Being gay when your culture rejects you
It is difficult enough for young men in Australia and New Zealand to come out when they realise they are gay, but being gay when you belong to a culture that doesn't accept homosexuality is much more difficult.
One of my clients is a young Chinese man who is studying in Sydney. He suspected that he was different but never had been in contact with other gay young men in his small town.
It didn't take him long to embrace his sexuality in Australia but his parents expect him to come home when finishing his studies. He is the only son and realises his parents will be devastated to learn he may not marry and have children and he expects this will bring shame on the family.
I have just have read Gaysia, a fascinating book by Australian Benjamin Law, a prominent young homosexual writer and journalist whose parents are Chinese. He visited many Asian countries to investigate what it's like to be gay in Asia.
It was in 1997 that homosexuality was decriminalised in China. It has only in the past few years that cities like Beijing and Shanghai have seen the rise of lesbian and gay communities with support groups, bars and gay meeting places. But for all the freedom and tolerance, homosexuality remains stigmatised throughout most of the country because it clashes with the belief that children must marry and continue the family line by having offspring.
Few Chinese gays and lesbians come out to their families and many feel they have to marry, which is tragic for them and the partners they choose. Lesbian women often experience physical violence from their parents when they are found out. It has become popular over the last years for gay Chinese men to marry lesbian women. There are websites for finding lesbian wives and in Shanghai there is a yoga studio that holds a party every month where gay men and women can "shop" for a spouse. They can then easily live separate lives allowing both to satisfy their families who may never find out the truth.
The attitudes towards gays in China is generally one of live and let live. The country is largely atheist and homosexuality is not seen as a sin or immoral.
The situation is different for Asian Muslim gays, for whom homosexuality is not permissible, also when they are living in the Western world. Dr Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America states: "Homosexuality is a moral disorder, a moral disease, a sin and corruption. No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar, or murderer".
Across the globe and especially in the United States, many gay and lesbian Muslims also have started to pursue marriages of convenience as a way of staying in the closet. Many of them worry about being ostracised from their families if their secret is revealed. In 1993 a wonderful movie, The Wedding Banquet, was made by Ang Lee about the same topic.
Countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei outlaw homosexuality and Singapore has a draconian law that criminalises sex between men. In December the Supreme Court in India re-instated a colonial-era ban on gay sex that enables the jailing of homosexuals. A two-judge bench struck down a landmark Delhi High Court ruling in 2009 which found that section 377 of the Indian penal code prohibiting "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" infringed the fundamental rights of Indians. It was a major setback for gay rights campaigners in the world's biggest democracy.
Taiwan offers one of Asia's most progressive environments lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights as both male and female same-sex activity are legal and there are plans to legalise same sex marriage and civil partnerships. Vietnam, a deep-rooted Confucian society, has given same-sex couples the right to live together and hold wedding ceremonies.
Thailand has become a holiday destination for gay couples and could be soon cashing in on another niche market if a proposed law makes Thailand the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage.
In Japan there is no law against homosexuality but there are no civil unions or gay marriages yet, and overall the subject is kept silent. There is no religious basis for discrimination but gay people struggle to face Japan's strict family and gender roles. Largely the atmosphere of Japan is such that many people don't feel comfortable being open with their sexual orientation. On the other hand cities such as Osaka and especially Tokyo have large gay districts. In Tokyo Disneyland a gay wedding was staged last year, although not legally recognised, it could be a sign of change in the near future.
My client will be living here for some more years but it doesn't look like things will change that soon for him when he has to return to China.
Sydney Morning Herald