Intensive media coverage the last several years has inspired many of China’s homosexuals to come out of the closet.
For many though, the image of the same-sex couple remains one of sexually-obsessed, socially-immoral and domestically-irresponsible people who are at a high risk for contracting HIV.
At least one theme in that stereotype rings true true: China’s homosexuals suffer.
A sad Spring Festival
For China, Spring Festival is the most important holiday. It is a time for family reunions and being with loved ones.
When Lin Yi brought his boyfriend home for Spring Festival 2003, the 15 days of celebration would be his last with his family.
“I still can’t remember all the details of that day – when I finally told my parents that I liked boys,” Lin, 21, said.
“My mother asked why I brought home a total stranger for the holidays. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just told her the truth.”
His mother, a high school teacher in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, was stunned by her 16-year-old son’s blunt revelation.
While most households drowned in the noise of firecrackers and laughter as families tuned in to CCTV’s New Year’s Gala, the Lin household sat in silence. His mother and stepfather refused to speak to him. Only Lin and his boyfriend An Ning stayed in the room to watch TV.
“Now that I think about it, my mother was probably too shocked to talk to me. She wasn’t angry. During the last few days of our stay, she took very good care of An after I told her what happened to his leg,” Lin said.
An’s leg was crushed while defending Lin in a fight.
After he dropped out of high school, Lin went to Dalian, Liaoning Province, to be with An, who was tending the bar a local gay club. Lin found work as a waiter.
In 2002, Lin was 15 years old. For many customers, the tall, young boy-waiter was far more enticing than anything on the drinks menu. When An saw his boyfriend being harassed, he confronted the men and was brutally assaulted.
“My mother cried and shouted; my stepfather called me ‘defective.’”
But it may not have been the story alone that made Lin’s mother cool off.
Lin’s parents had already hatched a plan to “cure” him. “The day before I was leaving, they sat me down and told me they wanted to send me to South Korea to study. Their logic was that if I were in another country and away from An, maybe I would become ‘normal’ again,” he said.
When Lin, being in love, refused their proposal, an even bigger fight began. “My mother cried and shouted; my stepfather called me ‘defective,’” he said.
After that, he was kicked out of the house and his parents severed all ties.
“They knew little about homosexuality,” he said.
In a survey conducted by Li Yinhe, a pioneer in the study of homosexuality, three-quarters of all respondents said they could “tolerate (a homosexual family member), but wish he/she would change.” The number of respondents who could accept a gay family member was the same as the number of those who could never accept one: one-tenth.
When showed the data, Lin shook his head.
“I guess my family falls into that 10 percent,” he said.
In sickness and in health
When Lin was two years old, his biological father left the family. His mother was busy with teaching, so Lin and his big brother were sent to his grandma’s home in the countryside, where he met An, the next door neighbor of his grandma and seven years his senior.
Lin was a small child and was often bullied by others.
“I looked up to [An] as a brother, and he acted like one. Whenever someone picked on me, he would protect me,” He said. His dependence on An began to grow, and in no time the feeling grew into admiration – and something else.
At the age of six, Lin returned to Shenyang to attend primary school. He could only visit An during summer and winter vacations. In second grade he learned an invaluable skill: how to write letters.
Lin began to write An regularly to say how much he missed him. An would write back. Their exchange continued for four years until An quit writing.
Lin, then 11, hurried back to his grandma’s home only to find out An had dropped out of school and went to Dalian to seek work. They lost touch until the next summer vacation, when Lin lost his virginity to An.
They talked on the phone and tried to visit as often as they could the next four years. In his sophomore year of high school, Lin could no longer bear the pressure from his parents and school while keeping up a long-distance relationship with An. Without telling his family, he quit school and left for Dalian to find his boyfriend.
After the split with his family, Lin moved in with An. But just when Lin thought everything from then on would go uphill, An was diagnosed with liver disease.
An’s father died when he was little, and his mother remarried a few years later but lived a hard life. With his leg broken, An could not work and had to spend all his savings on medical treatment.
Lin, who still waited tables by night, decided to take a day job as the bookkeeper at a recycling plant to cover their daily expenses.
“It was hard back then. I remember I lost my wages once. I couldn’t tell him. I went to the market and bought a bag of steamed buns and a jar of chili sauce with the 10 yuan I had in my other pocket,” he said.
