“Family” Planning- Irene Tung on Queer life in China
This Article was written by Irene about her very interesting recent trip to China.
Dou Dou and Feng, a Chinese lesbian couple from the city of Shenyang in Northeast China, plan to have a baby together. However, they have no intention of ever coming out to their parents.
I met them this October at a lesbian, bi and trans organizing training in Anshan in the Liaoning province of China where I was helping to conduct workshops on global LGBT history and organizational development. Feng and Dou Dou (pronounced DOUGH-dough), both 23, created and maintain a popular web-based bulletin board that provides information and on-line counseling to Chinese lesbians. They were among activists from throughout Northeast China who attended the training.
Over breakfast one day, I asked Dou Dou and Feng, who requested to be identified only by their nicknames, about their plans for the future. They have been together for several years and have decided not to come out to their families. Instead, Feng plans to arrange a fake marriage with a gay male friend. They will hold an elaborate wedding with friends and extended family, buy property together and live together. Dou Dou will stay “single”. Feng and her gay friend will stay in their queer relationships, but maintain the facade of a heterosexual married lifestyle to their families. Dou Dou and Feng are both only children, as per China’s one child policy. They are part of a generation of children, born after the policy was enacted in 1979, who are facing severe pressure from their families to marry as they enter their mid-to-late twenties. Many are considering fake marriages, a practice which has created tremendous controversy in the Chinese queer community. Some see it as selling out, while others counter that the pressure from their family is too strong for them to bear.
When I asked Feng and Dou Dou about having children, they said that they definitely plan to have a child within the fake marriage arrangement. The child would bear the gay man’s surname. It would call Feng, “mom”, the gay friend, “dad”, and Dou Dou, “godmother”. But Dou Dou says she would still consider it her child. They say they wouldn’t tell the child the truth about the fake marriage until he or she becomes a teenager. Both of them see it as the only viable way for them to raise a child together.
One evening during dinner with other conference participants, someone asked if my partner and I plan to have kids. I had traveled to China with my partner, who is Irish-Italian from South Jersey. We answered that we were unsure, but that it was a possibility. At that point, the three young gay men at the table literally jumped out of their chairs in their enthusiasm to volunteer themselves as sperm donors. We were a little taken aback, not quite sure what to make of it. It became clear very quickly however that they were only interested in providing sperm to inseminate my white partner, and not me. In response to their offers, we poured another round of drinks and told them we would think about it.
It turns out that Chinese people are obsessed with biracial, hapa babies. I spoke with several people in China who believe that hapa children are not only more beautiful, but also more intelligent. In Beijing, I met one couple that is actively seeking a white sperm donor.
Some lesbian couples in China who–unlike Feng and Dou Dou–are out to their families, hope to raise children together as openly queer parents. Couples seeking to do so face significant legal and cultural obstacles. The Chinese government has actively opposed LGBT couples raising children. In 2006, it banned adoption of Chinese children by foreign gay couples, citing a stipulation that adoptive couples must be “healthy”. Also, unmarried women are not officially allowed to buy sperm from authorized sperm banks in China.
While the act of homosexuality is decriminalized in China, activists have recently reported an increase in surveillance, raids and arrests of people involved in queer organizing activities, especially in the period leading up to the Olympic Games this past summer. Despite these challenges, the movement is growing in strength. This November, following the training in Anshan and similar events in other cities, the first national alliance of lesbian, bi and trans organizations, representing thousands of members, was formalized in Shanghai. (Support their efforts!)