In the eight years since Tianlei told his parents he was gay, they've put
relentless pressure on him to act straight and marry.
"My parents push me to deceive a girl into marrying me," said Tianlei, a 28-
year-old company manager in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, using a
"They just want a grandson to save face in front of others and don't care
how she would suffer... I would rather die than do it."
But in China, a great many men give in to the pressure.
An estimated 10 million Chinese women are married to gay men, according to
retired Qingdao University professor Zhang Beichuan, often trapping wives in
unhappy unions they can't easily leave due to Chinese law and social stigma.
Zhang estimates that 80% to 90% of gay men in China intend to marry or have
married, citing a survey of more than 1,500 Chinese gay men.
Such marital arrangements occur in many societies, especially where
traditional customs prevail, but China's Confucian tradition coupled with
its one-child policy have increased pressure on gays to conform to
"Having no progeny is considered in the traditional Chinese culture the
worst kind of unfilial conduct," said Zhang. "And under China's one-child
policy, the only son is under even greater pressure from his parents who
want a grandson."
For Fang Fang, a 46-year-old woman living in eastern China, her unwitting
marriage to a gay man led to a lifetime of misery.
Twenty-six years after she spent her wedding night alone, she finally came
to realise that her husband was gay, and she was "a movie prop used to
complete his straight-man disguise".
"He took advantage of my naivety and weak personality, set up a string of
trapsï¼Œand lured me in," said Fang, who would not give her
real name to protect her privacy.
Like many Chinese gays of his generation, Fang's husband, born in the late
1950s, found his sexual orientation humiliating and wanted to become a "
normal" man by marrying a woman and, more importantly, having a child to
carry his family name.
Breaking free of such marriages is not easy in China.
Divorce is rapidly rising but is still considered shameful, especially for
women. Chinese law is vague on the issue and offers little help to women who
might have difficulty proving their husbands are in homosexual
relationships and thus can't seek recourse in divorce.
"Homosexuality is never seriously discussed in China's legislatures -- the
government just wants to avoid talking about it," said a lawyer surnamed Liu
who was previously married to a gay man.
The Chinese government largely ignores homosexuals, but some social
scientists say a lack of sex education in schools contributes to hostile
social attitudes towards gays.
Even when divorce is an option, the stigma of once having been married to a
gay man haunts many former wives.
"When I told guys I dated that my ex-husband was gay, some of them
immediately worried that I was an HIV carrier, since that's the image
attached to gays in Chinese minds," said Xiao Yao, the founder of a website
named "Tongqijiayuan" (Gay wives' family).
After discovering in 2007 that her newly married husband was gay, Xiao
launched a desperate search on the Internet for information about women
facing predicaments like her own, but her search proved futile.
She divorced her husband a year later following several incidents of
domestic violence and poured all her savings into building and running the
website, where members seek help from each other, psychologists and law
Many of the website's younger and educated members are talking about seeking
But any legal reforms, while welcome, will come too late for those like Fang
Fang, who carries emotional scars.
"I respect gays as any another human beings and understand their pains," she
said, still moved to tears after so many years. "But I also want them to
see how much pain their wives suffer, so that gay men won't rashly marry a
woman any more."