LGBTQ+ in China: My Parallel Life

NYU Shanghai has always been an inclusive, respectful, and open community for members of LGBTQ+. However, outside of this campus, there may be a parallel life for Chinese nationals like me, who experience long-time silence, misinterpretation, and anxiety.

“You know what, the worst thing is that there’s no hope, and you have to leave.”

As a NYUSH student, I have always felt “privileged”. I’m surrounded by people who truly accept and respect my identity; in a diverse institution which supports me by proactively making an effort to build inclusion. This feeling of privilege grows even stronger during Ally Week; when topics of injustice are being raised and discussed, minorities are being heard and validated, and solidarity is being taught and practiced. This raises the question: In a community where I can be my true self, how can I truly represent the LGBTQ+ community in China which cannot?

After all, I practically live in a parallel universe. When I am off of our campus on Century Avenue, far away from my inclusive NYU Shanghai community, I suddenly become a highly sensitive and self-restrained, 19 year old boy. I have a list of WeChat accounts that includes all of the people I know back home that are potentially connected with my close family members, and I will cautiously block them when posting any information relevant to LGBTQ+ culture. I once bought a case for my smartphone and a hoodie with rainbow logos representing advocacy for LGBTQ+ community, but I decided to throw them away before returning home because I was worried my parents would ask me what “LGBTQ+” means (since they are always interested in learning English-Chinese translations).

My father has talked about his personal prospects for my future several times;  often assuming I will get involved with, and marry a woman. My mother on the other hand, in response to my excitement about the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan said, “I don’t care about what others think, there will be no such thing in our family, it’s horrible even to think about it.” It was at that moment when I chose to silence myself.

Taiwan, 2017 / Same-sex marriage is legalized by a decision of Taiwan’s Supreme Court / Google:

As a citizen of PRC, I see no difference between me and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community in China. We often hide our true identities, either voluntarily for the purpose of self-protection or forcibly by powerful ideologies. Ahead of us, in the long journey of social normalization and recognition, there is pure ignorance, misinterpretation, and hatred. What’s worse is that we have nowhere we can call a “community”. Before entering college, I never met anyone who shares the same identity as me. But this cannot be true given the statistics which show that, at a minimum, about 56 million LGBTQ+ people live in China (an estimated 4% of China’s population). This is nearly equivalent to the number of all current undergraduate college students in China.

If that is the case, then where are we ? Why are we hiding ourselves? Maybe it’s because of the longtime silence or ignorance that misinforms people about their own identities, driving them to think that their “specialty” is something abnormal they have to be ashamed of; Or maybe people are like me, they understand their identity, but they also understand how society works. They know some of the risks are too large, and thus they self-censor themselves in order for a peaceful present and a potential future.

Indeed, the Chinese society is changing, and we’re gaining more and more recognition and support, especially among youngsters. Thanks to the internet, with its anonymity, transmissibility and universal impacts,  ignorance and stigma are being gradually eliminated and challenged through various attempts of normalization driven by LGBTQ+ leaders and our heterosexual allies. Same-sex celebrity coupling is increasingly popular, multinational corporations like CocaCola fund various marketing campaigns in China advocating equal rights for LGBTQ+, and the recent tide of legalization for same-sex marriage globally brings about influential discussions on the Chinese internet. However, the current progress we have, always seems substantially limited due to the constant censorship of the mainstream, state-controlled media. People of my parent’s generation or older are still highly ignorant because of their lack of inclusion from the discussions, leading to their ongoing stereotypes about LGBTQ+. I have come to realize that in the highly centralized Chinese society, without recognition from the authority, the ignorance of general Chinese population over LGBTQ+ issues will persist. And because the speciality and controversy surrounding our identities is seen as a risk factor for triggering disruptions and opposition, it’s likely we will always be censored and silenced. In this everlasting circle, I am trapped. I see little hope for my future.

Mainland China, 2018 / “The Sound of LGBT”, an influential LGBTQ+ informative account on Weibo was temporarily suspended for two days / Google:

I want to leave. People may appreciate the courage of marginalized minorities to voice up and fight for social justice. But it’s too idealistic to think that the Chinese government will sacrifice “social stability” for equal rights. Honestly, I have to leave, for my own personal well-being. Cause if I leave, I lose my home; If I stay, I lose myself.

This article was written by Kenan Gu. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Google:

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