China Gay Guide: Glamorous & Grey
When discussing being gay in China, many Westerners have no idea what to imagine when they think of China, let alone what it's like being gay in China. The media has made the world aware of how tough it is to be homosexual in the Middle East, especially in contrast to the utopian image of gay people frolicking through some more tolerant European countries and Thailand. But what about gay people in China?
Chinese View of Homosexuality
Visitors strolling through the streets of China might get to witness the seemingly peculiar scenery of two adult men holding hands while walking down the street. Many people new to China, and Asia as a whole, will label these guys a couple, but in Chinese culture this represents nothing more than close friendship and has nothing to do with their sexuality. You also might have come across the exceedingly well-dressed dude with polished shoes, a tight v-neck with a sparkly golden necklace adorning his neckline and thoroughly-styled hair. But don’t let his expensive man bag and stylish sunglasses fool you, his swiveling hips do indeed lie.
Let’s face it: many of the Chinese people that Westerns rate as “undoubtedly gay” using Western cultural norms are 100% straight and fine with their sexual orientation. So now the question is, if all the people you assume are gay on the street are actually straight, where are all the real gay people in China?
If you want to more easily meet gay people in China you will have to go to the few gay bars in Chinese metropolises, led by Shanghai, which has the largest gay scene in China, followed by Beijing with at least a few names on the rainbow travel itinerary, then Guangzhou, Shenzen, Chengdu, Xiamen and a few others.
Looking back only a few years showcases that China has a very young history regarding the LGBT movement and rights. Until 1997, homosexuality was technically a crime, and only since 2001 was it changed to no longer be considered a mental illness. Suffice to say, like many things in China, a lot has changed and a careful but steady movement towards equality is evident in the Chinese underground. In public view, homosexuality is not necessarily seen very positively. While in many cultures it is religion that makes life for gays more difficult, in Chinese society it is the traditional family values that are responsible for the suffering of young Chinese homosexuals.
To get married and produce a descendant – preferably a male one – is the most important expectation that Chinese parents usually place on their children. There are two reasons: first of all, China does not possess a very effective welfare system, which means that usually the descendants of the children will take financial care of their grandparents. Failing to produce children will negatively impact your parent’s retirement and is therefore seen as failing of one of your basic life tasks.
Secondly, tradition and culture play an important role for the lack of understanding most Chinese parents have for their children’s homosexuality. A long history of ancestors is seen as a very important status symbol and therefore the reproduction is supposed to be a central concern in every Chinese person’s live. This cultural pressure becomes even clearer when knowing that the word 'juehu' which can be translated as “without descendants” is seen as a very severe term of abuse.
These circumstances repeatedly lead homosexuals to a quite uncommon yet certainly not satisfying solution. Some gay men will even marry a lesbian friend in an attempt to satiate their parents' happiness while leading a secret double life. Another sad alternative to this is many homosexuals marry straight partners because they think it will cure them from their “illness”. In reality, it results in men betraying their wife with other men or the other way round.
Traveling as a Gay person in China
Now with all this information you might wonder what it is like to travel in China as a gay person. Well, that’s quite easy to explain—generally not very different from traveling in China as a straight person.
Since being gay in China is not considered a crime you do not have to fear any legal consequences. As pointed out above, Chinese people will doubtlessly not care much about your sexual orientation since they do not expect any offspring from you and therefore have no reason why your homosexuality should not be acceptable to them.
Chinese mentality often is described as being indifferent – sometimes in a negative way – however in this instance it should be considered positive as 99% of the Chinese you encounter will not care about your homosexuality. In some cases, there might even be a certain amount of curiosity and interest concerning the matter, so don’t be alarmed if further questions – even some you might find very private – come your way. However, should you not feel comfortable talking to Chinese people about being gay or lesbian, there is no feasible reason you would have to talk about your sexual orientation to any Chinese people during your holiday.
When traveling with your partner in China, be prepared to be frequently asked the double bed/twin bed question when checking in on any hotel – even if you have explicitly asked for a double room before. Don’t take any offensive, especially considering official same sex relations just aren't that common in China, most people won't assume you're a couple and might want to double check before getting something wrong.
