meet in person, but at that time I wasn’t willing to do so. Everything was still so secretive then. But I began to learn about the gay movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and I talked to some people from other countries, and my own attitude began to change. These new perspectives pushed me forward, and I began to think I could do some things for the community.
Is your group involved with the Shanghai PRIDE event?
In the beginning, Shanghai PRIDE was organized by Westerners. The first year, we did not attend even though we really wanted to. As individuals it would have been okay for us to attend, but we were mainly concerned that if the event were to run into problems [with the government], it could affect the Shanghai Nvai group. In the second year, we attended planning discussions and helped with some of the background work for PRIDE. But we were still careful and did not participate too much in the public events. This year, we are doing much more.
What is your coming out story?
As of now, I haven’t yet come out to my parents. But my mom, I believe she knows. I didn’t really come to terms with myself until 1999 or so. It was then that I first started using the internet – I loved to chat online, and I found a chat group for lesbians. At the time, there were very few people, maybe just one or two. But through them, I began learning about the lesbian culture.
At the time, I didn’t think too much about what it meant to become a lesbian myself. But eventually, I met a girl and we began a relationship, and these feelings really changed my thoughts about my own sexuality. I quit my job to move to her town and be with her. However, we broke up because she decided to marry, so that’s why I left and moved to Shanghai.
Speaking of marriage, I’ve heard about faux marriages, where gay men and lesbian women marry one another.
Yes, I see a lot of this, particularly in recent years. A lot of my friends have asked me to help them find gay men to marry. For our second volume of Shanghai lesbian oral history, we are actually recording stories about these faux marriages. Why do they do this? There are many reasons – some because they want to have children, but more so it is due to pressure from parents. Many lesbians may feel that its okay to be out of the closet with their friends or colleagues, but they don’t feel like they are able to come out to their parents. They don’t want to disappoint their parents, so they choose to enter these faux marriages.
Another reason, which may not be as obvious, is due to finances. Nowadays, it is expensive to live in Shanghai. Young people cannot afford to buy homes on their own. Often times, parents will offer to buy a house or a car on the condition that they marry. So gays and lesbians enter into faux marriages for this reason as well.
What changes have you seen in Shanghai since you started your work in the lesbian movement?
There have been a lot of changes. Before, I would never see other lesbians out in public on the streets. I remember when I went to Hong Kong back in 1999, I saw two girls kissing on the streets, and I was so surprised to see this. Now in Shanghai, I see girls all the time being very affectionate with one another in the public, and it is very clear that they are lesbians.
If you could change one thing in China, what would it be?
I would like to see education in schools about sexuality. Education has so much power to change people’s attitudes. If for example, legal or medical students were able to understand these issues when they are in school, then when they come out into society they can really make a difference to society.
This interview was originally published at Jenni & Lisa's website, Out & Around.