For the next two weeks of a northern China winter, buns and chili sauce were his only food.
“I was afraid the buns would go bad, so I threw them on the roof. The weather was my big fridge,” Lin said with a laugh.
The day job, buns and chili sauce were all kept secret from An, but it would not be long before Lin was hiding an even bigger secret.
Desperate for money, Lin began to sell his body. “I know it was wrong, but there was no choice,” he said, still embarrassed about the decision. “I only did it for a month, up until an awful incident. After that I stopped.”
The incident was when Lin was tricked into a gang bang by a group of sado-masochists.
“I only remember that I passed out while crying. When I woke up, I rushed home to take a shower. I scrubbed myself with steel wool – the kind people use to scrub pans. I scrubbed until I bled.”
On his left shoulder is a tattoo of an eagle’s wing. Below the wing is a scar left by the steel wool.
“I never told anyone this, not even An Ning,” Lin said.
Life after love
Last spring, Lin ended his relationship with An: An had married a woman.
Zhang Beichuan, a doctor who studies homosexuality, said in an interview that 80 percent of the gay men in China marry to escape pressures from society and family.
An was part of that 80 percent.
As his liver recovered, An’s mother began to pressure him to start a family. He was torn between his love for Lin and his mother’s pleadings.
Earlier last year, An’s mother contacted Lin and asked him to leave her son alone. Lin, unwilling to see his lover suffer, decided to give up.
He changed his cell phone number and returned to school to prepare for the National College Entrance Exams in June, and he enrolled in a university in Hebei Province last September.
“I was very glad that I got into a university. I felt like my life had finally started to change,” he said.
Three months later, he was out of school again.
“I heard from a mutual friend that An Ning’s disease had worsened and he had developed liver cancer. I decided to quit college so I could find a job to help him. After all, we did have eight years of love,” he said.
“Sometimes grief is also power. People have to get hurt to grow up.”
It was Lin’s first blog post after he moved to Beijing.
He came to Beijing in early 2008. Finding a good job as a college drop-out was difficult, so he turned to waiting tables in a karaoke bar.
“I think someday I will probably get married too. It will make my parents happy.”
“It was horrible. Some drunk customers offered me money to have sex with them. It was only in the past few years that I learned about the heightened risk of STDs inherent in [unprotected] gay sex, so I will never do that (sex for money) again,” he said.
Lin said he has changed a lot since he moved to Beijing. He is most proud that he was able to quit smoking.
But one thing that did not change is his concern for An.
“I think about him all the time, but I do not want to disturb his family. I called his wife once and asked her for her bank account number. Now, whenever I have some extra money, I send it to her,” he said. Lin told the woman he was an old friend of her husband’s and that she should not tell him about it.
“Maybe some people will think I am crazy, but during the most difficult times, he was the only one that loved me and helped me. His condition is not improving. I see what I do as a thank-you for all our happy times together,” Lin said.
After five years, his relationship with his family has begun to thaw. But there is one topic both parties avoid in their conversation. “My mother calls me sometimes, but only to chitchat. My brother also calls from time to time, but only because he needs money at college,” he said.
Evading the real obstacle that stands between them is not for the best, but at least they are talking now, Lin said.
“I think someday I will probably get married too. It will make my parents happy,” Lin said. Deep down, he does not want to marry a woman, but he does not want to be alone when he is old. “Same-sex relationships are too unstable. There is no legal guarantee (holding people together),” he said.
Next month, Lin will leave Beijing. A friend found him work as a store guide in Yueyang, Hunan Province. “Beijing is an expensive city. On my wages, it would be years before I could afford to open my own clothing store,” Lin said. “I want to start over with a clean slate.”
In his latest blog entry, Lin wrote: “If I could choose, I would wish we had never met, never fallen in love and that you had never hurt me. I don’t know how long it will be before I can forget you, or even if I will have the courage to forget. But one thing I am sure of is that this love, this wrenching pain in my heart, will be with me for a long time to come.”
The entry was headlined, “Before falling in the river of love, you should check how deep it is.”
(Editor’s Note: With the exception of Lin Yi, all names in this story have been replaced with aliases to protect the identities of those involved.)