We’re not big city people, approved but as the host to China’s main LGBT PRIDE festival, cost we had to put Shanghai on our agenda. Too bad the dates for PRIDE changed at the last minute (in part to avoid government shut-down), information pills and we ended up showing up one week too early. But the trip was far from a waste. ‘Family’ came through for us in a big way. In our seven day visit to Shanghai, we must have met at least one hundred LGBT family members.
A few weeks before arriving, I sent out a bunch of emails to any site with the keywords, “Shanghai, China, LGBT.” In the land of the Great Firewall, not much came up. But through word of mouth, we found a yahoo listserve group of ex-pat lesbians called LezinShanghai. These ladies quickly put us in touch with China’s Supergays. Within a couple of emails, we connected with Charlene Liu, one of the leaders for Shanghai PRIDE who graciously offered to host us in her apartment. Charlene wasn’t even in town when we arrived, but her friend picked us up at the airport and left us her keys.
After dropping off our bags, we headed off to two meetings with local LGBT community groups Albai Shanghai and Shanghai Nvai. These are both lively groups of Chinese locals that meet weekly for salon discussions and social events. While we thought we were only going to film their meetings, both groups asked us to do presentations and show our videos. Jenni ended up leading presentations in Mandarin to standing room-only audiences.
We showed our Out & Around videos and photos to lead discussions about gay rights around the world. Most of the questions asked by the audience, however, were about our personal lives (When did you know you were gay? How did you meet? What did you families say? How did you know Lisa was “the one”?). We quickly realized that there are few role models and examples of out LGBT individuals or couples in Chinese society. While sometimes we ask ourselves if Out & Around effectively inspires change, in Shanghai we felt every hour, donation and dollar put into our project paid off to share our work with this audience.
VIDEO: What does it take to organize PRIDE in Shanghai? What is gay life like in China? What type of wedding dresses did Jenni try on and buy? Check out this video……
We spent the following day with Supergay Xiangqi, founder of the lesbian support group Shanghai Nvai. She told us about their oral history project in which they have compiled the stories of lesbians living in Shanghai and published them into a book. Xiangqi also talked to us about faux marriages, in which a lesbian woman and a gay male marries in order to appease societal and family pressures. In fact, there are even websites where lesbians and gays meet in order to make these faux marriages.
I met a member of Xiangqi’s Nvai group who told me that she would soon be entering into a faux marriage. I was pretty shocked that this stunning, educated and bilingual woman who is out about her sexuality to her parents would feel the need to live a lie. Then she explained to me that more than anything she wants to have a baby. While her parents support her lifestyle, they all fear that her child would forever have less opportunity without a father. So, she found a Chinese gay man through the internet who also wants to have a child. Her and her girlfriend now plan to inseminate her with his sperm and raise the child together with this gay man and his partner. She explained to me, “It is ok in China if you have parents who separate. But it is unforgivable if you do not have a father and a mother.”
The following day we met Supergay and jazz musician, Coco Zhao. Since his sexuality became the subject of an international documentary Snake Boy, he has never looked back in the closet. He uses his charming personality to interact with everyone in a non-threatening manner and tirelessly advocates for gay visibility. He tells us “Most of the time I succeed in educating people that being gay is just another way of being or living. Some people like noodles, other people like to eat rice. There is no one wrong or right.”
When our host Charlene arrived home, we watched her move in double-time organizing the upcoming week’s Shanghai Pride Festival with Kenneth Tan and Dylan Chen. This multinational Supergay threesome has poured countless volunteer hours into organizing the past three Shanghai PRIDE festivals. They discussed with us how they have to announce dates and venue locations at the last moment ever since the government shut down parts of the festival during the inaugural year.
While we had to leave before the festival began, we helped them get the word out by publishing an article about PRIDE on Out & Around which also got published on Fridae, Asia’s largest LGBT website, and the French Magazine, Yagg. Sadly, in the end, the government blocked the main Shanghai PRIDE website with the specific locations and times of events. Yet, Supergay Charlene Liu told us that through word of mouth and Chinese websites the word got around. She said, “the festival continued on with full houses for the film nights and the parties were well attended beyond our expectations.” The emerging queer community in China cannot be blocked.