Monday, April 30, 2012

queering beijing

When I was preparing to come to China, at training (provided by the Australian government) it was made clear that coming out as queer in China was probably not a thing that I should do.

At work I say 'my partner' and the singular 'they' in English; in Mandarin 她 (she) is pronounced the same as 他 (he), so I just don't correct people. Someone (a native English speaker) heard my slip up one time in English, saying 'she'; they took me aside later, and told me not to come out at work, because 'they' (my Chinese colleagues) just wouldn't understand, and maybe I should consider actively using 'he' in English. I feel crappy enough as it is hiding my queerness for the first time in a long time, there's no way I'm using the pronoun he to refer to my wonderful beautiful girlfriend.

Incidentally, the verb for coming out is the same: 出柜, or 'to go out of the closet'.

Despite these warnings I've received from Westerners living or who have lived in China, however, what I see doesn't necessarily match up with what I've been told. There's a local lesbian centre (the only reason I haven't visited it is because it's a bit of a distance from where I live), and a number of queer bars, and regular events with queer authors and movie makers, and I know these links are to expat sites but it's not only expats who are involved in these things. And then last week Anthony Wong came out, and it was all good!

I came out to my Chinese tutor (she's about the same age as me), and she didn't seem to care.

My warnings came from older expats, being given directly to me, a young decadent Westerner working a cushy office job in an international organisation, and I wonder if there's a reason for that. I recognise things would be different if I worked in a different kind of situation, or if I wasn't from Australia, and didn't have this assumed right to privacy (or not privacy), as I see it, that we have in Australia (another post for another time, the difference between privacy in China and privacy in Australia).

I haven't quite been brave enough to come out at work yet, and I mean, I'm not going to take out an announcement or anything but last week a colleague asked me if I had a boyfriend back home and I said no, which is technically true, and left it at that.


  1. A Chinese friend once saw that I had posted a link to an equal marriage rally on my Facebook wall and asked me about it.

    She said she found homosexuality "disgusting" and "not natural". I gave the standard western liberal arguments for the importance of equality and the human rights perspective, but she seemed unconvinced.

    "I can maybe understand two men, you know, like Balato"

    "... What?"

    "You know, Balato. From Greece."

    "... ... Oh, Plato... Wow..."

    "Yes, Plato. You know, two men can love each other but two women is just... uh..."


    "Yes, 变态... Really disgusting..."

  2. I would love to read a post about the differences in privacy between Australia and China.

    I hope you continue to find people accepting rather than closeting, and that you have more opportunities feeling safe using the right pronoun.

  3. @john oh dear. :/

    @lilacsigil i will make a post on it soon! my friends are all good but yeah. we'll see!

  4. Yes, :/ was my reaction exactly...

    Good luck with it anyway, you're fighting the good fight.