Things have improved since Imperial China, when homosexuality was criminalized, though not enough. Today, the Communist Party mostly stays out of citizens’ private lives, but frowns on most large-scale gatherings, including those advocating gay rights. Gay bars and gay groups have been grown dramatically in Shanghai and Beijing and the younger urban generation is more accepting of homosexuality than its previous generation. The Internet has also provided an effective tool for gays to seek out each other or rally together.
Ultimately, changes in attitudes about homosexuality in China will come through a grassroots shift in expectations about what makes a complete family unit. But this probably won’t happen as long as the one-child policy remains in place.