“I am a 26-year-old woman from Shanghai, and I am looking for a boyfriend to marry in a year.”
Yes, yes, we’ve heard all this before. Chinese women over the age of 27 can kiss their marriage plans and their future away because a 27-year-old woman is too old for any sensible Chinese man to consider marrying. Granted, the pressure is heavier on women, but men, too, are under a lot of familial and societal pressure to get married as soon as possible. Those tiger parents can’t wait forever. They need a grandson, and they need him quick! They need to continue the bloodline, and China’s One-Child Policy certainly doesn’t help.
However, this particular case is a different. “I have a girlfriend and we have been together for 8 years now,” she says.
China’s innate traditionalism is causing a bit of a twist, in that Chinese lesbians and gay men have been hooking-up for years, in the attempt to throw family and friends off their scent. According to Ming of the Beijing-based NGO Common Language:
“‘Family pressure’ extends beyond individual parents into extended families, social networks and permeates Chinese culture, which in turn pressurizes parents (to pressure their children).”
Many of Ming’s interviewees talked of:
“Wanting to continue generational lines and the role marriage plays in feeling one has ‘grown-up’. And that China was simply ‘no country for old men’, particularly when China’s system of elderly care falls exclusively on the shoulders of children. ‘Here sexual orientation is connected to your ability to have children, your financial independence, and social credibility.’”
In a culture where coming out as gay or lesbian has a high likelihood of you being estranged from family and friends, along with ridicule (or worse), and where marriage is looked upon as a break-or-make moment in life, there are two options for gay people. One is to forego happiness and marry an oblivious-to-your-sexual-orientation straight spouse (called pianhun). The Atlantic reports that:
“Zhang Beichuan, a professor at Qingdao University’s Medical School who researches gay issues, estimated that there are 20 million gay and bisexual men in China, of whom around 80 percent have married straight women. This means that around 16 million heterosexual women in China today are married to gay men. Typically experienced behind closed doors, the issue was thrust into the spotlight last June, when a 31-year-old bride from Sichuan Province jumped to her death after discovering that her husband was gay.”
Grim stuff, indeed. As Time Out Beijing says, “In short, ‘there’s no such a thing as protecting the tongqi [homo-wife ] without protecting the gays.’”
Option two is to enter into a xinghun. Xinghun (??), literally meaning a “marriage of formality” in Chinese, is a ‘cooperative marriage’ between a gay man and a lesbian woman that involves little, if any, true substance. As The Atlantic writes, “the marriage, essentially, is a sham: both the husband and wife continue to have their own same-sex partners and may not even live together.” Both husband and wife not only know of each other’s sexual preferences, but they also don’t care! Indeed, it is also called a “mutual support marriage.”
But finding compatible partners for xinghun may be even trickier than matchmaking heterosexual couples. The aforementioned Economic Observer Online writes :
“Since the couple doesn’t have any real emotional attachment, external factors are the only standard for choosing their ‘spouses.’ Whether the man owns his own house is even more important in a xinghun.”
I guess most people are still realistic about what they want from a marriage, even if it’s not real. Here is what a Shanghainese girl Zui Yufa wants from her xinghun:
“I’m looking for a guy who has a Shanghai hukou (permanent residency) and owns an apartment in Shanghai. And the guy has to have money.”
Having a child is another big incentive to obtaining a xinghun, other than getting nosy people off your backs. It is extremely difficult for same-sex couples to have children. It is illegal for gay couples to adopt, so it forces many to resort to xinghun. Xinghun couples, through artificial insemination or adoption, can have offspring without backlash. Alright, so now you have happy parents and someone to care for you in your old age, but what about the child? What would the child think of their loveless parents? Of xinghun? Here is the Economic Observer Online again:
“As to whether or not the child is to be told the reality of their parents’ ‘marriage,’ most xinghun couples are hesitant. Though they see Xinghun as the only way to satisfy their own parents’ expectations while pursuing their own happiness, they are not sure what the next generation will think.
‘Maybe I’ll tell the child when he or she grows up,’ Y says [a lesbian woman].”
As the Daily Life writes, the question of coming out might now be more pertinent to one’s child than to one’s parents. But, many are deeply hesitant about coming out, even for their child. Intolerance still looms and acceptance is still far from a reality. Although homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 2001 (and was a crime until 1997), the belief that homosexuality is a treatable disease is still widespread, particularly in rural regions. Social stigma is still prevalent and there is as yet no civil-rights law to protect LGBT individuals against various sorts of discrimination. Yet, tolerance of the LGBT community and individuals is on the rise in major cities. Shanghai Pride, an annual LGBT festival, is now in its fifth year. This past summer, Beijing enjoyed its sixth Queer Film Festival, with an estimated 300 attendees.
And, similar to ordinary marriages, some xinghun couples do end up divorcing. The divorce is often prearranged in their premarital agreement. For some, the divorce is a way of saying, “Hey I got married to the opposite sex. But it didn’t work and it’s over now. So, get out of my business and let me do it my way.”
by Lily Huang
Source – The World of Chinese