Coming out of the closet in China
July 14th, 2011
11:18 AM ET

Coming out of the closet in China

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in China's Economic Observer. English versions of their articles, and others from top global media, are produced by

By A Kuai

After he left Tianjin last year, Zhang Xiaobai realized that homosexuals are not “rare birds.”

When he was still in primary school, Zhang (not his real name)  found that he was attracted to boys. Particularly after each Physical Education class, when he looked at the sweat-soaked back of a boy he liked, he felt dazed. The feeling got stronger when he entered high school and fell secretly amorous of a tall and strong classmate. He was always eager to approach him and became very fascinated with the occasional moment of physical contact.

That was in the mid-1990s, when the term homosexuality was far from ordinary in Chinese people’s life. Zhang couldn’t find anyone similar to him, and he thought he was strange. He couldn’t tell his parents, sure that they wouldn’t be able to understand. “I was trying to hide it from everybody. Nobody told me this is normal," Zhang recalls. "I felt like I was sick.” 

After graduating from university, family and friends were enthusiastic to fix him up with a girl. He didn’t know how to refuse and finally yielded to the pressure, and married a girl that his parents liked. He was hounded by feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  “But if I can’t possibly love her, I can at least try my best to be a good husband.” So as not to disappoint his parents, they also had a son right after being married.

Each Valentine’s Day and on their wedding anniversary, he would buy her flowers and gifts, trying to compensate materially for his missing heart.

Life went by. Nothing changed for more than 10 years. And then he started logging into the online world where gay Chinese interact. When he joined some chat forums, sometimes people wanted to meet him: but he never accepted the invitation.

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In 2009, Zhang took a work trip to Beijing. One night, after coming out of a bar, he saw another bar at the other side of the road. He had seen the name mentioned so many times in a forum, a “shrine” for homosexuals, like Dongdan Park, said to be the biggest gathering place in the world for gays.

He knew there were similar places back in Tianjin, but the risk was too high that he might bump into acquaintances.

The next day, he went to the bar without letting his colleague know. The atmosphere was very relaxed. Like other bars , there were people trying to strike up conversations, flirting. For the first time in his 30 years of life he was not denying his own identity. He talked to all kinds of people, from from different professions. There were company employees, lawyers, and a lot of media people.

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In comparison with the digital world, the live encounter with other gays was a shock to him. When he finished his mission and went back to Tianjin, he was determined to leave his job. He told his family he wanted to look for advancement in Beijing. Nobody understood why. He just told them “I’m already 30-something. It will be too late if I don’t think for myself.”

His wife stayed in Tianjin. They had grown apart gradually. She no longer demanded that he always come home. He made a lot of acquaintances, and then he found his lover, a designer in his 30s.

This is the first love of his life. Like other couples, they go to films, choose together which restaurants to go to after work. Though they kept two separate places, Zhang is very stable in his relationships. He feels that he has found a new direction for his life. For the first time he doesn’t feel so bad being gay. His friends and colleagues accept who he is. He is finally completely relaxed.

It went on for about a year like this until 2010. He was going home to Tianjin less and less frequently. He felt he was no longer able to leave his boyfriend. He decided it was time to tell his family.

“I knew I had to be courageous. But it was too difficult for me to continue with two emotions at the same time. I was prepared to break up with my family.”

After New Year’s day this year, Zhang invited his wife, his parents and parents-in-law to a meal. He announced the truth near the end of the meal. The fathers didn’t quite believe him, everybody at the dinner table was startled. Then his mother, who suffers from hypertension, fainted on the spot. His wife smacked his face and left. He cried and knelt in front of his father beside the hospital bed of his mother, asking for forgiveness.

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”It was really like a second-rate TV drama. The whole family was crying. I had never imagined that it would ever happen to me.”

Zhang’s wife divorced him without any hesitation, and won full custody of their son. Relatives scolded him, calling him irresponsible. He tries to appease everybody with money. He gave his house to his ex-wife, and pays to support his parents. This is the cost of coming out. Zhang’s parents are still in a cold war with him. His mother won’t even speak to him. The only thing he worries about is whether or not his son will suffer from being laughed at when his friends find out that his father is gay.

Nevertheless, Zhang does not think his life is a tragedy. At least, now he's living according to his true identity. Every time he hears that some “comrade” plans to get married, he always tells them of his own experience. “Don’t try to solve the problem by getting married. It will only hurt more people.”

Read the original story in Chinese. All rights reserved ©Worldcrunch – in partnership with

Topics: China • Perspectives • Sex

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. That'snotTrue:[

    ......................This is on here why? It's not like ALL of America supports this kind relaionship, not with all the state marriage laws, at least in Canada, it's through out...not only in a few places. What are you trying to prove author? You know that family is still valued in China right? Is this more propaganda from CNN?

    July 14, 2011 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • dalis

      What makes you think gay people don't value family?

      July 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • bobalu

      I found it informative to learn than gay people are coming out in China.
      BTW, Gay people do value family. That's why they want to get married.

      July 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    In a tightly-knit society like China, there is no such thing as personal life. Behavioral patterns have to comply to social expectations. Individual preferences and choices are subjected to public scrutiny.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  3. JVanHoss

    It is amazing to hear SOMEONE in the public media that is not parroting the same zionist views of what a horrible threat Iran poses to the United States, as the AIPAC and Zionist owned media, congress and senate in the United States.
    The idea that Iran poses a danger to Israel is a total joke. What Israel's zionists want is for the US to fight its dirty wars (like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan) so they can control the entire region via US-bought puppet regimes.
    American is waking up against against zionism and the terrorist state of Israel.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • 20dollars

      I think you're in the wrong article, Hoss.

      July 23, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply

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