Different Kind of Wonderful asks:
I want to start this off by saying I have sooo many questions. I am currently dating a Chinese man. Obviously, we are both gay. However, both of us want marriage and kids. Marriage is something we unfortunately can’t enjoy in both of our countries. Just like your relationship with John, I’ve found that our relationship has progressed rather quickly. I.E. – We’re already talking about marriage and kids. My question to you is:
How are “not-so-normal” families seen or reacted to in China? More particularly, the cities?
I think Michael Tsai from Beijing, interviewed by the BBC earlier this year, says it perfectly:
Although I wouldn’t call it discrimination, there’s definitely a pressure to conformity in Chinese society. The goal is to to marry and produce male offspring. Since the Chinese are allowed to have only one child there is even more pressure to conform.
So does this lesbian, featured in a McClatchy News article about the pressure on gay Chinese to marry:
Yu Jing’s parents found out about her most recent relationship a few months ago, prompting her to promise “to try to not date another girl.” She broke up with her girlfriend a month later.
“My dad said, ‘You are on a road that can go no further,’ ” she recalled. “So I’ll marry a man one day so I do not disappoint my parents.
When it comes to what a family is, Chinese feel great pressure to be “normal” — because there’s a lot of prejudice, stigma and the like against, as you write, “not-so-normal” families.
As such, one blogger, Jonathan in China, (who also has a great article about being gay in China) cited an Economist article suggesting that around 90 percent of gay men in China ended up marrying heterosexual women. That seems shockingly high, but not if you take into account the burden such a man faces, should he choose not to follow the traditional pattern of marriage, and birthing and raising least one child to continue the family. This is considered part of filial piety — honoring your parents. And most Chinese would not want to be seen as “unfilial” because the value is so strong in China, and also because children simply don’t want to hurt their parents, given everything they’ve sacrificed for them.
Gay relationships might be the most difficult nontraditional family situations to accept, but they’re not the only ones — divorcees and even families with mental illness (in a parent or a child) have a hard time.
So, when it comes to a nontraditional family — such as what you and your boyfriend hope for — how exactly do people react?
As Tsai mentions in the BBC article, some families, like his, simply ignore it, believing the possibility for a “normal” relationship still exists:
Even though they know I’m gay they still say things like “When you find your wife…”
Another article about homosexuality in the China Daily — which starts out with perhaps the most extreme example of a father wanting to kill his son for being gay (thankfully, he didn’t, and went on to actually found a hotline to help the parents of gay children) — highlights the range of responses, among family members:
The 2007 survey on Public Attitude toward Homosexuality by renowned sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe indicates that 11.5 percent of Chinese will completely embrace a gay/lesbian family member, while 11.3 percent will not do so, with the vast majority of 74.3 percent saying they will accept, in the hope that their children will go mainstream with their sexual preferences in future.
In the end, most Chinese gays and lesbians will “go mainstream” — even if it means, as the McClatchy article explains, a lesbian couple finding a gay couple, so each will pair off and provide the facade of a “normal,” happy family.
Still, just as so much has changed in China, so will the narrow definition of what a family should be. It already is, in fact — look at how more people choose to divorce in China, and that even a handful of parents have begun to actively support gay children in China. And while that change may not come quick enough for you and your boyfriend, perhaps your love and commitment will continue to build momentum in changing attitudes about what a “normal” family really means.
Or, for that matter, who we’re really picturing when we wish a couple báitóuxiélǎo (白头偕老 — may the married couple live to a ripe, old age together). 😉
What advice do you have?
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.