LGBTQIA - Part 2: “Crossing the Gender Lines”
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community has made tremendous progress in the West during the last decade. In China, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, but was still seen as a mental illness in until 2001. However, today the biggest source of pressure does not come from the law but from families, partly due to China's one-child policy.
In order to support the LGBT community, it’s important to get a better understanding of the meaning of LGBT and the community’s current situation here. To do so, we went to meet with some of Shanghai’s LGBT community figures.
What first started as a small social gathering for some friends’ farewell party, ShanghaiPRIDE gradually evolved to one of the most important LGBT events in this city. Co-founder, Charlene Liu, shares her personal experience about being queer.
How did it feel when you identified yourself as gay? (I think it should be worded as “How did it feel when you first came out?”)
C: It was a long and hard process before I managed to accept and embrace my sexuality. Back then, before internet and social media, we didn’t have a lot of information on the matter, or icons or people to look up to, so we had to try to figure it out by ourselves. At the beginning, I was thinking that maybe it was just a phase. During my 20s and 30s, I went through a period of uncertainty. Coming out is a long journey.
How do you feel about being intimate (for example kissing or holding hands) with your partner in public spaces in China?
C: I don’t feel any problem about it, I’m quite open about it in China and actually feel more comfortable than in the US for example.
How does China, compared with the rest of the world, stand on the treatment of LGBT people?
C: Laws are not against LGBT, it’s not a crime to be gay, and not considered as a mental illness. But sometimes media gives the picture of a conservative China. But in reality, China is more tolerable.
What do you think are the biggest reasons for those who don’t want to come out in China are?
C: Mostly family pressure. But today, a lot of parents come out to support their children through PFLAG. They support other parents and help them in dealing with their children’s coming out. It’s important because we always think that coming out only concerns us but the parents sometimes need people to talk with and help them process it too.
Any last words for them? (I think it should be “Any last words for the LGBT community?”
C: It’s very important to make sure you’re comfortable with your life and are able to accept yourself too. The first step with coming out is all about accepting and embracing yourself. Once I came out and after I got married, I’ve never been so happy and this happiness attracted other good things in my life.
Despite the growth of the festival itself, what impact, would you say, does ShanghaiPRIDE Festival have on the evolution of the LGBT community in Shanghai?
C: With ShanghaiPRIDE, we can tell people that they are not different. There’s a community, parents who can support them so they don’t have to be afraid. We help them in accepting themselves. We also build communities and networks. It’s all about support [systems].
What is the ultimate goal for ShanghaiPRIDE?
C: We would like to work with citywide communities and create a collaborative-festival throughout China, not necessarily one, but maybe many festivals held at the same time, in order to have a stronger impact.
Besides sexuality, the LGBT community also defends and addresses gender identity issues. In order to have a better understanding of this matter, we had the chance to interview Victoria, one of Shanghai’s LGBT community’s most precious drag queen.
Who is Victoria?
V: Victoria, she is a 3T Queen --- Trendy, Tasty and Tough. Without doubt, one of the most gorgeous queens here in Shanghai. As a previous winner of SH drag competition, she contributed a lot to the Shanghai LGBT community. As a social queen she also runs her own social account to release a variety of interesting articles time after time. Overall, a capable woman who has a big dream.
When were you questioning your gender identity, what was that like?
V: That's a long story, I can barely remember, I would say around the age of 16. I was definitely a little lost myself at the time, honestly I just wanted to kiss and cuddle guys when I approached them, it made me a little depressed..
How did it feel when you confirmed your gender identity?
V: I told myself: “Come on, that's life.” #gayjourney-starts
Do you think that your gender identity has influenced your sexual orientation?
V: Slightly, although I would say my personality has been subject to a bigger influence.
Have you considered a surgery for your transition? If you were offered the opportunity, would you go through with it?
V: Well, good question - In short, no. I don't think I need an operation to be a real lady.
V: To be a drag queen has no relationship with transgender, at least not for me :-) I love my body (Male) so much.
In Asia, most families are still quite sensitive about this topic, especially in China. How did your family react when they found out?
V: I’m very lucky since my mother is quite open-minded and she respects my choice and my personal life.
Have you ever experienced any kind of discrimination because of your gender identity?
V: Only once, I've been pushed by a straight man when I was shopping with my ex because we were holding hands. That man said: “What a shame!” Then left. #bitch
How does it affect your work life?
V: I work for a global ads company so the vibe is quite international and flexible. Nobody gossips about me.
So, despite the image conveyed by most of the media, who portray China as a conservative country, the overall situation for the LGBT cause and community is actually quite positive. A lot of progress has been made in social acceptance, especially from the younger generations. Moreover, they don’t have to go through this long process by themselves anymore, they can find support and friends among a growing community but also look up to inspirational figures from the community. However, family pressure remains a main concern but even in this there are positive changes occurring with parents coming out to support their child and other parents going through it too.
The future seems optimistic thanks to the efforts and hard work of a strong and cohesive community that helps to spread a feeling of belonging, support and acceptance.
Here at That’s It Mag, we embody the exact same values and principles that Charlene, Victoria and everyone else in the LGBT Shanghai Community continue to drive home.
Be yourself, And...That’s it!