Help me out of the closet

Updated: 2013-01-06 11:30

By Gan Tian (China Daily)

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While the mood was merry for the Spring Festival of 2011, Liu Yan (not his real name) was speechless. Tears rolled down his mother's cheeks, and his father beside her was totally silent, his face twisted with anger. Liu had just told them he was gay. The 30-year-old banker with a foreign corporation in Beijing has lived with his boyfriend for seven years, but was loathe to tell his parents about it.

Born and bred in Wuhu, Anhui province, Liu followed the path set out for him by his parents. He passed his exams and made it to Renmin University, before settling down in the capital.

Help me out of the closet

He says he first realized he was gay when young and a classmate crush in his sophomore year confirmed this.

He called his mother and tried to tell her, but she just papered over the cracks and told him it was a "silly adolescent mistake" that he should never talk about again.

Liu met his partner online in 2005 and they have done all the usual things that couples do, like moving in together, exchanging rings and telling their friends.

Meanwhile, Liu's parents in Wuhu called almost every day asking when he would be bringing home a girlfriend.

"I call it 'peer pressure'. My parents' friends are all becoming grandparents, but I told them I was still single. They became very worried about me and my marriage prospects," he says.

Determined to be together with his partner, Liu decided to reveal his secret at Spring Festival, the previous year.

He asked his partner to stay away for a few days and invited his parents to be with him in Beijing. They happily agreed, thinking they would at last be meeting the girl in their son's life.

Their dream was dashed when Liu confirmed he would not be getting married - because he is gay.

Liu's mother believes homosexuality is "abnormal" and insisted he should at least try to find a woman to settle down with, while his father scolded him for being disrespectful to the family.

But what really killed Liu was overhearing his mother tell his father: "If you think it's a disgrace (that our child is homosexual) we can divorce, and you can marry another woman."

Liu, so determined at first, started to despair. He even considered finding a woman to marry. Liu describes it now as "an unsuccessful conversation", but according to Damien Lu, coming out is about the telling - and in that sense Liu was successful, as long as he persists.

Lu, who heads Beijing-based NGO Aibai Culture and Education Center, has been helping China's homosexuals with their problems for the past 13 years. He has heard all sorts of coming-out stories.

"There is not a term for 'unsuccessfully coming out'. For most of China's homosexuals, the difficult part is telling their parents about their sexual orientation. How their parents react varies a great deal," Lu says.

Xiao Xue's (not her real name) story is extreme. The 28-year-old lesbian came out to her parents in 2007. Xiao's parents, both teachers at a middle school, were horrified and took her to a psychiatrist, who informed them homosexuality is a curable disease.

Living with her parents in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Xiao was forced to meet marriageable men and after a year of this was urged to accept a man she did not know as her fiance.

Xiao politely rejected the suit, so her parents locked the pair in the apartment and the man tried to rape her.

Xiao called the police and later learned that her parents were complicit in the rape, believing it would "correct her sexual orientation".

Xiao no longer talks to her parents and lives in Beijing, working for an anti-domestic violence organization for lesbians.

While Lu says there are no statistics about the percentage of homosexuals who come out in front of their parents, he believes more are doing so than a decade ago.

While major cities are thought to be more tolerant to homosexuals, Lu says there are no regional differences in acceptance.

"Coming out is not related to region, educational background or cultural differences. It happens when the individual feels the need to be true to themselves," he says.

"I don't think there is a 'coming out culture' among China's homosexuals," Lu says.

"In Western homosexual movements, coming-out is a very important step. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities should support it."

However, each individual is different, says Lu, who believes it is wrong to pressure someone to come out.