20 million gay men have party to a ‘fake marriage”, says Zhang Beichuan, a retired professor with Qingdao University Medical School and a pioneering researcher of LGBT issues in China.
“At least 14 million straight women in China are currently in, or found themselves in marriages with gay men,” said Zhang.
Zhang said society’s awareness of tongqi (同妻), meaning “wives of gay men”, has grown considerably in the last two years as victims continue to speak out. “Tongqi‘s cries of marriage misery represent the development of society and women’s awareness of equal rights; it also reaches the physical and mental limit that wives of gay men can tolerate,” Zhang said.
Zhang believes that, “it’s seriously immoral to intentionally and rashly deceive an innocent woman into a sham marriage”. But, he said, such women often remain trapped in these marriages because Chinese law does not adequately protect women during divorce proceedings. Some women alternatively agree to maintain the charade when they learn the truth in order to provide their children with a stable family environment.
Chinese media has recently highlighted the plight of tongqi, offering a sympathetic perspective of these women while portraying gay men as “cheats” that dupe their partners. A recent QQ picture showed tongqi as a woman literally crying in the shadows, mourning that she would never be loved by her gay husband.
The gay community has tried to address the pressure to conform to social norms, particularly with respect to marriage. A recent pledge involves not entering marriages with straight people. In the wake of a recent Chinese court dismissing a case on same-sex marriage, an internet campaign has seen members of China’s gay community post pictures of themselves with the hashtag #I’mGayAndWon’tMarryAStraightPerson.
A growing trend has seen Chinese gays and lesbians seek each other out for sham marriages. Apps, such as Queers, have been created to match gay men and lesbians. A website called Chinagayles.com provides a platform for those seeking sham marriages; it has more than 390,000 registered users, and claims that 50,000 of its users found their “wedding partners” online.
Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997, and was only removed as a mental disorder in 2001.