Pride and prejudice
By Xie Fang
Updated: 2008-01-14 07:26
Two bold young men kiss each other during a kissing contest held by a Beijing department store on the Valentine's Day in 2006. Li Fangyu
Name: Tong Ge Age: 57 Occupation: Writer and independent researcher
Tong Ge was married to a woman for more than 20 years, and has raised a son.
But Tong is gay.
"If I could turn back time, I would never have married a woman," he sighs.
"Even though my wife has forgiven me, I cannot forgive myself, and feel guilty all the time."
Tong says he has been attracted to the same sex since he was a boy. The son of a rich family, Tong was sent to the countryside to learn from farmers during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
His best friend, a former classmate, was willing to follow him. No matter how tough the living conditions got, no matter how poor they were, they were always deeply attached to each other.
One day after both had been drinking, they had sex for the first time.
"It had never crossed our mind that we were gay, and also we had no idea how to define our behavior," Tong recalls.
Two years later, his friend was called to the city. It would be the darkest moment in Tong's life - having to say farewell to his first lover.
"It might sound silly nowadays," he says with a laugh. "But I have missed him a lot over the years."
At age 27, Tong went back to the city, where he was astonished to discover scores of secret places where gay men met at night, such as public parks and toilets.
According to Tong, the phenomenon emerged in the mid-1970s when the "cultural revolution" had yet to come to an end.
"The more you try to oppress sex, the more resistance will rise up," he explains.
He says that men rarely used condoms at the time. "They were not available in any shops. Only the birth control offices of Stated-owned companies had them, and of course it was impossible for us to ask," he says.
Tong declined to explain what drove him to tie the knot, except to say "in the past, it was right and proper to get married when people reached a certain age".
Tortured by his double life, Tong studied various medical books, trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Finding no answers, he decided that the only way he could live with himself was to confess to his wife.
"I thought she would be furious after I told her," he recalls. "However, she said that she had known it for a long time."
Tong was waiting for his wife to ask for a divorce, but she chose to stay with him. He says that despite their past difficulties, their relationship remains strong.
"A lot of Chinese gay men have had similar experiences," he says.
As an independent researcher, Tong has devoted himself to the academic study of homosexuality, not only from a social perspective, but also how to best combat AIDS.
"My goal is to make a general report on Chinese gay relationships," he says.
Name: Ruo Zhe
Occupation: Webmaster of the first gay website www.gztz.org in China
Ruo Zhe used to think he was a monster, because of his attraction to the same sex. He even tried having a girlfriend at university, even though he knew that he felt nothing for her. "It's like your left hand touching your right hand," Ruo says.
The Beijing native decided to leave for Guangzhou after graduating from university, partly because there were job prospects and partly because he didn't want his parents to discover the truth. In 1997, he spent all his savings on a computer, which led him to a bigger world than he had ever imagined. "By visiting foreign websites, I realized that I was not the only gay man in the world," he says.
In order to meet other gay men, Ruo put his personal information both in English and Chinese on the Internet. A few months later, someone responded. Rather than feeling overjoyed, Ruo says that the prospect of meeting anyone face to face was terrifying. "I do care about being called a gay man in public, therefore emails are safer for me," he admits.
Eventually he met more men after being taken by a foreign friend to a local gay bar. "I was shocked to see so many people there. It seemed like a totally different world, where people all looked so relaxed, chatting and smiling," he says.
Ruo then launched the first Chinese website for gay people at the end of 1998, which aims to provide a platform for people to meet each other. The website offers news, health tips, entertainment listings and overviews of gay and lesbian communities in other countries.
Despite being the only full-time staff, Ruo says hundreds of people have offered to help out. The current registered membership has grown rapidly and now stands at 220,000. According to Ruo, most of these are young people aged between 20 and 30, up to 80 percent of whom are college educated.
Ruo has been living with his partner for six years. Even so, they seldom show their affections - such as holding hands - in public. "I know many gay men don't dare to do it either, because of social pressure," he says. "We have to wait till someday when we are accepted."
Ruo hopes to buy a car for his partner, dreaming of the day when they can drive wherever they want, listening to their favorite music.
Name: "Never give up", her online nickname
Occupation: Clinical doctor
For this 26-year-old, telling her parents that she is lesbian is the hardest thing she has ever done in her life. The young woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that her mother and father were simply not ready to hear what she had to tell them.
"No parent is able to accept such a fact. That's always been true in China," she says.
Since the young woman came out of the closet, she has hardly spoken to her parents. The young woman says that ever since she was a child she preferred to dress like a male, despite her parents' efforts to make her more feminine.
She loved casual clothes, shunned high-heels and was always playing with boys, even though she felt no sexual attraction towards them. While studying medicine at university in Shenyang, Liaoning province, the young woman actively started seeking female partners.
Oblivious to her sexual preferences, her parents were busy arranging men for her to date.
"The pressure to marry increased dramatically after I graduated from university. At the beginning, I had to obey my parents' wish to date the young men they chose for me," she says. "I would find any excuse to end the relationships."
But this didn't discourage her parents, who worked even harder to find the "right guy".
It was around this time that the young woman's charade began to weigh down on her.
"I didn't want to hurt anyone anymore," she says. So she decided to open up to her family.
"Both my parents believe that I have certain physiological problems," she says. "They claim that it is a natural law for a woman to get married and give birth to a baby. How can I be an exception?"
They even took her to a top clinic in Beijing to seek advice. But the parents were disappointed when the doctor said their daughter was perfectly normal.
"Understanding from your family is more important than that of the outside world, because you have to face them everyday," she says. "If they were willing to accept me, I would be less depressed."
The young woman now has a girlfriend, a former university classmate who has not told her parents about the relationship.
The pair hopes to live together one day but don't have enough money to buy an apartment.
She envies men as their incomes are generally higher, and more jobs are available for them.
What's more, she says that it is traditional for a Chinese family to pay for their son's wedding and first house.
However, money is only one stumbling block for the couple. "Even if we were rich enough to buy a house, would our parents allow us to live together?" she asks.
Yet despite the rift between her and her parents, the young woman says she doesn't regret her decision to be honest with them.
"It is my life, and it is my right to choose the lifestyle I want," she says.