The Chinese are putting the "convenient" back into "marriage of convenience."
Slate recently published an article that gave us an inside glimpse into the workings of a monthly "Marriage Market" meeting in Shanghai, and into the context of why the market exists. The big surprise of the article is that a new generation of gay- and lesbian-identified people are coming together in China. The not-so-big-a-surprise is that it's kind of awkward being gay in China.
It is estimated that somewhere between 30 to 40 million gay people live in China - but there has never been an official count. Gay people in China face so much pressure to be straight that it is estimated that 80 percent of them are married to straight people. Some people there may not even know what "gay" is, since pages containing "LGBT" online are conspicuously "not found."The pressure to be straight in China is high because of the culture's incredible focus on family and on heirs. It is expected that children in China will marry without exception, and grow up to bear families of their own.
In order to provide gay and lesbian people with a new option, China's largest gay website began holding marriage markets once a month, beginning about six months ago. The meetings provide a space for gay and lesbian people to find partners for marriage and family-rearing - but their partner will also be a gay or lesbian person. (Do you get this? They will marry someone of the opposite sex but they will still be able to be gay! Everyone wins! Kind of.) At the meetings, they speak out about what they are looking for in hopes of finding other queer folk with the same desire - and in hopes of marrying one of them. An excerpted quotes from the meeting covered by Slate:
"I'm here to find a lesbian, to be with me and to build a home," No. 11 says to the crowd clustered on floor cushions at a sunlit yoga studio in Shanghai. No. 11 is a muscular man in a flannel shirt and cargo pants, and he easily commands the attention of the crowd of 40 or so young men and women who are gingerly sipping glasses of wine and whispering to their neighbors.
"In my view, a 30-year-old man should start thinking about having a family, but two men can't hold each other's hands in the street. We're not allowed to be a family," he says. The crowd nods.
This is a new alternative, and the people who participate in the marketplace think of themselves as members of a "transitional" generation. Whereas older generations of gay and lesbian people in Shanghai got their gay on in underground clubs and remained in committed relationships with straight people, the participants in the marketplace are looking to create families and homes where their partner, and even their children, know who they really are. And thank goodness: it is estimated that 16 to 25 million women in China are actually homowives - straight women married to gay men. (Most stay with their partners to avoid shame or maintain their family structure.)
The situation for gay people in China may not be perfect - far from it - but the marriage marketplace is creating a new culture where gay- and lesbian-identified people can be (a) comfortable with themselves in their homes and lives, (b) create a community for themselves that will lead to more education and awareness, and (c) shift the heteronormative culture in China.
Not perfect, but not bad.