For those travelers seeking to travel with like-minded folks there are several operators offering group trips throughout the country. The first Chinese travel company Go Pink China (www.gopinkchina.com) started its business in 2005. Well known for LGBT travel in China is also Purple Dragon (www.purpledrag.com) a Bangkok-based specialist for Gay Tours in Asia –to name just two. These operators offer versatile travel experiences in China, from City tours in Shanghai, Beijing or Xi’an to trips of several days duration to China’s scenic countryside hot spots like Guilin, Sichuan, Yunnan or the Silk Road or even a combination of them all.
If you are looking for a gay holiday with lots of gay people, gay places, gay talk and maybe a lil’ gay sex, there are certainly better places to visit than China. But for all those interested in the rich historical tapestry of this old culture let me assuage your fears. Just come to China and explore, you have nothing to worry about!
General Gay Travel Tips:
1. In China, it is not common to show affection in public, straight or gay, but that’s slowly changing. Generally, people mind their own business. A goodbye kiss might be seen as tolerable but making out is another story.
2. Please keep in mind that paying for sex in China is a crime. So do yourself a favor and exercise caution while being a guest in this country.
3. Since Grindr and some other gay dating sites have been blocked in China, they use their own dating app. Should you be interested in meeting someone while being here then download the Jack’d app. www.jackd.mobi
4. Although not comparable to most other Gay Prides in this world, Shanghai has its own small Gay Pride each year in June. Just in case you want to include that in your itinerary.
5. You will find updated information about gay life in China on www.utopia-asia.com
6. Those who are interested in any background stories and political news about homosexuality in China should check www.shanghaiist.com.
Gay bars and clubs in Shanghai:
G8 (formerly Frangipani) 399 Dagu Lu, near Shimen Lu, Jing'an District 上海静安区大沽路399号 Tel: (86 21) 5375 0084
Eddy's Bar 1877 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Tianping Lu, Xuhui District 徐汇区淮海中路1877号, 近天平路 Tel: (86 21) 6282 0521
Shanghai Studio Bldg 4, 1950 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Wukang Lu, LuWan District 淮海中路1950弄4号楼, 近武康路 Tel: 021 6283 1043
Transit Lounge 141 Tai An Road, near Huashan Road, Xuhui District 泰安路141号,華山路 Tel: (86 21) 6283 3051
Rice Bar 532 Fahuazhen Lu, near Dingxi Lu, Changning District 长宁区法华镇路532号, 近定西路 Tel: (86 ) 159 2110 9881
Upstairs 842 Hengshan Lu, near Tianping Lu, Xuhui District 衡山路842号, 近天平路 Tel: (86 21) 5466 0842
Gay bars and clubs in Beijing:
Destination 7 Gongti Xilu, Chaoyang District 工体西路7号, 朝阳区 Tel: (86 10) 6552 8180
SoBear B112, West Tower, Shangdu SOHO, 8 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District 朝阳区东大桥路8号SOHO尚都西座B112 Tel: (86) 159 1050 8964 Mesh First floor The Opposite House, 11 Sanlitun Lu, Building 1, Sanlitun Village, Chaoyang District 朝阳区三里屯路11号 Tel: (86 10) 6417 6688
Jujiao Yanyi Bar (聚焦演艺酒吧) B1, The Golden Sun Hotel, 85 Xibianmennei Dajie, Xicheng District 西城区西便门内大街85号金色夏日商务酒店地下一层 Tel: (86 10) 5166 3298
Dao Le (到了) 2-102, 22 International Plaza, 32 Baiziwan Lu, Chaoyang District 朝阳区百子湾路32号二十二院街艺术区2-012
Alfa 6 Xingfu Yicun, (In hutong opposite north gate of Workers' Stadium), Chaoyang District, 朝阳区幸福一村6号工体北门对面的胡同里 Tel: (86 10) 6413 0086
Gay bars and clubs in Hong Kong:
Propaganda (or "PP" according to locals) Basement, 1 Hollywood Road, Central Tel: (852) 2868 1316
Volume Lower Ground Floor 83-85 Hollywood Road, Central Tel: (852) 2857 7683
Drop Soho Mid-Levels, Basement, On Lok Mansion, 39-43 Hollywood Road, Central Tel: (852) 2543 8856
Club 97 9 Lan Kwai Fong, Central Tel: (852) 2186 1897
The Works 1/F, 30-32 Wyndham Street, Central Tel: (852) 2868 6102
Tony's Bar G/F, 7 - 9 Bristol Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui Tel: (852) 2723 2726
New Wally Matt Bar & Lounge G/F, 5A Humphrey's Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui Tel: (852) 2721 2568